More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Alex Marshall's A Crown For Cold Silver for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

"It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre."

Twenty years ago, feared general Cobalt Zosia led her five villainous captains and mercenary army into battle, wrestling monsters and toppling an empire. When there were no more titles to win and no more worlds to conquer, she retired and gave up her legend to history.

Now the peace she carved for herself has been shattered by the unprovoked slaughter of her village. Seeking bloody vengeance, Zosia heads for battle once more, but to find justice she must confront grudge-bearing enemies, once-loyal allies, and an unknown army that marches under a familiar banner.


Javelin Rain

Although his popularity seems to increase with each new published novel, it often feels as though Myke Cole remains the genre's best-kept secret. I'm well aware that military fantasy is not everyone's cup of tea, but Cole's two series are as accessible as they are compelling. The Shadow Ops trilogy was fresh and unlike anything else I have ever read. All three volumes were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads, each packing a good dose of ass-kicking! Breach Zone closed the show with style and aplomb and it was evident that Cole was now one of speculative fiction's brightest new voices.

But this new series would focus on the early days of the Great Awakening, when magic first returned to the world and changed everything. Featuring new characters and new storylines, I was wondering if the author could do it again. The Shadow Ops trilogy generated some lofty expectations for whatever came next, and with Gemini Cell Myke Cole proved that his first trilogy was no fluke. With four quality yarns under his belt, there was no reason to doubt that Javelin Rain would be another gripping read. And once again, Cole delivers on basically all fronts!

Here's the blurb:

Javelin: A code denoting the loss of a national security asset with strategic impact.

Rain: A code indicating a crisis of existential proportions.

Javelin Rain incidents must be resolved immediately, by any and all means necessary, no matter what the cost…

Being a US Navy SEAL was Jim Schweitzer’s life right up until the day he was killed. Now, his escape from the government who raised him from the dead has been coded “Javelin Rain.” Schweitzer and his family are on the run from his former unit, the Gemini Cell, and while he may be immortal, his wife and son are not. Jim must use all of his strength to keep his family safe, while convincing his wife he’s still the same man she once loved. Only what his former allies have planned to bring him down could mean disaster not only for Jim and his family, but for the entire nation…

Myke Cole continues to grow as a writer, getting more mature and in better control of his craft with each new book that see the light. As was the case with his previous works, the fact that he served for years in the military and seen active duty allows him to imbue his books with a credibility regarding the realism of the use of magic in military operations and its ramifications up and down the chain of command. Ultimately, this is what gives Cole's books their unique flavor and what differentiates him from his peers. The early days of what will come to be known as the Great Awakening form the backdrop of this new trilogy. Magic has returned to our world and the US military is trying to harness these new powers for their own gain. I was particularly looking forward to finding out how the top secret unit known as the Gemini Cell would grow to become the SOC. Alas, it appears that this second series takes place too early during the Great Awakening, so it won't fill in the blanks created by the questions raised in the Shadow Ops trilogy.

Speaking of which, that first series was a more far-reaching work of fiction, with more protagonists and more multilayered storylines. Though it is no less ambitious, the focus is much tighter in this second trilogy, what with it occurring within a more limited time frame and following the events taking place through the eyes of a smaller cast of characters. Originally, I expected these new books to be as sprawling as the Shadow Ops installments. Yet it appears that Jim Schweitzer's tale, though it will likely kickstart the Great Awakening and everything it will engender, won't be as vast in scope.

As was the case with its predecessors, Javelin Rain is another character-driven affair. Myke Cole always had a knack for creating genuine three-dimensional protagonists with interesting back stories. The smaller cast featuring basically the same POVs as the ones in Gemini Cell allows readers to connect with the characters at a deeper level. Once more, I felt that there was a good balance between Jim Schweitzer's point of view and that of his wife Sarah, at least early on. The undead Navy SEAL's escape and its aftermath will have a profound impact on Doctor Eldredge, who will grow a conscience and realize that the Gemini Cell project goes beyond anything he has ever envisioned. Dadou Alva, another magic-wielder from Port-au-Prince working for another top secret cell, is an interesting addition. Her POV, along with Jawid's, allows readers to discover to what lengths the Director is willing to go to in order to revive the Virgo Cell project. As I mentioned in my review of Gemini Cell, I feel that Cole never did receive the credit he deserves for having a deft human touch which allows him to come up with unexpected emotional scenes packing a powerful punch. This is certainly the case once again in Javelin Rain.

As far as the rhythm is concerned, this book is paced perfectly. Javelin Rain is another smart and action-driven military fantasy offering. You may recall that I felt that both Breach Zone and Gemini Cell suffered from rushed endings. Indeed, I thought that a 300-page set-up and only 30-something pages to close the show felt a bit incongruous. I opined that Cole probably needed more pages to do justice to the story he was telling. Be that as it may, likely because the plot was better balanced this time around, even though Javelin Rain doesn't feature a bigger word count than its predecessors the ending doesn't feel rushed at all. Which is a good thing. But it is another cliffhanger, which is not as good. Still, Javelin Rain is another novel that grabs you and won't let go, so you can be sure that I'll be lining up to read the conclusion!

Myke Cole is definitely for real! If you have yet to give him a shot, please do so ASAP! Decades separate the two series, so you can start with either without missing a beat. Whatever you do, whether you go for the Shadow Ops books or the second series, you can't go wrong!

Myke Cole is not only one of the best military fantasy novelists around. He's fast becoming one of the best fantasy authors out there, period!

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Kim Stanley Robinson has been an ongoing force in the Science Fiction genre for over twenty years, with his novels (Year’s of Rice and Salt, Forty Signs of Rain) crossing over to the mainstream, and routinely appearing on the New York Times best sellers list. During the 80s and early nineties, his short fiction continued to push the boundaries of science fiction, defining the science-focused side of the science fiction genre.

Award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan worked with Kim Stanley Robinson to select the stories that make up this landmark volume. In addition to these reprints, The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson features a brand-new short story, "The Timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic, 1942."

Peter Straub contest winners!

These lucky winners will each get a copy of Peter Straub's Ghost Story, compliments of the folks at Berkley. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Michael Carter, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

- Dan Oliveira, from Swansea, Massachusetts, USA

- Joe Silber, from King George, Virginia, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on Ursula K. Le Guin's The Birthday of the World and Other Stories for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

For more than four decades, Ursula K. Le Guin has enthralled readers with her imagination, clarity, and moral vision. The recipient of numerous literary prizes, including the National Book Award, the Kafka Award, and five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, this renowned writer has, in each story and novel, created a provocative, ever-evolving universe filled with diverse worlds and rich characters reminiscent of our earthly selves. Now, in The Birthday of the World, this gifted artist returns to these worlds in eight brilliant short works, including a never-before-published novella, each of which probes the essence of humanity.

Here are stories that explore complex social interactions and troublesome issues of gender and sex; that define and defy notions of personal relationships and of society itself; that examine loyalty, survival, and introversion; that bring to light the vicissitudes of slavery and the meaning of transformation, religion, and history.

The first six tales in this spectacular volume are set in the author's signature world of the Ekumen, "my pseudo-coherent universe with holes in the elbows," as Le Guin describes it -- a world made familiar in her award-winning novel The Left Hand of Darkness. The seventh, title story was hailed by Publishers Weekly as "remarkable . . . a standout." The final offering in the collection, Paradises Lost, is a mesmerizing novella of space exploration and the pursuit of happiness.

