Monday, December 31, 2012

Bastard Giveaway: Witch Bane by Tim Marquitz

Happy New Year (soon) and a giveaway. Witch Bane by Tim Marquitz is a quick read, and a non-stop action revenge tale. It was released a few days ago, and the ever generous Tim is offering 2 paperback copies for US shipping address, and 5 eBook copies for worldwide participants. Mihir should be reviewing it tomorrow or so on Fantasy Book Critic, so keep an eye out for his review.

In any case, a good way to close the year here on the blog, and hopefully next year will be a bit more active one.
Sebastian is whisked away at birth, just moments after his mother's death. He returns nineteen years later, a warlock trained in the arts of war. Raised in secret and fed on tales of revenge, he seeks redemption against the witches who betrayed and murdered his mother.
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 2 paperback copies of Witch Bane for a US participants, and 5 eBook copies of Witch Bane for worldwide participants.

The giveaway is open worldwide, but the paperbacks are US shipping addresses only; it will run from December 31, 2012 until 11:59pm ET on January 11, 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 January 11, 2013.
  • There'll be 7 winner total (2 US participants for paperback and 5 worldwide participants for eBook of Witch Bane
  • 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 Happy New Year! See ya in 2013.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Guest Post: Triumph Over Tragedy by Sarah from Bookworm Blues

This past election season proved something to me. No matter how much people can disagree on opinions or argue their point, the one thing that seems to bring us all together is the love of a good book. That’s the thing about literature: it brings people together. No matter if you appreciate some beautiful prose, a rich world, or a layered plot (or all the above), you’ll find someone out there who enjoys that same book just as much as you do. Opinions on everything else be damned, the love of a good book seems to bridge all divides.

One of the amazing things about the Speculative Fiction community is how well we tend to pull together in times of strife. Not only readers, but authors as well. Anthologies have been put together with funds donated toward the relief of many tragedies in the past few years, and it’s amazing to watch all of these projects succeed and help so many.

Triumph Over Tragedy is a wonderful anthology dreamed up and put together by Ryan Kaelin, who has donated an immense amount of time and effort to make this thing happen. Not only is Triumph Over Tragedy happening, it’s exceeded our wildest dreams. We have so many wonderful authors contributing stories to the anthology that it’s hard not to be excited about it. Not only that, but 100% (yes, every red cent) goes to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Imagine how excited we are to not only present a book that can unite readers and stoke the flame of their passion for the genre, but also help so many deserving people at the same time.

As of today, the list of authors with stories in Triumph Over Tragedy are:

• Robert Silverberg (Hugo & Nebula Award winner)
• Marion Zimmer Bradley (Locus Award winner) (donated by the MZB Literary Trust)
• Timothy Zahn (NYT Bestseller & Hugo Award winner)
• Michael Stackpole (NYT Bestseller)
• Elizabeth Bear
• Michael J. Sullivan
• Mark Lawrence
• Bradley P. Beaulieu
• Philip Athans
• Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Tobias Buckell
• Stephen D. Sullivan
• Rick Novy
• Jean Rabe
Ÿ Tim Marquitz
• Maxwell Alexander Drake
• SM Blooding
• Erik Scott de Bie
• Alex Bledsoe
• Elisabeth Waters
• R.T. Kaelin
• Ari Marmell
• Matt Bone
• Sarah Hans
• Rob Rogers
• Jaym Gates
• C.S. Marks
• C.J. Henderson
• Marian Allen
• Bryan Young
• Donald Bingle
• Janine Spendlove
• T.L. Gray
• Miya Kressin
• Matthew Wayne Selznick
• Steven Saus
• Addie King
• Rob Knipe
• Vicki Johnson-Steger
• Tracy Chowdhury
• Doris Stever

While we were originally aiming for a December 20th publication date, we have some exciting things potentially being added to the book (yes, I’m being deliberately vague here), which might delay the publication to the first part of January. However, I can assure you the wait is worth it.

For a measly $7 you get an anthology packed full of stories by incredible authors, and you get to help someone who dearly needs it at the same time. It’s a win for everyone involved. Those of us who have worked hard editing the anthology are excited about the quality of stories it contains (as well as the impressive list of authors), and we are sure it will please SF fans. Personally, I am thrilled to be part of a project that can not only unite readers through a love of literature, but also help people who so desperately need it at the same time.

