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Short Fiction Friday: A Spell of Vengeance

A Spell of Vengeance by D.B. Jackson, Thieftaker #0.5

Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker in Colonial Boston, scratching out a living by restoring stolen property to its rightful owners. But unlike others in his profession, Ethan relies on magical spells as well as his wits to track down thieves. Being a conjurer doesn't make him popular with the law in Boston, so Ethan is taken aback when the sheriff seeks his help in settling a dispute between a pair of wealthy merchants and a ship's captain who has threatened their lives. Ethan knows the captain can back up his threats with magic of his own. But there is more to this matter than the merchants have let on, and Ethan soon discovers that what he doesn't know might actually kill him. D. B. Jackson’s first Ethan Kaille novel, Thieftaker, will be published on July 3, 2012.

What better story to pick than one of my favourite authors, D.B. Jackson. Only two weeks ago I read his third book in his Thieftaker series, A Plunder of Souls and just as what I have come to learn from D.B. Jackson is that it is one solid and highly enjoyable story. I already new that there was one short story set in the Thieftaker series, A Spell of Vengeance but never read it, so here is the first story of the Short Fiction Friday feature.

A Spell of Vengeance takes place before the first book of the series, its marked as #0.5. Having read book two and three already gives me an edge as to who Ethan Kaille is and what his job as a thieftaker entails. But if you are not familiar with the series yet D.B. Jackson gives a clear enough introduction to fully understand the story of A Spell of Vengeance

The story picks up with Ethan sitting in a bar and getting to talk with Kannice, who runs the bar. Though they have seen each other a couple of times they aren't that confident towards each other in terms of showing their feelings, it readily comes to show that Kannice does have an eye for our Ethan. Soon though there is an interruption by the sheriff, Stephen Greenleaf, who together with two merchants need Ethan's help. This time around they aren't after the his thieftaking skills but after his spelling skills, his conjuring, his witchcraft. The two merchants, Keller and Fross are being harrased by the son of Nathaniel Ramsey, Nate Ramsey. Ok at this point I got a HUGE grin on my face. These names Keller, Fross and Ramsey all started to ring bells, if you have read A Plunder of Souls you will know what I mean. Ethan accepts the job to try to get Nate to back down and stop his play on getting his vegeance or do everything to protect both Keller and Fross from being killed. Ethan accepts this job with the thought that the merchants are compeltely in the right... but the first encounter with Nate does lead him to question what exactly is going on. Who can Ethan trust and what is the truth? If you read A Plunder of Souls already you do know how the story will end but nevertheless A Spell of Vengeance adds a lot of flavour for the background story of the series and mainly for A Plunder of Souls because you do know what events actually transpired. 

If you are new to the Thieftaker series A Spell of Vengeance is a great way to start as you get already a few glimpses of the universe that D.B. Jackson has created in the full length books, you learn the protagonist of the series Ethan Kaille and several of the other character that will pop up later on in the series. Furthermore you also get introduced to the conjuring bit of the series which is SO cool! And if you have already read the other stories, A Spell of Vengeance, will give you a few more details to the magnificent world and story that D.B. Jackson has created with the Thieftaker series. When I read about Keller, Fross and Ramsey, I couldn't get that smile away. High enjoyable and defnitely a recommendation. The SFF couldnt have kicked of with a better story! 

A Spell of Vengeance was originally posted at

Feature: Short Fiction Friday

Feature: Short Fiction Friday

It has been a while since I have started a new feature on the site. Some of the recurrent visitor may know that I run a biweekly (p)review forecast wherein I name a few books that I hope to read in the coming two weeks. I also run a Review Round-Up wherein I highlight a few books that I thoroughly enjoyed the last month. When I was biking home last night I was thinking of what I could still do to add new content to the blog and three letters went through my mind SFF which is normally related to Science Fiction Fantasy but what if those letter could be interpreted differently? So I came up with my own SFF, Short Fiction Friday! 

With the Short Fiction Friday I will review a short story every Friday, they can come from anthologies, magazines or from the internet. A lot of readers aren't that big of a fan of anthologies but I do enjoy reading short stories especially when authors are able to create the same feeling in 20-50 pages as they can with a full length book. 

Keep an eye out for later today as I will start of the SFF feature!

For this feature I also accept recommendations so if you have a short story you enjoyed let me know or if you have written one you can also submit it. Look under the about me page for more details or use the contact for on the right hand side.