In her foreword, Ursula K. Le Guin writes, "to create difference-to establish strangeness-then to let the fiery arc of human emotion leap and close the gap: this acrobatics of the imagination fascinates and satisfies me as no other." In The Birthday of the World, this gifted literary acrobat exhibits a dazzling array of skills that will fascinate and satisfy us all.

Win a set of Marc Turner's The Chronicles of the Exile

With the second installment just released, I have a set of Marc Turner's The Chronicles of the Exile up for grabs, courtesy of the folks at Tor Books. The prize pack includes:

- When the Heavens Fall (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Dragon Hunters (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

If you pick a fight with Shroud, Lord of the Dead, you had better ensure your victory, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering.

A book giving its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost.

However, the god is not the only one interested in the Book, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the powerful magic that has been unleashed. Among them is a reluctant Guardian who is commissioned by the Emperor to find the stolen Book, a troubled prince who battles enemies both personal and political, and a young girl of great power, whose past uniquely prepares her for an encounter with Shroud. The greatest threat to each of their quests lies not in the horror of an undead army but in the risk of betrayal from those closest to them. Each of their decisions comes at a personal cost and will not only affect them, but also determine the fate of their entire empire.

And since the second installment features new locations, new characters, and new storylines, here's the blurb for Dragon Hunters:

Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass from the Southern Wastes into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. Alas, this year someone forgot to tell the dragon which is the hunter and which the hunted.

Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords. She has no intention of standing down graciously. She instructs an order of priests called the Chameleons to infiltrate a citadel housing the mechanism that controls the Dragon Gate to prevent the gate from being lowered after it has been raised on Dragon Day. Imerle hopes the dozens of dragons thus unleashed on the Sabian Sea will eliminate her rivals while she launches an attack on the Storm Lord capital, Olaire, to secure her grip on power.

But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in Olaire in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. When Imerle initiates her coup, that enemy makes use of the chaos created to show its hand.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "EXILE." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 22nd)

In hardcover:

Pierce Brown’s Morning Star debuts at number 1.

Alan Dean Foster's Star Wars: The Force Awakens is down five spots, finishing the week at number 15. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Stephen King's The Bazaar of Bad Dreams returns at number 17.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian is up one position, ending the week at number 3 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is up one position, ending the week at number 5.

Andy Weir's The Martian returns at number 12.

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is down three spots, finishing the week at number 15 (trade paperback).

Quote of the Day

"Wait," Coop said. "You kidnapped me and you don't know who I am?"

- RICHARD KADREY, The Everything Box (Canada, USA, Europe)

About halfway through and it's been a fun read so far!

Extract from Richard A. Knaak's BLACK CITY SAINT

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Pyr, here's an extract from Richard A. Knaak's Black City Saint. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.


The old, black Model T touring car rumbling past the lone street lamp across from her house had seen better days, but it served the needs of the two young, gaily dressed couples heading toward the sounds of jazz in the distance. My client grumbled under her breath in German as a girl with dark, bobbed hair, obviously seeking her best to look like the actress Colleen Moore, leaned well out the back and waved our—or rather my—direction. With a glare at me, her beau snatched her back inside, and the jalopy continued on into the darkness.

“Noisy heap,” muttered a voice that fortunately the woman before me didn’t hear over the fading rattle of the Model T’s engine.

Instead, her mood already sour, my client peered down at the beast beside me, her dubious expression one that greeted Fetch often. “What is that?”

“Part greyhound, part wolf,” I answered. Not true, but with Fetch the best possible description for an impossible creature. Tongue lolling, Fetch sat. He wagged his tail, but none of his attempts set the woman at ease.

It was not exactly his fault, either. WeI—would not be here if her life had been as that of most people in Chicago. Difficult enough to deal with the trials and tribulations of dwelling in a city where the bootleggers of the North and South Sides were actively at war over territory, but to have one’s sanity questioned by neighbors . . .

Full of build, her sixty years marked by deep lines all over her face, it was easy to read in her eyes her frustration, not at the flapper and her friends, but rather at this latest intrusion into her home, which I represented. By this time, she had had at least two, likely three visitations by those claiming to be able to rid her of her “problem.” Psychics. Fortune tellers. Mediums. Charlatans who were all the rage these days. I understood full well that most, if not all, had left cheerfully, believing that they had made a good dollar off her paranoia.

But I knew better. Her distress could not have been a symptom of her imagination if she had finally seen the advertisement. No one saw the advertisement if they had not been touched by something from the shadow folk.

The woman frowned. It was clear that I did not look like her idea of the sort to solve her particular problem. My appearance was that of a clean-shaven man perhaps forty, no more and maybe something less, with short flaxen hair and a face with hints of a Mediterranean background that had initially likely raised a bit of concern I might have blood ties to Big Al’s mob. If she paid close attention to my eyes, she might see them as sea blue . . . or perhaps frost green. I chose not to let her stare at them for too long.

I was clad in a presentable suit and wore a long brown coat that well-matched the sudden turn in the late September weather. I had purposely left the coat open so that she would see I carried no weapon—or, rather, that I carried no visible weapon.

Evidently finding nothing in me that made her too uneasy, she said, “All right, Mr. Medea. You can come in, but that stays outside. My little ones won’t tolerate him.”

Fetch wagged his tail harder. He loved cats. They were his favorite meals when I did not keep him under a tight rein.

“He won’t come in with me, Mrs. Hauptmann.”

She squinted past us to the street. She was looking for a vehicle, especially one not suitable to be in front of her home, despite the fact that the neighborhood itself was clearly not what it had once been. Now the area, including Hudson Street, was becoming popular with a more flamboyant and raucous crowd, of which flappers were only the latest and in many ways least shocking members. However, there were still those like my client who held on tightly to their ways and their memories.

“As promised, discretion,” I said. It was one thing for wild youngsters to go barreling past, another for a stranger’s car to be in front of a widow’s house, even if only for business.

She pointed at the small black case in my right hand. “That all?”

“That’s all.”

“The last bunch, they toted in enough machinery to double my electric bill. Made quite a scene, too. I almost didn’t call you because of them.”

“They didn’t know what they were doing.”

Mrs. Hauptmann cocked her head to the side, the first sign that I had gained some approval. “True enough.” She stepped aside. “Please come in.”

Her tone gave some hint that I should hurry. I indicated to Fetch that he should lie down. Tongue still lolling, he obeyed like any welltrained dog, which he wasn’t.

The house looked to be well over sixty years old but renovated maybe twenty years ago, just after the turn of the century. There were a few hints of where the old gas lamps had hung, but whoever had installed the electric lines had done a good job overall. In addition, the crisp, clean interior—despite the three cats already coming to investigate the newcomer—spoke of the old German work ethic that the first settlers in this area had brought with them and that Mrs. Hauptmann vigorously maintained.

“Not allergic are you?” she asked, as two of the cats rubbed against my leg.

“No. I’ve had cats before myself.”

I went up in her estimation again. “They like you. They didn’t like the last men.”