All thanks to R.T. Kaelin, and his intense desire to make a lasting difference.

Please check out the project’s website for more information.


Good reading, low price, and helping those in need at the same time? Seems like a great idea. Thanks Sarah for sharing this with us, and helping make this project a possibility.

You can find Sarah on her website Bookworm Blues, her Twitter @BookwormBlues, and she recently provided a guest post for us on the topic of Urban Fantasy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

We are over at The Qwillery with some book gift ideas for Christmas

Mihir and I today visit The Qwillery in which we were asked to contribute by answering this question, "Which book would you give for the holidays?".

I chose The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron, while Mihir chose Blood Song by Anthony Ryan. If you're interested in why we chose them, and of course to read what other bloggers advised, then please visit The Qwillery. You'll also get to learn a bit more about myself, my superpowers, and my chatting habits.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Guest Post: How I Lost My Virginity on Prom Night by Cecy Robson, author of Sealed with a Curse

Okay, I’ll admit, the title is more of a metaphor than an actual event. Truth be told, I didn't attend my high school prom. No one asked hence, no deflowering actually took place. My buck teeth, coke-bottle thick glasses, and frizzy 80’s perm might have kept many a handsome suitor away―but I had wit, damn it!

Going to the prom actually has to do with my road to publication. Any writer who has ever tossed his or her cummerbund or corsage onto the prom dance floor that is traditional publishing is more than a little familiar with rejection. I was rejected by seventy-five―yes, seventy-five!—various agents and editors before my lovely agent, Nicole Resciniti, swept in on her angelic wings (cue the chorus of cherubs singing here) and signed me days after our initial meeting. “Your voice is amazing,” she said. “You’re so funny,” she praised. “How has no one ever signed you?” she gushed.

That being said, that’s when our four rounds of edits―or getting ready for prom night began. What it comes down to is this: no matter how prepared writers believe their manuscripts are, someone usually has an opinion on how to improve your work. Should writers listen to anyone and everyone?  Just like believing electric teal eye shadow would go perfectly with your electric teal dress, the answer is no. But when a professional whom you trust makes suggestions, you better damn well listen and listen hard.

Lots of edits, lots of tweaking, and lots of swearing on my end later, Nicole began submitting to all those big awesome New York publishing houses. I made it, I thought. I’m going to be published!

Nothing like a rejection nut-punch to bitch-slap modesty back into me. It was the Aquanet to the eyes I apparently needed.

Nicole phoned me after the third ‘no.’ I believe I took the call from my fetal position on the floor. “Jhanteigh, an editor from Penguin has shown interest,” she told me. “She wants to work with you on exclusive basis. Call her and we’ll go from there.”

I spoke to Jhanteigh. She praised my writing voice, my dialogue, and my characters. She liked me, she really liked me . . . but she felt the story arc wasn't strong enough and that too much happened in the first book.  It looked like I wouldn't have a date for prom after all―worse yet, I was momentarily banned from the gym.  So I wiped off the mascara, slipped out of my dress, and commenced another round of edits.

To be clear, the exclusive basis option isn't something editors typically offer―nor does it guarantee a contract. It’s merely an opportunity―a blind date that may or may not stand you up.  I reworked my novel and following edits it was resubmitted. That’s when waiting for prom night to arrive began. I had my novel (dress), an agent (limo), my opportunity (the would-be prom date). I sat in my electric teal dress for a long time, envisioning piles of brilliant manuscripts (hot babes) passing by Jhanteigh’s desk and wondering if my date would show, or if he’d dump me for a prettier, smarter, funnier gal.

“I want to go to prom!” I told my friend Melissa Landers, who writes as Macy Beckett. “I want to come home with lots of hickies. Is it too much to hope for hickies?”

“You’re going to prom,” Melissa insisted. “And you’re going to play your 'V' card."

She was right. On February 29, 2012, Nicole called me to say Penguin offered me a three-book deal. I emailed my pals to tell them I’d gone to prom and lost my virginity.

SEALED WITH A CURSE―my novel birthed from prom night releases December 31, 2012.