Guest Post: Having Tea at Blackwell’s

Guest Post: Having Tea at Blackwell’s by Anna Caltabiano

Many people have asked me from where the idea for The Seventh Miss Hatfield originated. Though it’s hard to remember a single origin for the entire story, I remember I thought of my characters before I thought of the plot, and one of the first characters that came to me was Henley.

About two years ago, I was sitting alone in the café section of Blackwell’s in Oxford, after perusing their classic British Literature sale section. After handing me my cup of Earl Grey, the barista promptly left. It was midafternoon, but all the seats in the café were empty. Though I was the only one in the room, I still took a seat in the corner—habit, I guess.
Twenty minutes into slowly enjoying my cup of tea, I heard someone walk in behind me. I didn’t have to turn my head, as he walked straight to the counter. I examined him, as he examined the menu.
I couldn’t tell you much of what he physically looked like besides what he wore. I remember being surprised that a young man—practically a boy, since he couldn’t have been much older than I was—was wearing such formal attire. He was wearing a dark gray suit, almost black, with a purple button-down shirt.
The young man seemed to be waiting for someone as he smoothed down the front of his shirt. At first glance, he looked confident, taking up space where he walked, but his short, clipped strides gave away his nervous energy.
I watched as the young man managed to track down the barista to get a cup of tea. Then, tea in hand, the young man inspected the entire room for a place to sit. There must have been six empty tables, but he chose the one in front of me.
 He flashed a smile and we both raised our cups to drink. In the empty café, it was as if we were drinking tea together. It was a small gesture, but it made us both feel less alone.
Little by little, people trickled in, filling the room. Some were wanderers, while others had distinct motives. He met an older man, and stood to shake his hand. I saw the people I was waiting for, and waved them other to my table. The miniscule moment that we shared was long gone, but while we talked to our respective companions, our eyes would meet above their heads.
 I would given a lot to know what he was thinking in that moment. I imagined his life and the complicated relationship he had with his older companion. Maybe it was an uncle, or a father, with whom he had a formal, distant relationship.
In my imagination, I began to flesh his life story. If could not ask him about his world, I would create one for him. He seemed kindly, but lonely. Maybe, though young, he had fallen into an impossible love, from which he had never recovered. And thus began my story. I created a whole full life for him, and he doesn’t even know it.

Book Review: Julia's House for Lost Creatures

Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

When Julia and her walking house come to town, she likes everything about her new neighborhood except how quiet it is! So Julia puts a sign up: “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.” Soon she’s hosting goblins, mermaids, fairies, and even a dragon. Quiet isn’t a problem anymore for Julia…but getting her housemates to behave themselves is!

Earlier this year I read the Zita the Spacegirl serie, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke. This series was aimed at the more older children but Ben Hatke also wrote it in a way that it could be used for story telling and was also very enjoyable to read for the adult audience (yes I have to admit it). When I finished Zita the Spacegirl I saw the announcement of Ben Hatke's latest book Julia's House for Lost Creatures, another stunningly beautifully illustrated childrens book, that will be released in September later this year.
Ben Hatke starts of the story in a very cool way. "Julia's house came to town and decided to stay there". This opening sentence already inspires so many cool things, does Julia live in a moving house? Yes she does, her house is built on the back of a turtle!

Despite the fact Julia has such a cool house, she does live there all by herself and soon when her house has settled she starts to feel lonely. She wonders just how to solve this problem, such a big house all for herself, then a new idea comes to her mind and she opens the doors for lost creatures. At first she only has one new friend by soon many more come knocking on her door and for a while Julia couldn't be happier. When you think of lost creatures think of goblins, trolls, dragons and mermaids!

With a crowded house and lots of creatures all having their own habits and hobby's things soon start to run rampant. Julia, the clever girl she is makes up a list of rules to get everything under control and get things to quiet down a bit. However with things finally under control every creature contributing equally and no fighting, some other things become more apparent but luckily for this Julia also has a clever plan! 

The story is fairly simple but one that a lots of kids will definitely like and will appeal to. Besides the story I do have to give full credits to the beautiful illustrations that Ben Hatke has drawn. I was impressed with the level that he showed in Zita the Spacegirl  but with Julia's House for Lost Creatures he has really outdone himself. Ben Hatke switched to watercolor illustrations and this makes the book even feel that more magical. Several of the illustrations are full page long like the one below. The combination of color, light and dark and highlighting and shading is just perfectly drawn and will help to make kids even more excited about the different lost creatures that Julia get in her house. Next to the full page illustrations there are also pages that are blank and only show to small illustrations of Julia, this alternating between different styles gave a very nice and structured layout of the book for kids who will read this book on their own.