There was a sitting room downstairs that looked as if it had not changed since the house was built. The furniture was old but wellcrafted and well-kept. The only recent addition was a wide, illuminated radio quietly set to WGN. The news announcer was about a bust at a speakeasy on the South Side. Someone had obviously not paid off enough local officials or else that wouldn’t have happened. Liquor flowed well in Chicago despite Prohibition, maybe even more so because of it.

“My Opa—my grandfather—came to this area with his family back in the Migration,” Mrs. Hauptmann informed me, as if everyone should know about the German Catholics who settled in the region in the decade or so before the Civil War. As it happened, I did know. “My father—he was Opa’s youngest—he moved us out about fortyfive years ago to a place more north, but I always wanted to come back.”

“Was this your family’s home?”

“No, that’s gone. But this one’s close enough. When things got better here for a while, I wanted to come back to the neighborhood. My husband and I bought it, then he died shortly after.”

“I’m sorry.”

She gave a slight nod. “Basement’s through that door there on the right. Kitchen’s in back. Three bedrooms on the second floor.” She paused. “Attic entrance is in the hall between them.”

Of course, the attic was the focal point. Shadows and deep corners. Places to hide from the sun, from the mortal world. The basement might have been another choice, but I’d expected the attic in this case. “I saw one window up front. Are there others?”

“One in the back. They’ve been sealed tight for years. Since before my husband passed—and don’t go telling me it’s him haunting this place. Some verrückt woman carrying around a glass ball kept insisting it was him, but what she described wasn’t my Klaus!”

I simply nodded agreement. “Will you be leaving?”

“Certainly not.” She crossed her arms tight to emphasize the fact that she would not let any stranger wander about her home without her being nearby.

I had assumed her answer already. “I must ask you to remain in one room on the first floor, then. Either the sitting room, or the kitchen, perhaps.”

“I’ll be in the sitting room, reading.” Mrs. Hauptmann gave me one last survey. “And I’ll be listening.”

She guided me upstairs, which consisted of three bedrooms and a bath. The ceiling door to the attic came into sight even before we reached the second floor. A metal cord hung from the door.

Before pulling the ladder down, I looked around my feet. The cats had stayed on the first floor.

“They won’t come up here at all lately,” Mrs. Hauptmann murmured, for the first time her stolid appearance crumbling. “I’ve come to sleeping in the sitting room more and more.”

“Tell me again what you’ve noticed.” I already knew what I now felt, and that gave me a much better understanding. Still, there might be another detail the woman had missed in our earlier conversation.

“It’s just a sensation . . . a feeling that something is creeping around, waiting, getting stronger.” Her gaze drifted off to the left and her tone grew softer. “This house was just out of the path of the Great Fire and so survived, Mr. Medea, but a lot of other things—and people—didn’t. Maybe it’s some of those lost souls. . . .”

I did not dispute her romantic notion of ghosts. It was not entirely wrong, but hardly right. Besides, what she sensed was no simple spirit. It had all the signs of something from the realm of the shadow folk . . . and that in itself was not a good sign.

That the woman could feel its presence marked her and explained why whatever it was had chosen her residence. The shadow folk were drawn to the things in this world that still had a touch of their old one. It was also the reason why she had not yet been taken by it. Through Mrs. Hauptmann, it was actually drawing strength from the other side.

Of course, before long, it would be strong enough to desire a more powerful conduit . . . and then it would deal with her.

“You lost two cats?”

Again, her facade cracked. “I even went up there and looked for them, but there was nothing.” She steeled herself. “I know those men and that woman before them thought I was some dithering old woman with too much of an imagination, but they took my money regardless! Psychics, my—” Mrs. Hauptmann caught herself, instead finishing with, “I expect better from you, Mr. Medea.”

I did not need a watch to know that it was near midnight. That had no significance for this situation save that night in general was best for what I hunted, but, like many people, Mrs. Hauptmann believed well in the witching hour, and that was to my benefit. “Then, I’d best go up there.”

“It’ll be done with tonight?” Her voice quivered suddenly.

“Either there is nothing up there or there will not be when I’m through.” A simplistic reply, but it satisfied her.

“I’ll be waiting.”

I hesitated until she had descended, then pulled down the door and the ladder. A deep darkness greeted me from above. I looked around, found the switch for the attic that someone had installed in the hallway during some more recent renovation, then flicked it. To my surprise, the room above lit up.

Case in hand, I climbed up. A musty scent greeted me, as did another, more subtle odor. The cats would have noted it and been repelled. It was the distinctive smell of death caused by the shadow folk, a mix of decay, fear, and old magic.

Eye would see . . .

The voice came as a hiss in my head, a low, insistent echo. Not yet.

A sense of resentment flowed next, but I had dealt with it so long that it barely touched my thoughts. I turned my attention back to more immediate matters. The dweller was near, even though nothing yet was visible.

I glanced behind me at the window at the front of the house, then the one at the back. I could see only the top half of the second window, dusty boxes stacked up against the wall obscuring the lower part. The single bulb high above created small shadows here and there, but nothing that gave a hint as to my quarry.

I put down the case, then pulled the ladder up. The attached door slammed shut.

The light flickered out.

My hand was already within my coat. My heart pounded faster and a sweat spread across my forehead. I could see nothing, but I sensed something . . . everywhere. It closed in around me, seeking to emotionally crush my mind and rip apart my soul.

Now at last I understood what was hiding in the attic, feeding slowly, building up its strength. But to fight it, I had to see it.

Eye can show us . . .

He was aware that I would have turned to him for this, anyway, but it was a reminder to me that while I held sway over him, I could not do without him. Having a far more imminent situation with which to deal, I simply replied Show us . . .

The world erupted into a glittering scene of emerald green.

In what had been a tiny shadow to the right of the backyard window, a thing the size of a man but more like an arachnid, with too many limbs that ended in almost human hands, perched several feet above the floor. It glared at me with three orbs pale as bone and clacked a sharp beak together in both astonishment and rage that it could be seen despite its cover of darkness.

And perhaps what set the creature off a bit more was that it in turn could see the transformation of my own eyes from those of a recognized prey to something more narrow, more reptilian, more ancient.

More the predator than even it.

The sensation of fear and despair struck me harder, but faded immediately. I knew the emotions for what they were—false emanations.

My hand slipped free of my coat, bearing in it a small blade. Blessed in Constantinople well over a thousand years ago, the silvertipped dagger had never failed me.

The shadow creature paid scant attention to the dagger, more inclined toward the case. From its mouth, strands of blackness shot forth and seized the black bag. Having no doubt observed my predecessors—and laughing at their inability to notice it in the least—the dweller assumed that anything of true value against it would be contained within.

That was as I had intended.

I dove in toward the shadow as the tendrils pulled in the case. The dagger cut into the darkness, severing it as if it were truly of the mortal world.

The arachnid hissed. Words in a tongue older than man spilled through my thoughts, a curse cast upon me. It had as much effect as the fear but for a different reason. I was already cursed in a far more terrible way.

I swung for the pale orbs, the least protected part of this shadow folk. It was not one of the Wyld, but it was still a powerful enough being, especially after having built up its energies for so long. I suspected that the cats Mrs. Hauptmann could not find had only been a part of its diet and that there was a lack of birds, mice, and other small creatures in the vicinity of the house. The dweller did not have to leave its lair to draw to it those most susceptible to its magic.