Cecy (pronounced Sessy) Robson is an author with Penguin's SIGNET ECLIPSE. She attributes her passion for story-telling back to the rough New Jersey neighborhood she was raised in. As a child, she was rarely allowed to leave the safety of her house and passed her time fantasizing about flying, fairies, and things that go bump in the night. Her dad unwittingly encouraged Cecy's creativity by kissing her goodnight wearing vampire fangs. Gifted and cursed with an overactive imagination, she began writing her Urban Fantasy Romance Series, Weird Girls, in May 2009. THE WEIRD GIRLS: A Novella, debuts December 4, 2012 followed by SEALED WITH A CURSE, December 31, 2012, and A CURSED EMBRACE, July 2, 2013.



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bastard Giveaway: Winner Update of The Culture Boxed Set by Iain M. Banks

Winner of the 25th Anniversary The Culture Boxed Set by Iain M. Banks giveaway from Orbit Books, which contains the first three novels of the series:


Thanks everyone to everyone who participated., and congrats to Colin.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Evolution of Urban Fantasy by Mihir

In the past few weeks, there have been several bloggers posting their thoughts on the topic of “Urban Fantasy”. Surprisingly all of them seemed to be fed-up by it and ironically it is a sub-genre that has many readers, authors, and bloggers divided about its features and strengths. I however like urban fantasy books to a certain large extent with the only detracting point being that romance sometimes becomes the highlight of the story.

Urban Fantasy is a term that has come into the spotlight since the late 90s with the emergence of the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton. Before this series, it was a bit loosely termed as contemporary fantasy and was competently showcased in stories by Charles D. Lint, Emma Bull and Mercedes Lackey. While these books and many others showed a remarkable fusion of modern life and magical characters, they weren't the most financially successful books. It wasn't until Hamilton came out with her Anita Blake books that the series practically ignited a fire under many readers with its mix of heady action and erotic sequences that left most readers waiting desperately for the next volume. Terry Brooks ironically also had a hand to play in the start to the urban fantasy bandwagon with his world and Void Trilogy, which was a dark urban fantasy series and later revealed to be the prequel to his Shannara world. Many readers enjoyed this darker turn in Brook's predictable efforts.

There's also the presence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer which further galvanized the fans and helped focus the rise of Vampires and other supernatural races within the confines of urban life. This was the start of the movement which made publishers take notice of this sub-genre and made them realize how this could be the next cash cow. Of course the Anita Blake series has taken a huge nose dive after books five/six (depending on your perspective) and most of its readers felt the series had jumped off the proverbial shark and headed into the area that can be only labelled as Paranormal Romance at best. However most readers weren't so kind and many labelled it as soft-porn or the erotic ramblings of an author who made her character sex-addicted and charmed to keep boinking to save her life or some silly situation like that.

This series did have an impact on many readers and chief among them was a hitherto-unknown dude called Jim Butcher who started writing his own series about a wizard detective set in Chicago. He got his start by having the same agent as that of Laurell K. Hamilton and in 2000 got his book published under the Penguin imprint. Since his debut Jim Butcher has become a juggernaut of sorts with each new book release, the sales of the Dresden Files have sky rocketed leading to the series jumping from paperback to Hardback on publication and eventually getting a TV show order from then known as Sci-Fi channel as well. The TV show didn't pan out all too well however it further spread the word about the books and that has also helped introduce newer readers to the author whom I believe can be labelled as “Tolkien of the Urban fantasy sub-genre”.

My reason for labeling Butcher as such is simple; this sub-genre is in its nascent stages and is slowly finding its feet. Recall the early era of the epic fantasy genre before Tolkien, people might not remember much beyond Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs and a few other distinguished names. Tolkien basically came along with his books and laid down the foundation for the epic fantasy world and here are a few observations from his seminal work:

1. The story mostly was about good versus evil
2. The world had to be detailed with many races and with a hankering for the passing of ages
3. The stories had to be laid out in the form of a trilogy

The last part we know was more of a publishing decision than Tolkien's, and since then these make-shift rules influenced the epic fantasy world and made it a benchmark for all writers to follow. Terry Brooks lead a further resurgence of Fantasy with his Shannara titles and he was joined by David Eddings, David Gemmell, Glen Cook, Raymond Feist and many others who upon reading Tolkien’s work were galvanized to continue his epic storytelling efforts, however with their own slants. They furthered epic fantasy's cause and showcased various other facets of storytelling that perhaps weren't Tolkiens forte.

