Sunday, January 27, 2008

Brandon Sanderson News: Signed and Free Books

Brandon Sanderson, the author who will be writing the final Wheel of Time book, has a limited number of signed hardcover copies of the first book in his Mistborn trilogy available on his website for $20 each. Last month I got a signed first edition copy of this book off of (they're all out now, unfortunately) since it should be a good collector's item someday... plus I just love signed books. I'm a little over 100 pages into it now, and so far it is good. The Well of Ascension, the second book in the series, is currently out in hardcover, and the final book The Hero of Ages is scheduled to be released in October 2008.

Also available on Sanderson's website is a free copy of his forthcoming novel Warbreaker. This is not a polished, finished novel, but the author wanted to make one of his books free under a Creative Commons license and also thought it would be a nice way to allow readers to contribute to the novel. It's an interesting experiment, and I'll be curious to see if he will do it again.

At the end of Warbreaker, Sanderson also included excerpts from some of his other books - his award-winning debut novel Elantris, Mistborn: The Final Empire, and his young adult novel Alcatraz: Versus the Evil Librarians. (The first line of Alcatraz cracked me up.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Review of The Book of Joby

Now that it is 2008, I have found a book published in 2007 that is above all the others I read last year and would have been on my favorites list if I'd read it before the end of the year. That book is Mark J. Ferrari's debut novel, The Book of Joby, a modern-day retelling of the biblical story of Job including elements of the King Arthur legends. It is not a part of a series but rather an actual stand-alone novel.

When Lucifer hears that God and the angel Gabriel are sipping lattes in a coffee shop in New England, he drops in on them to make a bet with the Creator. Over the years, the devil has placed "that same stupid bet" with God - that he can make one of his people willingly turn to evil - even though he has only been able to win two previous bets: Eve and Judas Iscariot. This time the stakes are high; if Lucifer is able to corrupt God's chosen candidate, all of God's creation will be destroyed and redesigned according to the devil's instructions.

Nine year old Joby loves to pretend he is a knight from the book on King Arthur given to him by his grandfather. He even forms the Roundtable Club at his school and encourages others in the group to do good deeds and help out the other children. The future appears bright until Joby begins to have problems with school and his parents. Joby's life only gets worse as he gets older and God is forbidden to help him no matter how much Joby pleads.

The Book of Joby was one of those rare books that immediately drew me in and was hard to put down after the second page or so. It did drag for a little while in the middle, but it picked up again almost as soon as I started thinking it was getting off track.

The story may not sound original since it is partially based on two very famous stories, but these well-known tales were intertwined in a way that formed an imaginative, unique fantasy. Certain parts of the story were predictable; however, this did not bother me since I felt that these occurrences were supposed to be clear to everyone but the characters. It did not feel like a case of the author thinking "Aha! I am so clever and nobody will guess what I am doing!" while all the readers are thinking "This guy thinks he's being so smart but any moron would be able to tell where this story is headed." I did not care that I was not shocked when the characters were surprised at new knowledge but just enjoyed watching events unfold and reading about how they reacted.

On the subject of the characters, I loved Joby, Laura, God, Gabriel, Michael, and even Lucifer, whose interactions with God and his angels were highly entertaining. The characters were well-drawn, and developed as the story moved along, even some who may be expected to be pretty static at this point after being alive for so long.

This was not a fantasy story that had sword-fighting, a medieval setting, elves, or any of the other tropes commonly associated with the genre. It was about one man's struggle against greater odds, the ways in which the Creator and Lucifer tried to outsmart each other, and the hard decision's some of God's people/angels had to make with a little bit of philosophy on free will thrown in. The Book of Joby is a diverse book that will make you feel anger, joy, or despair at times, but keeps you smiling with the bits of humor that are weaved throughout the book.

The prose was fairly straightforward but it contained a larger vocabulary than a lot of books I've read recently and had several turns of phrase that made it quite enjoyable.

I would highly recommend The Book of Joby to anyone who enjoys a good book, especially if they are tired of reading generic, mundane fantasy and would like a more thoughtful story to read.


Other opinions on this book:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Clarkesworld Books Reopened for Short Time

My favorite bookstore for speculative fiction was Clarkesworld Books, at least before it closed to my great dismay (for understandable reasons but I have to admit I was rather sad to see it go). I can't believe I didn't see this earlier, but it was open again a little while before Christmas and is open again through January 31! (It's just as well I didn't see it was open before Christmas - nobody would have gotten any presents from me this year after I spent all my money on books.)

Because of closing, it is a great place for cheap books, and they have some signed books too. This time around I ordered a signed copy of Elizabeth Bear's Blood and Iron. Also, sometimes you can find out of print books, like the first two books in Robert Holdstock's Merlin Codex series, which I also took advantage of. Then Storm Constantine's Calenture and Sign for the Sacred called my name, being somewhat difficult to find in the United States. I had to seriously restrain myself from buying more, which is why it's a good thing I didn't know before Christmas.

In the past, I've gotten other signed books from there, such as the entire Prince of Nothing series by R. Scott Bakker, The Sons of Avonar by Carol Berg, Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, and Forest Mage by Robin Hobb. Have I mentioned before how much I love autographed books?

Carol Berg's Next Series and New Blog

On one of Carol Berg's recent Amazon blog posts, she mentioned she was beginning to work on her next trilogy, an epic fantasy with the tentative name of The Sabrian Veil. She has begun writing some about her new story and the writing process on her new personal blog, Text Crumbs, which seems like it will be pretty interesting. I've always enjoyed reading her Amazon blog, so I look forward to reading more of her new blog as well.

I am curious to see what she will do with an epic fantasy. Her Rai-kirah trilogy (Transformation, Revelation, and Restoration) is one of my favorite series with its compelling main character and the explorations of religion, perception of reality, and truth. The first half of The Lighthouse Duology (I really need to get Breath and Bone now that it's out!) was very good as well and Song of the Beast kept me on the edge of my seat.

Shaman's Crossing Available as Free E-Book

To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Eos books, they are going to be featuring a free e-book to download every two months. The first featured e-book is Shaman's Crossing, the first book in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son trilogy.

Eos Announcement

Download Shaman's Crossing

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wise Man's Fear Delay

After reading and enjoying Patrick Rothfuss's debut The Name of the Wind, many were happy to know that the rest of the series had been completed and each book would come out approximately a year apart. However, it was recently announced that the publication date was being pushed back from March 2008 to April 2009, which upset a lot of people.

In this blog post, Rothfuss explains the reason for the delay with the second book in the Kingkiller Chronicle. Anyone who reads it should be able to sympathize and understand why he's had to change the date. Other than the success of The Name of the Wind, it sounds like he's having the year from hell.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January 2008 New Releases

There are some books that just came out this month that sound rather interesting so I thought I'd just make a brief list of some of January's new releases. (Some of these books may already be out or not yet be out in other countries.) I know a few good ones are coming out in March as well so I'm also going to make a February/March list soon.

The following all came out this month or will be coming out later this month.

Breath and Bone (#2 Lighthouse Duology) by Carol Berg

Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost

Inside Straight (Wild Cards) edited by George R.R. Martin (January 22, 2008)

Hunter's Run by George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham
Renegade's Magic (The Soldier Son Trilogy, Book 3) by Robin Hobb

Debatable Space by Philip Palmer

I haven't read any of these yet, but I may have to remedy that. I really enjoyed the first book in Carol Berg's Lighthouse Duology, the new Wild Cards book sounds like a lot of fun, and Robin Hobb is one of my favorite authors (I've been waiting for the last book in The Soldier Son trilogy so I could read the whole thing back to back).

Monday, January 14, 2008

Review of The Skewed Throne

The Skewed ThroneThe Skewed Throne

The Skewed Throne
by Joshua Palmatier
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.75/5

Thanks to a contest run by Jeff at Fantasy Book News and Reviews, I recently received a copy of Joshua Palmatier's debut novel, The Skewed Throne. This is the first book in The Throne of Amenkor trilogy, followed by The Cracked Throne and The Vacant Throne respectively. The final book just came out earlier this month, making this one of those mythical and elusive sets of books - an actual completed fantasy series. After reading several reviews praising this book, I was looking forward to reading it, but I ended up rather disappointed in it. It was not what I would call a bad book; it just wasn't exactly what I would call a good book, either.

The story is told from the first person perspective of a teenage orphan named Varis, who uses her thief skills to survive on the streets. One of the Seekers, a guardsman who enacts justice by killing those the Mistress orders him to, watches Varis struggle against and kill a murderer. Impressed by her victory, this guardsman, Erick, begins training Varis in how to use her dagger. Erick enlists the aid of Varis in finding marks for the Mistress and she finds and sometimes kills these people.

The Mistress is considered to be rather godlike and infallible, but ever since a strange phenomenon called the "White Fire" fell upon the city, people have begun to quietly question the sanity of their ruler. Due to her ability to see people in colors symbolizing whether they are dangerous or harmless, Varis realizes the Mistress has commanded the Seeker to kill a woman who does not deserve any harsh punishment. It soon becomes obvious to a few citizens that eliminating the Mistress is the only way to save themselves.

The narrative begins with Varis sneaking into the Mistress's chambers in the present and then repeatedly flashes back to the past events that lead up to it until the end of the book. This was not too jarring and added some much needed tension since not a whole lot interesting happened in the beginning of the book. In fact, it took about 150 pages for the story to pick up at all and this was not a very long book at 384 pages total. There was a lot of repetition as Varis hunted various marks for Erick and the Mistress.

The writing was acceptable for the most part. Earlier in the book short sentences starting with "I" and sentence fragments occurred far too frequently; however, this did occur less as the book went on.

It is a refreshing change of pace - although not unheard of - to see a fantasy book with an independent female lead, but something failed to click for me in regards to the character of Varis. She seemed like a very generic "orphan with a tragic past who discovers she has magical powers" type of character to me. I do not want to give away the ending (which was fairly predictable partway into the book), but it is in direct violation of two fantasy cliches that have been done to death that I can think of.

The Skewed Throne struck me as being mediocre in every way. It was neither challenging nor consistently entertaining, and I saw no qualities that would urge me to recommend it to others above many of the other, better books I've reviewed here.


For a different, more positive opinion of this book, read this review by Jeff at

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Guest Review of Variable Star

Variable Star is, as described in the preface, "a posthumous collaboration, begun when one of its collaborators was seven and completed when the other was seventeen-years-dead." Happily, it is not the disaster that one might fear would result from such a situation. Most of the reason for that is the sheer level of talent of the two collaborators: the grandmaster Robert A. Heinlein and the man many believe to be his successor, Spider Robinson.

The story opens with Joel Johnston having what he considers to be a very bad day. After a magical night at the prom his fiancée and the love of his life wants to marry him. Jinny wants to marry him so badly, in fact, that she reveals a secret to him: she is not who he thinks she is. Not the poor orphan he fell in love with, with whom marriage would be a financial uphill struggle, but rather the heiress of the largest financial empire in the history of humanity. She whisks him away to the family's luxurious hidden compound, introduces him to her family (who find him quite acceptable), and can hardly wait to begin their life together. Joel takes the only rational course available to him - he hops on the next colony ship out of the solar system.

It will be twenty years (from Joel's perspective, Lorentz demands ninety from everybody Joel left behind) before the ship arrives at its destination, a star which was obscured from human sight before civilization expanded beyond the fixed perspective of Sol. During that time Joel has to not only recover from his Bad Day but also adjust to the life of an interstellar traveller and space colonist. Though he is to be a simple farmer and part-time musician he is surrounded by people with remarkable talents. His roommate is a telepath, capable of the only method of communication back to Sol that can bypass that annoying speed limit of c. He is friends with the Relativists, the humans who actually power the ship's propulsion through meditation. And he works for the Zog, the master botanist who is probably the only person who can keep a small colony fed on a world that is alien to all the crops they bring with them and thus the key to their survival after landing. Assuming, that is, they live to the end of their trip.

Despite the nominal collaboration, it needs to be said that Variable Star is definitely a Spider Robinson book. I do not mean that to be a condemnation or even a criticism; Robinson is an immensely talented writer and I am a fan of his work, but with that statement a number of other facts about the book must follow. There will be a certain amount of late-60's era optimism and culture, which is wonderful. There will be a certain amount of introspective wrangling and gnashing of teeth, which is OK. There will be a certain amount of punning, which...we'll not discuss. Clearly, though, most of Heinlein's contribution was in the setting, characters, and structure of the story. This makes sense, as Robinson's afterword reveals that he worked from only seven typed pages and fourteen index cards of story notes that Heinlein started but abandoned in the 1950's.

Judged as a Spider Robinson book, however, it is outstanding. I have never read Robinson's novels for story or plot as, despite a long list of truly excellent short stories, he never really seemed to nail down the best way to pace and structure a full-length novel. I don't know if it was the influence of Heinlein's notes or just due to the love and respect Robinson had for his friend that is obvious on every page, but he manages to mostly solve that problem in Variable Star. There are a couple of places where the story starts to get bogged down by Robinson lingering over his favorite themes, but they are usually resolved quickly enough to not damage the overall impact of the book.

But as with most of his books, the real reason you read Variable Star is Spider Robinson's prose. And as with the other aspects of this book, the extra love and craftsmanship Robinson put into his writing is wonderfully obvious. This book reads like an alternate-universe-Pratchett book, one where he was born in the Bronx and decided to spend his life writing sci-fi about musicians and Buddhism. Robinson (thankfully) manages to repress his love of overly-complex puns and stick to straight up wit and beautiful, expressive language. Even in the places where the plot wanders a bit or the characters stretch credulity you simply do not care because the words themselves are such a joy to read.

I highly recommend Variable Star not just for fans of Heinlein or Robinson, large as those groups may be, but for anybody who loves reading.


Review of The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie's debut novel, is the first book in The First Law trilogy. The final book in the trilogy (The Last Argument of Kings) will be released in the UK in March 2008, and the second book in the trilogy (Before They Are Hanged) will be released in the U.S. in March 2008. According to Abercrombie's blog, The Last Argument of Kings will most likely be released in the US in September 2008 which I was happy to hear because it is not nearly as long a wait as I had been expecting it to be. I keep hearing that it's the best book in the series and The Blade Itself was already rather good, especially considering it was a first-time novel.

Logen, a barbarian warrior known as the "Bloody-Nine" for his fighting prowess and nine remaining fingers, finds himself and his cooking pot the only survivors of his village after a fight against the Shanka. Since the North is becoming overrun by these creatures and his family and friends are all gone, Logen decides he may as well travel south. While he is camping, a half-dead wizard's apprentice visits the barbarian carrying the message that his master Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is summoning him. Tired of controlling his own destiny and seeing no more enticing options, Logen brings the apprentice back to Bayaz.

Glokta, a nobleman, was a fine swordsman destined for glory, but a war and time as a prisoner in the opposing side's torture chamber changed all that. Now a cripple missing half his teeth, Glokta has joined the Inquisition and is himself a torturer, although he often questions why he does it. The torturer becomes a pawn in the Inquisition's political scheming when the Arch Lector promotes him. Eventually, Glokta is given the task of watching Bayaz and obtaining proof that he is an imposter - after all, everyone knows the First of the Magi must be long dead by now.

The Blade Itself is somewhat traditional fantasy, but it is also not completely standard fantasy fare. There are warriors, mages, battles, a kingdom, and a prophecy; however, the lines between good and evil are somewhat blurry and there is more realism than in a lot of typical fantasy. For instance, Logen is not a handsome warrior who makes women swoon - he's hideous with scars and a face that's been pretty beat up over the years as he has been involved in fights.

This story is more about the characters than the plot. Personally, I rather enjoyed that aspect of this novel, but I have read a few complaints about the beginning just being a long character introduction and nothing happening until later in this book. It is true that the actual story takes some time to get going, but the well-written characters and the wry, sardonic humor prevalent in their points of view kept me reading even without a lot of action and plot developments. Also, some of the characters who show up less often may seem irrelevant to the story for a little while. Toward the end, the story did begin to come together and there was more actually happening, but some may find the book difficult to get into if character-driven stories are not their kind of book.

The prose was not overly florid but crisp, which is just right for a character-driven epic fantasy. It seemed very quality and fluid - there were not many awkward phrases or typos distracting me from the story. The thoughts of the characters are interjected throughout the story, but I did not find it jarring or out of place. It painted a very clear picture of the people in the book and I found very early in the story that I wasn't just reading the dialogue, but I could hear the tone of voice used and see the facial expressions of each of the characters as they spoke.

Not only were the characters well-developed but they made the story. The three main point of view characters - Glokta, Jezal, and Logen - were very human, flawed yet likable. Abercrombie really got into the head of each character and gave them each their own quirks and personalities, making them feel very real and alive.

This story would not fall into the category of comedic fantasy, but there is a lot of humor prevalent throughout the story. The phrasing, the character's thoughts, and the descriptions of some of the minor characters like the king and the lord chancellor were thoroughly entertaining.

The Blade Itself is an impressive debut novel and I look forward to reading the sequels. It may take a while for events to develop, but the characters and brand of humor certainly made it a worthwhile book that was hard to put down in spite of a slow beginning.