Good Stuff: Abomination

25909020Have you ever had to give a book two attempts?

This was one of those for me.

Gary Whitta’s writing goes deep into both the history of the story and the hearts of the characters, delivering a full, rich immersion into a very real and immediate-feeling Dark-Ages England.

The first time I tried to read Abomination I think I was restless. I usually prefer books that read like a Luc Besson movie; Pow! pow! Blam! …sexy bit… gogoGO BIG FINISH and explode.

messin-wit-besson

Yeah, like that.

Maybe that makes me seem shallow. I dunno. I just get very impatient sometimes. I needed a book that moved fast like a river. Gary Whitta’s writing is more like an ocean current – deep, wide, but don’t think it’s not moving! I promise you, this book takes the werewolf/monster genre to thrilling, brutal, emotionally vibrant new places. (Fun fact: it’s not a wolf.)

The magic, the richness of the characters, the grotesquerie of the fiends in the fully-realized and very immediate historical setting stayed in my mind, and pulled me back when I was ready for a book to really sink into. The light is failing. Autumn’s closing in. Nights are growing longer. Time for a book about grappling with the darkness that lurks within all or us, eh?

Good Stuff: It’s All Fun and Games

28331715This is a fun, quick read kinda hanging out on the edge of YA fantasy. If you’ve seen the movie Knights of Badassdom, it’s a bit like that, but without Peter Dinklage trippin’ balls. (Maybe something to be worked into the sequel?)

To further differentiate this book from that film,  rather than fantasy elements invading a LARPing weekend, Dave Barrett’s LARPers are sucked into a fantasy realm – so this is a “portal fantasy,” though, thankfully, there’s no big flashy portal. I liked that. One moment they’re kids stompin’ through the woods, next moment “Oh, snap! Those arrows are real, yo!”

I also liked that, unlike many portal fantasies, there’s no over-dramatized freakout session (which, let’s be honest, would be accurate for many of our high-strung spazz-nick nerd friends, who tend to hyperbolize everything.) No, these characters are obviously true nerds. They’ve been dreaming of living in a fantasy realm all their lives. They’ve probably read all the portal fantasy YA novels they could get their hands on. So, when it happens to them, when they’re off Earth and realize their character stats are now real traits that they possess, their reaction is along the lines of “This is dope. Imma go throw fireballs at something.” I dig that; it lets you hurl right into the fun stuff of the story without the usual drawn-out freak-out.

(Side note; the kids in this story don’t talk like the lines I put in quotes above. That’s all me. But if the author wishes to drop some kids representative of more hip-hop/urban culture into the fantasy world in future books, that’d be dope. My only suggestion is that any Yo-Boys and anyone who says “Brah”  should be eaten by fungus monsters.)

If you’re looking for a light, fun read, a different angle on portal fantasy, or maybe a gift for that young geek in your life, you’ll find It’s All Fun and Games to be an exciting start to a new series.

Good Stuff: Asteroid Made of Dragons

26159959Not kidding. That’s what the book is called. If you’re looking at a title as jam-packed with ridiculousness as that, you know the content is either going to be awful, or awesome. Let me assure you: here there be awesomeness.

You’ve got a story here about a mathematical genius struggling to control phenomenal cosmic powers in her head, a guilt-wracked innocent murderer, a monster, and a penniless archaeologist with a flying motorcycle and her finger on the pulse of a shattering secret. And of course, over it all, is an asteroid.

The asteroid.

The one made of dragons.

What makes it all work is G. Derek Adams’ mastery of storytelling. His writing is engrossing, beautiful, exciting. There are moments of linguistic virtuosity in this story, of written jazz, that lit fireworks in my head. I’m not talking about big words. I’m talking about the right ones. I’m talking about knowing the rules, using them well, and having the relaxed courage to break them and the intuitive wisdom to know when to break them. There are no wasted words here. You’re dropped into a strange world, right in the middle of these peoples’ lives, and it all is made real with such natural storytelling that the pace never drops. No chunky exposition, just drips and drops and “figure the rest out yourself because we’re busy saving the bloody world! Can’t tell you my story, you can get to know me by the way I cope with all the things trying to kill me!”

So there’s the rub; perfect character development, wordsmithing juicy enough to make you get up and dance, and and unabashedly bold story that will shake down your preconceptions of what a fantasy can be.

I’ll be watching this guy.

