Sins Of Empire – Feels Like A Sequel

28811016We have something called the “20% rule” here at The Quill to Live. We believe that a sizable number of authors simply don’t know how to start a book. It is the single most common issue we find with novels; authors have great ideas and prose but just don’t know how to get the story moving from page one. This birthed the “20% rule”, we never give up on a book until we have read at least 20%, as many books take off after the initial build up. This rule sparks a lot of discussion with the team on what I would consider a GOOD introduction for a comparison point, and whenever I am asked this I always say “anything by Brian McClellen”. This long winded introduction is simply to bring up that Brian McClellen is one of the punchiest, exciting, and fun writers I have read – and his recently concluded Powder Mage Trilogy is a real bang (reviewed here). This year Brian has launched a brand new spin off series in a different part of the world, but it isn’t a sequel…

… or so he says but I am actually going to disagree. Brian if it look, talks, and feels like a sequel, it is probably a sequel. Brian’s first book in his new trilogy, Sins of Empire, is a new chapter on a new continent with a newish cast – but for those of you looking for more of the story from the first trilogy you will definitely get your fill. The first trilogy ends at the culmination of a major war that almost destroyed the country of Adro. Tired of a war that spanned multiple books, the side characters Vlora and Odem from the first trilogy decide to take a mercenary army and travel to the frontier of civilization to seek employment. Once there they quickly become embroiled in local politics and revealing anymore would be spoilery.

Sins of Empire is a really interesting book to review, because McClellen has both grown as an author tremendously – but also feels like he should get a little more out of his comfort zone. First the bad: the POV structure of Sins of Empire is identical to The Powder Mage Trilogy (three POVs – a general, a warrior, and a spy). I would have liked to see Brian mix up his cast a little more, but despite retreading old ground he has shown enormous improvement. Brian’s first trilogy had an incredible plot, but it showed clear signs of being made up as he went. The books had this lingering feeling that Brian thought of amazing plot elements he wanted to incorporate, but always thought of them a little too late. This resulted in some confusing pacing of the plot and a few aggressive advancements of character development to catch them up to the rest of the cast. Brian clearly learned a lot from this because Sins of Empire has none of these issues. The book has some of the best pacing I have ever read (and he still knows how to start a novel with a bang), and the intrigue surrounding what is going on almost resulted in me finishing the book in one sitting. Sins is one of the most exciting books I have read this year and the ending left me begging for more.

While I made negative comments about Brian not expanding the cast a bit, I actually love his new trio. Vlora, the adoptive daughter of Tamas from the first series, has been wonderfully fleshed out and is a joy to read about. Likewise, Michel and Styke both bring a lot of fresh perspective to their roles and it took me about 30 pages to get attached to all of them. The location for the book is a place previously talked about in the first trilogy. The world building in Sins does a great job both giving you more information on past books while also bringing an entire new location to life. The city of Landfall where most of the story takes place is a captivating place with a very cool culture. I was a big fan of the roses that demarcate rank in the government roles as well as Brian’s inventive ghettos in the Greenfire Depths. Sins is the perfect blend of old and new, quenching my thirst for more of the plot from books 1-3 and building an entirely new platform to launch a new story from.

Sins of Empire blew my expectations out of the water and I am so excited to see Brian fix issues I had with his first series. The Powder Mage Trilogy is one of my favorite series despite its narrative and pacing problems, but Sins is on an entirely different level. If you enjoyed his first trilogy, if you want to check out a great flintlock fantasy, if you just enjoy great books it would be an…empire-sized sin…for you to miss this new series from Brian McClellan.

Rating: Sins of Empire – 10/10

Grey Sister US Cover Reveal

Just a reminder that Red Sister exists and that you should go read it, and also a kick ass sequel cover.

that thorn guy

It is with great pride and near-giddy joy that I hereby reveal this stunning US cover from ACE and artist Bastien Lecouffe-Deharmefor Mark Lawrence‘s upcoming book: Grey Sister

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In Mystic Class Nona Grey begins to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the Convent of Sweet Mercy Nona must choose her path and take the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor and a life of prayer and service.

All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord.

As the world narrows around her, and…

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Age Of Swords – Needs A Whetstone

18052164One of my favorite authors is Michael J. Sullivan. In one of my first ever posts on the site I described his work as “the comforting home cooked meal of fantasy” and I stand by that statement. I would not describe his work as boundary pushing, but his classical fantasy stories have always been something I look forward too as I never get tired of them. He currently is working on his third series set in the same world, set of five “Ages” that set up the world for his other books. You can find my review of the first book in the series, Age of Myth, here – but today I want to talk about book number two that just came out, Age of Swords. This review has mild spoilers for the first novel.

Age of Myth is set in a time in Sullivan’s world that is almost prehistoric, where humans have barely invented fire. The world he has created is dominated primarily by three races, humans, elves, and dwarfs. The first book shows that the power structure between these three is decidedly one sided: with humans at the bottom of the food chain worshiping the elves (and the dwarves somewhere in the middle after losing a war to the elves badly due to powerful magic). The aptly named Age of Myth sees a shift in this power structure as the humans stop revering the elves as gods, and instead see them as powerful oppressors that need to be thrown down with an Age of Swords. The story in book two is about answering the question: how do we beat a race of semi-immortals who have magic that can shatter mountains?

Age of Swords expands Sullivan’s series a lot from the first book in a variety of different ways. First, we are introduced to a large number of new characters and POVs that tell the story. While some of these new characters had minor appearances in the first book, they are much more fleshed out in Swords. Sullivan states in a foreword at the beginning of Swords that his cast for the series was simply too large to introduce in one book, and I find I agree with him. While I like almost all his characters, the cast is enormous and I found myself a little overwhelmed by it at some points. However, while it was a lot to take in at first I eventually found myself adjusting to, and appreciating, the number of characters.

On top of expanding the cast, Age of Swords does a fantastic job of fleshing out the world and culture of Sullivan’s world. In his previous novels and series, he focused heavily on humans and left the culture of the other races a bit to your imagination. In Swords we get to dive a little more into the elves, but more importantly into the story of the Dwarves. Something interesting about Sullivan’s writing is that what often feels like lazy copying on other authors, feels like intentional tribute with him. The plot lines around the Dwarves in Age of Swords surrounds them being ousted from their homeland by essentially a Balrog. While that sounds like he ripped of Tolkien, it feels like more of a reimagining of the classing LotR story that Sullivan has made his own. It was by far my favorite part of the story and it left me wondering why we don’t spend more time with dwarves in classic fantasy and why everyone is so obsessed with elves.

On the the other hand, while I had a lot of fun with Age of Swords, it definitely had some issues. The first and foremost is that while the book does a good job continuing to develop the plot, it definitely feels like a bridge book that just exists to set up the sequels. The actual movement of the plot in the story felt extremely small compared to Sullivan’s other work – and some of the character development felt forced. In addition to this, I did not enjoy one of the key plot devices of the book. Humans start the novel in the stone age, with nothing but basic tools and knowledge of various crafts. Age of Swords see humans go through a period of innovation where about three people invent about 100 things a piece that radically change the level of technology for humans. These things range from major inventions, such as the wheel and bow and arrow, to smaller things like belts and pockets. The innovation itself feels like it is a bit too much too quickly, and the discoveries that lead to the various inventions can often feel forced and repetitive. This becomes a serious issue for me because inventing these things felt like it took up almost a third of the page space.

In the end I enjoyed Age of Swords, though I think it is unfortunately Sullivan’s weakest book to date. This has not made me think any less of him as one of my favorite authors, and I am hoping that the hiccups that I experienced in this novel will only serve to expand the plot further in the sequels.

Rating: Age of Swords – 6.0/10

Soul Of The World – An Interview With David Mealing

51vgtpwurcl-_sx322_bo1204203200_I have been really lucky recently, getting the chance to talk to multiple of this year’s debut authors. This week I got to talk with David Mealing about his massive new book, Soul of the World. It was a huge debut novel that impressed me with its numerous magic systems, giant scope, and interesting world: you can find the review here. Due to how big an undertaking the book seemed to be, I had a lot more questions about Mealing’s writing style compared to past interviews I have done, but there is still some great teasers for book two if you are looking for hints as to what is going to happen! Enjoy:

How would you elevator pitch Soul of the World? When I talk to other people and recommend it I find myself just gushing endlessly as I try to explain all the cool things in it. How would you sell it in one breath?

Fantasy is *so* hard to pitch. I’m terrible at it. That said, my go-to is: “French revolution with magic, set in an alternate-world colonial America. Think Marie Antoinette alongside a magic-infused Iroquois Confederacy.”

There’s a lot more going on in the book (and thank you for any gushing over it!), but I think that’s a fine starting point.

What is your writing process in general? What is the anchor or starting point for your story and how much of it do you map out in advance and how much is made up as you go?

I’m very strict on process. Three sessions per day, with a spreadsheet to track the output from each session against an overall daily/weekly/monthly goal. I’ve always found it hard to work for long periods on any given day – I need at least a few hours in between each writing session to let the scene and story arcs soak before I continue. Usually I’ll do 700-900 words right after I wake up, another 400-600 after lunch, then 500-1000 in the evening.

On the story side, I’m almost a pure discovery writer. I always know what to expect in the scene I’m writing now, the scene I’m writing next, and where the current ‘chunk’ fits in the overall arc of the book & series, but I’m also willing to let the story surprise me and take me in a different direction than I expected it to go. I’ve killed off characters and destroyed entire story arcs because an unexpected death fit the scene I was working on. And I’ve gone back and re-written 40,000+ word chunks because I had a better idea during editing. I find my discipline with daily output gives me the freedom to explore while also meeting deadlines – the best of both worlds, as it were.

Why so much magic? Did anyone tell you having so many magic systems was a bad idea? Did people think it was a good idea? Please tell me more about what your writing process for your magic was like.

Hah! Yes. This is one of the more common fights between me and my editor. Not that she doesn’t love the magic, she just wants to be sure I’ve fleshed each idea out enough and made it grokkable so it has the impact I want it to. (And incidentally, a light book 2 spoiler – let’s just say my editor and I have quite a bit more fighting to do about the number of new systems and powers introduced in the next volume in the trilogy!)

As for where the magic comes from – I write what fits the scene in my head. If it calls for a new magic system, I make one on the spot and polish it during revisions and editing. Very little to no planning beforehand; all the details, rules, powers, etc come about because a particular scene wants to showcase something new.

If you could only have one of your magic systems, which would it be?

No fair! I need them all to tell the story. And which one is my favorite depends on whichever scene I wrote last, most of the time. So right now, that would be a magic system you haven’t seen yet, from one of the epilogues in book 2… 🙂

All three magic systems were amazing, but I enjoyed Arak’Jur’s totem-esk magic the most. Do you have any magical beasts and powers that you rejected or removed from your novel because they didn’t work? If so, why?

Well thank you. I enjoyed writing those scenes immensely. Arak’Jur’s magic had almost no changes from the first draft, as far as how it worked mechanically. There was one power I gave him in an early scene that I cut and replaced with him using mareh’et instead, strictly to consolidate the number of powers and keep it grokkable. Otherwise it’s all as-originally-written.

One of the most interesting aspects of you magic was the effects of combining the various schools into new powers. Have you mapped out what all these combined effects will do already or are you playing it more by ear?

This was originally *much* more prevalent in the book, for Order magic (the leylines) especially. Originally every binding had different effects when paired with other bindings; at one point I’d mapped out a big matrix of combinations in a spreadsheet trying to keep them all straight. In the final draft though, we opted to streamline this and keep it much simpler – one of my editor’s better ideas, I think. She struggles to rein me in, and most of the time she succeeds, to the book’s benefit.

Where do we go next? The ending of your first novel was fantastic, but I don’t even know where we go next. What is the next stage/arc of your story (if you can share it)?

Again thank you! My goal for the series has always been to peel the onion one book at a time. In book one I introduce a core plot that’s mostly resolved by the end, with a metaplot revealed around the edges of the main story. Book two will fully reveal and resolve the metaplot from book one, but also reveal an even deeper layer, which will then be the focus of book three.

This was your first novel and a huge undertaking, What lessons have you learned from working on Soul of the World that you want to apply to writing book 2?

SOUL OF THE WORLD was my first attempt at writing creative fiction of any kind. I grew an enormous amount as a writer while writing & revising it – with full credit to my editor, my agent, the agency president, and all of my other advance readers (especially my wife!) for helping me get there. As a result, book two’s first draft was a much tighter manuscript than the first drafts of SOUL. I had to rewrite over a hundred thousand words of SOUL before it was ready to shop to potential agents; book two should hopefully see us spending more time on polish and less on fixing rookie mistakes. Otherwise, book two is already turned in and I’m currently waiting for first reactions from my editor. So let’s hope it goes smoothly from here!

In Soul of the World we saw that most of the action in the story is happening in the colonies, but that there is an entire second continent with it’s own countries and people. Since so much of your magic is tied to location, do you plan on visiting other lands in the story or focusing just on the current surroundings?

As the series progresses we’re going to travel a *lot*. Book two will take us west across the New World, across the sea to the Old World, even to undiscovered continents (plural!) that wouldn’t have appeared on any maps in book one. The story gets bigger in a hurry, though I still try to keep things focused on the characters as they respond to the challenges in front of them.

Are you a big reader of fantasy yourself? What are some of your favorite books? What is the last book that you read (of any genre) that you would recommend?

Very much so. Jacqueline Carey’s KUSHIEL’S DART is my favorite book of all time. I grew up devouring and re-devouring Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME series whenever a new book came out. I adore Robert E. Howard’s CONAN stories and other classic swords & sorcery stuff like Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. N.K. Jemisin continues to amaze me with everything she writes. Additional plugs for Brandon Sanderson, Pat Rothfuss, Juliet Marillier, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

The last book I read was READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline. I loved the audiobook so much I went and bought a physical copy to read too. Can’t recommend it enough, both the audio version and the printed edition. Some of the most compelling storytelling I’ve consumed in years.

What in Soul of the World are you most proud of? Which character, magic, part of the world, or element were you most excited to share with other people?

This answer could change on any given day, but today I’ll say Sarine and Zi. I’ve been the lonely kid watching the world from a distance, and I would have given anything for a magical companion to share it with. These days I have my amazing wife & daughters, but I hope Sarine and Zi’s story connects with people and inspires them to want to be as creative and fearless as she is.

Thank you David for talking with me, and I am super pumped for book two. If you haven’t checked out Soul of the World yet, I implore you to go give it a shot!

Observations About LotR – The Return Of The King

071tfThe Quill to Live team is currently doing a reread of Lord of the Rings because for many of us, it has been awhile since we read it (on average about a decade). I initially thought about doing a review piece, but no one needs to hear another review about LotR to know it is amazing. We all know it is amazing. Instead, I thought I would instead do a compilation of some of the more amusing observations people had about the book, usually having to do with things not being as we remember. This is the third and final entry on The Return of the King, our thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers can be found here:

1) RotK is 50% epilogue – Literally. I never realized as a child how early in the book they destroy the ring (spoilers). Frodo casts the ring into the volcano at around 55% in my version of the book, and the rest of the story is showing the happily ever after. It suddenly makes a lot more sense as to why the movie seemed to have so many endings – because there are so many little vignettes that Peter Jackson was trying to cover.

2) I see what Tolkien meant about his series in the prologue – At the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien states that his series was meant actually as one book but they had to break it up for publication due to size. When reading the first two novels I didn’t think much of this note, but upon reaching Return of the King it becomes a lot more obvious. While the first two books in the trilogy feel like full novels, Return of the King doesn’t really stand on its own. The book breaks down into three sections: the first part is one long protracted battle with the larger party, the middle and smallest section involves Sam finding Frodo and them quickly tossing the ring into the mountain, and the back half of the book is cleanup for the entire series. It very much feels like a continuation of The Two Towers and The Fellowship as opposed to its own entity to me.

3) The book drags a little bit more than its predecessors – This was not a unanimous feeling in our reading group, but a good number of people felt that the middle of Return of the King dragged a lot. There is a section of about 40 pages (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it sure felt like it to me) where Sam and Frodo are trying to locate the right mountain – and they do this by walking up to about 5 different ones and going “is this it? Nope”. I initially really enjoyed Tolkien spending some time elaborating on Orc culture and fleshing them out as a race more, but I don’t need to be told more than one time that Orc clothing is incredibly uncomfortable and I did not find myself enlightened when Tolkien talked about it the seventh or eighth time.