The “hands” reached for me as I neared. The dweller intended to take advantage of my drawing toward it to engulf me. It sensed that the purity of the dagger, while anathema to it, would require me to bury the weapon deep more than once if I was to kill it before it tore me apart. I knew that it also could sense no other such dangerous weapons on my person. The case had been forgotten, too, the contents radiating no blessing or magic that might harm it.

I retreated from the grasping appendages. The tendrils of darkness shot forth, but again the dagger severed them before they could touch me. The shadow dweller scuttled forward, both of us aware that not only was the ladder door too cumbersome a thing to lower before the creature could reach me, but that the one window I could reach was too narrow for me to fit through.

Neither of us awaited Mrs. Hauptmann’s frantic rush to see what all the noise was above her. No sound escaped the attic, an early precaution set in place by the dweller when it had chosen this lair. I had assumed such a spell even before arriving at the house. In the deadly world of Her Lady’s Court, even a fiend so lowly as this would have to have skill at hiding its presence if it hoped to survive and thrive there. And in the comparably magic-depleted mortal world, that was doubly true.

The dweller had noted my difference from the start and had calculated that remaining obscured would not be sufficient. The more I felt of its power, the more I was aware that it had already nearly grown strong enough, anyway. Mrs. Hauptmann probably would have “vanished” within a few more days had she not become aware of the advertisement.

And if I did not stop the shadow creature now, she still might be its final meal before it departed for a better lair. Of course, that would also be after it finished me.

I switched my grip and threw the blade. It soared past four grasping appendages and struck the middle orb exactly. As the dweller hissed in pain, a foul, greenish substance spilled from the ruined orb.

Enraged, the fiend threw itself at me.

Eye can help! the voice ever in my head bellowed. Set me free!

I ignored his demand, aware that I might never be able to regain control if I did as he bade. I had planned exactly for these circumstances, and only one thing thus far—a significant one thing—threatened to unravel all my intentions and leave me—us—to suffer a grisly fate.

From behind my foe there came the crashing of glass.

The last piece fell into place . . . and Fetch landed atop the shadow dweller.

Fetch opened his mouth and from it dropped a silver medallion. I had had it with me since Silene, since the beginning of my curse, and although it could not cut, its very creation and blessing made it burn into the fiend as a hot coal tossed upon a patch of ice.

The hiss grew shrill. The shadow dweller reared back, tossing Fetch into the stack of boxes and sending the medallion tumbling to the side. The fiend sizzled wherever the relic touched.

“Be damned!” Fetch growled, as he vanished among Mrs. Hauptmann’s forgotten possessions. The curse was followed by a whine as the boxes fell upon him.

As the creature rose above me, I drew a second weapon from beneath my coat. It glowed a sinister crimson and, as I pulled it free, it became a sword with jagged edges and stones in the gold hilt that looked as if pieces of the moon had been taken to make them.

That the sword had escaped the monster’s notice was not due to any mishap on its part. It would have taken one of the greater Wyld to sense the gift of Her Lady.

The shadow dweller’s underside was open to me. With the dagger, only the orbs presented a viable target. With the Lady’s sword, however . . . I merely had to swing.

The crimson blade sliced through the fiend without pause, stretching farther than its mere physical presence warranted.

With one last shrill hiss, the monster fell in two pieces. I immediately thrust, not for the portion where the orbs still gleamed, but rather deeper into the base end, where the mind of the shadow dweller truly existed and still survived.

The blade sank into the wiggling abyss. As it did, the blackness adhered to the edge. I turned the sword over and the blackness sank into the blade.

In barely a breath, the sword devoured the latter half of the fiend, swallowing it and briefly leaving the blade’s finish muted. Yet, even as I raised the weapon, the foul brilliance of Her Lady’s gift returned.

A growl brought my attention back to the remnants of the creature. The front end continued to grab for whatever might be before it. The orbs no longer saw and the movements were reflex only, but Fetch, who had at some point extracted himself from the boxes, now snapped at them as he tried to decide which to bite off first.

“Stop playing,” I ordered him, at the same time raising Her Lady’s gift. Fetch growled one last time, then retreated from the vicinity of the sword.

“Mind ye not swing that shiv too wide, Master Nicholas,” he rumbled, well aware that his undoing would be much akin to that of our quarry should the blade so much as scrape him.

I ignored both his warning and his growing use of current slang, the latter seeming to affect Fetch the more he lived on the streets. The sword removed the remaining evidence. I then returned it to my coat, where it vanished into that place outside of both realms until I needed it again.

Fetch circled the area where the shadow dweller had fallen, as if still seeking some sign of the fiend. I retrieved the dagger and the medallion. “Did anyone notice you out there?”

“Ye think if someone’d seen me leapin’ up the back of the house that we’d not be hearin’ sirens by now?”

I expected such an answer, but with Fetch it still paid to ask the question. He was trustworthy for what he was, but that still did not make him entirely truthful at times.

“That turned out to be duck soup,” Fetch remarked, his words readily understandable, even despite his canine maw not designed for speech. This close to me, he was slightly more than a pale reflection of his once-proud self. “Thought it’d put up more a fight . . .”

Duck soup. I fought back a frustrated glare. Fetch had done his part, but I’d been facing the front. The struggle had been short, but hardly duck soup, as he’d put it. “The dweller was not the point of our coming, though its destruction was necessary. Do you smell anything out of the ordinary?”

His nose wrinkled as he tasted the air—and other things. “No trace. Nothin’ to mark who opened the way, Master Nicholas.”

He did not have to call me as he did, but thus was Fetch’s way, even despite his recently found love for the colloquialisms of this decade. I desired mastery over no one, though fate had decreed otherwise.

The bulb abruptly flickered to life. I glanced at the window through which Fetch had arrived. It had not been by chance that he had chosen it for his entrance. Mrs. Hauptmann had been unaware that we had scouted the house before announcing our arrival—ever a necessary precaution. “Best leave now. I’ll meet you out front.”

Without preamble, he wended his way to the broken pane, then leaped outside. I waited a moment, heard nothing, and then retrieved the case I used as a decoy. At the same time, I blinked, returning my eyes to their normal appearance.

You are welcome . . . came the bitter voice within. As ever . . .

I ignored him as best as I always could. Descending from the attic, I was greeted by one of the cats, who energetically rubbed against my leg in what I suspected was gratitude for ridding its home of the menace.

True to her word, Mrs. Hauptmann was in the sitting room, reading. She’d shut off the radio at some point, probably to listen for me. I cleared my throat as I entered. “I’m finished here.”

My client jolted, then quickly recovered her composure. Her gaze narrowed. “You’ve given up?”

“No. I’ve gone over the place thoroughly. There’s nothing up there.”

She frowned. “I promise you, there is!”

“I found nothing. You owe me nothing. If you decide that you want me to try again, we’ll take it from there.”

I had often seen the expression that spread across her face at those words. “I shouldn’t be complaining, but that’s a peculiar way to run a business, Mr. Medea. Very charitable. I’m tired of being thought—what do they call it—a ‘patsy’? Just what are you up to?”

I forced a chuckle at her suspicion, even though she was right to be distrustful. “I mean what I say. However, if after a day or two you feel anything is still wrong, call me and I’ll search again.”