SKUGG SMASH! – the Summer sale at Smashwords

coverJuly marks the annual Smashwords Summer Sale. From now until July 31st, you can acquire some great ebooks at deep discounts in any ebook format.

I’ve put my novel, “BREAK!” into the sale. If you don’t know, it’s a fantasy. There’s adventure, trauma, music, old magic, new magic, lots of good things. I won’t go into it too deep here. If fantasy is your bag, you can find out more about the book at Goodreads, or download it for free from Smashwords for the duration of the Summer Sale.

I’ve got a special offer for anyone living in North America. The first person to publish a review of BREAK! on Smashwords (and feel free to post it on goodreads and Amazon, too) will receive a signed paperback copy of the book.

Yep. It’s a big book, might take a while… but I know there are some voracious readers among you. So there you go. First one to read it, review it, and contact me privately via twitter or the contact form on this blog gets a copy mailed to them.

Happy reading, everyone!

Good Stuff: ‘Shadow of the Winter King’ by Erik Scott de Bie

21932409One thing to know ahead of time is that this book is set in “The World of Ruin.” Before you even get into the story, you know that this place has been falling apart for so long that the people living here generally acknowledge it as a fact of life. It is unclear in this book if Ruin is a direct dark force, some sort of intentional malevolent happening, or just an example of the pattern we’ve seen in our own history; a civilization rises, becomes too bloated, collapses and falls, and on come the ravening barbarians, from within and without. But that does not matter for this story. What matters is that the author has created a world where the bones of a glorious, beautiful, powerful civilization are showing, while the flesh is falling off in rot. So don’t be prepared for valiant, radiant protagonists. People like that don’t live here. The whole place is falling apart, and even the most heroic knights, with the greatest love for the honor and dignity of days gone by, even they are soiled down deep and choking on ruin.

This may not sound like a good thing, and some people may indeed not enjoy this book. But I did. The protagonists Ovelia and Regel are weighed down with layers of old secrets, years of dirty deeds and hard choices, and blood they can’t wash off. Their secrets have secrets, and every choice and interaction resonates through their respective wells of deep, old, dark pain. It can get heavy and frustrating for readers sometimes – the emotional layering of the story is less of like a familiar epic fantasy and more like a spy thriller, Shakespearian tragedy or a really heavy family drama. You know, the kind where you want to shake a character and scream “Tell him! Tell her! Use your words!” But for all that, probably even because of it, the story kept a hold on me.

The old bones of this world ring sadly of past glory, but that echo and the glints of light, love and valor that shine off these two tarnished souls kept me hooked, grasping to see what good they might forge out of this world where everyone – even them – seems to have wheels tuning within wheels all driving toward an inevitable, staggering collapse. If I have made this tale sound heavy with gloom and doom, think of it this way: Imagine Lord of the Rings, but there is no Gondor, no Rivendell, no Shire. All the bastions of hope have fallen to Sauron. That jerk. You just have two old hobbits with a ring and a memory of what the sun looked like. And maybe you have Aragorn too, but he’s hooked on smack and has Arwen’s blood on his hands. Imagine that story, those people fighting against the dark to bring something good into the world. The darkness is deeper, but if hope can come through, then it’s all the more precious for that.

As brutal and emotionally wracking as “Shadow of the Winter King” is, it’s all to set the stage for a story to remind us that, no matter how dire things get, hope lives as long as there is still one of us left to strive for it. It isn’t until the last few pages, maybe even the last few words, but this story gives birth – from the hearts of some deeply troubled and wounded people – to a burst of light and human spirit that just might in the coming books push back against the tide of Ruin.

Good Stuff: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

100k kingdomsStunning.

Was this her first novel? I think so. I dunno, but I should find out. But here’s an author who took every trope of common fantasy, tossed them out, and made something purely new.

“There’s nothing new under the sun!”

Phah! Get stuffed. This story was new, at least new to me. A tale of political palace intrigue… but so much more! Yeine enters the theater of global leadership unprepared, bewildered, a lamb in a den of wolves (her relatives) and chained – but still mighty and terrifying – gods. The fast pace and vivid, immersive voice pulled me in and lit my imagination. I didn’t want to reach the end, but I didn’t want to stop reading. The grand reveal floored me, set this entire wracking epic as a mere starting point. But I’m forced to wonder – with where this tale ends, what crazy heights of imagination, what strange journey does Jemisin have in store for us? And are we equipped for the ride??