The next decade however was to unleash three other publishing phenomenons who would further change the fantasy rules and create millions of newer readers as well. Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind and George R. R. Martin were the three behemoths that left publishers with a big fat smile on their faces and with even fatter purses. They added the aspect of long winded stories that would require large volumes to be finished. Of the three, one has finished his series (sort-of), one passed away and the third is still writing. Their value to fantasy cannot be overstated, however their writing skills/contributions to fantasy are debatable and have often been points of contention in arguments and discussions. In the last decade though, we have seen fantasy been further amalgamated into various other forms as well seen writers such as Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch and Peter V. Brett take conventional stories/tropes and spin them sideways to give very, very interesting story-lines.

There's also Robin Hobb and Kate Elliott who since their debuts have perfected characterization into a sublime art, Mercedes Lackey who has dabbled in many a genre and further created many more fans. There's also J.K. Rowling who writes in a beguiling way mixing comedy, epic fantasy, and other genres to create a debut series that is often mistaken to be epic fantasy but can be thought of as “Epic Urban Fantasy”. In the last decade many female writers have taken their rightful place into the epic fantasy annals and I hope this trend continues and we see more them explore epic fantasy and all of its multivariate incarnations.

The basic gist of my recollection of Epic Fantasy's metamorphosis is that I believe urban fantasy will take a similar path. Urban fantasy's path will however be much quicker than that of epic fantasy thanks to technology and immense reader participation via the internet and social media, not to mention the meteoric advent of self/indie publishing. What this means is that this will cause further permutations in the metamorphosis of urban fantasy.  Developments which took decades to occur in epic fantasy, might take only a few years for urban fantasy. Presently we are in what we can call the 80s decade of fantasy, which means that we will be seeing or reading the emergence of the Eddings’, Brooks’, Gemmells' and Cooks' in this sub-genre.

Kevin Hearne is a writer whose Iron Druid Chronicles is often thought as the literary successor to The Dresden Files. It has a witty hero, colorful side character cast, deep world system and a quirky magic system as well. Kevin Hearne can be said to be the "Brooks/Feist of urban fantasy" for now. Myke Cole is another writer whose books have taken an off-road track; he debuted in January with his Shadow Ops series, a high-octane mix of military thriller and urban fantasy. His series featured a much darker world and with his background, the author choose to re-imagine a geo-political world that has been further complicated with the rise of Magic. His series has been one to showcase the world from a grunt level and that is very reminiscent of a particular Black Company. I believe Myke can be labelled as the “Glen Cook of urban fantasy”.

Going by the same standards, Ilona Andrews share the same level as David Eddings because of the witty banter shared by their characters in their various books. Though this writer couple is way ahead in prose style and characterization, I'm labeling them as such to provide a point to parallel the comparisons of progress between the two subgenres at their respective development cycle. Also Laurell K. Hamilton while being a label herself, can be thought as the “Terry Goodkind of urban fantasy” as she believes in herself more than others might be willing and her series has simply gone off the deep end, but yet remains a commercial success for her publishers.

Lastly there are a few mavericks that defy classification and are forging their own paths. These writers namely Tim Marquitz, Peter Clines, B. Justin Shier and John Connolly are ones to watch out for as they write their own brand of urban fantasy stories. With Tim Marquitz, the dark and grotesque get their turn at the helm. With Peter Clines, we get a hodge-podge of zombies, urban fantasy, comedy & much more to keep flipping the pages, and with B. Justin Shier it's the exciting mix of Harry Dresden and Harry Potter-like story that perhaps makes the read so enticing. Lastly with John Connolly, readers get a nuanced series about a private eye who's trying to find peace after the loss of his loved ones however trouble always finds him and in this case there are strong metaphysical reasons for the happenings. His Charlie Parker series is unique with its setting and mystical juxtaposition, and it comfortably straddles both urban fantasy and the mystery genre. There also solo gems here and there such as the Anubis Gates by Tim Powers and Devil’s Cape by Rob C. Rogers. Both these books are vastly under-appreciated and equally under-read.