“You sound more like you dealt with something, not just did like the others and tried to prove I was only verrückt—crazy.”

“You’re not crazy, Mrs. Hauptmann.” As if an afterthought, I added, “Oh, some bird must have collided with the back window. I found it broken.”

Mrs. Hauptmann had naturally not heard the crash any more than she had the struggle, so had no reason not to believe my explanation. “I’ll call someone in the morning. Thank you for letting me know.”

The repairman would see that most of the glass was inside the attic. It would look very unlikely that I had anything to do with the damage.

She finally led me out front. Fetch, seeming not to have moved at all since she had last seen him, wagged his tail and looked back and forth from Mrs. Hauptmann and myself.

“Good night,” she muttered, as she closed the door. Her disappointment was obvious, but she would soon realize that her home was clear of the darkness she had felt. By then, if she sought to contact me through the advertisement to let me know, she would find neither any trace of the notice in her home nor any listing in any paper. The magic was thorough in that regard.

Fetch made a noise as if wanting to speak, but I ignored him until we were out of sight, even though the street was deserted. Mrs. Hauptmann would have been surprised to find out that no car awaited us around the corner. Not only did I not own a vehicle, but this visitation had actually taken place not far from where I both lived and worked. Not that she would be able to discover that, either.

Despite my best attempts, Fetch finally had to speak again. “Master Nicholas, I smelled nothin’ of Her Lady’s Court, but ye still act wary . . .”

“I appreciate your help tonight,” I answered instead, my mind already deep into the very subject of which he had spoken. However, for now, Fetch’s part was done. I had no desire to draw him into something far worse than a lone shadow dweller, though that creature was the very mark of how great the danger was. “You can be off now . . .”

Fetch started to move, turned back, turned away again, then turned to me once more. His desires and instincts fought with his loyalty to me, something I’d never asked from him. I was the closest thing to a friend that he had had since being cast out by Her Lady. He was now a shapeshifter who could not shift shape because he was too far removed from the realm of Feirie and could only talk here in the mortal world because of the curse on me that inadvertently returned that ability to him when he was within roughly twenty feet of me. That at least enabled him to keep remembering that he was not simply some horrendous mixed breed prowling the streets of Chicago at night for whatever warm meal—rats and other vermin, at my insistence—that he could hunt down. I’d tried to give him shelter one time, but the alleys were his preference, as was the bringing down of prey.

I feared Fetch would lose what remained of himself one day, unless somehow he earned Her Lady’s favor again.

Of course, if that happened, I might have to slay him.

“It’s bad, isn’t it?” he asked. His lupine features contorted as he sought a more modern term. “Not . . . copacetic at all?”

This time I didn’t hold back a grunt of annoyance at his insistence on constantly trying out the latest word he’d heard. “It’s bad.” I saw no reason to pretend otherwise. “That kind of shadow dweller could not have entered on its own through some spell.”

Fetch growled low. “The Gate’s been breached, Master Nicholas?”

“The Gate’s been breached.”

He nodded. “I will be standin’ with ye when ye need me. Just—”

To his credit, the shapeshifter bit back another new expression, simply finishing with, “I will be standin’ with ye.”

He rushed off into the darkness, heading for wherever he chose to call home for the night. I should also have headed home, but I had one more visit to make. This time for my own sake.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Raymond E. Feist's excellent Faerie Tale for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Successful screenwriter Phil Hastings decides to move his family from sunny California to a ramshackle farmhouse in New York State. The idea is to take some time out, relax and pick up the threads of his career as a novelist.

Good plan, bad choice. The place they choose is surrounded by ancient woodland. The house they choose is the centrepoint of a centuries-old evil intent on making its presence felt to intruders.

Win a copy of Ian Cameron Esslemont's DANCER'S LAMENT

I have a copy of Ian Cameron Esslemont's Dancer's Lament for you to win, compliments of the folks at Transworld. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

It was once a land ravaged by war, minor city states, baronies and principates fight for supremacy, and then the rival cities of Tali and Quon formed an alliance and so Quon Tali came into being.

However that was generations ago, that dynasty has collapsed and the regional powers are now clawing at each others throats once more. But at the heart of Quon Tali lies the powerful city state of Li Heng which has for centuries enjoyed relative stability under the guidance of the powerful sorceress known as the “Protectress”. She is not someone likely to tolerate the arrival of two particular young men into her domain: one is determined to prove he is the most skilled assassin of his age; the other is his quarry - a Dal Hon mage who is proving annoyingly difficult to kill. The sorceress and her cabal of five mage servants were enough to repel the Quon Tali Iron Legions, so how could two such trouble-makers upset her iron-fisted rule?

And now, under a new and ambitious king, the forces of Itko Kan are marching on Li Heng from the south. His own assassins, the Nightblades, have been sent ahead into the city, and rumours abound that he has inhuman, nightmarish forces at his command. So as shadows and mistrust swirl and monstrous beasts that people say appear from nowhere, run rampage through Li Heng's streets, it seems chaos is come - but in chaos, as a certain young Dal Hon mage would say, there is opportunity . . .

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "DANCER." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Black Wolves

Mea culpa: I haven't read anything written by Kate Elliott in over two decades. This is long overdue, I know. And I have no excuse. I read the Jaran books back in the day, but nothing else since. I have bought every single Crown of Stars installment as soon as they came out, yet I decided not to start reading the series until it was complete. Did the same thing with the Crossroads trilogy. So yes, I should have at least read King's Dragon and its sequels a long time ago. But for some reason, something always got in the way. New books and other authors clamored for my attention, again and again. Which brings us here today. I was planning on reading either King's Dragon or Spirit Gate when I realized that Elliott had just released a new fantasy novel. Hence, Black Wolves went to the top of the pile of books I was going to read next.

Although the novel has garnered rave reviews, it appears that it's also quite divisive among fans. A quick perusal of online ratings and reviews shows that lots of readers didn't like it, and some of them did not even finish it. I never read reviews beforehand when I decide to insert a title into my reading rotation, so I wasn't aware of that fact. Perhaps that's why I went into this one with somewhat lofty expectations. And which is probably why I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

This new series is a sequel to the Crosroads trilogy. When I inquired, I was informed that one didn't need to have read the previous series in order to enjoy Black Wolves. It might be the case, but now that I'm done with the book I'm not so sure. Ofttimes, I felt that I was missing some nuances, some little things that could have made me like the novel a bit more.

The main problem I had with this book is that it reads like something that's not the final draft of a manuscript. Which was surprising. There are so many unnecessary scenes that bog down the narrative, it makes it hard to believe that this work went through the entire editorial process. Of course, it did, which is kind of scary, given how bloated the novel is. At times, Black Wolves is a case in point of everything that's wrong with epic fantasy these days. Too many protagonists and too many POVs, most of which bringing little or nothing to the story arcs. Too many plotlines focusing on extraneous or secondary characters or events, most of which getting in the way of the actual storytelling. Massive info-dumps as well as sequences and whole chapters fattened with filler material. Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of good stuff between the covers of Black Wolves. Problem is, you have to sift through a lot of superfluous material to get to it. So much so that it's more than a little off-putting, and now I understand why some readers couldn't get through the book.

Here's the blurb:

An exiled captain returns to help the son of the king who died under his protection in this rich and multi-layered first book in an action-packed new series.