It is always said a picture tells more than a thousand words and Ben Hatke makes this count again and again. His illustrations are very detailed and can't say this often enough just stunningly beautiful!

With Julia's House for Lost Creatures Ben Hatke has again created a outstanding children's book. From a storyline that has again a message hidden within, (or I am just searching though) that goes like: accept everyone how they are despite their nature everyone is equal, down to the beautiful illustrations it's all spot on. And do you still know what makes Julia's house so special? It's positioned on the back of a turtle so I think (and hope) that we will see more of Julia's adventures. Get this book for your kids, as soon as they finish it they will hang a sign outside of your door as well!

Book Review: Land of Shadows

Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall

Along the ever changing border of gentrifying Los Angeles, seventeen year old Monique Darson is found dead at a condominium construction site, hanging in the closet of an unfinished unit. Homicide detective Elouise “Lou” Norton’s new partner, Colin Taggert, fresh from comparatively bucolic Colorado Springs police department, assumes it’s a teenage suicide. Lou isn’t buying the easy explanation.

For one thing, the condo site is owned by Napoleon Crase, a self
made millionaire. . .and the man who may have murdered Lou's missing sister, Tori, thirty years ago. As Lou investigates the death of Monique Darson, she uncovers undeniable links between the two cases. But her department is skeptical.

Lou is convinced that when she solves Monique’s case she will finally bring her lost sister home. But as she gets closer to the truth, she also gets closer to a violent killer. After all this time, can he be brought to justice. . .before Lou becomes his next victim?

I have been reading a lot of books from Titan over the last year, most of them have been focused on the science fiction or fantasy genres, I do think that Sherlock Holmes also is closely related to these genres a bit. Land of Shadow is I think my first Titan book that falls in the category of a classical thriller that takes place in our current day and age. This book really piqued my interest, I am always looking for books to offer me new experiences in fiction reading and Land of Shadow directly fitted into this category. Land of Shadow is written by Rachel Howzell Hall and is also one of the biggest debuts that Titan will be releasing this year. I can't compare Land of Shadows to the names of Dan Brown or Lee Child since I haven't read there books, but what I can say is that Rachel Howzell Hall did a remarkable job with Land of Shadows

The story of Land of Shadows is far from your average whodunnit type of detective story and I do have to say this is important in the current fiction to make your story stand out. Land of Shadow picks up directly with the action as homocide detective Elouise Norton is handed a new case. A teenage girl has been murdered and hanged from a condo construction site and it's up to Elouise Norton and her newly assigned partner Colin Taggert (who is also freshly out of police school) to find out just who the murderer is. Early on several preliminary conclusions are being drawn, however with most of them, like naming this case a simple teenage murder is one where Elouise doesn't by far agree with. Because the body of the victim, Monica Darson, has been found on the property of Napoleon Crase a rich millionaire who Elouise still suspects of having murdered her sister years back (And so the plot thickens!). Elouise, being one of the best homicide detectives, starts to uncover information that brings both her and her partner Colin closer to the killer. From this point Elouise has to start to tread carefully since the killer of Monica shows no remorse and doesn't mind to add Elouise to his list... As the ending draws to a close and the days, hours and minutes start to count down the story picks up a great pacing, placing you on the edge of your seat just to find out who the killer is... Rachel Howzell Hall tells a dangerous and powerful story in Land of Shadows with Elouise Norton when in her current investigation she finds leads to tie back to the cold case of the disappeared sister she is will to go the whole yard. Now you may think that this does sound like a pretty straightforward detective story well trust me when I say that it isn't because mainly by a lot of twists along the investigation and by several of the characters and their interaction does Rachel Howzell Hall make her story count.

There are a few elements which are required if you really want to make your story stand out and that is breaking cliches and coming up with new bit and pieces. This is also something that you will find back in Land of Shadows and mainly in the characters and their histories. Elouise Norton is known on the streets as "lockjaw" having solved roughly 90% of the cases she has worked on and is opted for a honored track. Having grown up in a harsh environment this was not something that was thought of her but she managed to do it, so it does comes to show that when you have a goal you should never give up on it. Ok so you know her past wasn't that great well her current situation also isn't all roses and sunshine. Elouise and her husband have everything they can wish for a big house in one of the richest neighborhoods but one thing is lacking between them, love, he has taken and still likes to take on the affair on the side and even though he knows that Elouise knows it, there is just no stop. All along the storyline Elouise's mind is troubled with this fact she just doesn't know what is a wise decision to make. Well yes there is still more to Elouise's character. The disappearance of her younger sister and the ties to her current investigation, this again adds another distraction to the mix. As you can see this is far from an easy life and with this all combined Rachel Howzell Hall has created a very strong female lead for her series, one that you will be connecting to and rooting for from the start. 