What we can look forward to is the 1990s & 2000s decades of fantasy, when writers will perhaps reach the magnificent depths of A Song Of Ice And Fire or give us the topsy-turvy nature of the First Law Trilogy. Either way it will be something that I as a fan can look forward to with gusto and anticipation. Perhaps by then we might have gotten over the horrible cover gal fiascos that is so prevalent nowadays and also urban fantasy might have significantly distanced itself from its amorous sub-genre cousin; paranormal romance (PNR). These are weighty things to anticipate and might entirely come to pass soon enough, but as with most fantasy fans hope runs ever eternal that they might happen sooner than later.

NOTE: It has come to my attention that I've done a great disservice to female authors in the urban fantasy genre. These authors have been the central pillars of urban fantasy and have had a big hand in its progression until now. So I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my mishandling of the topic.

When I wrote this article, I wasn’t looking to downgrade the impact of female authors in urban fantasy. I was hoping to put into focus the need for urban fantasy to explore outside of its comfort zones. Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong, and Kim Harrison, for example, are three big names that have helped this sub-genre. However, I reckon Armstrong's books are more PNR oriented than UF. I’ve also read both Briggs and Harrison, but by my estimation they are more inline as direct successors of the aforementioned Laurell K. Hamilton's story format. It's for that reason, that I unintentionally overlooked them and deprived them the well deserved credit they've earned in regards to furthering the urban fantasy genre, and inspiring the great majority of what seems to be found in urban fantasy today. As with others worthy of mention are mentioned in the comments by others and me.

Nevertheless, what I’m trying to get at is that I was attempting to mention authors who had written stories within the genre, but have done something different irrespective of their gender. Something crucial to differentiate their stories from what has been written so far in the genre abundantly. Kelly Gay was an author that I should've mentioned, and whom I completely overlooked, and is someone whose books I enjoy very much. As was Kari A. Stewart who writes the wonderful Jesse James Dawson books. K.A. Stewart on the other hand seems more of "descendant" to what Jim Butcher is doing, so maybe for that reason I failed to mention her as it's the same reason I overlooked the Briggs and Harrisons of the world. It looks like Kate Griffith might have also been worthy of mention, but I haven't read her.

So my apologies if the intent of this post seems misleading and handled shoddily as I did. I wish for urban fantasy to be read further and I want the authors to challenge reader perceptions and go beyond the impressions of what currently abounds in urban fantasy as detailed in the recent group of urban fantasy guest posts from readers who dislike the subgenre. Since PNR and Romance were two of the main complaints indicated in those posts, I shied away from certain series/authors, but now it has become apparent that I was wrong to do so. With that said, it is my hope to see more stories that break from that mold and help with the diversification of the subgenre.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What books will you gift to yourself this Christmas?

So, it's finally December and the fast approaching Christmas time of the year. While everyone is busy planning what gifts to buy family members and friends (and in my case, should also be planning birthday presents for mother and sister), I personally say screw them and worry about what to buy for myself. Let's face it, I deserve it and I'm going to self-indulge.

It's with that in mind that I've been working on a small list of books I'd like to gift to myself on this very special holiday. I'm not sure if I'll manage to get them all, but they're some books that are missing from my shelves for one reason or another, and it's something I should remedy. Being a hoarder at heart, I have no alternative course of action to take.

Knife Sworn by Mazarkis Williams

This is the second novel in the Tower & Knife series, and sequel to The Emperor's Knife which I really enjoyed and reviewed some months ago. It was released last month, and still haven't managed to buy myself a copy despite my anticipation for reading it.

I was offered a copy of this one prior to Summer, and for some idiotic reason I declined the opportunity. Something about not wanting to commit to a review at the time when I knew I was pressed for time; something silly like that. Still, very much looking to read this one, it's been highly recommended to me.

I purposely avoided buying this when it came out. First, I was sure that I wasn't in the mood to read a 1,000+ page novel. Secondly, it was quite evident that it would take some time for the sequel to come out, particularly with Sanderson, despite being some sort of writing robot, was busy finishing up The Wheel of Time. But I think it's time now.