Twenty two years have passed since Kellas, once Captain of the legendary Black Wolves, lost his King and with him his honor. With the King murdered and the Black Wolves disbanded, Kellas lives as an exile far from the palace he once guarded with his life.

Until Marshal Dannarah, sister to the dead King, comes to him with a plea-rejoin the palace guard and save her nephew, King Jehosh, before he meets his father's fate.

Combining the best of Shogun and Vikings, Black Wolves is an unmissable treat for epic fantasy lovers everywhere.

The decidedly unconventional structure is clearly the most off-putting aspect of this book. In the acknowledgments, Kate Elliott mentions that this was a tremendously difficult novel to write and it shows. Often, especially throughout the first two parts, it felt as though the author is making it all up as she goes along, that she doesn't necessarily know where the story is going. Which is why it feels like this isn't the final draft of the manuscript. The way Elliott uses flashback scenes can be confusing, as is the decision to focus on protagonists and events for nearly half of the book and then fast-forward forty-four years into the future. In retrospect, now that I have finished Black Wolves, it appears that you could pretty much get rid of the first 347 pages, those which focus on what took place in the past, as in the end they get in the way of what is essentially a very good second half. Had I received an ARC and was reading this one with no knowledge of some rave reviews by some critics whose opinion I respect, I would never have gotten past the first hundred pages. This weird structure, going back and forth between the past, the present, and the future is not only confunding, but it makes it hard to get into it and enjoy the tale. Indeed, by the time you reach page 347, you still have no idea what this book is supposed to be about. Better to begin forty-four years later and rely on flashback scenes to help readers catch up with the events that led to the second half of the work, especially since Elliott is fond of doing that throughout the novel anyway.

The worldbuilding is good, but too often the author relies on huge info-dumps to share information with her readers. A number of scenes and conversations are nothing more than info-dumps, which somewhat cheapens the whole thing. On the other hand, sometimes it feels as though readers should know what's going on and no explanations are offered. Which is why I felt that perhaps those who have read the Crossroads trilogy might be a step ahead of newbies like me. Still, Kate Elliott came up with a multiayered and convoluted tale of betrayal, and the second portion of the novel demonstrates that this story arc is much more complex than what I had come to expect. The blurb mentions James Clavell's masterpiece, Shogun, which implies that Black Wolves would have an Asian-like setting as a political and historical backdrop and not the habitual medieval European environment that has become the norm in the genre. Sadly, other than the occasional rice cakes and rice wine, and a few names here and there, absolutely nothing of the setting and the traditions truly feels Asian. Unlike Clavell's Shogun and Kirk's Child of Vengeance, novels in which everything down to the last minute detail reflects the Japanese way of life and customs, very little within the pages of Black Wolves feels different from other fantasy works on the market today. Which, in the end, was a major disappointment, as I elected to read this novel instead of an older Elliott title specifically because of the promied Asian setting.

The characterization is quite uneven. It can be brilliant, but it also often leaves a lot to be desired. As I mentioned, there are way too many chacaters and POVs. More than the story needed, and that's why the going can be so rough at times. Whole scenes and chapters could have been excised without hurting the story. Captain Kellas, former leader of the legendary Black Wolves, is an excellent protagonist. Complex and mysterious, there are a lot of layers to this man. The second main character, Marshal Dannarah, is the complete opposite. That woman is such a two-dimensional protagonist and I cringed when I read almost every scene she appeared in. She is incredibly dense when the story dictates that she be dumb, yet she becomes an eagle-flying Perry Mason/Inspector Columbo who can unravel the most impenetrable mysteries without much of a hint when the plot demands it. Oddly enough, with the jump ahead in the timeline, both Kellas and Dannarah are senior citizens for most of the duration of the novel. Which is unusual, but works well on the whole. Two other POV protagonists, Sarai and Lifka, are by far the most interesting characters in the book. It's a pity that it takes so long for their storylines to truly take off. But their back stories are the most fascinating, so it's evident that Kate Elliott has a lot in store for them. Finally, Gilaras' plotline gets too much exposure and would likely have worked better with less "air time". Again, the author spent too much time padding each individual storyline with too much filler material. Each storyline has its own reward before you reach the end, that goes without saying. But you have to go through so much irrelevant stuff to get there that it's understandable that some readers gave up at some point.

The dialogue can be jarring, especially in scenes featuring Marshal Dannarah. It seems that in trying to make her so overly competent and badass, the author created what turned out to be a caricature of sorts. I hoped she would die, but I have a feeling that she's in for the long haul.

The politicking is sometimes clumsy. Political intrigue is not something that every SFF author does well, and not everyone is as gifted as George R. R. Martin or Katherine Kurtz in that regard. But since a large part of Black Wolves hinges precisely on that aspect, it can be a bit of a setback.

The pace is abominably slow. Nothing seems to be happening for the longest time and it does take forever for the tale to finally kick into gear. Still, though the second portion of the novel gets better and tells a much more compelling story, there is no denying that the narrative continues to get bogged down by filler and extraneous material throughout. The end doesn't offer much in terms of resolution and is nothing more than a "To be continued" kind of thing. As such, after slogging through nearly 800 pages, I'm not sure Kate Elliott delivered as much as she wanted to as far as the ending is concerned.

Would I read the sequel? I'll give it a shot, no question. The way Elliott capped off Black Wolves makes me want to discover what happens next. But there is no way I'm slogging through another interminable and bloated read. If the story doesn't kick into high gear in the first hundred pages or so, I'll simply abandon the book.

If you are one of those people who couldn't finish it, I suggest you give Black Wolves another shot. Things do get better by the time you reach the halfway point. It's getting there that's hard. . .

The final verdict: 7/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

You can read an extract from the book here.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril returns to the noble household he once served as page and is named secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions.

But it is more than the traitorous intrigues of villains that threaten Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle here, for a sinister curse hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion. And only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge -- an act that will mark him as a tool of the miraculous . . . and trap him in a lethal maze of demonic paradox.

Online reviewers: Relationships with authors and publishers vs Integrity

Wow! Blast from the past!

A reader just forwarded a link to an interview I did with Aidan in 2007. He was interviewing a bunch of SFF bloggers and it was interesting to revisit the questions and our often disparate answers! The person was surprised that my "philosophy" hadn't changed since then. I wasn't, for I feel the same way today that I felt more than eight years ago. Here's the question and my answer:

Reviews are a touchy subject. On the one hand we have to maintain pleasant relationships with the authors and publishers who help us do what we do, but at the same time we want to keep our integrity intact by offering our readers honest and objective opinions of the novels we review. How do you bloggers approach your reviews?

Maintaining pleasant relationships with authors and publishers is one thing, and offering honest and objective opinions is another. Anyone who feels that reviews are a touchy subject should not be reviewing books — or anything else, for that matter. If something is bad, then it’s bad. Period! There is a way to phrase it, of course, so that it won’t be perceived as a cheap shot or a rant. Anybody can say that something is good. But if a reviewer is afraid of writing a negative bit on a novel, because he or she is concerned that the publisher might cut that steady supply of review copies, well that person doesn’t deserve to be read.

