Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: An Apt Description of the Heroine in Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

Monday, August 31st, 2015 | Posted by Kelly Swails

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai-smallTwelve Kings in Sharakhai: The Song of Shattered Sands: Book One
By Bradley P. Beaulieu
DAW Books (592 pages, $24.95 in hardcover, $9.99 digital, September 1, 2015)
Cover by Adam Paquette

Eleven years ago, Çedamihn Ahyanesh’ala’s mother was killed by the immortal Twelve Kings that rule the desert city of Sharakhai. Çeda — as she’s known to a few close friends — doesn’t know why her mother was killed. She only has three clues: the Kings carved strange symbols into her mother’s skin before they killed her; a book of poems that belonged to her mother; and the fact that she can never reveal she was her mother’s daughter.

Along with her friend Emre — one of only a handful of people who know her true identity — Çeda earns money on the streets of Sharakhai by delivering messages and cutting the occasional purse. By the time she is a young adult, she earns money with a new identity: the White Wolf, one of the most feared and respected hand warriors in the fighting pits.

Only Emre knows the secret deep within her heart: she means to avenge her mother’s death by killing the immortal Kings that rule the city. But in order to do so, she has to face her fears, make allies out of enemies, and risk losing everything she cherishes.

The world building here is robust yet deft. There are several elements in play, such as the mythology that governs the Kings, the magic of the forbidden forest on the outskirts of the city, and the creatures called the asirim that roam Sharakhai every six weeks to prey upon the city’s inhabitants.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “The Tower of the Elephant”

Monday, August 31st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Art for "Tower of the Elephant" by Mark Schultz

Art for “Tower of the Elephant” by Mark Schultz

Over at Howard Andrew Jones’ blog, Bill Ward and Howard Andrew Jones continue their re-read of the first Del Rey Conan volume, The Coming of Conan, with the classic “The Tower of the Elephant,” originally published in the March 1933 issue of Weird Tales.

Howard: THIS is Robert E. Howard at his absolute best, in complete control of his narrative, knowing his character better than his closest friend. His Hyborian history article was written just prior to his penning of “The Tower of the Elephant,” which makes sense, because he knows the history and societies so well that he casually mentions cultures in such a way we can usually intuit what he’s talking about…

Bill: Here Conan is a “gray wolf among gutter rats,” to paraphrase just one of the great lines in the opener. From the first paragraph of this section that paints a vivid picture of The Maul, the thieves district of Zamora where the guards have been bribed with “stained coins” to leave the criminals alone, all the way to the conclusion… I think this opener, and this story in general, is one of the best introductions to Conan, and probably the one I would hand a novice that was interested in seeing what all the fuss is about…

Howard: And damn, there are giant spider fights, and then there’s the fight with the thing in the top room of the tower. The only giant spider fight I’ve read that’s on the same level is the one from the first Bard book by Keith Taylor. You can see this monster and its dripping venom, so virulent that it scars Conan for life… It’s just incredibly well written, so much so that even after reading this story multiple times I still find it thrilling. And unsettling.

Their previous posts on this topic have included discussions of Howard’s “The Hyborian Age,” and “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Read the complete exchange here.

Future Treasures: The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin

Friday, August 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sleeping King-smallI’m not all that familiar with live action role-playing (LARP), but I certainly know it has its fans. One thing I hear about it is that it brings the storytelling aspect of role playing to life in a way much superior to tabletop gaming, and I believe that’s true. Cindy Dees is something of a pioneer in the LARP community — she’s been involved with Dragon Crest, one of the original live action role-playing games, for over twenty years, and is the story content creator on the game. She’s also a New York Times bestselling romance and suspense writer, with more than 50 novels to her credit. For her first venture into fantasy she’s partnered with Dragon Crest founder Bill Flippin on a new epic fantasy series, featuring near immortal imperial overlords, a prophecy of a sleeping elven king, and two young people set on a path to save the day.

The planet Urth was once a green and verdant paradise. Powerful elemental beings with deep magic were stewards to this wonder, but not all could agree on its destiny. When gods war, it is the small who always suffer and the First Great Age ended with a battle that nearly destroyed all life. To end the conflict an Accord was put in place to preserve the balance of life, and the elementals withdrew their influence to allow new, less powerful races to grow and to thrive in the world.

That balance was destroyed, however, when the Kothites, a race of near immortals, came to Urth. In the ensuing centuries they have wreaked havoc on the planet, and the mortal races of men, elves, and other creatures seek a way to break free of the Kothite menace.