I'm a big fan of Tim Pratt's Marla Mason urban fantasy series, so this is a definite buy for me. I reviewed two of them, Poison Sleep and Dead Reign. Been hearing some great things about this one, and quite eager to experience the author in a new setting.

Spellbound by Blake Charlton

I've all ready read Spellbound and loved it. I managed to receive a signed ARC from the author, the very first ARC I received once I started this blog, but I want a real finished copy of the book and I also want my brother to read it. Considering that he practically destroys any book I lend him, there's no way in hell I'm going to give him a signed copy.

The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer

I won a finished copy of this book from The Night Bazaar, which was also signed by the author. So, the rule from above applies here too since I want my brother to read this series. I also reviewed the novel, while Bryce did a guest review here. Also finished the sequel recently, which was also very good and should be reviewing shortly.

The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell

I've always seem to be in the mood for a YA superhero novel, or simply a superhero novel. Been wanting to give this a try for some time now, and since there have been recent rumors of a forthcoming sequel, I thought it was time to give it a shot. Has an interesting premise about an aspiring supervillain.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

From all I've seen, The Night Circus is a book tailored made for me. It gathered a lot of praise and hype when it came out, yet every time I got out to buy a few books, this novel never comes to mind.

Tomorrow, the Killing by Daniel Polansky

Low Town was one of my favorite fantasy reads of last year, together with Douglas Hulick's Among Thieves, they provided a winning mixture of some of the elements I like in my urban fantasy reading, but taken to a secondary world setting in a first person narrative. Really looking forward to reading more about the Warden, but haven't heard any news about Tomorrow, the Killing being published in the US, and that won't stop me from getting myself a copy.

The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham

Much to my chagrin, I've haven't read as much of Daniel Abraham as I'd want. My only experience with him has been his urban fantasy books, The Black Sun's Daughter. Even though I've enjoyed them, I'm quite aware that his other books should be even better, and I've been missing out. I own all The Long Price Quartet books, and I also own the first of The Dagger & the Coin which I hope to read soon, so I'm hoping that buying the sequel will motivate me to read it sooner rather than later.

At the Gates and Echoes of the Past by Tim Marquitz

Demon Squad is one of my top urban fantasy series, and At the Gates in particular one my favorite reads in the last couple of years in the subgenre. I reviewed Resurrection, the 2nd novel in the series. Tim Marquitz keeps sending me unsolicited eARCs for these books when he knows full well I rather read the physical copies. Yet, I can't help myself and read them regardless, but now I need the actual books.

When We Were Executioners by J. M. McDermott

I really enjoyed the first in the series, Never Knew Another which I did a quick-reaction to not long ago. The book was as unique as it was thoughtful and insightful. Really want to get back to this very interesting world by quite the talented writer.

The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe

A couple of months ago, Tor sent me a copy of the latest in the Eddie LaCrosse series, Wake of the Bloody Angel, as a gift. Probably they were hoping I'd review it, but since I haven't read any of the prior novels, it simply wasn't going to happen. So a gift it is. That said, I've been quite interested in the series for some time now, and now that I have a copy of one of the books in the series, I've been forced to start the series at some point. It looks like Wake of the Bloody Angel might get reviewed after all. Well played Tor, well played... though it'll be quite some time before I get there.

Well crap, a bit longer of a list than I intended (and I'm sure I forgot a few as it is), so I doubt all of these will make the cut in the end for Christmas. Decisions, decisions...

What books will you be buying for yourself this Christmas? Any other recommendations for me?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Bastard Reaction: Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire

A few months ago I reviewed One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire, and I praised it plenty. In particular, I made it a point to distinguish and commend McGuire for her writing skills which I felt was among the top in the genre, making her novels standout from the pack. It was with that in mind that I eagerly anticipated the next in the October Day series, Ashes of Honor, but can't help but be disappointed about a few aspects that I perceived worsened this time around.