Sadly, there are too many of those within the SFF online community. I feel that too many reviewers don’t step up to the plate when the game is on the line. Readers, regardless of the genre one is reviewing, want to get the straight dope. If they’re going to pay 20$ or 30$ to buy a book based on your review, they deserve to get the truth and nothing but the truth. In the end, a review is solely the reviewer’s opinion, not something that is sacrosanct. I’ll never say this enough: the relationship between readers and book reviewers is based on trust. And respect as well as trust are things that must be earned…

If one is afraid to express his or her opinion, good or bad, then they have no right to be reviewing anything. Which is why people like William Lexner, Jay Tomio and Gabe Chouinard are important to the SFF genres, and why I feel that the Blogosphere has been a lesser place during their absence. William had to go through a hiatus, Jay is not as active as he used to be, and Gabe has all but disappeared. While I don’t always agree with what they’re saying, those three have always stood up for what they believe in, come hell or high water, and defended their opinions fiercely. Although we sometimes stand on different ends of arguments, they have all earned my respect. They are passionate and it shows!

As Ken pointed out, I write the sort of review I would like to read. Some like that, some don’t. I can live with that, and so should they! Insofar as I can determine, my reviews, be they positive or negative, have never had an impact on my relationships with authors and publishers. Sure, they hope that I’ll love everything I read, yet they’re realistic enough to realize that this is impossible…

Funny how things have changed, and not for the best. And one thing's for certain since then. Yes, some reviews have had an impact on my relationships with some publishers. But that's the way love goes.

Follow this link to read what is still a very interesting interview. Even though things have changed quite a bit since 2007. . .

Quote of the Day

There were politics involved; there are always politics. It is a fact of life.

- JACQUELINE CAREY, Kushiel's Avatar (Canada, USA, Europe)

I have about 200 pages left and this one is another awesome read!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

C.J. Cherryh has recently been named the 32nd SFWA Damon Knight Grand Master for her contributions to the literature of science fiction and fantasy. For those of you who'd like to give the author a shot, there are a number of omnibus editions comprised of complete series available in digital format and hard copies.

You can download The Faded Sun trilogy omnibus for only 8.99$ (Canada, USA).

Here's the blurb:

They were the mri-tall, secretive, bound by honor and the rigid dictates of their society. For aeons this golden-skinned, golden-eyed race had provided the universe mercenary soldiers of almost unimaginable ability.But now the mri have faced an enemy unlike any other-an enemy whose only way of war is widespread destruction. These "humans" are mass fighters, creatures of the herb, and the mri have been slaughtered like animals.Now, in the aftermath of war, the mri face extinction. It will be up to three individuals to save whatever remains of this devastated race: a warrior--one of the last survivors of his kind; a priestess of this honorable people; and a lone human--a man sworn to aid the enemy of his own kind. Can they retrace the galaxy-wide path of this nomadic race back through millennia to reclaim the ancient world that first gave them life?

You can also download The Complete Morgaine Cycle for only 9.99$ (Canada, USA).

Here's the blurb:

Together for the first time in one volume—all four novels in the dark science fiction epic, the Morgaine Cycle.

The gates were relics of a lost era, a linked network of portals that the ruthless Qual empire used to span Time and Space. The Science Buereau has come to believe that sometime, somewhere in the unreachable past, someone has done the unthinkable and warped the very fabric of the universe using these gates. Now, it is up to Morgaine, a mysterious woman aided by a single warrior honor-bound to serve her, to travel from world to world sealing the ancient gates whose very existence threatens the integrity of all worlds...

Finally, you can also get your hands on The Chanur Saga for only 8.99$ in mass market paperback format (Canada, USA).

Here's the blurb:

No one at Meetpoint Station had ever seen a creature like the Outsider. Naked-hided, blunt toothed and blunt-fingered, Tully was the sole surviving member of his company -- a communicative, spacefaring species hitherto unknown -- and he was a prisoner of his discoverer/ captors the sadistic, treacherous kif, until his escape onto the hani ship The Pride of Chanur.

Little did he know when he threw himself upon the mercy of The Pride and her crew that he put the entire hani species in jeopardy and imperiled the peace of the Compact itself. For the information this fugitive held could be the ruin or glory of any of the species at Meetpoint Station.

Win a full set of Brandon Sanderson's The Reckoners

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Delacorte Press, to help promote the release of Brandon Sanderson's Calamity (Canada, USA, Europe) I have a full set of the series up for grabs! The prize pack includes:

- Steelheart
- Firefight
- Calamity

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

The #1 New York Times bestseller that James Dashner called “fantastic,” with “relentless” suspense and an “explosive” climax. And don’t miss the rest of the Reckoners series, including Firefight—now a #1 New York Times bestseller—and Calamity, available now!

Brandon Sanderson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Words of Radiance, coauthor of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, and creator of the internationally bestselling Mistborn trilogy, presents Steelheart, the first book in the Reckoners series, an action-packed thrill ride that will leave readers breathless.

How far would you go for revenge if someone killed your father?

If someone destroyed your city?

If everything you ever loved was taken from you?

David Charleston will go to any lengths to stop Steelheart. But to exact revenge in Steelheart’s world, David will need the Reckoners—a shadowy group of rebels bent on maintaining justice. And it turns out that the Reckoners might just need David too.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "CALAMITY." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Paper Cities, an anthology edited by Ekaterina Sedia, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:


The city has always been a place of mystery, of magic, and wonder. In cities past, present, and future, in metropoli real and imagined, meet mutilated warrior-women, dead boys, mechanical dogs, escape artists and more. From the dizzying heights of rooftops and spires to the sinister secrets of underpasses and gutters, some of the most talented authors writing today will take you on a trip through the urban fantastic. Edited by Ekaterina Sedia, author of The Secret History of Moscow and The Alchemy of Stone.

With stories from Forrest Aguirre, Hal Duncan, Richard Parks, Cat Rambo, Jay Lake, Greg van Eekhout, Cat Sparks, Steve Berman, Stephanie Campisi, Mark Teppo, Paul Meloy, Vylar Kaftan, Mike Jasper, Ben Peek, Kaaron Warren, Darin C. Bradley, Jenn Reese, David Schwartz, Anna Tambour, Barth Anderson and Catherynne M. Valente. Introduction by Jess Nevins.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 15th)

In hardcover:

Alan Dean Foster's Star Wars: The Force Awakens is down two spots, finishing the week at number 10. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Brandon Sanderson's The Bands of Mourning is down seven positions, ending the week at number 13.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen debuts at number 18.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian is down two positions, ending the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is up four positions, ending the week at number 6.

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is down two spots, finishing the week at number 12 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, the third collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Multiple award winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman returns to dazzle, captivate, haunt, and entertain with this third collection of short fiction following Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things—which includes a never-before published American Gods story, “Black Dog,” written exclusively for this volume.

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction—stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013—as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story—a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year—stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.

Musical Interlude

Une petite chanson souvenir pour mes lecteurs francophones. . . ;-)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Ray Bradbury is a storyteller without peer, a poet of the possible, and, indisputably, one of America's most beloved authors. In a much celebrated literary career that has spanned six decades, he has produced an astonishing body of work: unforgettable novels, including Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes; essays, theatrical works, screenplays and teleplays; The Illustrated Mein, Dandelion Wine, The October Country, and numerous other superb short story collections. But of all the dazzling stars in the vast Bradbury universe, none shines more luminous than these masterful chronicles of Earth's settlement of the fourth world from the sun.

