Thursday, July 30, 2009

Debut Showcase: Dark Time

Dark Time: Mortal Path Book 1 (Amazon USA - UK - Canada)
by Dakota Banks (blog)
MM Paperback - $7.99
Chapter One

Publisher's Blurb:

Dark Time is a new, sassy twist on supernatural thrillers—Lara Croft meets Elektra—an edge-of-your-seat, action-packed debut that fans of Vicki Pettersson and James Rollins won’t want to miss. In fact, Rollins himself raves, “THE MORTAL PATH is a novel to be savored for both its edge of suspense and the pure joy of its storytelling.”

Burned at the stake as a witch, Susannah Layton made a deal with a devil in return for revenge and immortality. Nearly 300 years later, she has killed more people for her demonic master than she can count, and only wants to be free.

But infernal contracts don’t have an easy “out” clause, and the only way Susannah—now Maliha—can retire without ending up in the deepest levels of hell is by saving one life for every one that she has taken. Her quest will take the former assassin from the fast-paced urban jungles of New York and Chicago to the wilds of Peru and Mongolia, from corporate espionage to raiding artifacts from secret places at great risk to her life.

This is the author's debut into fantasy, but she wrote six suspense novels under a different name. According to her website, she based this novel on ancient Sumarian myths. I find the premise interesting, and I like the idea of her having to save one life for each life she has taken. However, soul-selling as a plot device is a hard sell for me, for reasons of faith. (As a Christian I see a much easier "out" than this.) However, even if I could set that aside, I still think this might be too dark for me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Writer Wednesday - The Dreaded Opening

Openings! As readers, we love 'em. They suck us right into the story. As writers, we hate 'em because they're so hard to write! Well, we don't actually hate them, we love them too. Because, after all, we're readers as well.

If only we can get our own openings right!

Joining us as Featured Writer this week is Kristy Baxter, the recently-agented author of a YA/Contemporary Fantasy called Grim Light. Her agent is Marlene Stringer. I'm going to turn it over to Kristy as she gives us her take on openings. I am lucky enough to have Kristy as my critique partner, and I read an early draft of this novel. I only mention this because she refers to me quite a bit.


by Kristy Baxter

I love starting a new novel.

I hate starting a new novel.

On the one hand, you have this joyous new creation to begin, and you don't know what it'll look like when you're done...but you know the ride's going to be awesome and terrifying and awesome all over again.

But on the other hand...argh. Openings! That first sentence is so incredibly important that you could spend weeks trying to make it perfect. And then all you're doing is waiting in line as you imagine what fun that roller coaster will be.

For my most recently completed novel, Grim Light, I decided to dive right into the action. My heroine foresaw a sad event coming, and then a moment later she saw a boy who would be very important to her, although she didn't know it yet.

The problem, as Tia pointed out: the reader didn't have enough time to get to know my protagonist, even a little bit, before these things happened. I needed to develop a little bit of sympathy, give the reader at least a little bit more about my protagonist, before I enmeshed her in all this emotional turmoil.

I stared at my opening paragraph. I loved that paragraph! It had been there since the beginning, the one that started it all. Every time I got other ideas or tried to start other novels, I read that opening and was sucked back in. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized Tia was right. Who cares what happens to this girl if they don't know who she is?

And as much as writing a novel, a short story, or anything at all is a roller-coaster ride, it's also a tightrope walk. I wanted to give the reader interesting action, but I also wanted to give her a smidgen of character development. So I pulled on my sequined leotard and grabbed that long stick-thing for balancing, and I hopped on the tightrope.

In order to compromise, I made the first sentence foreshadow what was to come. Then I made my heroine happy, because if we see her happy then we know how hard that fall will be. And I made sure that fall came within the first page or so, in an effort not to bore the reader.

I won't deny that it was tough. I'd never imagined Grim Light opening any other way. But when I saw the end result, I was very satisfied. I felt like I knew my protagonist better, even after spending months in her head already.

How about you? How do you manage to walk the tightrope? Have your openings all been picture perfect? Did you start too soon, as many do, or start too late, as I did? And how does your opening shape your view of your protagonist or narrator?


It's Tia again. I'm blushing. Thanks, Kristy.

Personally, I start too soon, but I'm always prepared to delete with impunity. I'm also prepared to offer up one of my own openings for your critiquing pleasure. This is from a lighthearted spy fantasy, which I call a mashup of Jane Austen and James Bond.

I hurried up to the embassy as if I belonged there. A bakery coach had pulled up near the side entrance where the kitchen chimneys were, so I headed that way. I searched around for someone who looked like a butler. He soon emerged to direct the unloading. I went up to him and curtsied. I was careful to make it a quick bob, rather than the genteel swoop I had learned during my youth. It was difficult to unlearn what had once been drilled into me.

Kristy's take:
I like the pacing of your opening a lot. Most of your sentences are short and choppy, which conveys the urgency of the situation while staying true to how Tory [the protagonist] would think in that situation. The first sentence grabs you right off, because you wonder, "Why doesn't she belong there?" and that tension pulls you along. It also gives you a great idea of Tory's more analytical thought process.

The only thing I would change: sentences three through five are all roughly the same length, and while choppiness is great for that opening, you want to avoid establishing a lulling sort of rhythm. I would insert a longer sentence in there, or possibly combine parts of two sentences, just to avoid that. Read it aloud and you'll probably catch my meaning.

I guess I'll do that. What did you think? Feel brave enough to post your own opening for general feedback? Got any questions? Comment away!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sampling Novels

Here's just a few novels I've sampled lately:

Slaves of the Shinar. After an email conversation with the author, Justin Allen, he sent me a copy of his novel. I didn't get a chance to read it back when it came out in the summer of 2007. I have not read much so far--just the prologue. After I read it, I turned to my husband and said, "This guy breaks all the rules of novel openings, but I'm finding it riveting." A promising start!

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. The author's British publisher sent me this novel, and of all the novels I've started, I'm furthest along in this one. It's more a creepy ghost story than a fantasy, although I haven't seen any actual ghosts yet, but plenty what could be either magic or delirium. The website is rather fun; you get to hunt for links in the lace.

Drawn into Darkness by Annette McCleave. Oh my stars and garters, I'm reading a paranormal romance! It's been a while. The future cover--I have an ARC--features a man with abs. (Personally, I'm not an ab girl. I like arms.) The story inside SO does not reflect the cover; I was very surprised when I saw the cover. It's all about angels and demons and something called a Soul Gatherer, and I am pleased to see that it treated Christian elements with respect. So far.

And tempting me from my debut stack is books 4 through 10 of Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries! Must be good . . . must be good.

