Thursday, October 29, 2015

Stealer of Flesh - Review by S.E.

Stealer of FleshStealer of Flesh by William King
S.E. rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stealer of Flesh by William King
This short set of tales introduces us to Kormak, a Guardian who is essentially an assassin of dark creatures. He is hunting a Ghul across four tales. This begins a series which extends to at least seven entries. This is Sword & Sorcery with a Warhammer feel. It has a lot of ingredients that I adore: mysterious undead creatures, intelligent banter, gritty warfare. It also had a knack for building up great potential only to not capitalize on it or to nullify it. I'll explain: in chapter one, a very silly quote from a dying character was a forced one-liner quote that was out of place; the second tale builds up a companion for Kormak and then puts her in jeopardy in a very interesting way...but chapter three mentions her in passing; chapter three also lets Kormak and Ghul share minds (I am being obtuse to not spoil) so a weird/interesting bond is formed between hunter and prey...and this is not tapped for the rest of the book; chapter four brings us into some ancient ruins with great history and a finale battle...which ends abruptly and without exploration of the ruins.

I enjoyed much of the plot twists and battles, but in the end I was not sure I really knew Kormak well enough to care about his future adventures. I am confident that William King can spin a great tale, and perhaps the remaining set fleshes out this potential.

1. Stealer of Flesh
2. Defiler of Tombs
3. Weaver of Shadow
4. City of Strife
5. Taker of Skulls
6. Ocean of Fear
7. Born of Darkness

Stealer of Flesh by William King Defiler of Tombs (Kormak Book Two) by William King Weaver of Shadow (Kormak Book Three) by William King City of Strife (Kormak Book Four) by William King Taker of Skulls (Kormak Book Five) by William King Ocean of Fear by William King Born of Darkness (Kormak Book Seven) by William King

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Broken Sword AND High Couch of Silistra - Groupreads for Nov-Dec 2015

Please join the Sword & Sorcery group this Nov-Dec to read:
2) High Couch of Silistra - 1997 and 2015 by Janet Morris

Of course, we always must have a custom banner made from the covers.  Here are the credits for the montage:

Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword:
1973 Patrick Woodroffe and 1977 Boris Vallejo 1977 (coincidentally)
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Janet E. Morris's High Couch of Silistra, covers by Boris Vallejo (1977) and Roy Mauritsen (2105; includes "Dancing Maenad in a Roman relief" photo by Ana Belén Cantero Paz)
High Couch of Silistra (Silistra, #1) by Janet E. Morris High Couch of Silistra (the silistra quartet book 1) by Janet E. Morris
The Author's Cut versions were just released this year. It is interesting to learn of Janet E. Morris's feelings toward the original cover by Boris Vallejo. I interviewed her in 2014 and she said:
"When I saw the Boris High Couch cover for the first time, I was insulted that anyone could have derived the brass bra and Gucci boots image from my work.- JEM 2014

For the 2015 authors' cut, designer/artist Roy Mauritsen took one photo and split it over the four covers ("Dancing Maenad in a Roman relief" photo by Ana Belén Cantero Paz)

Silistra Quartet Covers 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Seven Princes by John R. Fultz is Epic, Digestible Dark Fantasy.

Seven Princes (Books of the Shaper, #1)Seven Princes by John R. Fultz
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seven Princes by John R. Fultz is Epic, Digestible Dark Fantasy.

The Author Interview was a nice extra in which Fultz acknowledges the authors who inspired him, namely Clark Ashton Smith, Tanith Lee, and Darrell Schweitzer. I found Fultz’s writing to be more accessible than these authors, but less deep/intellectual (in this work); though poetic language is frequent. Seven Princes reads as a Young Adult version of dark fantasy and pays homage to Lovecraft and Howard in many ways. Most characters are archetypal “good” or “evil.” We learn about the land's history via ~7 princes and 1 princess who all come of age together in a tumultuous time. I found most princes to be indistinguishable (most are honorable warrior types). Gammir of Khyrei is not included in the core seven, but emerges the most developed character, and is arguably a prince too.

The scope is epic in time and geography, but it is not Tolkien like. Do not expect elves, dwarves, or orcs here. Just giants, and colossal serpents, and lots of magic. This is part of the series “Books of the Shaper” and Shaping is sorcery. There is “good” magic and “evil” magic, that involve “shaping” elements; only the “bad” magic is explained (it requires blood; let’s hear it for vampirism and necromancy!), but the good magic just requires thought apparently.

Despite not having a fully explained magic system, the “shaping” in the story was really how the land was shaped over time via cyclical good/evil struggles. The pacing did fluctuate as other reviewers have noted. The opening chapter is a worthy stand-alone short story and is an outstanding foundation for the rest of the book. The last 150pages would have been better if it was stretched out—lots of epic battles that deserved more pages! For a 500page novel, this read very fast. I am compelled to read the next two: Seven Sorcerers and Seven Kings. I recommend this to those sword and sorcery readers who normally read short fiction (avoiding series of thick books).

Seven Princes (Books of the Shaper, #1) by John R. Fultz Seven Kings (Books of the Shaper, #2) by John R. Fultz Seven Sorcerers (Books of the Shaper #3) by John R. Fultz

The seven princes:
1. Fangodrel of Udurum half-human scholar
2. Tadarus of Udurum half-giant warrior prince
3. Vireon of Udurum half-giant warrior prince
(Princess Sharadza of Udurum)... she’s a sorceress
4. Lyrilan of Uurz … a scholar
5. Tyro of Uurz … a human warrior prince
6. Andoses of Shar Dni … a human warrior prince
7. D’zan of Yaskatha … a young human warrior prince

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Anemogram – Engaging, Eerie Mystery

anemogram.anemogram. by Rebecca Gransden
S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anemogram – Engaging, Eerie Mystery

All is mysterious in anemogram by Rebecca Gransden: the obscure/cryptic title (technically a graphical display of wind speed), the ghostlike protagonist, and the poetic writing and evolving story. Gransden employs Mystery to drag you into the protagonist’s journey. “She” is a roaming, young girl. Her history and motivations are unclear. Is she a human orphan? A sprite or spirit guide? Angel or devil? The wind itself? Whatever she is, it seems she is out to harvest stories from abject people, but it is equally possible she has chosen us the “reader” to engage.

It is a dark weird tale. The characterization is compelling; strangely, most of the revealing conversations occur during eating. There is a constant tension between innocence and impending darkness which is played expertly, and intellectual readers may consider this as a homage to the classic The Heavenly Christmas Tree by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1876, available online via the Gutenburg project). Keeping this from a 5-star rating, is the denouement. With all the mystery presented, I did not expect to have all things explained, but I did expect more. The climax brings the right characters to the right place… and I really craved about one more chapter’s worth of the journey. This is an ambitious, well done debut novel. I look forward to more from Rebecca Gransden, especially if there is a follow up to anemogram. This is an excellent tale that will appeal to several genre readers: fantasy, mystery, thrillers.

“…she turned and headed across open wasteland, into the domain of the sun and its cherishing death. She bobbed up and down and held out her white dress, spinning and drawing in the warm air. Her legs were cherubim podgy and she moved like an electrified hamster. The wasteland contoured down a textured valley which in turn vaulted into the distance and away. She stood in its open magnificence, its blanched earth under the blue-white sky of God. Everything in the distance; she would play unseen. She left her giggles behind her as she took off running. The ground flattened like an ancient seabed and she took her little body over it. She forgot her feet as she chased her own arms down. The surrounding landscape stayed static and true as she fed her hunger for abandonment…”

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Reckless Traveler - South American - Magical Mystery Tour - Review by S.E.

Reckless TravelerReckless Traveler by Walter Rhein
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

A South American - Magical Mystery Tour
"Travel helps separate what is real from what is not. Travel is education without agenda."- Walter Rhein 

Walter Rhein’s introductory chapter to Reckless Traveler, available online and in the eBook preview, trapped me as quick as I glanced at it. I did not set out to read a travel biography, but a chance crossing of a Facebook post had me ensnared. Equally concerned for Walter’s health and excited about what he experienced, I had no choice but to neglect my to-read pile dominated by dark fantasy. My reading mirrored that of the author’s experience. Spending a decade in Peru, initially as short-time tourist one who did not speak the local language, Walter recaps his own entrapment: his muse anchored him in a foreign land.

The author’s style is welcoming; the story is adventurous and peppered with philosophical depth. He accurately portrays the consequences of traveling without a plan, which is fraught with fun and danger. Visa issues and adventure take him to Venezuela and Chile—so he was not bound to Peru. Read this and you encounter: giant cockroaches, being robbed, Machu Picchu, AK47’s, Chilean jails, medical crises, peanut butter, transient friendships, bribery, murder, a race through the mountains, being robbed again…He does not advocate that everyone should actually travel recklessly; the best alternative is to let Walter do the walking and talking…and just follow him via the comfort of this book.

Recommend for all readers. The best way I can communicate Walter Rhein’s voice and the scope of the book is to offer a random array of quotes:

Random Adventurous Snippet (curious-reader traps):

My dreamy recollections came to an abrupt halt when once again I found myself in Ecuador, regarding the ominous line of stern-faced mercenaries with AK-47s.

A kiss is a nice greeting. Getting through the day becomes much easier when dotted with kisses from women you meet.

I woke to find myself staring into the eyes of the world’s largest cockroach.

I rounded the corner and came upon the carnage. The taxi sat by the side of the road, its windshield spattered with orange-red droplets. I looked at the droplets for some time before I realized they were blood.

After thirty seconds, I threw up the tea. “Can we please go to the hospital now?”

My left wrist was scratched. In the place where my watch normally rested was now only a patch of untanned white skin. The guy had stolen my Timex Ironman!

“His name is Ivan. He’s the son of the Yugoslavian ambassador to Perú, and he doesn’t like Americans.”

Its trunk light came on to reveal a crumpled sheet of thick plastic. The driver pushed this aside, to expose, much to my surprise, piles and piles of money.

I paged through my passport and found an entry stamp to Chile. I shook my head. There was something slightly creepy about entering a foreign country without even talking to a border official, but I shrugged it off.

Last to emerge was Alan Garcia, the President of Perú himself.

I received a call from Roberto Carcelen. Roberto is a cross-country skier who became Perú’s first winter Olympian after representing the country at Vancouver and then again at Sochi.

The trick to crossing an Indiana Jones-style suspension bridge is to never look down. Of course, this is impossible, because you must ensure that your feet connect with planks not rotten to the core.

Philosophical Excerpts :
I was suddenly glad for the increased ability to dampen out sensory intrusions. You don’t read words you can’t understand, or eavesdrop on conversations you can’t comprehend.

Therein lay the rub. “They hate it,” I said. “Everybody hates it. When I meet American tourists on the street here, taking ‘appropriate’ two-week vacations, they flash me disapproving stares as they pass by… “Maybe their scorn is only in my imagination,” I admitted. “But in the US these days, or at least where I lived, there are those who will label you as ‘unpatriotic’ for even aspiring to learn a foreign language.”

Living in Perú took the pressure off me financially, and created the freedom to think about things other than how I was going to cover monthly expenses. I felt I had stumbled into a closeout sale on time, and I wanted to purchase as much as I could. But Perú had a dark side too: it was important to keep on your toes.

The funny thing about learning foreign languages is that whenever you make an error in word choice or pronunciation you invariably say something totally inappropriate and probably sexual in nature.

The fact is, altitude can really mess with you, and you must consciously remember not to overexert yourself. Even a slow walking pace is enough to jack your heart rate up to near its maximum capacity. However, you don’t feel as if you are going too hard, which is why you can get yourself into trouble.
The only way to get a true experience is to be your own guide.

It’s liberating to come home and know there won’t be a stack of bills waiting for you. This freedom came with certain inconveniences, but overall the trade worked for me. I liked that I needed to go for a twenty minute walk if I wanted to use the internet; it meant I wouldn’t go online unless I had a true task pending that needed to be taken care of.

I could see how a bilingual readership would make it more challenging for any single entity to control a narrative.

Personally, I’d rather strive for error-riddled greatness than be limited to perfect mediocrity.

On that pinnacle, I realized that, when discussing decision-making, people tend to leave out significant points, the most important being this: Every choice has a consequence; some are good; some are bad; some are positive, but yet represent missed opportunities.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Birthgrave – An Adult ‘Coming of Age’ Novel – Dark, Haunting Adventure

The Birthgrave (Birthgrave, #1)The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee
S.E. Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 stars

Haunting Release: The Birthgrave is a coming of age novel of (and by) a female goddess. Tanith Lee’s debut novel is adult oriented, dark fantasy. This one is epic, dosed with poetic horror and battle, and features lots of risky writing (entertaining). The 2015 reprint comes with a haunting introduction written in January, just months before her May death coinciding with the paperback release in the US.

The female narrator quests to free her body/soul from a curse; although suffering from amnesia as she awakens from an active volcano, she learns that she is a goddess among humans… and she knows her ancestors are all mysteriously gone. She is alone, powerful, and yet ignorant and weak. There is plenty of rough sexual encounters, not gratuitous but written more dispassionately than romantically – and seems to toy with the stereotypes of the genre. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s introduction is short yet insightful and touches on this interplay:
Most women in science fiction write from a man’s viewpoint. In most human societies, adventures have been structured for men. Women who wish to write of adventure have had to accept, willy-nilly, this limitation. There seems an unspoken assumption in science fiction that science fiction is usually read by men, or, if it is read by women, it is read by those women who are bored with feminine concerns and wish to escape into the world of fantasy where they can change their internal viewpoint and gender and share the adventurous world of men…

…Here is a woman writer whose protagonist is a woman—yet from the very first she takes her destiny in her own hands, neither slave nor chattel. Her adventures are her own. She is not dragged into them by the men in her life, nor served up to the victor as a sexual reward after the battle. For the first time since C. L. Moore’s warrior-woman, Jirel of Joiry, we see the woman-adventurer in her own right. But this book is not an enormous allegory of women’s liberation, nor an elaborate piece of special pleading. It’s just a big delightful feast of excitement and adventure—Introduction by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Expect Ambitious, Risky Writing that Works Most of the Time: This is a first-person-perspective for 450pages! The content is full of adult psychology and complex mystery, written by a 22yr old! And it is her debut novel! How is that for pioneering? Most of the time, the risk taking pays off. The perspective works as it should, and it was easy to forget (even 400 pages in) that I still did not know “her” proper name---but by then I knew “her” so well a name was not needed. She unfolds a mystery with perfect pacing with periodic ghostly encounters and déjà vu moments. There is plenty of commentary about gender roles across barbaric and civilized cultures, though it steered away from being political commentary thankfully. Tanith Lee’s gift for poetic language is stunning. The book is saturated with efficient characterizations, like the two below:
If I broke into a run to escape them, would they too run to keep up? My eyes grew strange, and everywhere I looked, I seemed to see the glitter of the Knife of Easy Dying. Die, and let them follow me to death if they would. But I was still too new to life to let it go.

…Darak had called them to some council then, on the low hill beyond the houses. Yes, that would be it. A little king on a little throne, lording it because his subjects were smaller than even his smallness.
Avoiding spoilers, I must still note that there is a sudden encounter very late in the novel that seems to shift the genre out of its dark-fantasy-epic mold. Given the 1975 wording and delivery, it would be easy to over emphasize this section. Diehard genre readers feeling sucker-punched may have to sigh or trust my review that ultimately the milieu is consistent. In short order, the story rights its trajectory in a consistent manner.

I really enjoyed reading this experiential novel and am saddened to learn of Tanith Lee’s death. Thankfully, she was a prolific writer and wrote a large library of weird, dark fantasy… which I look forward to delving into. The Birthgrave begins a trilogy; the sequel is Vazkor, Son of Vazkor, and the finale is Quest for the White Witch. The releases come with new covers from artist Bastien Lecouffe Deharme.

The Birthgrave (Birthgrave, #1) by Tanith Lee Vazkor, Son of Vazkor (Birthgrave, #2) by Tanith Lee Quest for the White Witch (Birthgrave, #3) by Tanith Lee
The Birthgrave (Birthgrave, #1) by Tanith Lee Shadowfire book #2 coming

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

New Releases and We Are All Legends - Sept-Oct 2015 Groupreads

All Swordsmen (women) and Sorcerers (Sorceresses), please join the Sword & Sorcery group read in September and October as we tackle: 

1) New Releases (for this genre, anything published after 2000 suffices) 

2) We Are All Legends  

New Release DISCUSSION link  /    We Are All Legends DISCUSSION link

Banner Credits (left to right):
We Are All Legends by Darrell Schweitzer, interior art by Stephen Fabian 1981
Seven Princes by John R. Fultz, cover art by Richard Anderson 2011
King of The Bastards by Brian Keene and Steven Shrewsbury, coverart by 2015 Daniel Kamarudin
Stealer of Flesh by William King, cover art by unknown (2013)