Bradbury's Mars is a place of hope, dreams and metaphor-of crystal pillars and fossil seas-where a fine dust settles on the great, empty cities of a silently destroyed civilization. It is here the invaders have come to despoil and commercialize, to grow and to learn -first a trickle, then a torrent, rushing from a world with no future toward a promise of tomorrow. The Earthman conquers Mars ... and then is conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race.

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is a classic work of twentieth-century literature whose extraordinary power and imagination remain undimmed by time's passage. In connected, chronological stories, a true grandmaster once again enthralls, delights and challenges us with his vision and his heart-starkly and stunningly exposing in brilliant spacelight our strength, our weakness, our folly, and our poignant humanity on a strange and breathtaking world where humanity does not belong.

Katherine Kurtz's three best Deryni series soon to be available in digital format!

As you know, I've been promoting Katherine Kurtz's Deryni saga for as long as the Hotlist has been created! It is by far one of my favorite fantasy series out there. Unfortunately, many of the books are out of print, and thus hard to find. Even worse, only the first trilogy, which is also the weakest Deryni sequence, is available in ebook format.

But things are looking up, for The Legends of Camber of Culdi, The Histories of King Kelson, and The Heirs of Saint Camber will soon be released as digital editions next month by Open Road Media! Indeed, all three trilogies will become available on March 8th.

This is awesome news, as it will allow a brand new generation of SFF readers to discover and fall in love with this saga and its characters! And you can now pre-order each installment for only 4.59$ each! Simply click on these links to find out more about the books!

The Legends of Camber of Culdi:

- Camber of Culdi
- Saint Camber
- Camber the Heretic

The Histories of King Kelson:

- The Bishop's Heir
- The King's Justice
- The Quest for Saint Camber

The Heirs of Saint Camber:

- The Harrowing of Gwynedd
- King Javan's Year
- The Bastard Prince

Here's the blurb for Camber of Culdi, which should be the first book you read:

A Deryni nobleman seeking justice faces a tyrannical king in the magnificent first book of this acclaimed classic fantasy series.

Long before Camber was revered as a saint, he was a Deryni noble, one of the most respected of the magical race whose arcane skills set them apart from ordinary humans in the medieval kingdom of Gwynedd. For nearly a century, Camber’s family has had little choice but to loyally serve the ruling Festils, Deryni usurpers who employed dark magic to wrest the throne from the rightful Haldane liege. Now, the land suffers under the tyranny of King Imre, whose savage oppression of the human population weighs heavily on Camber’s heart—a heart that is shattered when the despot and his evil mistress-sister, Ariella, cause the death of Camber’s beloved son.

Once he sought nothing more than a peaceful retirement and an uneventful old age, but the grim demands of justice and vengeance drive Camber far from his family’s estates in search of the last of the Haldane line. This descendant of kings will not be easily persuaded to accept Camber’s unthinkable plan. But with the kingdom in turmoil, the aging mage and the reluctant Haldane heir must confront together the awesome, terrible might of the Festils for the good of all.

The Pillars of the Earth

Ken Follett wrote this perennial bestseller in 1989 and I've owned a copy since 2003. Given that The Pillars of the Earth was first published 27 years ago and given that I've had this book awaiting my attention for over a decade, I finally decided to bring it with me on my Hawaiian adventure. Weighing in at 983 pages, I figured that it would keep me occupied for the duration of my trip. Having sold millions of copies in a myriad of languages, I was persuaded that it would be an awesome read. Wrong. . .

It's not a bad book, really. Far from that. I just felt that it wasn't a very compelling read, that the pace was atrociously slow, and that I didn't really care about any of the characters. By the time I had read about a third of the book, I was no longer truly interested in the tale or its protagonists. I was just going through the motions, hoping to make it to the end. And though it got a bit better before the ending, I'm not sure this is a work I would recommend. It's perfect for killing time, so as a vacation read it did its job quite well. But it's not the kind of novel that stays with you once you've reached the last page. . .

Here's the blurb:

The spellbinding epic set in twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the lives entwined in the building of the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known—and a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.

In a time of civil war, famine and religious strife, there rises a magnificent Cathedral in Kingsbridge. Against this backdrop, lives entwine: Tom, the master builder, Aliena, the noblewoman, Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge, Jack, the artist in stone and Ellen, the woman from the forest who casts a curse. At once, this is a sensuous and enduring love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age.

The sinking of the White Ship that left King Henry I of England without a legitimate heir is the historical backdrop of this novel. The events chronicled within the pages of The Pillars of the Earth take place between 1123 and 1174. Most of the action occur in the the small fictional town of Kingsbridge and centers on the controversial building of a new cathedral. With the king's death, England is plunged into chaos as Henry's nephew Stephen of Blois and Henry's daughter Maud clash for the throne. Power-hungry nobles and zealous churchmen support each faction and the conflict escalates.

Ken Follett has been lauded for his detailed depiction of medieval life and I have to admit that his portrayal of that era was particularly well-done. Having said that, too often the author relies on massive info-dumps that bog down the narrative. Especially when Follett goes into the complex architectural elaborations, with mathematical and geometrical details. Reading this book, you will learn a whole lot about building cathedrals and how the process evolved over the centuries. Problem is, all this technical mumbo jumbo brings absolutely nothing to the tale. True, architectural innovations have an impact on the building of Kingsbridge cathedral. But I doubt that it was necessary to go into so much minute details to get the point across.

The weakest facet of this novel has to be the characterization. To say that it's poor would be an understatement. Characters are extremely black or white, with not a single shade of gray between them. Having a cast of such two-dimensional protagonists was a major disappointment and the main reason why I went through the entire book without caring for a single one of them. The good people are good, and they always find a way to persevere and go through hell, no matter how the odds are stacked against them. Of course, no matter how poor or uneducated, they are all beautiful, brilliant, righteous, and so on and so forth. Regardless of how painful the personal tragedies which afflict them, they always find the will to carry on and come out on top. Like good guys should. On the other hand, bad guys such as Waleran Bigod, Alfred Builder, and William Hamleigh are thoroughly despicable. Not one of them show any redeeming qualities and they become even more loathsome as the story progresses. And they're evil just for the sake of being evil. There is no depth whatsoever to any of them, which is why the characterization is so poor. Still, there are a few protagonists that are more interesting, chief among them Tom Builder, Prior Philip, Aliena, and Jack Jackson.

This was meant to be an epic historical novel. It is a dense and sprawling work of fiction, no question. It's huge, but it lacks vision. It lacks depth. It's big just for the sake of being big. The story did not dictate that this tale needed to be nearly a thousand pages long. Entire chapters were unnecessary and could have been excised. The rhythm often slows down to a crawl, while other portions of the book are rushed and fail to provide any emotional impact.

My principal gripe with The Pillars of the Earth was how everything was elaborately contrived. Everyone involved is somehow linked to one another, and it was just too much for me. There is intricate plotting, and then there is the cast of this novel. I didn't like how neatly every single storyline was wrapped up and got its own happy ending. It pushed the bounds of realism past their breaking point. And in the end, I guess that's why this book left me more or less indifferent.

Good for the beach or the morning commute. Nothing more.

The final verdict: 7/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe