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Book Review: Retribution

Retribution by Mark Charan Newton, Lucan Drakenfeld #2 

WHEN JUSTICE FAILS, REVENGE FOLLOWS... Having just solved a difficult case in his home city of Tryum, Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his associate Leana are ordered to journey to the exotic city of Kuvash in Koton, where a revered priest has gone missing. When they arrive, they discover the priest has already been found - or at least parts of him have.

But investigating the unusual death isn't a priority for the legislature of Kuvash; there's a kingdom to run, a census to create and a dictatorial Queen to placate. Soon Drakenfeld finds that he is suddenly in charge of an investigation in a strange city, whose customs and politics are as complex as they are dangerous.

Kuvash is a city of contradictions; wealth and poverty exist uneasily side-by-side and behind the rich fa├žades of gilded streets and buildings, all levels of depravity and decadence are practised.

When several more bodies are discovered mutilated and dumped in a public place, Drakenfeld realizes there's a killer at work who seems to delight in torture and pain. With no motive, no leads and no suspects, he feels like he's running out of options. And in a city where nothing is as it seems, seeking the truth is likely to get him killed . . .

Last year I read the amazing first installment in Mark Charan Newton's latest series, Lucan Drakenfeld, the book Drakenfeld. Every once in a while you come across a book that just has everything, a new concept that is worked out in the smallest details giving a terrific reading experience and this is precisely what Mark Charan Newton brought to show in Drakenfeld. The quasi Roman setting with a detective, crime-thriller story was something new, I couldn't compare it with his earlier books but a lot of reviewers really praised it that it was better than what he has written before. These types of stories, stories that feature detectives can make for a solid ongoing series with case files, one thing that Mark Charan Newton definitely proves in Retribution

Small note: Prior to reading Retribution I read Mark Charan Newton's short story The Messenger, this is a high recommendation as it will definitely get you in the proper reading mode!

Lets move on to the story of Retribution. Once again you follow the adventures of the Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his assistance Leana. They have just arrived in their home town and are immediately called back into the saddle to investigate a weird murder case. An importan priest has been murdered in the city of Kuvash and several parts of him have been found, some are still missing. However letting foreigners into your kingdom to let them investigate your business is not something that is often seen in Kuvash and therefore the Sun Chamber had received a second message saying that their assistance is no longer required but this makes the case just more weirder so Lucan and Leana do make their journey to Kuvash. All to soon after arriving there they are forced into protocols and learn just how different their culture is from theirs and how it definitely complicates things. But as officers of The Sun Chamber, Lucan and Leana do have an advantage and though the beginning of their investigation does yield that much, they do start to go their own way and when more murders occur with similar motives, the situation only becomes more desperate to be solved. I have to refrain myself from telling too much of the plot, when it comes down to mysteries you don't want to have the plot spoiled. All I can say is that the victims did have something in common though not something that is easily thought off! But that was something you could have guessed!

It was really cool to see how the story unfolded and Mark Charan Newton had set up his story in a great manner, building up tension from the first crime scene all throughout the new mounting evidence. It is impossible to not get lost in the story. The evidence remains largely unexplainable for Lucan and for Leana which only leaves you further in the dark as well, but in a definite good way. You immediately start to picture who the murdered is in your own mind but it is hard to pick a winner though. I was reading this book in when it was getting dark outside so I didn't have that much reading light and I hit a particular scene in the book I think it was page 150. This scene gave me the chills all over, a very close horror element thrown in the mix that will throw your own conclusions completely off game. Nice way of fully exploiting your build premise and thereby taking your story further. 

I tweeted when I was a few pages into Retribution that it was impossible to to like the main characters: Lucan an Leana. They are well fleshed characters that feel really humane. They act normally and think rationally. Yes they are smart, by education and aren't masterminds. They try to relevate everything with prior experience and interpret everything as logical as possible. In The Messenger and Drakenfeld you already got a nice view of them but in Retribution Mark Charan Newton doesn't shy away to boost their development as characters a bit more and further build and explore them. If you read the first book you know that Lucan has a past, a complicated past and that many things still trouble him. In Retribution these things all come to light again and makes him much more complex, especially when you see his inner struggles with finding out what is right and what is wrong and what is best to do. Even when a cure is so close by, what is the ethical way to do? Leana's character does come a bit less in the spotlight but doesn't take away that her character doesn't develop. Leana is best described as a feisty women who knows her way around with her sword. It was very fun to read the interplay between Lucan and Leana, they don't always see eye to eye but they don;t have shout matches to get their rights but instead know how to talk as adults to each other. This interplay does also have as a results some funny moments. All in all I can only say that I am very pleased with the characterization, they are well developed and one of the finest characters I have read about in a while. 

One thing where Retribution and the Lucan Drakenfeld series really have a plus working in their advantage is the world building. When you look at the front cover alone and the promise of the synopsis it already has a lot of hints of something Epic Fantasy but when you get immersed into the story you really get to see the beauty of the world that Mark Charan Newton creates. In the first book it was already a solid introduction and with Retribution he further builds on the foundation that was put in the right position. In describing the world and surroundings of Kuvash there are some similarities with what you read in Drakenfeld but there are enough distinctions and one aspect that definitely helps here is laying a high emphasis on the intricacy of the Kuvash politics and everything that comes out of it. Really a great combination of building and exploring a world.

