Monday, April 29, 2013

Guest Post & Giveaway: A Tale from the Trenches from author Tim Marquitz

The dilemma of self-publishing is the constant nagging thought of, “What do I have to offer that people can’t find elsewhere and how do I get it to them?” At least it is for me.

With the shelves of (remaining) bookstores stocked full of traditionally published books and those of the big small houses, being self-published without a traditional publishing background is a challenge. It’s not insurmountable, as many authors have shown, but it certainly puts the onus of marketing and promotion and the drive toward success squarely on the shoulders of the author. And while I’ve got the internet to spread the word and hopefully sing the praises of my books, the reality of it is more like throwing a book into the ocean and hoping it hits each and every shore. It’s an unrealistic expectation, especially at the outset; a hopeless dream that appears doomed from the onset.

And that’s exactly what it felt like when I started publishing. I’d sold a few hundred copies of Armageddon Bound, the first of my Demon Squad series, and while that was awesome, it certainly didn’t pay me back the money I’d spent on giveaways or my web page, and it definitely didn’t pay for my occasional convention trip. Not that it’s all about money, mind you. I write because I love to, but there’s an uncomfortable reality of return when you’re writing for public consumption. You can’t just constantly hemorrhage cash trying to get your name out there with no return and expect any sort of longevity.

For me, the first few years were hard as far as my aspirations were concerned. Seriously, $400 a year doesn’t go very far. I was fortunate—and still am—to have a solid, full time job with benefits. I’m no starving artist living on the street, but for me, the goal is to write for a living. $400 isn’t going to get me there. It’s not going to get anyone there.

Seeing that paltry sum in return for all the long hours I’d spent writing and editing and imagining was a kick to the baby parts. The first four novels I’d written were stashed in a trunk, rejections having piled up with no substantive advice buried in them, and writing the fifth felt like taking a swim with a cannonball. I was drowning.

Early on, I was under the delusion that writing was all about the writing. Turns out I was wrong. It isn’t how good a writer you are these days, and it isn’t about how poetic your prose or awe-inspiring your plots are. Of course those matter, but they’re just one piece of the publishing puzzle. It took me a while to realize this, focused as I was on bettering my skills and storytelling.

In the end I learned it was about writing plus marketing plus promotion plus networking plus—and this is the most ephemeral piece of the puzzle—plain luck. You can be the best storyteller in the world but if no one hears you, you’re nothing. Same goes for promotion. You can pitch a sack of gussied up poo all day long but once folks figure out what it is, you’re done. A successful author has to be all things publishing-related if they hope to make a name for themselves. And they have to be lucky, right place, right time.

Once I figured that out—after plenty of mistakes and the mantric advice from more talented buddies and colleagues echoing inside my head—things changed. They changed a lot. The relationships I’d formed with bloggers—people I now consider friends—gave me a soapbox for my work, a pedestal to display it where more than just my wife and the cats got to see. It was the same with conventions. While I blew more than a year’s worth of royalties booking a flight and was forced to nickel and dime to eat while I was there, the relationships I’ve created at these conventions have more than made each and every trip worth the effort.

Add this to what I learned with regards to my actual writing and I suddenly had more of a platform. People were starting to tune in. That increased as I put more effort into not being an anti-social introvert and expanded my visibility through social media. Just like in real life (if you can believe it) I made friends and met folks whose skills and willingness to help only furthered my ability to grow an audience. Word of mouth had gone from forced self-promotion to something more natural, folks talking about my books on their own, discussing them and telling their friends. It’s a great feeling seeing the tiny seed of my career sprout.

While I’m hardly one of the Michael J Sullivans or Hugh Howeys of the world, I’m finding my groove, and I know for a fact it isn’t because of just one thing I’ve done (write) but the sum of all I’ve done and has been done for me, and that elusive bit of luck I’ve managed to catch a wisp of. And as solitary as writing might seem, the long hours cooped up in front of keyboard making stuff up, it really becomes a community when you expand beyond the function of writing and step into publishing. It has to if you want to get your manuscript into the hands of someone not related to you.

Ultimately, self-publishing is a lot of work with no guarantees of success—just like life. There’s no certainty you’ll wake up every morning, and there’s definitely no certainty you’ll wake up with a contract from one of the big publishing houses in your inbox. So, if your dream is to write and be published and your options are limited, just do it. Tell your stories, make friends, dream big, and work your ass off. There are no guarantees but there’s plenty of regret to go around. And while I might not be the textbook example of success when it comes to self-publishing, the fact that I can make something of myself doing it is proof there are opportunities out there. You simply have to make the most of them.

As always a pleasure to have Tim around, author of one of my favorite urban fantasy series in Demon Squad. Most here should already know him as I keep inviting him over whenever I want to give free books, without having to spend my own money, and whenever he's released a new book.

His newest novel is the latest in the Demon Squad series, the fifth installment Beyond the Veil, which was great. To celebrate that release, he's decided to give an eBook set of all his Demon Squad novels to three lucky winners.

Participants have to be 18 years of age or older to participate. Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway rules are subject to change. 

Giveaway will be for 3 full eBook sets of the Demon Squad urban fantasy series by author Tim Marquitz.

The giveaway is open WORLDWIDE, and it will run from April 29, 2013 until 11:59 pm ET on May 10, 2013.

How to participate:
  • To participate simply log-in into to the Rafflecopter and "Enter" through the easy entry.
  • One entry per person, or face disqualification.
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm ET on May 10, 2013.
  • There'll be 3 winners only for all eBook Demon Squad novels.
  • Will have to confirm email to be considered a winner within 48 hours.
  • Additional entries may be had by following the steps provided in the Rafflecopter instructions, and only by doing those steps. 
  • Winners will be chosen by random selection using the Rafflecopter.
Good luck everyone! You can follow Tim Marquitz on Twitter @Marquitz, Facebook, his website, and his blog.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Giveaway Winners Update for Kalimpura, A Natural History of Dragons, and Miserere

A quick update on the winners from my latest giveaways, 2 of them from the good folks from Tor and one from author Teresa Frohock. I just want to give thanks to everyone who has taken the time to participate. The latest one was by far the most participation I've had on a giveaway, so I hope to see more of that.

Be aware that all winners have been contacted by email, so if you didn't receive an email... well, you know what that means.

This was a giveaway for 3 hardcover copies of Kalimpura provided by Tor, the third and final novel in the Green Universe. I recently read all of it, and quite enjoyed it.

Tim, Sharon, and Jonathan

Another giveaway from Tor for 3 hardcover copies, which also included an excerpt for A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan.

Brendan, Jessica, and Kayla

A signed copy of Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock was offered by author. This was actually the giveaway the had most participants ever on this website, almost double the previous high. Safe to say it was a success.


Thanks once again to everyone who participated. If you didn't win, good luck on not being losers next time. Actually have a guest post with a giveaway tomorrow, so try your luck there.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bastard Reaction: Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs was one of the first authors I read in the urban fantasy sub-genre, her Mercy Thompson series still remains among my favorites within it. Alpha and Omega is the companion series set in the same universe as Mercy Thompson, even sharing some of the same characters. The Alpha and Omega series is different, so it's not for every urban fantasy fan, but it adds good value to the universe. It's been my understanding that Alpha and Omega has a bigger focus on romance than Mercy Thompson, so while I hesitated to give this series a try, I ended up reading it anyways and I'm glad I did.

Fair Game is the third novel in the series that feature Anna Latham, a rare Omega werewolf, and her husband Charles Cornick a native-american werewolf, shaman, enforcer, assassin, and executioner. Their marriage has hit a rough patch, Charles has become withdrawn because he's haunted by the ghosts of all the werewolves he's had to kill. He can't make peace with it, some of the kills are weighing heavily on him. Since the werewolves came out publicly, the tolerance for misbehavior is at an all-time low, which has meant non-stop work for Charles. The latest he had to kill a few werewolves because they lost a bit of control as they killed a pedophile, and Charles is having trouble justifying the need to kill those werewolves under these circumstances. The Marrock, who is also Charles' dad, is worried about his son's stability and assigns him and Anna a case in Boston were he'll be assisting several government agencies in hunting down a serial killer who's targeting supernatural beings, and the latest victim is a werewolf, in the hope that doing this good deed might help Charles cope and get his mental health righted.

Against all odds, I've quite enjoyed Alpha and Omega and I have to say that Fair Game is the best novel Patricia Briggs has written in a while. It had good character interaction, and it really pleased me that we had a very strong focus with the government agencies, which included the FBI and Homeland among others. I don't know how much of a role they'll have in future novels, but we got introduced to some good characters which I hope will become series regulars in the future.

There was one particular scene though that was ridiculous and terrible and took me out of the novel completely, until I managed to regroup later on and continue. And it will be to no surprise that it was a sex scene. One of the worst I've read. Keep in mind that I came into this novel with the full understanding that there'll be a romantic focus, and I had read the previous two novels too, so I wasn't going to come here and complain about the amount of romance this novel had. By the way, there romance in this novel was very well balanced, and quite welcomed, so I have no problem with that. In fact, I'd say it has less love drama than many of my latest urban fantasy reads.

Getting back to the sex scene, picture this. The serial killer has abducted a fey's daughter, and they have to find her and save her before she's killed. Oh, and considering the evidence from past victims, she's most probably currently being tortured in the worst of ways and raped repeatedly. After all the searching, they find the location and when they get to the vicinity of her location, for one reason or another the author concocted a scenario in which Anna and Charles just had to fuck right then and there. Not in a dark corner or in a car while alone, no they decided to fuck out in the open with the rest of the search party around. What the heck? It made no sense from a good storytelling perspective or from a romance perspective or from an erotic perspective, in all irrespective to any elements you like in your stories. This kind of scene is only welcomed in a porn movie, but was just a terrible decision and had no place in the story. Just didn't make any kind of sense, and I would think that even romance readers will agree with me. The sad thing of it was that everything else in the novel was going very well.

If I recall correctly, there was just this one sex scene, poorly executed as it was. Aside from it becoming a bit predictable in regards as to the identity of the mystery, the rest of the novel was pretty good and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had some good action, and Charles kicked major ass. Seriously, he was awesome. I lament though that Anna wasn't given much to do in this novel, particularly from an action perspective. I hope that she'll be more active in future novels. Not that she wasn't taking part of the action, but most of the action scenes we experienced via Charles' POV, so we didn't get to see much of Anna, so maybe it would be as simple as having Anna take some of that burden, even when they're sharing the same scene.

The supporting cast was a good one overall, particular the werewolves from the Boston pack, the FBI agents, a powerful witch, and an apparent fey noble. The thing I liked the most was the ending. There was a trial though that the outcome didn't feel right with me, but what ensued was worth it. One of the best endings I've encountered, and very excited to see where the story goes next as we see the repercussions of what occurred.

Fair Game is simply good read, I might even say great if it wasn't for the sex scene. As mentioned, one of the best urban fantasy stories Patricia Briggs has written, and a very welcomed addition to the Alpha and Omega series and to the Mercy Thompson universe. I'm sure fans of the series will love this one.

Buy Fair Game from The Book Depository

For more information, please visit Patricia Briggs website.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Guillermo del Toro developing an adaptation of Urasawa Naoki's Monster for HBO

With the assumption that they won't fuck this up, this has to be the best news I've heard in a while. Monster by Urasawa Naoki is simply an amazing story. I've read the manga and watched the anime, both have become one of my favorites for both mediums, and I really can't express how excited I am if this comes to fruition.

According to Deadline Hollywood, Guillermo del Toro and HBO are "teaming on Monster, developing a potential series culled from a series of 18 volumes of Japanese Manga by author Naoki Urasawa published by Shogakukan Inc. Del Toro will co-write the story with Steven Thompson, best known for his work on Dr. Who and Sherlock." That's excellent news, a very good team to get the ball rolling as I'm a big fan of Sherlock too, and even though I haven't watched Dr. Who, I don't need to explain the importance of the series around these circles.

Urasawa Naoki has been for some time my favorite mangaka. He has a real talent for writing and drawing characters and telling carefully crafted compelling stories. He has a talent to make even the most minor of characters an interesting one. Not only interesting, but even important to the story. He has an amazing ability to show us the ugliness and the beauty of what it means to be human, and all his characters serve this very purpose. Urasawa will give you an engaging story, with good drama, awesome memorable characters, great character interaction, a good mystery, a good amount of tension, and stories that have meaning. I hope this happens, and if it's successful, that it opens the door to other of Urusawa's stories like 20th Century Boys or Pluto.

Monster is simply amazing and be ready to meet one of the best antagonists I've ever encountered. Even if this project doesn't become a reality, I exhort everyone to either read the manga or watch the anime, doesn't matter which as the anime was a very loyal adaptation. You will not be disappointed.
Kenzou Tenma, a Japanese brain surgeon in Germany, had it all: incredible skill at his work, a rich and beautiful fiancee, and a promising career at his hospital. However, after becoming disenchanted by hospital politics, he chose to save the life of a young boy who got shot in the head over the life of the mayor. As a result he lost the support of the hospital director, as well as his position in the hospital and his fiance. A short time later, the hospital director and the doctors that replaced him were murdered, and once again he was catapulted back onto the top. But as the chief suspect of the murders, Tenma did not get a easy life. As a matter of fact, it seems that the boy he saved was much more than he had appeared to be... Now to clear his name and to correct his past mistake, Tenma must get to the bottom of these and other murders, and investigate the truth of the Monster who is behind all of this.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bastard Reaction: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood is the debut novel of Brian McClellan featuring a world brimming with creativity and sweet chaos. It is a damn cool novel full of action, energy, gods, special powers, magic, and old-school snipers with muskets. You can't go wrong with snipers with muskets, particularly of the gunpowder snorting kind. It's the first novel of what is currently known as The Powder Mage Trilogy.

"The age of kings is dead... and I have killed it.” After a coup the dethroned its monarch, we follow the attempted recovery of the Adro nation amid civil unrest, betrayals, an invading army, and the threat of gods returning to devastate the land. Tamas is the powder mage Field Marshal, and has become the de facto ruler attempting to restore order in Adro by any means necessary as he also prepares for war against the Kez nation. Taniel, his son and powder mage himself, has been tasked to hunt down a Privileged sorceress who gives the impression of being more powerful than the usual, while he tries to achieve an even more impossible task, earning his father's recognition. Adamat, who's concerned with his family's safety with the impending riots and his future role, is a retired investigator with a Knack for perfect memory and employed by Tamas for some special investigations that threaten his rule and the well-being of the Adro nation. Nila is a laundress for a duke and in the aftermath of the coup, as the nobility is being destroyed and executed, she rescues and flees with the duke's son, a possible heir to the throne.

The world McClellan has created has been well constructed. He took the time to build a proper support for it with religious, economic, social, military, and political considerations. Some better detailed than others, but it provided a good backbone for a well grounded universe that will pay dividends as the series continues. If you look hard enough you can draw parallels to modern concerns, whether intended or not. That said, the world-building is not expansive, quite controlled as demanded by the story and each plot thread. In a way, you might call it focused, but McClellan has provided enough seeds of information that will enable him to enrich the world in future installments in the stories he intends to tell.

The magic system was awesome and creative. Brian McClellan appears to give plenty of credit to Brandon Sanderson for his development as a writer, and it seems to me is that in the creation of this magic system is where the influence is most noticeable. Sanderson in my experience is partial to hard magic systems, and I found McClellan's quite softer, but I don't know if it'll remain so in future installments. But it's really of little consequence. In all, the magic was my favorite aspect of this series. We have people who have Knacks that provide them individualized abilities that could range from super hearing to the ability to eating without getting fat. Then we have the Privileged who are more like sorcerers who can access the Else and do a variety of magical phenomenons. Lastly we have the Marked, also known as the powder mages who can control gunpowder in a variety of ways, including ingesting and snorting the black powder in order to gain a myriad of physical enhancements. There are other considerations that aren't as developed yet, like the nature of gods and some magical powers that some of the savages seem to possess.

Along with the magic system, Promise of Blood featured some great characters further enhanced by an abundance of good dialogue. I thought them well characterized and McClellan did a good job of keeping each plot thread fresh, different, but interconnected. With Tamas we focused more on the political drama aspects, with Adamant a more of an investigative mystery thread is present, and Taniel is more action adventure oriented.

My favorite POV character was Taniel "Two Shot". For some reason I kept picturing Billy the Kid portrayed by Emilio Estevez in the Young Guns movies. Other than their awesomeness, they really didn't have much in common, but my mind works in mysterious ways and I let it run wild. The very nature of Taniel being a powder mage almost guaranteed that he'd be a favorite of mine, to go along with his gunpowder sniffing addiction and all the cool actions sequences he was part of. The author also did a good job with his side characters too, in particular with Tamas' Knacked bodyguard Olem and Taniel's savage mute girl Ka-poel. Not going to say much about Ka-poel other than she was awesome, and every fantasy novel should add a mysterious mute girl, it'll instantly make the story better. With Olem though is where the book really shone for me and his back-and-forth dialogue with Tamas. He was interesting, with a number of deadpanned wise-cracks that won me over since the very first time he appeared.

As one reflects on the impossible task to write the perfect novel, this novel wasn't without its flaws too despite it being an excellent debut. First and foremost you might have noticed my omission of Nila as I discussed the POVs above, and honestly she was the weakest link for me of the whole novel. Her story was uninteresting, and when compared with the multitude of good characters the story had, she just didn't measure up, despite giving us a perspective from the other side of the conflict. She instantly joined the characters authors need to kill off to make their stories better. Also, I lament how underused the character of Vlora was by the author. She was powder mage prodigy and Taniel's ex-fiancée. I felt there were some missed opportunities to include her in some scenes, and make her a more active participant in the ones where she was included.

I also felt the second half of the story wasn't as good as the first half, and not as tight. In part because it made me question some of the characters' inaction and motivations. For example, it made me question why a character from a neutral party didn't expose certain character's allegiance and identity when it served his/her interest to do so while being satisfied with a vague flimsy warning. Also, I question why Tamas was seemingly unconcerned with a great army invasion at one of Adro's borders, and when the situation was addressed at all some poor rationalization was used which was really inconsequential to the matter at hand. Further more, weeks passed since the confrontation started so there was ample time for a better military response.

Lastly, from a technical standpoint I thought McClellan could use better timing and transitions when he utilizes time jumps. Seems like a few of them were overall not necessary and also seemed to deprive the readers from some scenes that could have been of interest and served the flow of the story better. Also, a bit more care with the use of pronouns in certain situations were it confused me as to who the author was referring to considering that the sentences in question could have applied to any of the characters involved in the situation, even if one allows for the idea of him being distracted by other happenings.

I also respected how McClellan forced his characters, in particular our heroes, to make difficult decisions and didn't shy away from making them do monstrous and despicable acts that would surely alienate some of the readers. But the author stayed true to what the story demanded of its characters, and I think that's very important. Not everything is as it seems on first impressions, there are many characters who'd make wonderful actors if that were their calling, but in all I thought McClellan did his damndest to give his characters the opportunity to be perceived one way, while giving allowance of redemption in the eyes of readers through other means as it was with the character of Tamas.

Promise of Blood kept reminding me of the early efforts by Brent Weeks with his Night Angel novels. There was a rawness to them, but there simply was an overwhelming entertaining element and an abundance of great action and energy that made them very enjoyable reads. Then I compare it to his most recent series, and he's become a much better and skillful writer. Brian McClellan debut is more polished than an early Weeks, yet has that same combination of action, energy, and entertainment to make this a worthwhile read based on this factors alone, despite it having more to offer. I'm quite excited in seeing this author grow as a writer and I'm very much of the opinion that he'll be responsible for some of my favorite stories in the future. As it is, I'm practicing my gunpowder sniffing skills... people keep telling me I'm special, so who knows what might happen.

Brian McClellan has written an extremely good debut in Promise of Blood and easily one of my favorite novels so far this year. I was tempted to use "awesome" and "cool" in just about every sentence describing this novel, but I decided to control myself as best as I could. Promise of Blood is indeed an awesome and cool novel, highly recommended, and with the explosive ending it had, I'm very excited to see where McClellan takes us next in this world.

After all of this, let's just ignore everything I've said and focus on the awesome cover. A book with that cover deserves to be bought and read, everything else is of little importance.

Buy Promise of Blood from The Book Depository.

For more information please visit the author's website or follow him on Twitter @BrianTMcClellan.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Bastard Giveaway: Miserere by Teresa Frohock

I wrote such an awesome review for Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock last week, that the author was compelled into offering a signed copy to one of the readers of this blog. Or, maybe back in August she learned that I was working on a review and offered to do a giveaway whenever I posted it, which we'll be doing now that I finally posted the review after eight months. Don't judge me. There's no conclusive evidence either way.

In any event, this is a giveaway you don't want to miss out on. Not only was this a very good read, but this may very well be one of the final times, or maybe the final time you'll get the opportunity to win this particular edition of the novel and signed by the author in a giveaway like this. It could very well become a rare edition soon. I'm even tempted to participate myself and magically win the prize. There's a situation going on right now with the publisher Night Shade Books, but this is not the time or place to dwell on it other than hope that everything turns out for the better for all the authors involved.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale is a novel that deserves to be read more, and hopefully we'll see more of the series in the future and other future projects from author Teresa Frohock.
Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina's soul, but Catarina doesn't want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen's hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven's frontline of defense between Earth and Hell. When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina's wrath isn't so easy to escape!

Participants have to be 18 years of age or older to participate. Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway rules are subject to change. 

Giveaway will be for 1 signed copy of Miserere: An Autumn Tale by author Teresa Frohock

The giveaway is open WORLDWIDE, and it will run from April 8, 2013 until 11:59 pm ET on April 19, 2013.

How to participate:
  • To participate simply log-in into to the Rafflecopter and "Enter" through the easy entry.
  • One entry per person, or face disqualification.
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm ET on April 19, 2013.
  • There'll be 1 winner only for a signed copy of Miserere by Teresa Frohock.
  • Will have to confirm email to be considered a winner within 48 hours.
  • Additional entries may be had by following the steps provided in the Rafflecopter instructions, and only by doing those steps. 
  • Winners will be chosen by random selection using the Rafflecopter.
Good luck everyone, and once again please make sure to read my review of Miserere, or better yet just buy yourself a copy. I also just learned that we're also celebrating Teresa Frohock's birthday today, so make sure to send her your well wishes @TeresaFrohock.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bastard Reaction: The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron

The Legend of Eli Monpress is an omnibus that collects the first three novels of the epic fantasy series bearing the same title by Rachel Aaron. It includes the debut effort of The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, and The Spirit Eater, all of which were published back in 2010 in consecutive months one right after the other.

I was quite eager with my anticipation of The Spirit Thief. For some reason, it seemed to me to be heavily promoted in urban fantasy blogs, and I got the impression that many around thought it was going to be an urban fantasy novel, myself included. I wasn't a blogger back then, so don't think about pointing any fingers my way. There was a slight adjustment to be made to my expectations once I started reading, but after stumbling a bit, it was smooth sailing from there. But can you blame me? I mean they used a Paul Blackthorne look-a-like as a model for Eli Monpress in the cover, and we all know that he played Harry Dresden in the short lived tv-adaptation of The Dresden Files (can someone please do a new adaptation?), so it was obvious that this was going to be an urban fantasy. It's no wonder that they ended up changing the cover styles after the third book, and re-released them in an omnibus so that there would be no confusion that this is an epic fantasy. But truth be told, I liked those original covers, and my OCD hoarder side of me wishes the full series was released with the original style, my collection now feels a bit incomplete without them.

My first impression of this series was that it had a good mixture of both high fantasy and sword & sorcery plot threads, and it mixed attributes of some of my favorite reads in recent years, or it at least reminded me of some of them. If you'll excuse some of the name dropping I'm about to do, even when some would consider doing so bad form, but the character dynamic was excellent and fun resembling what is found in Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding and The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan, and also their sense of adventure. Some of the world building seemed to echo aspects found in The First Law by Joe Abercrombie, though even I can admit that I'm stretching it a bit. Also, considering the con-job aspect of some of the plot threads, Ocean's Eleven easily stood out, so by extension, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Lastly, we have one of my favorite anime/manga with One Piece with its combination of fun, funny, and serious portions to go with the adventure aspects as well as its main character's obsession with becoming the Pirate King and his bounty paralleling Eli Monpress's obsession with becoming the most wanted criminal with the highest bounty and be renown as the best thief in the world.

While I enjoyed The Spirit Thief, it wasn't as good as I was expecting it to be, ignoring the urban fantasy vs. epic fantasy shenanigans to the side. It was an extremely fun read and light-hearted, but it also bordered the line of silliness too close for my taste a few times, despite it being quite funny too. The plot in this book wasn't that strong either in my opinion. Also there were some moments of extreme deus ex machina, which I'm not fan of. Though keep in mind that much of these are impressions I got from my experience reading the first novel that first time around, and much of my perspective changed as I kept reading to the series, giving new insights to these events, in particular to some of the issues I found with the deus ex machina which had a hidden cost not apparent at the time, but I later came to appreciate it more as we learned more from Eli's circumstances.

Despite those issues, I was still anxious to continue reading the series, to the point that each book in the series was one of my more anticipated reads each time around because the novel was indeed fun and I loved the characters from Eli with his conning personality, to Josef's silent persona and deadly sword, to Nico's adolescent creepy demonic nature, to Miranda's overbearing self-righteous personality who wants to arrest all these three. The character dynamic was too good and the world full of possibilities for it not get better. I smelled the potential and Rachel Aaron made sure to reward me for hanging around.

The Spirit Rebellion began a pattern that continued on for the rest of the series of each book improving over its predecessor. It meant that each book added to the momentum of the series and that was a big plus. By the same token, each book became a bit darker, and I loved that aspect. It also introduced new plot threads, notably political intrigue and expanding the world and cast of characters. The book focused a bit more on Miranda, and through her we learned a bit more of what is a stake in their world and what they strive to protect concerning the spirits and other sorts of intrigues from a murderous and traitorous inclination. Of course, Eli and his band somehow find their way into the middle of it by pure chance and luck, or lack of it for that matter.

Finally we have The Spirit Eater with a higher focus on Nico and her demonic nature as we go about learning a bit more about how dangerous demons are and the threat they pose. There's also a higher focus on Nico's relationship with Eli, and more importantly on the nature of her relationship with Josef. We also start delving a bit into Eli's secrets, something Aaron has been careful not to reveal much of. Just like the previous novel, the world keeps expanding, new characters emerge, and adding new dimensions to the composition of the various powers of the world.

The Legend of Eli Monpress is a reminder of the very thing that makes me a fan of fantasy stories. Fun characters you don't mind spending the time with, a cool world full of possibilities, a sense of magic and wonder, and just like it's main character, the series has plenty of charm. But more importantly, it's a story that at its core doesn't pretend to be more than it is, and no matter what the mood I was in, reading The Legend of Eli Monpress was always a good idea. I could've been reading a novel that could be considered the best by a landslide for the year, and I probably would've put it down in favor of reading the newest installment of this series. Can't explain it much, it's not a perfect series, other than I really enjoyed spending time in Eli's universe.

Don't want to get ahead of myself, but the sequel to this omnibus was my favorite read of last year. The Legend of Eli Monpress is a series that is appealing to a wide variety of ages, which is why I highly recommend this omnibus to just about anyone despite it maturing and going darker after each book, and this omnibus should be a safe bet for those interested in buying a gift for someone who's an avid reader. Also be aware that this series has been finished and completely published, so it's the perfect time to sit down and marathon the full series. Not a hard thing to do as this is an easy book to read, and a page turner to go with it. This debut effort by Rachel Aaron is responsible for one of my favorite series of recent memory (truth be told, all series to me are of recent memory, but why spoil the fun?). Do yourself a favor, and just find some time to sit back, relax, forget about nitpicking for a few hours in your day, and just have fun with a fantasy series that is capable of reminding us about some of the good things of reading in this genre. Whatever Rachel Aaron's next project is, she can be comforted that this Bastard will surely be eager to give it a read.

Buy The Legend of Eli Monpress from The Book Depository
Buy The Spirit War from The Book Depository
Buy Spirit's End from The Book Depository

For more information on Rachel Aaron and this series, please visit her website, blog, and follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bastard Reaction: Miserere by Teresa Frohock

Miserere: An Autumn Tale is the debut novel by Teresa Frohock, and it's beautifully written as promised in the very first paragraph. In the midst of the oldest and longest war in history, in a complex world and universe, a simple tale is told about a man who has loved, betrayed, and sacrificed much as he goes on a journey to save the life of the person he once abandoned. Crippled and broken, he'll risk it all once again for the one he once loved, and still loves, to protect the world from his sister's evil machinations. Highly recommended read, and it's the first of, what I understand, an intended trilogy.

I know some readers would be concerned about the religious aspects of the novel, with fears of a novel being preachy and such. Rest assured there's nothing of the sort. This is a fantasy through and through, and while Christianity plays a big part of the narrative, it's hardly the only religion represented in this world. The extent of the role of religion is merely as a means to access the magic, and even then not a necessity, and a means to build up the mythology. If there's any preaching going on is a simple call for tolerance and unity, as all the different religions represent bastions that work together to protect our world from threats of the enemies. It warns about the about the consequences of segregation and hostility. But this is a fantasy story like any other, so don't concern yourself with the role Christianity may have on the story. It's but one perspective, and it's not pushed onto the reader.

This is an interesting universe with various parallel dimensions and how they influence each other. We have Heaven, Hell, Earth, and Woerld, where the story takes place. Woerld is a dimension that stands between Hell and Earth, and it protects us from the influence of the Fallen Angels and the demonic realm. If the story is to be believed, many of Earth's worst atrocities have direct links to failures in Woerld from protecting the barriers that dampen this influence. And now a Fallen Angel named Mastema is posed to gain access to Woerld and force his influence and whatever consequences it will have on humanity.

Mastema was an interesting choice as a Fallen Angel chosen as the story's main threat. In some mythologies he's known as the Satan, as evil incarnate; a destroyer. In others, he's a demon that is in the service of God and serves a role of tempting humanity as a test. Sometimes a demon, in others a Fallen Angel, so there's a richness of mythology that one can use to speculate of the role of Mastema and his place in the hierarchy of the Fallen within the story in Miserere. Which makes me wonder, speculating that Mastema could potentially be considered Satan, what role would Lucifer have here, if any?

Speaking of Lucifer, I couldn't help but notice the resemblance of the name to that of Lucian, our main character. "Lucifer" means "bringer of light", while "Lucian" means "light" so it can't be a coincidence, and it exhorts the readers to parallel them. I mean, both are known as betrayers; they betrayed the person (or entity) they loved the most. They were both the favorites, in Lucian's case the favorite pupil (and of course had a lover), and both very beloved by those they betrayed and pretty much everyone. If some mythologies are to be believed, it could be said that both had great compassion, and probably it was that compassion that in some manner led to their eventual betrayals and downfall. Lucian also commands the Hell Gates, a very rare ability. Also, after his betrayal you can say Lucian was living a Hell of sorts in the hands of his sister, who broke him both physically and emotionally. For these reasons there could something more to this Lucian character than what meets the eye, or he's simply used a symbol. Maybe I'm just over-analyzing the issue, but regardless, it made the story more interesting for me as it gives it a different perspective through which to look at the events.

Miserere is well written by an author who shows great command of the English language. As mentioned previously, the first paragraph is a good one and is representative of some of the novel's best aspects. Frohock knows how to stage a scene, each chapter designed carefully with proper location details and how she goes about setting the mood and atmosphere with a combination of sounds, visual cues and character observations and inferences.