As a contrast to Elouise stands her new partner Colin Taggert, a recent transfer due to some family connections. Colin got on the fast track and made detective in only a few years... But he is definitely far from experienced, and this is something that slows Elouise down. He makes a lot of rookie mistakes that could have turned out disastrous if it wasn't for Elouise there to save him... It was a great addition to the storyline to see the friction that was caused by having two different poles, but it wasn't all friction though, luckily. Rachel Howzell Hall did just what a strong character driven crime/detective needs, create characters that you will like and root for or character that you will shout at but in either case you will be able to connect to them, spot on characterization. 

During the telling of the of the investigation, there are several chapters in which the attention is taking from the main story. These chapter either involve flashbacks to the past of Elouise and her sister's disappereance or the focus on the twisted mind of the killer. I am always a big fan when an author does these things with his or her story as this, when carried out in a good way, adds tons of extra material to the story that will only make it grow more and more and embody a much bigger feeling. I think you can make up that Rachel Howzell Hall did achieve this. A lot of extra information is given with these alternating chapters, without taking the focus from the main storyline, it was all cleverly interwoven with each other. 

Land of Shadow is a powerful story by a new and exciting voice in crime fiction. Rachel Howzell Hall has created a strong female lead for her story in Land of Shadows, Elouise Norton is far from the standard detective, her own troubles of her past and current life definitely feel like a weight on her shoulders that feel like they will topple her over at any moment, but her strong personality keeps her upright and she only grows more and more as the story continues. The way in which Rachel Howzell Hall tells her story, the narration and switching of point-of-view, highlighting the killer's mind as well as the flashbacks of Elouise's sister really help to bolster a much bigger feeling to the story. Land of Shadows is a thrilling start of a new series that will make you laugh with some of the squad humor but will also produce goosebumps during the crime scene investigations, just perfect. Don't miss this one!

Book Review: Sworn in Steel

Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick, Tales of the Kin #2

It’s been three months since Drothe killed a legend, burned down a portion of the imperial capital, and unexpectedly elevated himself into the ranks of the criminal elite. Now, as the newest Gray Prince in the underworld, he’s learning just how good he used to have it.

With barely the beginnings of an organization to his name, Drothe is already being called out by other Gray Princes. And to make matters worse, when one dies, all signs point to Drothe as wielding the knife. As members of the Kin begin choosing sides – mostly against him – for what looks to be another impending war, Drothe is approached by a man who not only has the solution to Drothe’s most pressing problem, but an offer of redemption. The only problem is the offer isn’t for him.

Now Drothe finds himself on the way to the Despotate of Djan, the empire’s long-standing enemy, with an offer to make and a price on his head. And the grains of sand in the hour glass are running out, fast...

Douglas Hulick is for me a bit of an underdog when it comes down to the fantasy books. In the die-hard circle his name is well known but outside of that many of the casual readers might have let the Tales of the Kin escape their attention. So I do hereby call, no shout out that you should really read the books of Douglas Hulick, it's great epic fantasy. Douglas Hulick has a terrific interpretation of the genre. I do have to be honest and say that I only read his first book, Among Thieves, last year, for those who read it on the publication day, they had to wait three year for the sequel, lucky me only 6 months! One question does remain to be answered, is this sequel worth the wait? Yes, it is! 

After all that Douglas Hulick showed in Among Thieves I do have to say that I had a few reservations when it came down to the sequel. There were a lot of cool things in the first book that could cause a potential stagnant sequel. It can be hard to make up a more and exciting storyline, however this is far from the case in Sworn in Steel, Douglas Hulick definitely ups the ante. How does Douglas Hulick do it? Well he nicely expands his existing universe and takes you and emerges you into a completely new environment. In Sworn in Steel you go from the criminal city of Ildrecca to the more exotic Despotate of Djan. This chance in scenery really helped to make another non-stop action packed story, there is far from a moment that drags in Sworn in Steel. You are in for a treat. Trust me.

For the story of Sworn in Steel is a direct continuation from where Among Thieves ended. Drothe managed to kill off a Gray Prince, one of the most (in)famous leaders of the Ildrecca underworld and well wouldn't you have it, if you kill one of those you automatically find yourself promoted in the ranks. So yes, Drothe now finds himself to be a Gray Prince. But a transition from Kin to Gray Prince is quite the change and all the added responsibility to Drothe's new task seem to weigh him down and he doesn't really know how to go about this all. Added to this comes the fact that he is being framed for a murder he didn't commit. Another Gray Prince winds up dead on the streets of Ildrecca and all the evidence points towards Drothe... One member of the Degans known as Wolf needs Drothe and has planned this blackmailing into the details. Drothe can do nothing else but to accept his newly appointed task by Wold, that of traveling to the Despotate of Djan. Do you remember the Bronze Degan from Among Thieves? Drothe needs to find him. Also if you still recall what happened, Drothe and the Bronze Degan didn't part in the best of ways, as betrayals often aren't the best... Because of his blackmailing Drothe does accept but also because he is a guy that wants to set things right with the Bronze Degan does he accept. In his travels he isn't alone as he soon meets up with a group of interesting stage travelers and troubadours. Though this might sound a bit odd with Drothe's purpose of traveling to the Despotate it is nicely linked to the remained of the story. All in all I have to say that the story of Sworn in Steel was terrific to read and that those 500 pages, which the story spanned, didn't feel like it at all but more half of it. And, this is also far from just a sequel of an excursion to a different setting, there are some great revealings along the way that will put a smile on your face. Just as a sequel should be giving more and more details about the world to further bolster that feeling of epicness. yes that is a word!

Drothe came over as a very solid characters in the earlier books, he knew the streets and everything that went about in Ildrecca, but with his promotion to Gray Prince he is becoming less sure of everything, probably due to the weight that is resting on his shoulders. And this does reflect back to how his character acts and reacts. Drothe has to find himself back in his promotions and need to find out how to delegate stuff and not do everything himself. This is one element that you see developing along the story, Douglas Hulick does make Drothe once again an engaging character but instead of him taking the reigns in everything he allows Drothe to take in everything and only reacts, most of the time. Looking back on this was actually only natural as, how would you react if you would be placed into a completely new environment? The best thing is to just take in everything, and react when and where it counts, and this latter part does come show for a few times and when it does it offers some breakneck acceleration and great fighting scenes. If you look back on Drothe in the first book and in the beginning of Sworn in Steel he is the same guy, but in the end... he is changed person, and knows where he want to go. 

Next to Drothe, Douglas Hulick shows some recurrent characters from the first book and also introduces plenty of new ones, both to like and to very much dislike. It was great to see that we got more time invested in Fowler the Oak that stands guard over Drothe, her character is fun to read about. Fowler is the protector and when Drothe goes about his own way, since he is used to it when he wasn't a Gray Prince was fun to see. In many ways Fowler is this determined women without regard to the womanly bits but on several occasions it was good to see her be more womanly about several things. A great addition to the storyline was Aribah, a young woman that Drothe gets acquiantted with in Djan, and who he takes back to Ildrecca. I wont go into her origins and exactly what she does, but if she is connecting with Drothe, then you might be able to see just where this will be going. 

Now I have already talked about the characters and the story itself and have mentioned that mainly due to the location the story is readily taken forward, there is one thing I haven't said yet and that is what type of information is revealed along the way. Well you will get the full low down on the Order of the Degans! Yes these guys have got quite the interesting history to say the least. Since Drothe has to find the Bronze Degan, he starts to uncover all kinds of bits of history about the Order and that there is much more going on than we first had dared to guess. Because it was mentioned that every member of the Order of Degans was mentioned after a metal wasn't it? But where does the Ivory Degan come from?? It was great to see that Douglas Hulick besides emerging us into a completely new surrounding took the time and effort to further build on the premise of the story to which he introduced us in the first book. As an added bonus you also get to see much more of the magic system that makes the world of the Tales of the Kin go round. 

For me Douglas Hulick has taken those needed steps in Sworn in Steel to take his story of Tales of the Kin that much further. A sequel is a tricky book to write but he managed to avoid dooming his series and falling into repetition, instead the story of Sworn in Steel introduces many great promises and with breakneck speed and non stop action readily places you on the edge of your seat. By going to a new geographical location the story gives a fresh breath of wind in general but the "stink" that we saw in in Ildrecca with the criminal ruling is just as present in Djan, and Drothe really has his work cut out for him. In Among Thieves we have gotten to know the creativity of Douglas Hulick when it comes down to plot twists etc and this is again not missing in Sworn in Steel, every page has a potential plot twist lurking behind the words and this will keep you sharp on on your toes for the whole story. As I said before, Douglas Hulick ups the ante with Sworn in Steel and with creating such an outstanding sequel after a solid debut I can only imagine what will be in store in the third book.

Guest post: Nonfiction as influence

Guest Post: Nonfiction as influence by Max Gladstone

Writers are quick to name other writers as influences—often writers working in the same genre.  I've done this time and again, and I could do it here—talk about how important Zelazny and Dunnet and McKinley and Pratchett and Simmons have been for me throughout my reading and writing life.  But some books and writers more rarely get a mention: writers of nonfiction—cultural criticism and history and anthropology and economics—who have caused me to see the world where I live, and the worlds I write, in different ways.  So, here's a list of a different kind of influences:

•Jonathan Spence, God's Chinese Son—Spence is a hugely influential and popular writer on Chinese history, and learning about the Taiping Rebellion in his class impressed upon me the utter weirdness of the real world.  Did you know that a (sort of) evangelical Christian (kinda) socialist movement arose in China in the 19th century to rebel against the Qing Dynasty in a civil war that left something like twenty million people dead?  Did you know that ostensibly Christian Western businessfolk raised a mercenary company to support the Qing rulers in their war against these Taiping revolutionaries?  Did you know that the Taiping capital city of Nanjing was ground zero for a horror show of ex cathedra backstabbing between three leaders who claimed to be Jesus' younger brother, a personal representative of God the Father, and a living incarnation of the Holy Spirit?  Well, I didn'tAlso worth reading, if you can find a copy: The Taiping Revolutionary Movement, by Jen Yu-wen, a comprehensive and profound and very difficult to locate summary of the author's shelf full of Chinese-language research into the Taiping.  Stephen R Platt's Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom, also on the Taiping, is supposed to be great—I'm regrettably behind in my reading of it, but I won't be for long.

•James C Scott, Seeing Like a State—Scott, in this book, skewers the common false equivalence between "schematically clear" and "good."  People, and especially governments, tend to replace complex systems that work but aren't easily surveilled or controlled with simpler, more "legible" systems that may be in the interest of power but are rarely in the interest of the society.  The classic example is a monoculture tree farm compared to a forest: the tree farm has higher lumber yields, yes, but stands vulnerable to monoculture pests, and anyway doesn't serve the same role as the forest it replaced.  You can't hunt game in a tree farm, or harvest herbs, or pick berries.

The book ranges from urban design to agriculture to the development of surnames.  Le Corbusier appears in these pages as a sort of ideological supervillain, sprinting around the world destroying living cities and replacing them with exsanguinated visions of a someday that never comes.  French urban developers bulldoze Paris's warren streets so the army can bring artillery and materiel to bear on future rebels.  Agricultural planners move farmers from soil they know, and soil that knows them, to fields they've never seen, because it looks better on the map—and famine results.  Well-functioning societies are complicated and interwoven, and "let's just do it this way, it'll be so much simpler"-type solutions to complicated and interwoven problems can do much more harm than good.

•Michael Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America—Capitalism is a moral and behavioral technology.  What happens when people who don't have that technology are exposed to it?  I don't mean raised up within it so its definitions and languages seem natural, I mean exposed to it the way a hand's exposed to a hot stove.  The cultures Taussig surveys construct a mythological framework for basic tenets of capitalism: investments yield returns because the money literally breeds, and it breeds because it's alive, and specifically alive with evil intent.  I built most of the conceptual framework for the Craft Sequence before I read Taussig (and I'd written the first draft of Three Parts Dead), but this book snapped themes and contradictions into place.

•David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years—Jo Walton has written eloquently about this book's use as a piece of worldbuilding inspiration.  I don't want to reinvent the wheel here.  Go ye forth and consult.

•Venkatesh Rao, Tempo: Timing, Tactics, and Strategy in Narrative Decision-Making—Rao is a decision scientist, which I didn't know was a thing before I read this book.  And if that sounds to you like it means "life coach," you're wrong—the Department of Defense, for example, cares an awful lot about real time decision-making strategy, and sponsors mathematicians and social scientists to study the subject. If you grew up in an educational environment anything like mine, you probably internalized a particular decision-making method: survey benefits and costs of each decision, and select the objectively correct path as identified by simple arithmetic.  You may even think this is the only way decisions are made, or at least that this is the only correct way decisions are made.  But it's not, at least according to Rao.  Among its many weaknesses, this method tends to ignore or handwave tempo, timing, history, and context.  Alternative decision-making methods exist, some more appropriate for certain situations than for others, and Rao introduces them with real-world examples.  I've recommended this book to some people who have found it impenetrable, to others who have found it revelatory.  Your mileage may vary.  I think it's important.

An observation based on this list: I tend more bro-heavy in my nonfiction than in my fiction reading.  I need to move some female writers further up the nonfiction TBR pile.  (Long overdue reads: To Serve God and Wal-Mart by Bethany Moreton, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici, In Memory of Her by Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, and, on a friend's recommendation, Promises I Can Keep by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas.)

In The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, Slavoj Zizeck discusses how we're at our most ideological when we escape from our real world into dreams—because when we escape from the real, all we have left is ideology.  This, it seems to me, is a great danger in writing fiction, and especially in writing science fiction and fantasy.  That's part of the reason I find nonfiction, especially academic nonfiction, so important: it does not, should not, replace observing and engaging with the world, but can offer new tools and context with which to observe and engage.

And with those tools, our escape stands a better chance of crossing no-man's land to freedom, or something like it.

Some Links:

Max Gladstone has sung in Carnegie Hall, been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award.  Tor Books published his most recent novel, FULL FATHOM FIVE, in July 2014.  The first two books in the Craft sequence are THREE PARTS DEAD and TWO SERPENTS RISE.

Book Description:
On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World.

When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

Book Review: Smiler's Fair

Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Levene, The Hollow Gods #1

Yron the moon god died, but now he's reborn in the false king's son. His human father wanted to kill him, but his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He'll return one day to claim his birthright. He'll change your life.

He'll change everything.

Smiler's Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you're willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler's Fair. They say it'll change your life. For five people, Smiler's Fair will change everything.

In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, five people - Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Eric, who follows his heart only to find that love exacts a terrible price. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept - will discover just how much Smiler's Fair changes everything.

One trope that always works for me in Epic Fantasy are gods and deities. When they are involved it always broadens the scope of the story and what I have come to understand from my reading ventures so far is that they can turn the story into unexpected directions. There are so many interpretations possible of gods that it will always turn into a unique story and Smiler's Fair is no exception. Rebecca Levene craftily uses the god aspect and weaves it to new heights and produces a terrific story in Smiler's Fair and start of an exciting new Epic Fantasy series. Rebecca Levene has worked on several Doctor Who books and has written for Abbadon Books and SFX Magazine, Smiler's Fair is her first ever Epic Fantasy series.

The story of Smiler's Fair picks up with the birth of a baby and if you already read the synopsis more closely you can see that one of the gods, in particular the moon god Yron is being reborn and that a prophecy has been cast about him. He is the bringer of change and his father the King fear him greatly and wanted to kill him but failed in the attempt... How exactly this all took place remains obscure because after this tasty prologue with a lot of information and many more raised question the story focuses on four different perspectives. You get introduced to each of the characters one by one and in the start up of the story it was hard to pinpoint which of the four makes up for the main protagonist rule but later it does become more clear as to who will make up the lead. The four different perspectives consists of those of Nethmi, Krish, Eric and Dae Hyo. Each of these characters have a completely different background and offers some great insights into the enigmatic world of Smiler's Fair. 

In the beginning of the story each of these four perspectives start of individually and there isn't on main storyline to Smiler's Fair but the four smaller ones. For Nethmi's part, she is a young women and princess to a shiplord, (I will get back to what this shiplord and nomadic lifestyle means in a bit). Early on in the story Nethmi gets given away for marriage to a warlord in the frozen highlands. However she doesn't know her to be husband and this makes loving him a hard job. Nethmi's part of the story offers a great many of intrigue seen normally in Epic Fantasy at the courts. I liked how she was shown by Rebecca Levene all along the story, she really grows into her part and learns soon enough that the world is a harsh place and that having allies and people to rely on will make everything much easier. Her involvement with several characters and mainly Marvan offer a lot to like. 

Secondly you have Krishanjit or shortened simply Krish. He is a simple goatherd and his life isn't actually that exciting, he talks with his parents and his goats, feeds them and milks them. But this sort of "boring" life does make a great play with your imagination, because why would Rebecca Levene offer a perspective of just a simple, be it very smart, goatherd? Well that is because Krish's life is about to change and go into a completely different direction. Krish uncovers his true heritage and finds out that his parents have lied to him and that they aren't his real parents. Krish's father also abuses his mother often and this is something that he can no longer accept and when he sees his goats eating berries that make them terribly sick he decides to put them in the stew... However as each action has a it own reaction, Krish sets into motion several things that put him in the spotlight and not in a good way. His action make that Krish has to flee and with his departure his mother tells him one thing... he is the prophecy, he is the kings son... (yes for us) I was mightly impressed with this twist of events and how Rebecca Levene further build on his character and the things he was planning. 

As a third you have Dae Hyo, a downright skillful and feared warrior coming from the Dae clan. Dae Hyo is the last surviving member of the clan as they were brutally murdered. This latter part hasn't helped him and with being grief stricken he seeks escape in the form of alcohol. However with being drunk, Dae Hyo still holds up to his virtues and when he, by chance, meets up with Krish and reveals his nature. Krish talks to Dae Hyo and appeals to his higher motives, Krish wants him to be his general. The "funny" part for me, well if you can call it that was between both of them where Dae Hyo said that Krish had to come into shape. He didn't have the stamina nor the skill to even dare to challenge his father for the throne. This single action bolstered a clear coming-of-age aspect. 

Last but definitely not least is the perspective of Eric. Eric works at the Smiler's Fair as a male prostitute. He has been doing this since he was a young boy and found that he was rather good at it. One thing that actually never should happen between him and a client is falling in love, unfortunately for Eric this just happens to him and drives him mad. Eric makes perhaps his most boldest move at all and he decides to leave the comforts and stability of the Smiler's Fair in order to pursue his one true love that with another man. This sounds exactly like a true love story and in essence it is, the wife of said person that Eric loves finds out and suddenly everything for Eric changes and he finds himself winding up in a completely different environment than he first had thought, not the live of two lovers at all... I do have to say that I am actually not that big a fan of a too heavy and explicit sexual display in fantasy, the scenes in Smiler's Fair regarding Eric can turn rather graphic though... 

All in all I was very pleased with four storyline that Rebecca Levene introduced, the character are well fleshed out and they have all problems of their own that they have to conquer to get further in life. After finishing the book there still isn't one big storyline to follow you into the sequel, instead some storyline have collided with each other at the Smiler's Fair while others remain a bit individual, but saying this doesn't make it any less enjoyable. More on the contrary as Rebecca Levene inspires a feeling that you will have absolutely no clue as to where this story will be picked up from. We know one thing though. Krish is the big player and yes the Moon God was destroyed once, will Krish meet an untimely death... ?

One thing where the Smiler's Fair draws a definite strength from is the world in which the story takes place. I often mention that writes can make either a dynamic or static world, one that is always in motion by its characters etc or a really bland one. Rebecca Levene takes the former on a more literal note. In her world it is dangerous to stay too long at one place. In the part of Nethmi I mentioned that I would come back to the shiplord - nomadic bit. Well here it is. Everyone in the world of Smiler's Fair leads a nomadic life style be it on land of mammals or on foot or on sea in ships. The Smiler's Fair is the first example where you learn this. When you stay in one place too long, will give a call out to the worm men, these are the trusty followers to Yron the moon god, who will wreck havoc where ever they can. These worm men live in the shadows and when you cast your shadow too long on one place they will rise... Now this interference of the worm men is dark business but don't think that the Smiler's Fair is a happy place to live in, Rebecca Levene casts a very dark shroud on it, it's a place of dark pleasure, you can get everything you want but at a high and sinister cost. Sometimes you want to look away but at the same time you will oddly drawn to some of the absurdities.

With the Smiler's Fair Rebecca Levene has definitely placed her name on the map of Epic Fantasy. Though the premise of the story of Smiler's Fair might sound straightforward, it soon proves that it is far from it. All that Rebecca Levene involves in building up her world with the Smiler's Fair itself, the never moving world, the gods; reincarnate at that and her characters really leaves a mark. Its one great thing after the other that will get you addicted page after page. The action in the book be it from sword fights or strong intrigue or even the complex relation of Eric is non stop, there is never a dull moment in the book. In this first book Rebecca Levene only lifts one small part of the veil of her world and her many characters, you do get to learn the basics of them all but there are no direct links towards the sequel, which makes thinking about where the story will pick up very interesting. Everything will be possible and with the imaginative mind set of Rebecca Levene, I think we will be in for quite a surprise. What is even better is the fact that The Hallow Gods series has already been bought for a quadrilogy, this means three more great stories to read!