Retribution is a terrific continuation of the ground work that Mark Charan Newton put into place in Drakenfeld. There isn't much to do besides loving this series. The whole world that is envisioned in these books is one-of-a-kind and has a lot of great elements working in it's favor. The elements that make up this world are all gathered from different directions of fantasy, which Mark Charan Newton skillfully combines. Added to this comes a set of protagonists that are just as rich and interesting as the world itself. They aren't your standard boastful all powerful all knowing kind invulnerable kind of characters, but they have flaws. Flaws that they have come to understand and use and live with, both Lucan and Leana are very well portrayed, perhaps one of the best humanlike characters I have read so far. So all in all, yes Retribution is a awesome read and will definitely be placed in my top of 2014 list. I kindly urge you to pick it up as well, asap.

Guest Post: Personal Experiences Behind the Dangerous Games Anthology

Guest Blog: Personal Experiences Behind the Dangerous Games Anthology by Jonathan Oliver

I came relatively late to gaming. I’d tinkered with Warhammer back in my youth and gobbled up Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy novels, but I didn’t really become a ‘proper’ gaming geek until my early twenties. It happened when I went to the University of Reading to do my MA in Science Fiction. I’m  a big horror nerd, and my friend had told me that there was a roleplaying game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s works. I knew I just had to play such a thing, and so I joined the university’s gaming society. It took a few months before I finally got to play Chaosium’s absolute classic Call of Cthulhu. Before then I was in a Werewolf group for a while and we also played a lot of 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. However, it was Call of Cthulhu with its loose and easy system and its emphasis on story-telling and characterisation that recently cemented my love of the hobby.

The folk I met back then are amongst my oldest friends, and my current regular gaming group started life at that society back in 1999. Gaming has been a hugely important part of my imaginative play and my two novels in the Twilight of Kerberos series – The Call of Kerberos and The Wrath of Kerberos – were massively influenced by gaming as well as the fantasy stories of Fritz Leiber. My gaming group actually appear as city guards in the first novel, each meeting their demise in a fittingly gruesome way. There is this image in the popular imagination of gamers (and players of roleplaying games in particular) as being friendless, single nerds.  But the fact is that tabletop gaming is one of the most social hobbies there is. You gather together to tell stories and interact with each other’s narrative in imaginative ways.

Video games, likewise, became more a part of my life after my youth had largely passed me by. Oh, I had a Spectrum computer like many of my fellow geeks of the time, and then moved onto an Atari ST. But I don’t have a huge fondness for games from my youth – though a few do stick in my mind – Midwinter, Lemmings  and some of the Mario games on the Gameboy being some examples. But games weren’t as immersive back then, in my opinion. Now they are much much more complex, both in terms of gameplay and narratively. Some of the recent crop of games have just been mind-blowing in terms of the experience they present. I’m a huge fan of Fallout 3 (who could forget stepping out of the Vault and into the wastelands for the first time?) and the Bioshock games have both scarred the shit out of me and left me emotionally wrenched in equal measure; I adore the end of Bioshock: Infinite in particular. I wish I had more time for videogames, but as hugely enjoyable as they are, they are also a massive time-sink.

To have an anthology on the theme of games felt like a natural progression; the anthologies that I do for Solaris had already become more playful in themselves – subverting themes, stretching the definitions of the horror story, including as big a variety and range of voices as possible. It’s also a theme that gives the authors the possibility of writing broadly. As ever, I’ve gone for a mix of established and newer voices, and I couldn’t be more proud with the stories our contributors have produced. Basically, I put together the sort of anthologies I would like to read as a fan, and I hope, I trust, that other readers will get as much enjoyment as I did from editing this volume.


Jonathan Oliver is the multi-award winning editor of The End of The Line, Magic, House of Fear, End of the Road and Dangerous Games. He’s also written a couple of novels and a bunch of short stories. He lives in Abingdon with his family and their cat.

Book Review: Lowball by George R.R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass

Lowball by George R.R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass (ed.), Wild Cards #22

Decades after an alien virus changed the course of history, the surviving population of Manhattan still struggles to understand the new world left in its wake. Natural humans share the rough city with those given extraordinary—and sometimes terrifying—traits. While most manage to coexist in an uneasy peace, not everyone is willing to adapt. Down in the seedy underbelly of Jokertown, residents are going missing. The authorities are unwilling to investigate, except for a fresh lieutenant looking to prove himself and a collection of unlikely jokers forced to take matters into their own hands—or tentacles. The deeper into the kidnapping case these misfits and miscreants get, the higher the stakes are raised.

Edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and acclaimed author Melinda M. Snodgrass, Lowball is the latest mosaic novel in the acclaimed Wild Cards universe, featuring original fiction by Carrie Vaughn, Ian Tregillis, David Anthony Durham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Mary Anne Mohanraj, David D. Levine, Michael Cassutt, and Walter John Williams.

Perfect for old fans and new readers alike, Lowball delves deeper into the world of aces, jokers, and the hard-boiled men and women of the Fort Freak police precinct in a pulpy, page-turning novel of superheroics and mystery.

If you have been following this blog you know that I am a very big fan of the Wild Card series, I have reviewed already several books and short stories for the blog.  When I read the story Joker's Wild  I learned that later this year, November to be exact, a new addition would be released, Lowball. I have been counting down the days until it's release and it was well worth the wait. Wild Cards is such a cool universe to read and it has been strongly going on for 22 books already. And as I always say when I review a Wild Cards story, forget Marvel's superheroes, instead embrace those of Wild Cards, they have much more depth and development going on in their characters. These kind of story should be made into a movie, I know Michael Bay must be able to make this into a blockbuster. 

In the Wild Cards series it must be noted that every three books there is a new sort of series. ALl the books are in relation to each other but every trilogy has a different storyline. Lowball is the second book in such a trilogy, a trilogy that started with Fort Freak. Now this story arc brought something new to the Wild Cards scene as before there was a heavy focus on the Aces and Jokers were described as horribale beings, with Fort Freak a light was cast on Jokertown, a safehaven for Jokers, though it wasn't all roses and sunshine as it is quite a dire setting in Jokertown. Again we follow several events in the manhattan jokertown precinct. 

Even though Lowball is the second book in the series you can read this story very well without having read Fort Freak. Ok so what is the sory about? Several weird things have been happening in and around jokertown, most notable have been of yet unexplainable disappearances of several very jokers, and not just any jokers, but jokers with an impact. Since this is a case of high importance and the police isn't really doing much about it, Father Squid recruits the help of IBT, Infamous Black Tongue, also called by his real name Marcus, who is like a centaur except has a snake body, pretty awesome.But with weird and unexplainable evidence piling up it becomes more and more of a pressing matters and there is only one organization in the Wild Cards universe that is very well suited to help out with this. SCARE, which is an acronym for Special Committee for Ace Resources and Endeavors, think in the lines of the FBI or CIA but then all aces. Now there is one important player here whom, if you read the reboot series has made quite an impact, Jamal Norwood, who also goes by the handle of Stuntman. Jamal has the gift of a virtually indestructible body, able to "bounceback" after getting hit, he can survive everything. As the investigation furthers all parties involved start to make some startling conclusion that really turn around the storyline. It soon comes to show that there is something and someone big behind the disappearances that has a specific goal in mind. One great aspect of the books is that the story doesn't cave with being a second book in the series, the story is brought forward in the hands of some new and old characters, jokers and aces alike, creating a very cliffhanger moment in the end. When you finish Lowball you can only part with a feeling that everything that happened was being used to set something big in motion. 

I already mentioned that there are new and old characters; jokers and aces that you meet along the way. Yes I have a few favorites so far in the series and to my surprise I found them back in the storyline, some Aces that featured in the first reboot trilogy and in the series American Hero make a nice entrance here. The premise of the story was solely based on Jokers but reading about Drummerboy, Stuntman, Earth Witch and Curveball. These I have gotten to know through and through in the earlier stories but they definitely left an impact and was great to see their involvement once over. Now there were also some characters I was less familiar with, like Father Squid, the Infamous Black Tongue, Marcus, and Eddie. From these all I really enjoyed reading Eddie's part, he is a weird guy, has deformities and is thereby limited in his movements. The only thing he does on a regular basis is use his powers to draw images on a sketch pad that he is able to call to life and be his ears and eyes, the latter being the most important part as it allows him to snoop around. Well there have been sightings of a peeping tom in Jokertown, so who could this be? As a kind of duality, Eddie is sometimes employed by the Jokertown Precintct as a sketch artist... now these things seem to start to interfere with each other. The other characters those of Father Squid and Marcus help to bring more insights into what is actually happening and this is far from pretty at all... ALl in all awesome characters, but come to think of it I wouldn't have thought otherwise. 

Now one thing where I always give high praise is the connections of these Wild Cards books, it must be hard writing a book by yourself but having nine authors writing one story in a book, that must be a hard task but once again the stories really flow very nicely into each other making it feel like that just one author wrote them. Of course you can read that some author write differently but on the whole it's very good. I have been a big fan of David Anthony Durham's Acacia Trilogy and his story Those About to Die definitely left his marks, very glad to see that he joined the Wild Card Trust!

So far I have read a lot of action in the Wild Card series but this trilogy, which started in Fort Freak and continues in this book, Lowball shows a completely different side of the glamour that is accompanied with being an ace. This does coincide with the different stories, but I was impressed with the overall setting of the story that each author managed to bring to the forefront. Jokertown isn't a pretty place to live in and this become very obvious. Though the setting is very grim and bleak there is something strange, alluring and mysterious to Jokertown, must also be partially owed to the inhabitants. 

Lowball for me is a winner through and through, I have been counting down the days until there would be another full length book released and I devoured it in one sitting. The characters are memorable and the setting of the story is continuing to give a certain uniqueness. Even though the series has been going on for twentytwo books so far, there is never a dull moment to be found. As I already said I am a bit tired of the Marvel adaptations but I just cannot get enough of the Wild Cards universe. High quality and should be on everyones reading list. Lowball does leave the series on a cliffhanger, and with everything that happened in this second book just somehow feels like there will an big conclusion waiting to unfold. Bring on the next please!

(p)review forecast November part 2

(p)review forecast November part 2

1. Retribution by Mark Charan Newton, Tor

THEY'LL KILL TO HIDE THE TRUTH. HE'LL KILL TO FIND IT. Having just solved a difficult case in his home city of Tryum, Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his associate Leana are ordered to journey to the exotic city of Kuvash in Koton, where a revered priest has gone missing. When they arrive, they discover the priest has already been found - or at least parts of him have. But investigating the unusual death isn't a priority for the legislature of Kuvash; there's a kingdom to run, a census to create and a dictatorial Queen to placate. Soon Drakenfeld finds that he is suddenly in charge of an investigation in a strange city, whose customs and politics are as complex as they are dangerous. Kuvash is a city of contradictions; wealth and poverty exist uneasily side-by-side and behind the rich facades of gilded streets and buildings, all levels of depravity and decadence are practised. When several more bodies are discovered mutilated and dumped in a public place, Drakenfeld realizes there's a killer at work who seems to delight in torture and pain. With no motive, no leads and no suspects, he feels like he's running out of options. And in a city where nothing is as it seems, seeking the truth is likely to get him killed ...Retribution is the second Lucan Drakenfeld novel, following Drakenfeld.

2. Hawk by Steven Brust, Tor

Years ago, Vlad Taltos came to make his way as a human amidst the impossibly tall, fantastically long-lived natives of the Dragaeran Empire. He joined the Jhereg, the Dragaeran House (of which there are seventeen) that handles the Empire's vices: gambling, rackets, organized crime. He became a professional assassin. He was good at it.

But that was then, before Vlad and the Jhereg became mortal enemies.

For years, Vlad has run from one end of the Empire to the other, avoiding the Jhereg assassins who pursue him. Now, finally, he's back in the imperial capital where his family and friends are. He means to stay there this time. Whatever happens. And whatever it takes.

3. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Gollancz 

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

4. Revival by Stephen King, Hodder and Stoughton

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs - including Jamie's mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of 13, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family's horrific loss. In his mid-thirties - an addict, stranded, desperate - Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the 
 Devil's devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It's a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe.

5. Engines of War by George Mann, BBC Books

"The death of billions is as nothing to us Doctor, if it helps defeat the Daleks."

The Great Time War has raged for centuries, ravaging the universe. Scores of human colony planets are now overrun by Dalek occupation forces. A weary, angry Doctor leads a flotilla of Battle TARDISes against the Dalek stronghold but in the midst of the carnage, the Doctor's TARDIS crashes to a planet below: Moldox.

As the Doctor is trapped in an apocalyptic landscape, Dalek patrols roam amongst the wreckage, rounding up the remaining civilians. But why haven't the Daleks simply killed the humans?

Searching for answers the Doctor meets 'Cinder', a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey, and set in motion a chain of events that will change everything. And everyone.

An epic novel of the Great Time War featuring the War Doctor as played by John Hurt.


Author interview with Alexander Maskill

Author interview with Alexander Maskill

Author bio:
Alex Maskill was born in Watford, and grew up both there and in Eastbourne, East Sussex. He's has just completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Leicester and now has a degree in Politics. He hopes to follow this with an MSc in Computer Science.
The Hive Construct is his first novel and won the 2013 Terry Pratchett Prize.


Hi Alexander, welcome over to The Book Plank and for taking you time to answer these few questions for us.

AM: Hi, thanks for having me.

BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who Alexander Maskill is? What are you hobbies, likes and dislikes?

AM: I’m 22, I’ve just completed a Bachelor’s degree in Politics and I am currently working on a postgraduate degree in Computer Science at the University of Kent. I write, I compose music and I’m learning to develop video games.

BP: You are currently still in college, how did you come to the idea that you wanted to write a book? Isn’t studying time consuming enough?

AM: The book came about when a friend of mine showed me the announcement for the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award while I was in the second year of my undergraduate degree. I didn’t already have a novel, or even an idea, but seemed like a great opportunity and good motivation to actually write a novel, rather than just assuming I could if I tried and never actually putting anything out there. And yes, studying was also time-consuming – or at least should have been. My grades really dropped that semester. To anyone reading this, don’t write a novel under heavy time constraint while also doing a degree. It’s a really dumb idea. For me, it was a dumb idea that improbably worked out but it was a dumb idea, nonetheless.

BP: The Hive Construct is you first book, what gave you the inspiration behind the story?

AM: The inspiration came mostly from needing a story really fast and needing the substance of the novel to be interesting enough to hold my attention every day for five months. I’m really interested in politics and so from the start I wanted a plot and a perspective that would let me explore the kind of sociopolitical stuff I’m fascinated by, but with the clarity a fully-shaped universe – like a sci-fi setting – grants a writer. The biggest influence – which you can really see in the original title, “The Hive” – was the television series The Wire; the themes explored in the show – of the ways people find themselves shaped by and ultimately trapped in the institutions they inhabit –found their way into my book as well.

BP: Writing a debut must be a daunting task, how did you went about and plan writing The Hive Construct?

AM: To be honest I wasn’t daunted because I’m a massive obnoxious egotist. Rather stupidly, no part of me doubted that I could pull it off.

Everything was done very quickly. The competition had its requirements – over 80 thousand words, some kind of alternate earth setting, a deadline five months after I found out about it – and I worked to meet them. I started with theme, and fleshed things out from there; a plot, a setting, a core conflict, a cast of characters, all in service of the broader ideas I was attempting to look at. Planning took about a week and to be honest I didn’t really deviate much from that plan. Writing was just a matter of finding the time and sitting in front of a computer for hours on end.

BP: In 2013 you won the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award. What did you do first, second and thirdly after you heard you were the winner?

AM: First, I stammered a whole lot in front of a large number of people, which was embarrassing! Then my mum, in all her excitement, tripped over a step and cut her head open, so that was an additional layer of excitement to cap the evening off. She’s a former A&E nurse and she’s never calmer than when she sees blood so she found a first aid kit and patched herself up nicely, but I looked after her while she was doing that. Thirdly I took a train back up to Leicester because I had an exam the very next day.

BP: You are also one of the younger authors that Doubleday is publishing, what went through you when you heard they were publishing The Hive Construct?

AM: Shock and a whole lot of excitement. It’s so weird, knowing that your book is going to have the same imprint on its spine as countless others you’ve read in your life; Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, even Herman Melville. Obviously, that’s not the level most debut authors start out at, so it was all very overwhelming.

BP: The Hive Construct was published back on the 25th of September, if you would have to sell your book with a single sentence, how would it go?

AM: The Hive Construct is a novel about three people – an exiled cybercriminal, a privileged councilor and a desperate military strategist – all trying to get what they can out of a plague-ridden futuristic city state.

BP: The vision of the future that you inspire in The Hive Construct is bold, but when you look at our current society, do you think it is possible in the future that it could just happen?

AM: Probably not. If  it does, it’ll be down to absurd coincidence rather than any virtue of mine. To be honest, showcasing a plausible vision of the future was never a major priority. The setting was made to reflect things I see in the world around us now. I’m not a futurist; no-one’s looking to me for their forecast of the next century. And obviously there are writers who are great at that but it’s really never been about that for me.

BP: Did you encounter any specific problems when you were writing The Hive Construct?

AM: The time limit. The Terry Pratchett First Novel Award was announced in January and ended in December. I found out about it in August, and I wrote the novel for the competition. Keeping up that kind of pace was incredibly hectic, and it was all I could do to maintain it. I didn’t even have a laptop of my own for a month – the keyboard died and I had to send it off for repairs – I had to write a lot of it on University computers. It was a very hectic few months.

BP: What was the hardest part in writing The Hive Construct?

AM: There’s quite a lot of action in the novel and, to be honest, I found that stuff’s very hard to write. Keeping track of geography, keeping the power dynamics between the conflicting forces compelling, making sure the cycle of “danger, risk, safety, danger, risk, safety” isn’t so conspicuous. It’s challenging to get right. Plus, and this is just the observation of a single experience, I feel like within the confines of the novel medium, action scenes have the worst ratio of difficulty-to-payout going. It’s a ton of work to write and it’s not always proportionally rewarding to read. I think that with the help of my awesome editorial team I got to the point where the action worked very well, but it was very hard to break the back of.

BP: Besides the hardest part, which chapter, scene or character did you like writing about the most?

AM: Like writing? As in enjoy? I assure you, every tap of the keyboard that went into this novel was written under only the most severe stress and terror! But I’ve got to say, of the multiple perspective characters, one shouldered most of the plot, which gave me more leeway to explore the character and thematic elements with the other two, so their parts were very rewarding to me.

BP: If you would be given the chance to change one thing to the story of The Hive Construct for a re-issue, would you do so? And if yes, which part and why?

AM: No, I’m done with it. After five months of frenzied writing and about a year of editing, it’s out of the way now. More importantly, that was twenty year-old me’s book. It belongs to him. I’m only twenty-two now but that’s still a lot of time for perspective change and shifting priorities, and I’m not sure I’d be able to write The Hive Construct today. At the very least, it would be a fundamentally different novel.

BP: Now that The Hive Construct is published, do you have any other projects that you wish to pursue in the future? Will you turn it into a series? Or do you have plans to write something completely different?

AM: I know where I would go with a sequel. The Hive Construct ends pretty conclusively, so it can totally be a stand-alone thing, but there are places it can go, and things that could happen. There are bits and pieces I have written or planned out already. That said, there are other projects I’m working on that I’m as enthusiastic about which are completely different. One’s a postmodern farcical comedy of errors; the other’s a very grounded drama about community and isolation in the modern world. I don’t know which, if any, will come next. Beyond that, I’ve got games I’m working on developing, I’m constantly writing music, I’ve got fragments of scripts sitting on my hard drive. I don’t know what my next project is going to end up being.

BP: Everyone enjoys science fiction and fantasy in their own way, what do you like most about it?

AM: I’ve always enjoyed the capacity of science fiction and fantasy to comment on and illuminate broader issues and subjects with relevance to the real world. The escapism side of it has never been that important to me, but the potential to articulate ideas about the real world with a clarity of vision you don’t get with a real-world setting is what really excites me.

BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favorite books, which would they be?

AM: I like books which play with formula and aren’t necessarily what they seem like they’d be at first, so that’s kind of a running theme. It’d have to be Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”, David Wong’s “John Dies At The End”, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”, David Simon’s “Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets” and – considering this is a book I actually do own – can I cheat slightly and say H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Complete Works”? Compilations seem like they should be cheating but I feel like there’s a broader “if they’ve bound it, it counts” rule that I can sneak it in on here.

BP: Thank you very much for your time Alexander and good luck with your future writing career!

AM: Thank you very much for having me on your blog!

Short Fiction Friday: Late Nights at the Cape and Cane

Late Nights at the Cape and Cane by Max Gladstone, Uncanny #1

So yes another Max Gladstone short story, that is two in a row already. Last week I reviewed A Kiss With Teeth from Max Gladstone which was pretty cool. Last Tuesday night I found out that a new magazine was release, Uncanny, that feature a story of Max Gladstone as well. And being a big fan there was only one possibility left. Review the story.