There is a fable told to those who hope that there is a Sleeping King, a powerful elvish elemental trapped in a spell, who possesses powers that may bring Urth back to health. Many seek this treasure: a mad Immortal Emperor who would destroy it to ensure his race’s power forever. An avaricious governor who seeks to enrich himself beyond measure. Old powers seeking to capture lost glory. A young girl seeking to thwart property to save her future, and a young woodsman out to discover a lost past. Together they might finally extinguish the Black Flame of Koth.

The Sleeping King will be published by Tor Books on September 8, 2015. It is 496 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Stephen Youll.

New Treasures: The Mick Oberon Novels, by Ari Marmell

Friday, August 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Hot Lead Cold Iron-small Hallow Point-small

I’m a sucker for novels set in Chicago. Also for pulp-era, 1930’s fantasy, and a good adventure series. So give me a good adventure series set in 1930’s Chicago, and I get a little weak in the knees.

Ari Marmell has been knocking around the industry for some time. He did some high profile Dungeons & Dragons releases for Wizards of the Coast, and his credits include the 4th Edition Tomb of Horrors, Cityscape, and The Plane Below. But recently he’s achieved a much higher profile as a novelist, with successful titles like The Conqueror’s Shadow, and Covenant’s End.

But his newest series, featuring magic-wielding private detective Mick Oberon in 1932 Chicago, is definitely more my speed. The first volume, Hot Lead, Cold Iron, was published in paperback by Titan in May of last year, and the second, Hallow Point, just arrived earlier this month. Both have great covers by Julia Lloyd.

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Future Treasures: A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Red-Rose Chain-smallThere are times when I’m looking for a good standalone fantasy… and there are times when I want to sink my teeth into something a lot more substantial. I discovered Seanan McGuire’s urban fantasy October “Toby” Daye series with the eighth volume, The Winter Long, and now I’m impatiently waiting for the ninth installment, A Red-Rose Chain, to arrive next month. Carrie Cuinn at SF Signal tipped me to them saying “These books are like watching half a season of your favorite television series all at once,” and that was just the kind of engrossing read I was looking for.

Things are looking up.

For the first time in what feels like years, October “Toby” Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her life — and she likes what she sees. She has friends. She has allies. She has a squire to train and a King of Cats to love, and maybe, just maybe, she can let her guard down for a change.

Or not. When Queen Windermere’s seneschal is elf-shot and thrown into an enchanted sleep by agents from the neighboring Kingdom of Silences, Toby finds herself in a role she never expected to play: that of a diplomat. She must travel to Portland, Oregon, to convince King Rhys of Silences not to go to war against the Mists. But nothing is that simple, and what October finds in Silences is worse than she would ever have imagined.

How far will Toby go when lives are on the line, and when allies both old and new are threatened by a force she had never expected to face again? How much is October willing to give up, and how much is she willing to change? In Faerie, what’s past is never really gone.

It’s just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

A Red-Rose Chain will be published by DAW Books on September 1, 2015. It is 358 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital versions. The cover is by Chris McGrath.

Getting Closer to Home: A Review of Milton J. Davis’ Saga Changa’s Safari

Monday, August 24th, 2015 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Changa's Safari-small Changa's Safari 2-small Changa's Safari 3-small

I have been a fan of Milton J. Davis’ saga of Changa Diop ever since I read the first volume, Changa’s Safari, back in 2010. All three volumes are published by MVmedia, LLC. They are:

Changa’s Safari: A Sword and Soul Epic (2010)
Changa’s Safari, Volume Two (2012)
Changa’s Safari, Volume Three (2014)

[Click on any of the images in this article for bigger versions.]

It’s no secret that Davis has been influenced by the father of the Sword and Soul brand of Heroic Fantasy, introduced to the world in the 1970s by the eminent author, Charles R. Saunders, creator of the Imaro novels, the first black, Sword and Sorcery hero and star of his own series.

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Vintage Treasures: The Timescape Clark Ashton Smith

Monday, August 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The City of the Singing Flame-small The Last Incantation-small The Monster of the Prophecy-small

Clark Ashton Smith is one of the greatest pulp writers of all time, and certainly one of the greatest early fantasy writers. Over a century after his first collection appeared (The Star-Treader and Other Poems, in 1912) virtually all of his work is still in print. That’s an extraordinary statement.

Of course, when I say “in print,” I mean it’s available in an assortment of limited edition hardcovers and trade paperbacks from Night Shade Books, Prime Books, Penguin Classics, and others. Meaning the majority of volumes are priced chiefly for the collector. There hasn’t been a mass market edition of Clark Ashton Smith in over three decades, since Pocket Books’ Timescape imprint released a handsome three-volume paperback collection of his most popular stories between 1981 and 1983.