My main hindrance in the enjoyment of Ashes of Honor was the repetition, and it began with "coffee". I was hard pressed to go a few pages, maybe even a few paragraphs without "coffee" being mentioned on some regard. And just about every scene was framed by coffee-related topics, usually about going over and over about how much Toby loves coffee, and how her friends are the best of friends because they know to bring her coffee, and going on about how she likes her coffee served, etc. By the third of the novel, I was already coffee'd-out with no end to it in sight. I mean, was there really a need to mention coffee about 76 times in the novel? I really don't think so. We crossed the line between portraying a personality quirk and a distraction. Had a similar problem with the use of "pennyroyal and musk", used to describe Tybalt's scent, particularly when he uses his fae abilities. Though a far less egregious use than what's described above, there was one particular passage that it seemed like Tybalt couldn't take two steps without Toby using this descriptor once more, then again. The scene really called for Toby to find a more varied way to narrate and describe Tybalt's actions.

The attention to detail wasn't up to standards either. Those close to Toby determined that she was suicidal, but the evidence presented in the narrative just didn't add up. Given, we knew that Toby went through a traumatic experience in the last novel, but absent of that knowledge, nothing presented should've led to these characters claiming she was suicidal. In fact, if it wasn't for that knowledge I would've thought she was doing quite well for herself. She has a very nice home, she's living with a self-made family who she cares about and they love her in return, she has her friends, and she seemed more comfortable with who she is in this world. Then they use as evidence her "going into danger alone" to conclude that she wants to get herself killed, but it's a non-sequitur. In a vacuum yes that's a good reason to suspect Toby destructive intentions; problem is that it's no different than her actions in the past, that's who she has always been. All to say a better job should've been done to lay the groundwork for the portrayal of the apparent depression Toby was going through during the time between the previous events and the start of this novel.

On a similar regard, I also felt that the actions taken by the villain towards the ends were uncharacteristically convenient for our heroes. A villain who was shown to be very smart, clever, and paranoid, yet in the end this character was anything but. Some dumb unnecessary strategic mistakes were made, and it really didn't hold up well as the climax came to be.

Lastly, the last contrary facet I'll mention is that there was a plot convergence towards the end that I personally didn't like. Though not a problem in any shape or form, I thought the story would have been much stronger and more powerful had they remained separate. As it were, there was a slight cheapening of some of the events, and the twist that brought it forward didn't have the weight it probably intended. I'm not going to lose any sleep over this particular objection though, just a personal preference observation. Many probably loved this particular development.

Now that I've managed to get my venting out of the way, I'd like to take the opportunity to say that even with the above, I still enjoyed the book. Certainly not the best in the series, but not the worst either, and the story progression was quite favorable. In fact, quite a few interesting things are going on that I'll be interested in seeing them unfold in the coming installments.

One thing I loved about Ashes of Honor was the re-focus it gave to the human world, something that has been fairly neglected until now (though we saw a bit in the previous book). There was more interaction with human characters, the police got involved, and it added a certain dynamic that really enriched all that Toby has gone through, and the world she's living in. I hope we see more of this going forward. Apart from the human world, McGuire took us to new places in the fae world, places I didn't think we'd get to experience, so that was a very nice touch as she keeps expanding this universe.

Character interaction is still going strong, something that I constantly see improving with each new novel. Tybalt and Toby scenes were great, and some interesting progressions going here as well, so we'll see how McGuire handles it going forward. Though I very much am in favor of the current happenings, it's something that's quite fragile and needs to be handled with care. There's also a certain tension and maybe some animosity growing between Toby and Luna (more from the former towards the latter) which I'm finding quite curious and interesting. It's something subtle, nothing full blown, in fact, for all intents and purposes they love and care about each other, but it's a relationship I'll be paying a very close attention as the story goes along.

I think my favorite aspect of the novel was the focus given to the Court of Cats. It had an interesting plot thread, and through it we learned about Tybalt's past and also of how the succession of the King works, so that added a good dimension to the story.

Ashes of Honor was an overall good read, but it was overshadowed by the aforementioned problems for me. I suspect not many readers that are this far along in the series will care much for these observations, and will end up loving the novel as is. I still very much stand by the October Daye series, one of the current favorites in the genre, but can't shake the disappointment with the latest novel given that the previous two were great. That said, urban fantasy readers who have yet to give this series a try, don't be discouraged to give this series a look. I highly recommend it.

Buy Ashes of Honor at The Book Depository.

For more information on the series, please visit Seanan McGuire's website and blog.