There isn't a given synopsis of the story but if I would have to describe it Max Gladstone takes you to an alternate urban fantasy realm where you can't always win... 

Late Night at the Cape and Cane is a short story that has approx 3k words and having read several of his stories this is once again a story in a different direction but perhaps the closest linked to his Craft Sequence. As I already said the setting of the story is really in the lines of Urban Fantasy and Max Gladstone isn't afraid to show some of the magic associated with this theme. In the story of Late Night at the Cape and Cane, you follow the story of Doc Sinister and his adventures in the cafe/bar named the Cape and Cane, well just to say the back drop of this story combined with the early mention of magic and Super-League did already inspire a lot of promise for the remainder of the story. Also an early reference marks Doc Sinister as a sloppy drunk, scared and monologuing, now soon the narrator tells that the former and latter are normal for Doc but the middle one, being scared is something of concern. Already my mind was on overdrive thinking about the direction of the story. Soon after this Max Gladstone delves deeper in the why Doc is scared and by this introduces several other characters like Stella the narrator (perspective that you follow) and Skeleton Gwynne I presume that she is a female walking skeleton? All of these characters have something weird of their own and this really make them stand out of the story.

Now there isn't a full focus on urban fantasy epic magic sorcery battles but it does feel like a very pressured atmosphere. WIth the mentioning of all the magical powers that some of these character posses it is a bit like that after every sentence a "bomb" might go of escalating the events. In end it there is nice confrontation that really has a tense atmosphere but luckily it went down quiet. I really liked one of the ending sentences of the story "I didn’t smile back. I went inside to see how Doctor J’s hat would fare. Us losers have to stick together, after all". This given over the whole story and the whole atmosphere gives a very nice description. 

One thing that readily stands out and which is in direct relation to the characters is the world that Max Gladstone has managed to build. It is very science fictiony with lines in the Urban Fantasy direction but whereas some others need several pages to build a world, the one that is shown in Late Night at the Cape and Cane is build within just a few sentences and the whole remainder of the story is just so pretty darn awesome to read about. Max Gladstone introduces some very cool concepts that readily ask to be built in more episodes or a full story. I really must urge you to read this story!

You can find the full story following this link

Book Review: The Ice Dragon

The Ice Dragon by George R. R. Martin and Luis Royo

The Ice Dragon is an enchanting tale of courage and sacrifice for young readers and adults by the wildly popular author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin. Lavish illustrations by acclaimed artist Luis Royo enrich this captivating and heartwarming story of a young girl and her dragon.

In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire the ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one. When it flew overhead, it left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land. But Adara was not afraid. For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember.

Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon. It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold. In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time. Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the North swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara’s home. And only a winter child—and the ice dragon who loved her—could save her world from utter destruction.

With the increasing popularity of a Game of Thrones it's only logical that Tor books is reissuing a popular "tie-in" book. The Ice Dragon was first published back in the 1980's and luckily for many fans, including me, they get to read it. The reissue of The Ice Dragon is completely revamped in terms of art, the story has remained the same but the illustrator Luis Royo has unleashed his craft to turn it into some very beautiful. The Ice Dragon is published by the young-adult imprint of Tor, Tor Teen, but undoubtedly many older readers, including me, will find a lot of joy hidden within this gem. 

The story in The Ice Dragon focuses on the young girl Adara. Adara still bears a scare, when her mother was giving birth to her, she passed away. On the day that she was born it was so cold that her complexion turned blueish white - indicating the cold cold wintersday on which she was born. Up until this day she has this complexion, marking her as the winters child. THe events surrounding her birth has put quite a distance between her and her family and she is the odd one out, even though this hurts her deeply, she has never shed a tear about it. She spend a lot of time on her own. Winter is her season, in this season she has befriended a couple of ice lizards, who she unfortunately cannot touch as her warmth would kill these beings. During one winter spell, Adara befriends an even bigger lizard the held in awe ice dragon. These being are rare, there are still plenty of other dragons that are used by the king for his battle but meeting an ice dragon is rare, also when you touch an ice dragon, it is said that is so cold that it can kill, so riding one is clearly out of the picture. But Adara and the ice dragon start to form a special bond and soon they are inseparable during each winter season. now this is only part of the story as the King is waging war expanding his territory every year, however due to unforseen events he is loosing and the war starts to threaten the lives of Adara and her family, they have to flee but her father doesn't want to abandon his farm... With the King loosing all his forces there might just only be one person able to stop the war... 

One thing that makes The Ice Dragon quite a captivating is the way that the narration is done in the book. From the beginning it definitely like I was living in a fairy tale. The writing style and several influences are quite distinct from what I have read in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. It's not heavy focus on a large character cast and thus allowed more time to visit the places and to give Adara much more time. The Ice Dragon is a fast read with only 110ish pages but it's one where you will definitely feel emerged in. It Luis Royo's artwork and was really looking forward to see what he could come up with illustrating The Ice Dragon. I have to say that they truly fit in the book. they are all done in a blueish/grey white contrasting kind of way that only further helps to inspire the winter season and emphasis that features in the book. Another thing is that the situation isn't one that screams for happy full colored images as the situation of Adara and the waging war aren't moments of joy. Just as a teaser I have added a picture to the review. It took me actually more time to finish the book that I had thought as my focus was consonantly drawn to the illustrations.

