Book Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Wow. This book is everything I wish Game of Thrones had been. Seriously.

Joe Abercrombie has created a world as real as our own, filled with subtle shades of grey between Good and Evil. He has created a protagonist you can really empathize with who has to navigate a world full of treachery and initial impressions can be reversed by deeds and companionship.

I think it’s rare to find an epic fantasy novel that is so full of nuance and where things are not black and white. Sure, Martin does this very well in the Game of Thrones series, but I felt like those novels were just a slog to get through. Abercrombie has a tightly written, fast-paced action adventure novel filled to the brim with political intrigue and echoes of war all the while building characters that really resonate.

Yarvi is the hero of this story, and he’s also disabled. Imagine a coming-of-age story about a boy that would probably have been best friends with Tyrion Lannister, and see how he does when the worst is thrown upon him. I love that this story champions intellectual prowess over physical strength. And the plot twists! Nothing was predictable, and the story just grabbed a hold and wouldn’t let go. This is definitely going on my list of favorites. I highly recommend it.

I’ve been blurbed!

Remember when I reviewed DARKWALKER by E.L. Tettensor a little over a year ago? Well, the sequel (Master of Plagues: A Nicolas Lenoir Novel) is out, and on the very first page is a list of blurbs from reviewers, and I’m one of them! That was a fun thing to discover yesterday.

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Thoughts: Why Science Fiction and Fantasy Matter

MagicspawnI was saving this blog post for December, but I think in light of the events in Ferguson, MO last night, now is a good time to post this. This is probably going to be the most emotionally difficult piece that I’ve ever written for the public, so bear with me!

I was born in Florida and raised in a small town in South Carolina. I went to a primarily white private school. My parents are hard-working blue collar individuals who felt that making sure their child had a good education was the key to their child’s future success. I received a scholarship to Winthrop University, a small public college that was vibrant with diversity and a strong liberal arts program, and I majored in English. But this is getting off track from the point I hope to make here. The point is, as a young child, I was a poor white kid going to school with rich white kids. I didn’t know many people of color, and I didn’t know anyone who was gay, or otherwise different from the homogeneous group of people I went to school with. Those who were different, like me, were bullied because they made good grades, or read “weird” books, or doodled dragons on all of her class notes.

715kRSlUABLWhen I was 14, I was extremely excited to get the book club catalog and order books through my school. That particular year, I saw a book cover that caught my eye. I had no idea what I was in for when I ordered the whole trilogy at once. What I saw was a nice looking guy and a pretty white horse. What I bought was Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price, The Last Herald-Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. What I read in those pages forever changed my life. Those books were the first fantasy novels that really stuck with me. It was the first time I could read about someone who was so different from me but had problems I could relate to on some level. Vanyel, the protagonist of the series, is very young and has realized that he’s different from other men. He is bullied for loving music and not wanting to practice fighting. His father never really bonds with him because they don’t understand each other, so Vanyel is sent away to school where he discovers he’s shay’a’chern, or a homosexual.

I did not know any gay people at that point in my life. I think I barely knew what “gay” meant other than mean kids calling each other “gay” if they were different in any way. I think we had briefly discussed it in a health class, but there was no real way for me to know what it meant to be gay. This book opened my eyes to a whole new world, and not just in a fantasy sense. Using other terminology I think helps the reader get past emotionally charged words like “gay” and “lesbian” and “homosexual” and get straight to the heart of the matter, which is that this person is different from most people in his world and his emotional struggles are incredibly real and valid. I was bullied for being different. I was called a “lesbian” by my classmates even though I’m not one. Very few people reached out to me to find out who I really was as a person. Vanyel struggles with life or death situations with people he loves as well as that internal struggle we all go through when we’re trying to figure ourselves out. I could put myself in his shoes and see what it was like to be gay. And I could see that love and compassion for other human beings regardless of who they love is how we survive in this world. I could also see that being bullied is a survivable situation, and that I can be strong and loved and successful regardless of what people said about me.

downloadWhen I moved to New York, I met an avid reader of Tor’s books at New York Comic Con. We became fast friends, and shortly after, he came out to me and another friend. We were among the first few people he had come out to in the city, and he had only just prior to that come out to his family. He was in his early 30s at the time and had never told anyone he was gay before that. He spent his entire life hiding his true self because he was afraid of judgement, afraid of what his church would say, and afraid of how his family would react. He spent too many years praying that God would change him and make him not gay. I gave him the Last Herald-Mage trilogy partly because I knew he could identify so strongly with Vanyel and partly because I wanted him to understand that I could be empathetic to his situation too. That I wasn’t going to judge him, and that I fully accepted him for who he is no matter what. That he deserved happiness the same as all of the other human beings on this planet do. He is one of the brightest lights in my life, and one of the happiest people I know today. I have never met someone who has struggled so much and ended up being one of the most optimistic people I know. You cannot know him and not love him.

I may be getting a little long-winded here, but I also wanted to talk about my recent experience of seeing Interstellar in the theater. As you can probably tell, I grew up strongly on the fantasy side of things. I wasn’t terribly interested in science fiction despite the fact that I loved actual science (only museums, not classes!). Ender’s Game was as important to me in high school as Magic’s Pawn was, and for largely the same reasons. Compassion for others, especially when they are different, is a key lesson in that book, and I’ll never forget it, but I wasn’t really into much else about science fiction. Over the weekend, I saw Interstellar, and I, personally, was blown away. This piece of science fiction includes the human story of survival condensed down into a father’s struggle to make sure his children survive on a dying Earth. The message at the end of this movie is full of hope.

Science fiction allows us to imagine possible futures for the human race and give us hope that we might have a future despite the fact that sometimes our species can be so full of darkness. Fantasy can allow us to understand the world through the eyes of people who are very different, including race, sex, orientation, and even species. And all of this, to me at least, is why fantasy and science fiction matter. So, for Thanksgiving, I want everyone to think about the science fiction or fantasy novel that helped open your mind you when you were growing up, and I want you to donate it to a library in a struggling community. I think we can all make a difference in the world one book at a time. And I think it’s time we stopped being outraged and started doing something to make the world we live in a better place.

October Titles from Tor and Forge

Wow, the year is going by so quickly! I can’t believe it’s already time to put up the October titles! Also, coming up in some future posts – my NYCC schedule and some tour info for some of my authors. Stay tuned for that! In the meantime, let me know what October books you’re looking forward to!

Tor

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October 7 – Hawk by Steven Brust

October 7 – The Shotgun Arcana by R. S. Belcher

October 7 – Silverblind by Tina Connolly

October 14 – The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

October 21 – Heart of Stone by Debra Mullins

Forge

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October 7 – Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan

October 14 – The Last Shootist by Miles Swarthout

October 21 – An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War by Patrick Taylor

October 28 – The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron

September 2014 Releases from Tor and Forge

Hi friends! Sorry this post is a bit belated! September has been a busy month so far for Team Tor/Forge now that we have some authors touring, and we’re gearing up for New York Comic Con. Check out the titles below and let me know what you’re excited about! Got requests? You know what to do.

Tor

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September 9 – Exo by Steven Gould

September 9 – The Bloodline Feud: A Merchant Princes Omnibus by Charles Stross

September 16 – Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett

September 16 – Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake

September 23 – The Seventh Sigil by Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes (check out the awesome book trailer!)

 

Forge

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September 9 – Sabotage by Matt Cook

September 30 – Strong Darkness by Jon Land

Book Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

TheBulletCatchersDaughter-144dpiBefore I begin the actual review of this book, I think I should begin with a short, unofficial history lesson on the origins of the term “steampunk.” I am brand spanking new as a reader of this genre, so this is what I’ve recently learned from conversations with others more well-versed in it than I am.From what I gather, the definition of “steampunk” within the publishing genre is still somewhat in flux, but here’s what Wikipedia (don’t flog me, my academic friends!) has to say about it:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistictechnologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the modern authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt and China Miéville.

Wikipedia also goes on to mention that Tor author K.W. Jeter coined the term in the late 1980s as a variant on the term “cyberpunk,” which is defined by Wikipedia thusly:

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a near-future setting. Noted for its focus on “high tech and low life,” it features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.

I think the most quintessential example of cyberpunk is the movie Blade Runner. So, my interest in the definition of “steampunk” came about as a result of a conversation I had with my friend Michael Underwood, author of the recently published novel, Shield and Crocus, wherein he suggests that “steampunk” must stay true to its roots and incorporate the “punk” aspect of cyberpunk. Mike says,

“To be ‘punk,’ there has to be an awareness of class, some degree of anti-authoritarianism, or anti-establishment sentiment, either in the heroes, or a critique of the system in the work itself. Most Steampunk is Victorian, and ‘punk,’ can delve into the industrial revolution, wage slavery, child labor, colonialism, etc. That’s where the punk comes from – the rejection of the tidy narrative about Victoriana that erases people at the margins and the thousands+ that slaved and died to create the majesty of the age.”

So, long story short, if we are including Mike’s definition of “punk” here (and we are because it just makes sense!), then I believe that Rod Duncan’s novel, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (Angry Robot Books, August 2014), is a very good example of that definition. While the focus on steam technology is pretty light, the punk is definitely well-represented in the protagonist’s struggles with sexism and as well as in the extreme differences in freedom and expected adherence to the law that each social class experiences. These are just a few of the issues that plagued the protagonist as she tried to make a living and solve a mystery.

In this novel, Elizabeth Barnabus is a woman on her own in a world that resembles Victorian England, which is a part of The Gas-Lit Empire. As you can imagine, it’s practically impossible for Elizabeth to conduct any business, own any property, or hold a well-paying job as a single woman, so she solves this problem by masquerading as her own twin brother, a trick she learned from her father as a part of her act in a traveling circus. As a man, Elizabeth works at night as a private investigator of sorts. She’s hired to find the missing brother of an aristocratic woman, along the way, Elizabeth encounters some interesting steampunk technology as well as a legendary traveling circus run by a mysterious and possibly nefarious old man. The story moves along at a quick pace, and I found that I couldn’t put the book down for very long. This is my official introduction to the steampunk genre, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to get my hands on more fiction like this, and I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel!

August 2014 Releases from Tor and Forge

It’s August 1st, and the summer season here at Tor is coming to a close. What are you looking forward to reading this month? Let me know on Twitter!

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August 5 – Severed Souls by Terry Goodkind

August 5 – Assail by Ian C. Esslemont

August 5 – Alien Hunter: Underworld by Whitley Strieber

August 5 – The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

August 12 – Hellhole Inferno by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

August 12 – The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson

August 26 – Echopraxia by Peter Watts

August 26 – Lock In by John Scalzi

 

Interested in mysteries and thrillers? We have those under the Forge Imprint! Here’s what’s coming out in August:

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August 5 – Deadout by Jon McGoran

August 5 – 24: Deadline by James Swallow

August 19 – Ark Storm by Linda Davies

August 26 – Assassin’s Game by Ward Larsen