Which one do you think I ought to read next?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Debut Graduate - The King's Daughters by Nathalie Mallet

Sometimes, when I read a book, it exceeds all my expectations. Nathalie Mallet achieved this with The King's Daughters. I enjoyed the ending so much that most of my nitpicky complaints that I had about it before that point have faded from my consciousness.

Which is just the way it's supposed to be.

I must admit that I didn't expect much from this book. This isn't to say that I did not enjoy reading The Princes of the Golden Cage. I did--immensely. And here's my review to prove it. But all too often, second novels in open-ended series like this become annoying. This novel had a couple of strikes against it. One is that the romance--which I didn't feel all that fired up about to begin with--seemed resolved. When a romance is resolved, the next book in the series often feels tacked on and unnecessary. That's why you end up with The Ever-Romance, a plot device that plagues the Mystery genre.

The other strike against it was that there were only two familiar characters from the first book--Amir and Eva. Now I understand that this was an asset to the book, not a flaw. By starting with a bunch of new characters, Ms. Mallet made it unnecessary to have read the first book to enjoy the second. Plus, she introduces some wonderful new characters.

But first, I suppose I ought to present you with the blurb.

Far to the north of the hot desert land of Telfar lies the frozen kingdom of Sorvinka . Prince Amir has traveled there, leaving his sultanate in the hands of his half-brother Erik as he seeks to ask the king, the father of the beautiful Princess Eva, for her hand in marriage.

But Sorvinka has grown dangerous during Princess Eva's absence, as she and Amir discover to their terror, when their force of guards and eunuchs is cut down by ruthless brigands. And upon their arrival, their welcome to Eva's family stronghold is as bitterly cold as the land itself.

Accustomed to the golden cage of his upbringing, Prince Amir must navigate his way through the strange and cold-blooded customs of the Sorvinkans, and somehow find the truth behind the kidnapping of the king's youngest daughter, the Princess Aurora, by the Sorvinkan’s traditional enemies, the neighboring Farrellians. But what can a stranger in a foreign land do?

With many apologies to Night Shade Books, I think the question at the end of this blurb weakens the blurb.

Oh, and I may as well get the one nitpick that I recall out of the way, and that is punctuation. This was also a problem in Princes. Ms. Mallet is Canadian and for the most part, the fact that English is her second language only enhances the novel. It is written in an exotic voice that works perfectly, filled with word choices that a native speaker might not make. But improperly punctuated questions continue to be a problem. We all make grammar mistakes, and usually that is the job of a copyeditor to catch them. I know that sometimes authors refuse to accept the input of a copyeditor. However, I have a hard time believe that such a new author would be so arrogant. In any case, I hope the next novel--which I'm greatly looking foward to--undergoes a more rigorous copyediting phase.

Back to the story. Amir and Eva's welcome at the Sorvinkan court is indeed, quite cold. Amir makes a terrible first imprssion, and seems to have absolutely no help from Eva, who is his fiance, and who lets him make some cringeworthy breeches of protocol. Eva, who had seemed so capable in Princes, because very princess-ly in this novel, which is OK because we didn't get to know enough about her in Princes for this to seem like a character inconsistency.

Eva became very annoying in this book. She did inexplicable things and left Amir hanging out to dry. I was going to count this as a flaw in the book . . . but it turns out that Ms. Mallet knew exactly what she was doing. And how she resolved it is one of the reasons I found the ending so satisfying.

One of the eunichs, Milo, becomes Amir's personal servant--indeed, Amir must make him his personal servant in order to keep him alive. Because the "cold welcome" to the court was actually achieved at the point of a sword. Milo has all the makings of a great sidekick. Another character, Diego, makes a great counterpart to Amir and Milo. Diego is a court dandy. One phrase from the novel sums up Diego perfectly: "He cringed so forcefully that one could've believe he had just sucked on a lemon."

As Ms. Mallet did with her first novel, she brings all the various plot threads together brilliantly. I can't think of anything left unexplained, except some new tidbits that she came up with toward the end for subsequent books. I recall in Princes that she did this almost to a fault. Here, it was just about perfect. She also brings in some Russian mythology and folklore into the story--some really strange stuff--weaves it brilliantly into the story.

She aimed the series squarely at an Eastern setting for the third book, and perhaps a Spanish for the fourth. I must admit that I can hardly wait.

In my opinion, you're not going to find such good entertainment for $7.99 anywhere else. If you like blends of mystery and fantasy, non-white protagonists, clashes of culture and open ended series, then this novel should be great fun. And the next book, Death in the Traveling City, intrigues by its very name!


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Of Unanswered Emails and Twisted Ankles

Yes, I twisted my ankle this afternoon, just sauntering casually across the kitchen. One minute I was fine, the next minute I was grabbing the counter. What the heck? This ankle is getting downright undependable--the same thing happened on the stairs about two weeks ago. I might have to get an X-ray or something.

And yes, I've been terrible about answering emails for the past week or so. I have a bunch of Gmail stars next to a bunch of emails, and because I promised to do some beta reading this weekend, it will be a few days before I get back to you. Sorry!

Tomorrow morning, I have another Debut Graduate for you and then I PROMISE I'll be getting back to debuts. I've been sampling books in my stack, including The Lace Reader, Dreamdark: Blackbringer, The Birthing House, and more. I'm looking for something a bit different, and I think all three qualifies.

I meant to have a Discovery Showcase on Saturday, but the author I had intended to showcase never answered my email asking for "official" permission. So I'm assuming I don't have permission, and I'm off to the next person in the list.

I was thinking of the next subject for Writer Wednesday, and I think "Openings" is something we all can identify with, because they're just so hard. So let's plan on that topic. I'll announce my next Featured Writer as soon as I know I can make it official.

Check back in tomorrow morning for my review of Nathalie Mallet's The King's Daughters!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Stars Blue Yonder by Sandra McDonald

When I write a review, I'm sometimes a bit in a quandary about how much I should give away. When does a tidbit stop being a tidbit and start being a spoiler? Fortunately, the blurb for The Stars Blue Yonder includes all the elements I want to write about, so I don't think I'll blunder into any spoilers. Here it is, straight from Tor:

Chief Terry Myell died and became a god. Now he’s back to life, careening around space and time at the behest of a voice that told him to save all of mankind. Helping and hindering this quest are his elderly wife, his young wife, grandchildren who haven’t been born yet, romantic rivals he hasn’t even met, a descendant from two thousand years in the future, and an alien nemesis who calls itself the Flying Doctor. Life in the military has never been so complicated.

Commander Jodenny Scott would agree. She’s seven months pregnant and trying to come to peace with her husband’s death. When Myell reappears with tales of time travel, she’s not sure what to believe.

But with an invading army bearing down on Earth’s last fleet of spaceships, there’s not much time for debate. When the dust clears Jodenny is stranded in an Australia she never imagined, and Myell’s more desperate than ever to rescue her—from aliens, from treachery, and from history itself.

Yay! I can write about the time travel! Because ultimately, that's what makes this book so deliciously fun.

I love time travel fiction. When Back to the Future came out, my husband and I must have seen it in the theater at least ten times. And many times after that on various forms of video. Now we have the boxed set.

Where to start? My friend and blog buddy Kimber An is going to think this is the answer to her book prayers. I'm not sure if she'll like the first book, but if she can get through the first and second, she'll flip out over the third. It features a pregnant heroine who is part of a happily married--if often separated--couple. And midway through the book--while she is unexpectedly centuries in the past--she finds herself acting as a midwife! Courtesy of her Digital Doula--yes, you read that right--she's an expert on childbirth. And darn it if those nineteenth century women have all kinds of crazy notions about pregnancy and giving birth.

Do you get the notion that this book is different yet? And, if I might use the same words as many reviewers before me, it is fresh, original and probably like nothing you've read in science fiction before.

Ok, I'd better get serious about this review.

It picks up right where The Stars Down Under left off. If you haven't read that novel before, I'm afraid the blurb above is a bit of a giveaway. But it really would not have been possible to write the blurb without giving away the fact that Terry is back. And he's not a god anymore. As it turns out, that was a Terry from a different timeline.

Kind of.

All those time travel rules you read about in other stories? Forget about them. Ms. McDonald has figured out a neat way around the problems of time travel in a totally plausable way. Well, plausable in a world that includes time travel.

Anyway, Terry is stuck in a time loop and is trying to find his way out. You feel for the guy. It's maddening, kind of like that loop in the movie Groundhog Day, except this look jumps him to different points in time. Always near Jodenny. Who sometimes doesn't even know who he is, or doesn't believe its him, depending on when he goes to.

And just when you reach the point where it is starting to get too maddening, he gets a bit of a break. Ms. McDonald really has great timing in this case.

Before I get carried away by too much gushing (or is it too late?), let me get some critiques out of the way. One of them is that a character keeps urging Terry on, but is unable to help him out with any specific instructions. He basically appears to Terry long enough to complain that he should have figured it all out by now. This is a plot device I've seen before--some sort of Seer who has knowledge that he cannot reveal to the reader because it would make the story end too quickly. Now in this case, I didn't want the story to end too quickly. But it was still a small annoyance.

Well, I guess it was only one critique. I can't remember the others, if I had any.

I'm already way over wordcount and I haven't even mentioned Sam Osherman. I'd better stop here.

This is a science fantasy novel with a great mythology, a fun plot and likable heroes and heroines. The pages just flew by. The end of the novel brings this storyline to a close, but leaves other questions unanswered, which might be answered in future books.

And when Kimber finds out what Terry and Jodenny names the baby, I do believe she will scream out loud.

Sandra McDonald's Website and Blog
The novel at Tor  
Heather's Author Supernova on Sandra McDonald at Galaxy Express (still in-process, so the link is to the site)
Amazon USA - UK - Canada

Giveaway - The Stars Blue Yonder

Tor is giving away a copy of The Stars Blue Yonder by Sandra McDonald! To enter, please fill out this form. Please only enter once time.

Update: Contest closed!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Writer Wednesday - With Featured Writer Jennifer Estep!

Welcome to our first Writer Wednesday, a comment chat that will last as long as we all care to stick around. Joining us today and tomorrow is the fabulous Jennifer Estep, author of Karma Girl (multi-part review), Hot Mama and Jinx. Each title links to my review of each novel, with all the usual links. Be warned, Jennifer is the victim of a cyber-attack, so don't visit her site at the moment.

Anyway, Jennifer's upcoming novel, Spider's Bite, is an urban fantasy featuring Gin, an assassin. Such a character fits right in with our first featured topic:

Unsavory Protagonists and Assorted Bad Guys

We'll let Jennifer begin with a short excerpt from Spider's Bite.

“You’re coming with me,” he said.

With his free hand, Caine reached inside his jacket pocket and drew out a pair of silver-stone handcuffs. He tossed them on the balcony between us. The metal clinked to a stop at my booted feet. “Put those on.”

“Handcuffs. Kinky. But I prefer to have a bit more freedom during sex. Don’t you?”

Caine jerked as though I’d yanked the gun out of his hands and shot him. His eyes flicked down my body, going to my breasts and thighs, before coming back to my face. Yeah, he was thinking about it. All the distraction I needed.

“There’s no need to bother with those because you aren’t taking me in, detective.”

“Where are you going to go?” Caine asked. “You’re trapped.”

I smiled. “Me? Trapped? Never.”

I turned, leapt up onto the balcony wall, and launched myself over the side into the darkness below.

Here are a few ground rules. Please limit any excerpts to 300 words. Yes, I know that isn't a lot, but that's 300 words, plus any introductory material you may write. So the result can be a very long comment. Even Jennifer's excerpt is way below that. We need to keep each excerpt short to keep the comments page from getting miles long (wishful thinking here, I know). Just include enough to give everyone an idea of just why the character is so bad. Tantalize us with your best stuff. Don't overwhelm us. I'll try to lead by example with the first comment.

UPDATE! Also, please offer a bit of commentary on one of the excerpts that is posted before yours. Make your commentary and your own excerpts separate posts. This will help when the comment thread starts getting long.

Keep any critiques constructive. I probably didn't have to say this because this is such a nice crowd, but it can't hurt.

And that's it! Jump right in with your excerpts and commentary. This should be fun!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jennifer Estep - Featured Writer for Writer Wednesday!

This is cool--Jennifer Estep has agreed to be our featured writer for Writer Wednesday. She wrote an upcoming novel that has the perfect character for our discussion on Unsavory Protagonists and Assorted Bad Guys--an assassin. She is also the author of three Bigtime novels, all which I've reviewed here. I'll give you the full info on Wednesday but if you can't wait, here's her website.

If you're a writer, please help me spread the word, and be sure to stop by on Wednesday!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Author Caleb Fox - How ZADAYI RED Came to be Born

Presenting Caleb Fox, the author of Zadayi Red. Here, he discusses the publication of Zadayi Red, and has an unexpected conversation with one of his characters. Enjoy!

How ZADAYI RED Came to be Born
by caleb fox

Okay, you caught me—I’m not really a fantasy writer. I might have been, but you see, I lost track of the difference between fantasy and reality.

Here’s how it happened. My ancestors were Arkansas rednecks whose ancestors were redskins. Somehow I went to a good university and ended up as the movie critic of a big Los Angeles newspaper.

Now pay attention: At a party in posh Beverly Hills I was trading stories about mountain men and Indians with my buddy, who was a super-famous screenwriter (and here we are in true fantasyland). A publisher overheard us and said to me, “Are there enough of these stories for a book?”


Since he handed me that contract, I’ve done nothing but write—stories, movies, TV, everything. I’m married to the best woman in the world, Sarita, and live in the other-worldly Canyonlands, populated entirely by Navajos and Mormons. From landscape to inhabitants, this is all the way into fantasy. Reality is a good place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Last week I was out walking and celebrating publication day of Zadayi Red, which the publisher Tor calls a fantasy. A buzzard landed on my shoulder (there’s a stomach churner). When he spoke my name, I knew he was no ordinary vulture.

“Why did you treat me that way?”

No question what he meant—why did I turn him into a spirit animal in the novel? One day he was soaring happily around the Land Beyond the Sky Arch and the next he was bound to an Indian woman of centuries ago.

“She needed a guide.”

“Cut the baloney. Why me?”

“Why not?”

He pecked my ear—ouch! Then he said, “You know what I mean. I’m an Immortal. I hate death. And you…”

So now we were down to it. I’d re-created him on Earth as a buzzard, and buzzards eat carrion. Talk about having death shoved down your throat.

I debated telling the truth. Though I lie for a living, I decided to risk it. “I though it would interesting—“

He made a threatening a-a-awk.

“—to see what would happen if an Immortal really, truly had an experience of mortality. Actually lived with mortals and went through their struggles along with them. Started rooting for them. Maybe even—“

I dared not say it.

His tone was indescribable. “Started liking a mortal? Sure, why not? Loving a mortal? Well, maybe a very special mortal, just a little bit.” He shrugged those glossy brown-black shoulders and cocked his red head. The interrogation wasn’t over.

I decided to go for it. “I meant, to find something beautiful in mortality. To fall in love with the whole process that governs it all, life on Earth.”

“Disgusting,” he said, and flew off.

This time he was the liar.

Characters like Buzzard are the fun. I’m writing book three of the series. Yes, fantasy. I don’t know where reality is anyway.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

I signed up for Book Blogger Appreciation Week and nominated many of my fellow bloggers for various awards. If you run a book blog, this is a must-join!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Winners of ZADAYI RED

Congratulations to the following winners of Zadayi Red:

Jacqueline L. of Toronto
Brittany B. of Kentucky
David R. of California

Congratulations and happy reading!

More on Writer Wednesday

I'm trying to refine my "Writer Wednesday" comment chat idea. (Or should it be "Writer's Wednesday"?) I came up with something called a Featured Writer, and I just invited someone to be that writer for our first week. My only problem . . . what should a Featured Writer do? At first, I thought it should be someone agented or published, but I'm not sure if I want to go that far because then I'd have to define "published" and what a pain that could be. So I'm just thinking about letting the concept evolve however it wants. For now, I'll just invite people who 1) I think will participate and 2) who I think have something to offer.

A. Gray thought of a good first subject--a story where the main character is not necessarily of sterling moral fiber. She also expanded it to include bad guys in general. I love my bad guys so I think that's a great topic.

Any other thoughts?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Several Things . . .

A lot of writers turned up during the On Rape in Fantasy discussion. Therefore, we therefore decided to have a new weekly feature here at Fantasy Debut, and this one will be interactive. I'm going to call it Writer Wednesday. We'll have an open blog topic and we'll just hang out and discuss it in the comments for a day or so. So be sure to come back next Wednesday if you are a writer! I may even try to line up author guests.


The winners of The King's Daughters by Nathalie Mallet are:

Rabia of Bradford, Vt
Grace of Airy, Md
Deborah of Tewksbury, MA


Tomorrow, I'll close out the Zadayi Red giveaway, so be sure to get your entries in.


I've kept the most exciting news for last. One of my friends has an agent!!! Her name is Kristin and you can read all the details at her blog. Kristin is my critique partner, so I've read the work in question, and its so exciting to have seen it grown and then finally attract an agent. A few months ago, she packed it up and sent it to me, and I went over it with my little red pen. I've read two of her novels, and she's read two of mine. Anyway, Grim Light is a wonderfully imaginative Young Adult novel that is entirely vampire-free. So yes, all you writers, agents are still taking on writers even in the midst of this recession. Take heart and keep submitting! And I'll be sure to follow my own advice!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Rape in Fantasy

Much has been said on the subject of rape in fantasy across the blogosphere. And yet, it keeps coming up in novel after novel. To some people, it must seem like fantasy authors have a sick obsession with a violent and depraved act. But I don't think it's that at all. I would like to offer a defense. Not for rape--heaven forbid! But a defense for authors choosing to include it in their novels.

It may seem strange to outsiders, but lovers of fantasy really do like to keep it realistic. We generally like gritty novels that tackle the problems of living in a non-modern age head-on. Even with systems of magic, we are picky. It must make sense. It must have rules that we can accept.

Long ago, Walter Scott wrote a popular novel called Ivanhoe. I loved Ivanhoe, but I don't think it would fly in today's world. Ivanhoe is full of long speeches and high-flown language that today's readers rarely tolerate. But at its heart is a terribly romantic story.

In Ivanhoe, there is a virtuous and beautiful "Jewess" named Rebecca. The dastardly and evil Brian de Bois-Guilbert (an unfortunate name for a villain--I have a hard time conjuring up dread for a guy named "Brian") abducts Rebecca. But he will not force her and she'd rather cast herself off of a tower than let him have her. Since he is a Templar, he is supposed to stay celibate. Therefore, later in the story, Rebecca gets blamed for his passion and is tried as a sorceress. In chapter "XXXIX" Brian approaches the doomed Rebecca in her tower room. He offers to fight as her champion in trial by combat if she will become his lover. After a long and speech-filled conversation, she refuses him and he departs.

In real life, he would have raped her. But Scott wrote the "escapist" novels of his day, and his villains had an interesting code of honor. He has no problem with having her accused of sorcery and coercing her into becoming his lover to avoid death by burning. But he will not rape her.

Scott was one of the most popular novelists of his time. Many credit him with inventing the historical novel.

Nowadays, grit and realism are popular. When we read a novel set in medieval times, we expect a well-researched escape into the past. And like it or not, the threat of rape was something every woman had to dread. Only a certain type of man will rape a woman, but how is she to know whom to trust? And once the rape did take place, it was shameful for the woman. Even as recently as the turn of this century, women were often blamed for the rape, because she supposedly "enticed" the man. (Rapes of ninety-year-old women--which I hear about with alarming frequency--would disprove this theory.) And it wasn't until well into this century that men lost the "right" to take their wives by force. To this day, there are lingering questions of if "no" ever means "yes"-- which makes no sense at all to women. No means no.

Therefore, when writing about times past, rape is--unfortunately--historically accurate.

Do I think the rapes are usually necessary to the plot? Probably not. If its a random act of violence, it probably could be avoided since we generally don't want purposeless violence of any sort in our novels. In The Deed of Paksenarrion, the rapes that took place toward the end were, unfortunately, necessary for the plot. I hated them. But without them, a great deal of impact would have been lost. And thank God Elizabeth Moon didn't go into any detail. And in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, a rape of a different sort takes place. I'm not completely convinced that its rape was necessary to the plot. But boy did it ever have an impact, so perhaps it was necessary after all.

I think authors should weigh the decision to include a rape in his or her novel very carefully. Many readers will hate it enough to avoid the author's works in the future. In fact, I think that goes for any type of torture. Not too long ago, I had to stop reading a novel because of too many stomach-turning torture scenes.

What are your thoughts? Does a rape in a novel put you off the author forever?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Review: Zadayi Red by Caleb Fox

Zadayi Red (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
by Caleb Fox
Tor Books

 I think Caleb Fox has a brilliant future.

Zadayi Red is a fantasy novel based on a Cherokee legend. It starts with the tale of Sunoya, who is marked as a shaman at birth because her last two fingers on her left hand are webbed. She was bears another mark--a mark of doom--and according to tradition should have been killed at birth. Her mother concealed this mark and warned her never to reveal it.

She has a vision that the clan's most precious object--the Cape of Eagle Feathers--has become descecrated and powerless, rendering the clan deaf to the wisdom of the gods. To avert this calamity, Sunoya travels to the cave dwelling of Tsola, the Seer of the Galayi people. Together, they embark upon a journey to the spirit world to learn why this is going to happen. They learn that it was the fault of the Galayi, for they will start to kill each other. And when they do, the gods will turn away from them.

They also learn of a way they can earn another cape. It will require a hero.

Upon Sunoya's return, she right away gets caught up in an adventure, which leaves her as the adoptive mother of a newborn babe who might be that hero. His name is Dhazi, which means "hungry one." As Dhazi grows up, the focus gradually shifts to him. The task that he eventually must perform doesn't seem difficult on the surface, but when you add in almost constant assassination attempts, it gets considerably more exciting.

This novel is not like other novels you read every week. Even the voice of the novel is distinctive. Consider this excerpt:

Fear zinged tremolos through him, body and soul.
He looked around again. His eyes brought him nothing. I am in utter nothingness.
He put his hand on his heart like he would have put it on Awahi's zither. He wanted to stop the vibrations and end the sounds. They were terror aborning.
I loved "fear zinged tremolos". I could almost feel the shivers.

I do have one major critique. A violent act takes place toward the end of the novel that I thought completely out-of-place and perhaps even out-of-character. The main conflict was over. It was almost as this character got punished for doing something good. And it was senseless because the person who perpetuated the act seemed to me a character who might redeem himself. I don't want to say any more, but I was disappointed by that particular plotline.

This novel is not light reading, but neither is it particularly heavy. At first, I read it in small doses, and I even read another novel while I was reading this one (The Stars Blue Yonder which, it may surprise you, complemented this book quite well.) But I hope you don't think this a bad thing. It's not. Not ever book need be a can't-put-it-down thriller. This book inspires thought.

Kudos for not dragging out a torture scene--just about when I couldn't stand anymore, it was over. It didn't even take two pages. I must warn about a rape--some of my readers will never forgive me otherwise--but it does take place off-page.

The main villain--who is almost single-handedly responsible for all the killing that is going on--is deliciously evil and horribly cruel. No shades of gray there. And the author did a wonderful job with a mentally handicapped character. He turns out to be of great value to Dhazi, and a great friend. Well done and bravo for that, because all too often I've read about mentally handicapped characters portrayed as monsters.

This is a memorable book--one for the keeper shelf.  It reminds me of Carole McDonnell's Wind Follower, which I reviewed almost two years ago. If you like delving into unfamiliar cultures and reading novels that seem wholly un-Western, then I recommend you give this one a try.


In an earlier post, I blogged about the opening chapters, so if you are curious, you might want to give it a read. You can also enter a contest to win a copy of Zadayi Red, complements of Tor.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Discovery Showcase - Tamar Black - Djinnx'd

Tamar Black - Djinnx'd
By Nicola Rhodes
Genre - Comic Fantasy
Lulu - Purchase Link

What would you wish for?

When Tamar found a dirty old bottle in the river and released an ancient and powerful Djinn, she decided to go for the big one, the ultimate wish to end all wishes. Well it seemed like a good idea at the time.


...Or Jinxed by a Genie. Which is what happens to Tamar when she is cruelly tricked into taking the Genie’s place.

Good – in that she now has phenomenal cosmic power.
Bad – in that she is now the slave of the bottle for the next several eternities.

But eternity is cut short when she meets Denny. At first he seems to be just the latest in a long line of human masters, but it soon becomes apparent that Denny is no ordinary master when he declares his intention to set Tamar free from her bondage.

No matter what the cost.

He has no idea what he’s let himself in for. Witches, mermaids, houri’s, a homicidal djinn and a mad forest god with a superiority complex, and that’s not the half of it…

What can kill a Djinn? If Denny can’t answer this question in time it will all have been for nothing.

Author's note: Several paragraphs of this excerpt have been omitted in order to conform to the 2000 word limit.

~ Prologue ~

In the beginning, there was the word. Actually, there were two words. And the words were “System Ready” because it was.

And the programmers saw that it was good. Not as good as it could have been, because the bosses upstairs had only given them a week to build the program. So the universe was a bit of a rush job in the end, but deadlines were deadlines and it would just have to do. So they pushed “Enter” and the screen flashed up “Mainframe universal systems online”

And underneath that > “Which file?”

So, the programmers accessed the stellar matrix and switched on the stars. And the void was filled.

And the programmers saw that it was good.

So they switched on all systems and checked the files. There were files for all things that were and all things that would ever be. And there were some files for things that would never be, but this was dismissed as a system error. They could sort it out later. After all, it had been a rush job, and they could use the overtime.

And so, the planets spun and the stars burned. Mainframe was up and running. And the programmers saw that it was good.

So they left mainframe, which could pretty much run itself now anyway, and went home for their tea. After all it was Sunday and the bosses had temporarily vetoed the file for time and a half on weekends.

And it was on the weekends that some pretty interesting new files were created that the programmers completely missed. A good example of this was the ‘magic’ or ‘virtual reality’ files. By the time the programmers realised what had happened within mainframe, the error was too large to correct. Magic was an integral part of the system, which could not be shut down from within. And the paradox of course, was that once mainframe was up and running, the programmers who created it, were a part of the system, and always had been. So, when they tried to delete the files, the programmers found that they couldn’t do it. All that could be done now was to try to modify the files from within to minimise the problems for the future. Many subroutines were written to exercise some control over the many and various types of magic that had been created.

One of the worst type of magic files that had been created, were the Djinn files. In order to try to sort this one out the programmers demanded, and got, their time and a half weekend pay. Even management could see that they would have to back down on this one.

But, even so, the problem was only partly resolved in the end. However the programmers felt that they had it under control.

There were around twelve hundred Djinn files to be amended. That’s a lot of work in anyone’s book. So, it’s no wonder that they missed one.

In the beginning, there was the word. And the word was “Error”. And that explains a lot, doesn’t it?

~ Chapter One ~

Tamaria was bored. Picnics by the river with her sisters were a regular penance. Although it was hard to imagine anything else to do in ancient Greece on a hot sunny day, except go shopping which was what she wanted to be doing. Xanthe, who was a year older than herself, was dull and scholarly and always spent the whole day reading under a tree, leaving her to look after Lydia who was only four and usually fractious. What she really wanted was to be at the Agora with her friends, buying silks and jewellery and staring at young men, who would almost certainly not stare back. Tamaria was nineteen years old.

The sun was burning down on her head; the wine was warm and the food starting to smell bad.

Xanthe, as usual, had not touched a bite, she was not interested in food or indeed in anything but literature, nor was she interested in anyone who was not interested in literature. She liked to think of herself as an intellectual, not being aware that there is a great difference between intelligence and academia. In fact, Tamaria, who couldn’t have quoted Aristotle if you paid her, was actually far more intelligent than her sister, (who, nevertheless looked down on her) and had, in addition, a great store of natural cunning. And Lydia was starting to yell, because no one was taking any notice of her. Tamaria longed to slap her. Kids, she thought. Her head was aching and she longed for some peace. She made a decision. ‘Xan, watch Liddy for me. I won’t be long.’

Although her sister showed no sign of having heard, Tamaria nevertheless started to walk away, leaving Lydia howling unheeded in a muddy puddle.

Once the sound had faded away, Tamaria sat under a tree, slipped off her sandals and dangled her feet in the cool water. ‘Ahhh – OUCH!’ She jumped up. Something extremely solid and heavy had crashed into her ankle. ‘By Zeus!’ She cursed and then clapped her hand over her mouth and waited for the thunderbolt. Her mother had warned her about blasphemy, ‘You can’t be too careful,’ she had said, ‘seems like there’s a god behind every tree these days.’

When nothing happened to her, she said it again; then she bent over the water. Rather like Narcissus, she thought, although with, she had to admit, little chance of the same result. Her own face having what is charitably called an ‘unfortunate aspect’.

She fished out what turned out to be a large unusual looking bottle, (unusual to Tamaria that is). In the Far East, where it had come from, it was a perfectly ordinary oil bottle such as you would find a dozen of in every household. To Tamaria, however it was an interesting curiosity. She turned it over a few times, shook it and pulled out the cork.

BANG!!!! Actually, BANG!!!! Is a bit of an understatement when describing a noise that would make a nuclear explosion sound no louder than an Aerosmith concert, accompanied by the kind of special effect that would have George Lucas throwing in the towel and going into radio.

After the dust had settled and she had stopped seeing stars, Tamaria looked up and saw a…a…god? It had to be a god of course. Tamaria was basing this assumption on the manner of its arrival and the fact that it was twelve feet tall. Apart from that, anything less godlike was hard to imagine (although Tamaria had never actually seen a god). Mostly it just looked exceedingly odd. It had a large black shiny face with teeth like tombstones, a gap between the front ones large enough to see through to the back of its throat. It was wearing a small pointed beard with large black mustachios and enough bangles, earrings and chains to make Mr. T look underdressed. On its head, it appeared to have a large colourful bandage fastened with a large jewel. Its chest was bare, apparently because it was so large that it needed two togas just for its legs, despite this it had managed to find footwear that was much too large and had therefore curled up at the toes. Its first comment was; ‘A HA, HA, HA, HA, HAR!’ which was not calculated to be remotely soothing or encouraging.

Remembering her earlier blasphemy, Tamaria fell on her knees, trembling. The apparition was speaking. ‘O’ My Mistress,’ it was saying, bowing low as it did so. ‘I am Askphrit the Black and you have released me from my long imprisonment. My wish is your command - rats - I mean your wish is my command.’

‘I implore your forgiveness my Lord…sorry, what?’ Tamaria shook her head to clear it. Her ears were still ringing from the louder than BANG!!!! Evidently, she had misheard, what it was undoubtedly saying was. ‘COWER IMPUDENT MORTAL ...’ etc. etc.

The thing brought its face close to hers and repeated. ‘Your wish is my command.’

(Several paragraphs omitted)

‘It is?’



‘Of course.’


‘By Allah!’

‘Who’s Allah?’

'Who’s..? look; you really don’t understand do you? Let me try to explain. I am a Djinn, Genie or Ifrit ...’

‘Well, which is it? And what are those anyway?’

‘Shut up.’


‘As I was saying, I am a Djinn, sometimes known as a Genie or Ifrit. I am the slave of the bottle. You opened the bottle; therefore, you are now my mistress – until I have granted you three wishes. Then I will be free. They call me Askphrit the Black,’ he added, feeling sure that she had not been listening to him when he had told her this earlier.

'Why?' she asked.

Askphrit shrugged. ‘I don’t know, he admitted. ‘They just do – the other Djinn I mean.’

‘Other Djinn?’

(several paragraphs omitted)

‘So what are you?’

‘I told you, I am a Djinn, Genie or ...’

‘Yes, but what does that mean?’

The Djinn bit his lip. ‘It’s complicated, but what it means to you is that you can make any three wishes that you want and I will grant them for you. You have heard of magic, I take it? '



‘Anything at all?’


‘But only the gods have that power.’

‘There you go again. Look. It’s like I said, it’s complicated, but basically I have more power than all of your tin pot deities put together. I have the greatest power in the universe - under Allah.’


‘I can boil the seas, change the seasons, blot out the sun ...’ said the Djinn, apparently quite carried away.

‘But only if my master or mistress wishes it,’ he ended sadly.

‘Gosh,’ again.

‘You see when the mortals turned up we were enslaved to prevent us from harming them or destroying the world or whatever. Now, you are the only beings capable of that, ‘your wish’ etc, etc’

‘Take your gods now,’ he carried on, ‘the only reason they exist at all is because you mortals believe in them and they can only do such damage, as you believe they can. Even mortals, it seems, need someone to blame.’

‘But if you were set free?’

‘Oh don’t worry about that. I won’t do any harm. I like mortals, everybody needs somebody to look down on and I like the world the way it is. But it would be nice to be my own boss for a while – change I mean.

‘So, three wishes,’ he carried on. ‘What’s it going to be then? Inexhaustible wealth? Great beauty? (Pointedly) True love?’

‘Um, about the smiting, can you really? Only I can think of a few people ...’ she trailed off thinking.

‘Oh yes. No problem, just point me in the right direction. Show me your enemies, sort of thing.’

‘So you can even smite gods?’

‘Well yes, but what’s the point? They’ll all be gone soon anyway, lack of belief. Still, if it’s what you really want.’

‘No,’ said Tamaria with what she fondly believed to be great shrewdness, ‘this is a big decision, three wishes. I mean this looks like the opportunity of a lifetime to me. I can see that this sort of thing wants a lot of thinking about. So can you just go back in the bottle or whatever, until I’m ready?’

Oh great. Thought the Djinn. Just what I need, another one trying to beat the system. Why do I always get them? This could take forever.

But, ‘of course O’ My Mistress, I am at your service,’ is what he actually said (abasement is in the Djinn Charter) and he turned to smoke and wafted back into the bottle.


Discovery Showcase Information

Here are the upcoming Discovery Showcases, in the order in which they may appear:
  • Prophecy of Hope
  • The Heroes of Nightingale
  • Jack Dent The Second Hand Kid
If you want to have the first chapter of your unpublished or self-published novel featured at Fantasy Debut as a Discovery Showcase, please read how to do so here.

My Thoughts

I think this was a very fun idea and Ms. Rhodes has a great sense of humor. The blurb was great, and had me eagerly reading the excerpt. And I thought the prologue about the programmers was very well done. The entire excerpt left curious about the rest, so I think Ms. Rhodes has a solid hook and the start of what appears to be an engaging story.

However, frequent explanation points are not the mark of a professional, and references to modern-day things like nuclear blasts and Mr. T is considered "authorial intrusion," and is not something that modern-day authors can get away with without a significant track record.

I love the title, and I was able to read the entire excerpt without struggling. The author has a charming writing style and I'm only a blogger, but I think I see potential here. It is my belief that she would greatly benefit from reading articles like this one, and reading books like Stephen King's On Writing and Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel.

You may purchase Djinnx'd here.
Nicole Rhode's website is here.

What are your thoughts? Constructive comments are welcome.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Discovery Showcases Resume Tomorrow

I'm slowly resuming my old blogging schedule, and this weekend I'll be working on two reviews and at least one interview. Also tomorrow, I will resume posting the Discovery Showcases, starting bright and early. The next one in the queue looks quite fun, and will include my own reaction. So be sure to stop back tomorrow for that and again on Sunday for my first review in about a month, I think.

Thanks for your patience during this slow period. Life does intrude from time to time, doesn't it? :)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Giveaway - Zadayi Red by Caleb Fox

Tor is giving away three copies of Zadayi Red by Caleb Fox. The contest is open worldwide! Please only enter one time. I'll draw a winner a week from today.

UPDATE: Contest closed!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Debut Showcase: Zadayi Red

Zadayi Red (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
by Caleb Fox
Tor Books

Publisher's Blurb:
A young Shaman of the Galayi people has had a powerful and frightening vision: it is of the Eagle Feather Cape, the gift of the Thunderbird, which is worn by the Seer of the People to see the future and gain the guidance of the gods.  The cape is torn and bloody, and it will no longer bring visions to the Seer of the People.  But the Shaman's vision also tells her of the cure:  a child will be born to the People, a hero who will restore the cape and return the goodwill of the gods to the People.

Dahzi may be that hero, if he can survive the hatred of his grandfather.  He was born after his mother’s death, as she fled from her father’s anger.  But Dahzi carries the hope of all of his People, along with the power to become a great Chief.  He will be tested--by his family, by his people, and by the Gods.

I'm reading this novel and I have blogged on the opening chapters. So far, it's been great and I'm close to the end. It was slow going in the first half, but not in a bad way. It was slow going in the way a literary novel tends to be. And now, as I'm reading the closing chapters, it's quite gripping. As soon as I finish this post, I'm off to read again.

Tor sent me this novel, but it's one of those that I might have been tempted to buy whether I received the review copy or not.

Round Numbers

Round numbers--we all love 'em. Would it be bragging to celebrate a few round number milestones? And even if it is, is that a bad thing?

Here are the round number milestones I've recently reached here at Fantasy Debut:

Google Reader: 300 (actually, 316 by now)
Blog Followers: 100
Twitter Followers: 100 (I'd put the widget up, but it keeps breaking my blog)
Feedburner Subscribers: 50 (+ or - 3 or so)

This is not a lot compared to some blogs, but for what I do here and for the time I am able to put into it, I'm pretty pleased. Thank you to everyone who keeps coming back here and making me feel all special!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Debuts of June! (Just a bit late!)

Most of June ended up being a hiatus, during which I missed many of the debuts that are on my calendar (which you can find in the left column). Therefore, here is a rundown of everything that I missed prior to this week.

Happy Release and Congratulations to all of these authors.

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton (UK Release-Amazon link through US site)

An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail the deceased, cultists use forgotten technology for their own gain and where, further out, the dead have been seen walking across the tundra.

When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself.

Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the high-profile and savage murder of a city politician, whilst battling evils within his own life, and a handsome and serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda.

When reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the Empire, members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. It seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow . . .

This one is coming out "soon" through Del Rey, but I'm not exactly sure when. Mixtures of fantasy and mystery always hold extra allure for me, so I'll put this one on my watch list.

Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon

On the day of her first betrothal meeting--and rejection--Ai Ling discovers a power welling deep within her. She can reach into other people’s spirits, hear their thoughts, see their dreams…and that’s just the beginning.

Ai Ling has been marked by the immortals; her destiny lies in the emperor’s palace, where a terrible evil has lived, stealing souls, for centuries. She must conquer this enemy and rescue her captive father, while mythical demons track her every step. And then she meets chen yong, a young man with a quest of his own, whose fate is intertwined with hers. Here is a heart-stopping, breathtaking tale for fans of action, fantasy, and romance--of anything with the making of legend.