The isn't a clear reference if this story does take place in Westeros as there isn't the mention of a name or who the King is, but with the influence of winter and dragon one does start to think and wonder. if it is a Westeros story, it does take place before the original series. 

Undoubtely if you are a A Song of Ice and Fire reader you are waiting for Winds of Winter, well The Ice Dragon is the perfect book if you are in this phase. George R.R. Martin has written a very captivating tale that is in lines with classical fairy tales. The story isn't one that is full of joy instead there is a great emphasis on a war and a " astranged" girl Adara. Adara makes up fior a solid protagonist, thoug she has a hard life she isn;t one ot sit around and mope about but she makes the bes of it and seeks acknowledgment with her father and the rest of her familiy. The Ice Dragon is a beautiful story, something different compared the hard and gritty A Song of Ice and Fire.

Book Review: Forging of a Knight, Prison Planet of the Mah-Lahkt

Forging of a Knight, Prison Planet of the Mah-Lahkt by Hugo V. Negron, Forging of a Knight #3

They have been hinted at – heroes of glorious legend, villains of infamous fable – some have made their presence known, while others only by name: Aurelus, Amali, Termenon, Qualtan, Jesepha, Darksiege, and Shaz.

Now, heroes of the past and present will unite against Those That Stand in Shadow. From the steaming jungles of the Third Continent to a Prison Planet forged by angels, the Arch-Mages and their champions will find themselves in a race against time to prevent Shaz and his agents from finding the Dark Ones’ demonic fathers and releasing them from bondage. Enemies will become allies, and allies will become foes in the ultimate confrontation with evil that will span two continents, new lands, and new terrors!

I don't know where the time has gone but it feels like only yesterday when I picked up my first Forging of a Knight book but actually it has already been two years since. In amongst the many indie authors that I read Hugo Negron entry was definitely one of the best that I had come across in a long time. A solid return to classic Epic Sword and Sorcery Fantasy and above all producing a highly enjoyable read for both older and younger readers. Last year Hugo Negron published his second book in the series, Rise of the Slavekeepers, which completely turned the tables and readily showed that Hugo Negron is an author with a lot of creativity and that dares to show it! Those extra dimensions were very cool to read and what first seemed as a rather bold move, paid off fully in the end. but now we have reached the conclusion of the first Forging of a Knight story arc, in personal communication Hugo Negron said that it's an ongoing series but each three books is an story arc of its own.  

 Let me just say upfront that you wont be disappointed. In the first book we got introduced to our knight in the making Qualtan and and orcne Glaive, they had some adventures and here also a dark and nefarious organization that had plans to take over the world came to light, Those That Stand in Shadow. In the second book our hero Qualtan was steadily growing up becoming the knight he always had dreamed to be, what Hugo Negron also did very nicely was to broadened world of the Forging of a Knight series, introducing, yes quite boldly extra dimensions, though this is a bit science fiction, it did work wonders in the Epic Fantasy backdrop. Now for the conclusion of the first story arc. 
The introduction as always in the Forging of a Knight stories are very remarkable and will get you readily fired up. You are directly offered a cool perspective not that of Qualtan or any guys of the good side but that of the evil side, Shaz and Darksiege and their plans, as I already said this readily got me in the mood of reading as with these kind of questing books Epic Fantasy book I always enjoy to read about what the other side think and plans. ANd you are in for quite a surprise by on of the important characters of Those That Stand in Shadow. After this you are transported to the perspectives of the good guys and see how they are recapturing events of the second book and are looking forward. Right until the interference of said person of Those That Stand in Shadow, now I wont tread into details as to who this is because that would spoil the surprise way to much. Now a race is on to stop Those That Stand in Shadow from freeing their demonic father, to help them take over the world and everything in between. In this quest Qualtan is once again not alone he is aided by the kingdom's most bravest knights, some who we have read about in earlier stories and others that are brand new. In their quest to stop Those That Stand in Shadow, Qualtan and many other a knight has to rediscover things for themselves, learning and growing up even how veteran they might be. This all leading up to an unavoidable and quite cataclysmic ending. But don't think the trek of Qualtan and his friends is solely walking they have to fend of otherworldly threats and other challenges as they go, this is perhaps the most eventful journey that Qualtan will have undertaken, getting out alive will proof to be quite a challenge... Even though you are strong and fast, there is always someone better than you, but the most important thing is never to give in what you believe. (another message that I think Hugo Negron wanted to show via Qualtan's character).

I really liked the story that Hugo Negron showed in Prison Planet of the Mah-Lahkt and especially the build up of the story. It starts of, if you don't take the prologue into consideration, quite harmless but soon picks up with a nice pacing. The story is in the lines of undertaking a journey typically accompanied with Epic Fantasy but it doesn't only focus on departing from town A and getting to destination B. A lot of things happen in between and not only action and fighting scenes but Hugo Negron nicely also addresses other aspects such as enlarging his world once again by delving into untold history of several old and new characters. I liked the parts of the White Knight and how he got to be but also more of the history of Those That Stand in Shadow, their plans and why some would go rogue. You could clearly feel the tension between the Arch Mages and Those That Stand in Shadow. It seems for me that Hugo Negron gets better with each new book. I made some comments about the hard writing style and words that were I think hard to understand for a younger audience, in Prison Planet he nicely changed this and wrote from start to finish a great story. 

From the cover of the book you can already glimpse that the Qualtan shows isn't the Qualtan from the first books, he looks grown up and from the first page that once again read about Qualtan he acts mature, not to say that he acted childish in the first book but he considers his actions and it seems that by all the earlier events he has come to understand that if you want to be a good knight, you have to act virtuous and live and keep to your standards, treat people how you want to be treated. I enjoy reading about Qualtan, it is not that his actions are over exaggerated to be a good knight they are natural and does play into how you want to see a knight to be shown. Fighting for the good side doesn't make Qualtan ignorant for other things that happen besides him, instead he takes in everything from his surrounding and processes it. Quite the transformation but I guess this is the true forging part. Next to Qualtan's character there are plenty of more good guys and bad guys that you follow. Two of the other characters of the good side that stood out for me were Jesepha and the White Knight. The introduction as Jesepha as a determined female knight does break some nice standard rules, you not often see a female knight in Epic Fantasy stories I know that a lot of young female readers will cheer her on. The White Knight is a new addition and even though you only learn about him in this story, Hugo Negron takes enough time to nestle him into the story, I liked the backstory of him and did add something of an emotional current to the story. He is very cool but once you learn what he actually did does make you rethink. 

Now for the bad guys. I have to stress this part once again. From the first book till Prison Planet, the chapters that focus on Those That Stand in Shadow have been a treat to read. In this Epic Fantasy backdrop and two faction fighting against each other the elaboration given over their actions give a better grasp on the story and does fully create a well rounded story. Plus it is just really cool to read about what they can and plan to do, it is not something over the top but Hugo Negron writes their actions in a dooming threat kind of way, Those That Stand in Shadow are dangerous and not to be trifled with... This all combined with the introduction of Prison Planet really topped it all off, Hugo Negron introduces a nice and for me totally unexpected plot twist! very nicely done. 

Prison Planet of the Mah-Lahkt is a terrific ending to the first Forging of a Knight series. Hugo Negron has gotten better at writing with every single book. As I already said from the first book he was on my radar and he kept on it with his second book. Writing a series as a self published author is difficult but his second book didn't falter and with this third book Prison Planet of the Mah-Lahkt Hugo Negron pulled all the stops to create one spectacular ending. I already mentioned a big plot twist and I will keep on saying it, this really transformed the story thusfar and will propose and interesting start for continuation. The characters all over the series never stop developing and this is something that helps to get the story further. It seems that you have never learned everything just yet about the characters and the world. Though the premise of the story of Prison Planet of the Mah-Lahkt might sound like a simple journey, your wrong, it's far from it. Hugo Negron keeps on building his world and characters and keeps on revealing more backstory, there is never a dull moment in this book. Hugo Negron has already written three very strong books, he has already let know that he is a few pages in the fourth book, I am eager to find out the direction of that story. Recommended!

Short Fiction Friday: A Kiss With Teeth

A Kiss With Teeth by Max Gladstone 
Vlad has grown distant from his wife. His son has trouble at school. And he has to keep his sharp teeth hidden.

By now you all should know who Max Gladstone is and that he is currently one of my favorite authors. His Craft Sequence series is just pitch perfect. Though he has already written 4 full length books in the series there aren't yet (hint) any short stories set in this universe. Instead Max Gladstone has written two stand alone short stories, The Angelus Guns, which I reviewed a month orso back and one that came out just last week A Kiss With Teeth. For me it is by writing such a diverse set of stories that Max Gladstone does mark himself to be a very all-round author.

So without going all fanboyish on his Craft Sequence story here are my thoughts on A Kiss With Teeth.

I was always very averse to vampires until I read the story James Lovegrove which showed them in a pretty cool light. In A Kiss With Teeth, Max Gladstone shows a very interesting take on vampire fiction, not ones that glamour young innocent girls or that suck human completely dry. No, in A Kiss With Teeth we follow a vampire turned father and husband and who tries to make the best of it all. From the go you are introduced to Vlad, a vampire, who is trying to live a normal life with a steady day job and a loving wife. Over the last couple of years he has fought hard to keep his sharp teeth hidden and hadn't had the need for a drop of blood. His son, Paul, is preforming not up to standards and Vlad's wife asks him to talk to his teacher to try to find out what is happening but this might just be the start of something... as Vlad's primal urges are being tickled once he meets Paul's teacher. The frequency of the meeting to talk about Pauls progress increases and Vlad urges only build up more and more until something just has to give... But don't expect the ending that I am luring you into just yet as Max Gladstone will utterly surprise you in the end! 

As I have come to learn by Max Gladstone stories is to take nothing at face value and A Kiss With Teeth again proves me right. As I already mentioned vampires are often build with several stereotypes that Max Gladstone nicely avoids. Vlad's attempts of being a normal father and husband in the best way he can, which is not often seen. I really liked how Vlad try to connect with his son and after somethings happened how he changes and everything became less forces just like it should be. His wife, has taken the precautions though that if Vlad would ever give into his urges, holywater on the nightstand and a gun with silver bullets in a safe just to be save (no pun intended!). 

A Kiss With Teeth is far from a horror campire bloodsucking kind of story, instead it focuses on some heretofore unseen aspect associated with vampirism. It's a short read that you don't want to miss. Nice breaking of stereotypes, just what Max Gladstone does best!

Read the full story here