The City of the Singing Flame (1981)
The Last Incantation (1982)
The Monster of the Prophecy (1983)

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Future Treasures: The Desert and the Blade by S.M. Stirling

Monday, August 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Desert and the Blade-smallI didn’t really appreciate the ambition and complexity of S.M. Stirling’s massive saga of The Change, until Edward Carmien did a 15-part examination of the series here at Black Gate (check out the first installment here). This year sees two new releases in this epic fantasy series: The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth, a big anthology set in Stirling’s universe, with stories by Victor Milán, Walter Jon Williams, Harry Turtledove, Jane Lindskold, Emily Mah Tippetts, and many others (see Ed’s review here), and The Desert and the Blade, the sixteenth novel in the series. Continuing the quest that began in The Golden Princess, two future rulers of a world without technology risk their lives seeking a fabled blade…

Reiko, Empress of Japan, has allied herself with Princess Órlaith, heir to the High Kingdom of Montival, to find the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Grass-Cutting Sword, a legendary treasure of an ancient dynasty that confers valor and victory to its bearer. Órlaith understands all too well the power it signifies. Her own inherited blade, the Sword of the Lady, was both a burden and a danger to her father, Rudi Mackenzie, as it failed to save the king from being assassinated.

But the fabled sword lies deep with the Valley of Death, and the search will be far from easy. And war is building, in Montival and far beyond.

As Órlaith and Reiko encounter danger and wonder, Órlaith’s mother, Queen Matildha, believes her daughter’s alliance and quest has endangered the entire realm. There are factions both within and without Montival whose loyalty died with the king, and whispers of treachery and war grow ever louder.

And the Malevolence that underlies the enemy will bend all its forces to destroy them.

The Desert and the Blade will be published by Roc on September 1, 2015. It is 612 pages, priced at $27.95 in hardcover and $13.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Larry Rostant.

New Treasures: Age of X by Richelle Mead

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Gameboard of the Gods Age of X-small The Immortal Crown-small

No matter how closely I keep tabs on this industry, nothing beats a visit to a well-stocked bookstore to really get up-to-date on the latest. In my last trip, I picked up the first volume in a new science fantasy series by Richelle Mead, author of the bestselling Vampire Academy books: Gameboard of the Gods. The sequel, The Immortal Crown, has just been released in paperback and the series — featuring supersoldiers, supernatural mysteries, mysterious murders, and ancient gods — looks like a lot of fun.

The truth is, when you banish the gods from the world, they eventually come back — with a vengeance.

In the near future, Justin March lives in exile from the Republic of United North America. After failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims, Justin is surprised when he is sent back with a peculiar assignment — to solve a string of ritualistic murders steeped in seemingly unexplainable phenomena. Justin’s return comes with an even bigger shock: His new partner and bodyguard, Mae Koskinen, is a prætorian, one of the Republic’s technologically enhanced supersoldiers. Mae’s inexplicable beauty and aristocratic upbringing attract Justin’s curiosity and desire, but her true nature holds more danger than anyone realizes. As their investigation unfolds, Justin and Mae find themselves in the crosshairs of mysterious enemies. Powers greater than they can imagine have started to assemble in the shadows, preparing to reclaim a world that has renounced religion and where humans are merely gamepieces on their board.

Gameboard of the Gods: Age of X was published in hardcover by Dutton on June 4, 2013, and in mass market paperback by Signet on June 3, 2014. The sequel, The Immortal Crown, was published in hardcover on May 29, 2014, and in paperback on June 2, 2015.

Vintage Treasures: Flamesong by M.A.R. Barker

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Flamesong back-small Flamesong spine-small Flamesong-small

In my last Vintage Treasures article, I talked about M.A.R. Barker’s first novel The Man of Gold, the first of five fantasy novels set in the famed world of Tékumel, one of the most celebrated fantasy settings ever created.

Barker followed The Man of Gold a year later with an even more ambitious sequel, Flamesong. Flamesong was highly acclaimed… but only by those few who read it. It’s a tough find today; unlike the first book, which was reprinted by DAW, had a British edition, and is currently in print in both trade paperback and digital formats, Flamesong vanished shortly after it appeared. It has never been reprinted, and is highly sought today by Tékumel fans.

Click on the image at left to read the back cover text (or any of the images above for bigger versions.)

Flamesong was published by DAW Books in September 1985. It is 412 pages, priced at $3.50. The wraparound cover is by Richard Hescox. It is currently out of print, and there is no digital edition.

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