This one came out in April, Raven knows of her through a friend. I find the Oriental setting quite intriguing. When I was in high school, I adored everything oriental, and I still have some oriental art that I acquired during that time.

Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott

She is a healer, a storyteller, a warrior, and a queen without a throne. In the shadow of King Arthur's Britain, one woman knows the truth that could save a kingdom from the hands of a tyrant...

Ancient grudges, old wounds, and the quest for power rule in the newly widowed Queen Isolde's court. Hardly a generation after the downfall of Camelot, Isolde grieves for her slain husband, King Constantine, a man she secretly knows to have been murdered by the scheming Lord Marche -- the man who has just assumed his title as High King. Though her skills as a healer are renowned throughout the kingdom, in the wake of Con's death, accusations of witchcraft and sorcery threaten her freedom and her ability to bring Marche to justice. Burdened by their suspicion and her own grief, Isolde must conquer the court's distrust and superstition to protect her throne and the future of Britain.

One of her few allies is Trystan, a prisoner with a lonely and troubled past. Neither Saxon nor Briton, he is unmoved by the political scheming, rumors, and accusations swirling around the fair queen. Together they escape, and as their companionship turns from friendship to love, they must find a way to prove what they know to be true -- that Marche's deceptions threaten not only their lives but the sovereignty of the British kingdom.

In Twilight of Avalon, Anna Elliott returns to the roots of the legend of Trystan and Isolde to shape a very different story -- one based in the earliest written versions of the Arthurian tales -- a captivating epic brimming with historic authenticity, sweeping romance, and the powerful magic of legend.

We just had a lengthy comment discussion on Arthurian retellings a few posts down. While this isn't strictly an Arthurian retelling, it is also a story from Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.

Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland

Why me? Why now? That’s what Beaulac, Louisiana, detective Kara Gillian was asking herself when an angelic creature named Rhyzkahl unexpectedly appeared during a routine summoning. Kara was hoping to use her occult skills to catch a serial killer, but never had she conjured anything like this unearthly beautiful and unspeakably powerful being whose very touch set off exquisite new dimensions of pleasure. But can she enlist his aid in helping her stop a killer who’s already claimed the lives—and souls—of thirteen people? And should she? The Symbol Man is a nightmare that the city thought had ended three years ago. Now he’s back for an encore and leaving every indication on the flesh of his victims that he, too, is well versed in demonic lore.

Kara may be the only cop on Beaulac’s small force able to stop the killer, but it is her first homicide case. Yet with Rhyzkahl haunting her dreams, and a handsome yet disapproving FBI agent dogging her waking footsteps, she may be in way over her head...

This sets off a few too many red flags for me to be interested in it, since I generally won't go near the demonic unless its clear they are the villain. And even then, I'm picky. Raven?

The Dog of the North by Tim Stretton
It is winter on the lawless steppes of Emmenrule when Lady Isola, traveling to the fortified city of Croad, is kidnapped by the dreaded Beauceron, the Dog of the North. It is Beauceron's life's ambition to capture Croad itself—whatever the cost—but what is the source of his obsession?

Meanwhile in Croad, Arren, a young man of talent but obscure birth, is taken under the wing of the city's ruler, Lord Thaume, and grows into a young knight of prowess and reputation. But as his fortunes rise, those of his childhood friend Eilla decline. Years later, Beauceron returns with Lady Isola to his home, the frozen city of Mettingloom, determined to raise an army to capture the city he loathes. In Croad, when Eilla is forced to work as a servant in Lord Thaume's household, Arren realizes that his love for her is more important than his prospects for advancement. They plan to elope, but Lord Thaume's jealous daughter Siedra is much more dangerous than Arren realizes.

This author self-published two previous novels set in this world. It's always interesting to see a self-published author later succeed, so we wish Mr. Stretton extra congratulations.

Please excuse the lack of cover art. I'm hoping you come here for the content, not the pictures.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Giveaway - The Kings Daughters by Nathalie Mallet

Nathalie Mallet has offered to host a giveaway of her novel, The Kings Daughters, which is a sequel to her wonderful debut, The Princes of the Golden Cage (multi-part review here--start at bottom and work your way up).

Nathalie has three copies to give away, and she will send them anywhere in the world! One entry per person. I will close this contest next Monday. To enter, fill out this form, please.


The contest is closed now. Thank you.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Debut Graduate Review: Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre

Blue Diablo (Amazon USA - UK - Canada)
by Ann Aguirre (website, blog)
Publisher: Roc
Paperback: $6.99

Corine Solomon is a handler—when she touches an object she instantly knows its history and its future. Using her ability, she can find the missing—which is why people never stop trying to find her. Like her ex-boyfriend Chance, who needs Corine’s gift to find someone dear to them both. But the search proves dangerous as it leads them into a strange world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies—and black magic...

When Tia first asked me to read Blue Diablo, I warned her that I'd read Ann Aguirre's debut novel, Grimspace (which Tia reviewed here), and it didn't hook me the way I was hoping it would. So, to be honest, I started Blue Diablo anticipating that I might not like it.

Naturally, I enjoyed it and breezed right through it. Doesn't that always happen?

Blue Diablo is the first in a new series by Ann Aguirre. This series sits squarely in the urban fantasy camp, while Aguirre's previous series, which started with Grimspace, is science fiction.

I have to say my enjoyment of Blue Diablo was based on the characters, not the plot. The plot was serviceable, but I never really cared whether the characters located the missing person they were trying to find. I didn't care about her, and I sometimes felt the characters acted as if they weren't missing her all that much either, although the narration assured me they were.

But the characters themselves were fun. Corine Solomon isn't a snarky heroine (thank God), and she's not kickbutt, either. In fact, she's the least athletic of all the characters in the book. I can relate to that.

For the sake of the plot she has to work with her ex, Chance, and they spend the whole book bickering and learning things about each other that they didn't realize when they were a couple. It was a skillfully drawn relationship. Of course it had weak spots here and there, but overall this relationship was what kept me reading. It was just that much fun. I loved all the history these two people had and how it was reflected in their daily interactions.

The other thing I liked a lot about Blue Diablo was the sense of place. Blue Diablo was full of the little details that bring a setting to life. Aguirre says in the acknowledgments section that she did her best to capture the magic of living as an expatriate in Mexico City, and I thought she did a great job.

I love books where the setting is like another character in the story. You feel like you're there. You get the flavor of it. Too often I don't find this in urban fantasy, where the fantasy elements seem to take over and the setting doesn't get fleshed out. How do the rest of you feel about this? How important is it for you to get a sense of place when you're reading?