The novel features various point of views, but most at a limited capacity, keeping the focus on two or three through much of the novel. I personally like that balance, and I have to say that I liked all of them. I don't recall reading from any point of view that made me feel any type of agony of wanting to switch to a different one. They all had something to add to the story, and Frohock's deft characterization allowed for this success. It also helped that all the point of views had their stories interconnected with one another, so you never really felt like you were abandoning a plot thread to follow a new one. It was all relevant to all the characters involved. Personally I'm not a big fan of books that have many point of views, but the way it was handled in Miserere, and the potential to explore the world at a bigger capacity along with various interesting characters which really didn't get much time in the action, I think Frohock should really consider expanding the cast.

As much as I loved reading this novel, there were a couple of issues that prevented me from enjoying it even more. The superficial portion of the story, from an event perspective, was too simplistic in a some manner, too straightforward, which for me is usually not a problem, but as the story went along we kept getting reminders of some of the complexities of the events that occurred in the past, events that are the catalyst for much of the story Miserere is telling. As more of the past got revealed through the book, I just couldn't help feeling it outshone the story we were currently experiencing. The good thing is that Frohock has some good material to work with if she ever plans to write some sort of prequel, though I'm personally averse at reading these sorts of stories.

Another issue I encountered was a predictability that factored in as it regards to the role and alliance of a certain character, which wasn't as effective from a mystery perspective nor a thriller perspective, so when the supposed twist came it didn't pack the punch it could've. It was obvious to the reader what was going on with this character, and I didn't get the feeling from Frohock that she cared much to hide it from the readers, but it could've been handled better. Lastly, I felt the climax action portion was a bit prolonged when I thought that it should have been handled in a quicker and more economical manner. Other than these, I really don't have anything else to complain about, other than I wanted to read more of Catarina, but I can't blame the author from writing such an awesome, disturbing, and cruel character right?

That's the thing, I thought Frohock wrote good characters. All of them seemingly broken, and quite flawed and weak, yet juxtaposed with levels of strength and even perfection evident during other times, maybe even at the very same time. All of it exhibited best with the brother and sister combination of Lucian and Catarina. In Catarina we see a woman who's talented and beautiful, but at the same time is quite deranged and lives a life in denial. She's pretty much the most powerful character introduced in the novel, yet the most unstable of them and seems incapable of functioning without her brother, who's always been there for her to clean up her messes. Obsessed with the love for his brother, yet the most cruel of people. Lucian is both emotionally broken and physically crippled, yet has to live carrying the burden of his sister's and his own sins. In the past he was the best pupil, a very powerful person in his own right, but the love for his sister and his enabling ways put the lie to his strength. A broken man, who struggles to even walk, and now he has the burden of saving the world, and even more difficult, facing the sins of his past. The duality of strength and weakness found in these two characters, and these facets influence how they face their respective tribulations.

A myriad of themes were tackled in Miserere in an interesting fashion. Disabilities and over-coming them, even finding strength when times are most desperate. The importance of responsibility and teaching it, particularly taking responsibility for one's actions and facing the consequences of them. The dangers of over protection, of not allowing people to learn from their mistakes, and sheltering from reality and enabling that falseness of denial. The constant battle for your alliances for your love, loyalty, and trust at times forcing you to choose between family and friends and at times forcing you to make immoral and unethical decisions. The importance of tolerance. And we've barely begun to scratch the surface.

Additionally I liked how the novel was properly framed, it began with an idea and came full circle in the end. The story in part was at its essence the pursuit of an opportunity, and with that opportunity a shot at redemption, at a second chance. We use opportunity and second chance interchangeably, but I got the impression (even if I misinterpreted it) that Frohock went out of her way to make a distinction between the two. I gathered that opportunity was more of a journey, a position one has to earn, something you give yourself, while a second chance is merely something that is given (not necessarily earned) and part of the goal after one achieves the aforementioned opportunity. And it's Lucian's journey to give himself this opportunity, and from there come whatever it may.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale is simply a very good read from start to finish. A commendable effort from a debut author who I have no doubt will become even better. So give this novel a shot, heck you might even learn a thing or two about the multiple uses of owning a pet demon. I'm a big urban fantasy fan, and even though this isn't remotely close to it, in some ways it made me feel like I was reading events that happen behind the curtain of some of those urban fantasy I like to read, so it gave me that different perspective too. Good characters, well written, a good study of the human condition, good drama, good action, and an awesome antagonist; I don't think there's much more to ask, other than go and give this novel a try. And Mrs. Frohock, I'm eagerly waiting for the sequel, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

Buy Miserere: An Autumn Tale from The Book Depository.

For more information on this series and Teresa Frohock, please visit her website and follow her on twitter.