4) I get it now – My first three thoughts might seem very harsh, because I think LotR has a bunch of writing issues when compared to today’s modern style. However, while I had a bunch of small issues with Return of the King, I also can finally see what everyone sees in it. As you read this series, in particular the finale, you can see a map of thousands of books that it inspired. The landscape of the fantasy genre starts to make more sense, and you can see the source of tons of tropes and philosophies that permeate it. You can see why so many people have tried to emulate these aspects of this trilogy. Lord of the Rings is fun and whimsical, but also serious and philosophical. It is a timeless masterpiece, as I am sure everyone already knew, that is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. If you haven’t given it a read recently, I recommend you check it out again.

Kings Of The Wyld – An Interview With Nicholas Eames

30841984If you haven’t gotten your hands on Kings of the Wyld yet, by Nick Eames, then you are missing out (review here). It is definitely going to be one of my top books of 2017 and every other reviewer and blogger I know is talking about how much they love it. On top of Kings being an amazing book, Nick is a great guy who kindly agreed to answer a slew of interview questions we sent him. Some of the questions and responses are mildly spoilery – so I would skip this and come back if you have not read the book yet (which you should, immediately. Seriously go read it). The questions and responses are below!

Compared with those belonging to Clay Cooper, how does your arsenal of shrugs measure up?

Not even close! Clay tends to underestimate his own intelligence, and so relies on shrugs to avoid saying something foolish. I, on the other hand, sound foolish all the time.

The Rot is a major part of the world, and character development in your story. Are you drawing from personal experience or was it more of a thought experiment for you?

The latter, for sure. The Rot—and the arbitrary menace it represents to the mercenaries of Grandual—is vaguely representative of the STD’s (including HIV) that afflicted many ‘Golden Era’ rock stars. It’s not something you are guaranteed to get when you venture into the Heartwyld, but it’s always a risk.

It actually played a lesser role in the original draft of KINGS. Thankfully, I was asked to flesh out the story a bit during revisions. The result was a few very poignant scenes that it’s hard to imagine the book without.

Can dragons swim?

Great question! The answer is yes—about as well as dogs can swim. They cannot, however, breath underwater…

How many band names were inspired by real bands?

Most of them were inspired by songs, since using direct band names (outside of a few exceptions like Neil the ‘Young’) is a little on the nose. Some cool (in my opinion) examples are the Wheat Kings (A Tragically Hip song) and Courtney and the Sparks (named for the Joni Mitchell album The Court and the Spark).

A lot of people think Saga is a reference to the Canadian band of the same name. In fact, it was the name of a sword that belonged to the main character in an unpublished book I worked on for almost a decade. Saga is an homage to that.

Were there any monsters you wanted to include but didn’t? If so can you give us a peek?

Ha! I think I got them all. I can tell you, however, that a major plot point in book two revolved around fighting a dragon. But then I thought: “Nope. The dragon’s been done.” So it’s going to be something quite different—but just as deadly.

You admirably managed the difficult combination of emotional and comedic throughout the book. How did you manage to have such a humorous book still resonate so strongly?

Firstly, thanks for saying so. I think two things contributed to this. One is that I’m a hopeless sap, so even though I tried to make the book humorous and lighthearted the whole way through, I can’t help but try and add poignancy here and there. It’s in my nature—and I think life can be funny and sad and scary all at once, so I’d hoped this book would reflect that.

Ultimately, I owe a great deal to my agent and editor, who suggested which scenes were perhaps so ridiculous that they undermined the more serious aspects of the book. To their credit, they let me keep a few of them anyway (Moog tripping over his robe on the hillside, Moog throwing honeyed hams at his enemies, etc). Alas, because of them you’ll never see Moog eating a urine-soaked carrot from a vegan cannibal’s vegetable garden. It’s all about balance…

Who is your favorite band member?

Clay, for sure. Moog is a very close second. But honestly, I love each of them so much.

Will we ever visit Clay’s inn in future books?

*nods enthusiastically* I’m not at liberty to say, sorry. Another great question, by the way. I really appreciate the interest in the lives of these characters beyond the book.

Did you write Kings simply in order to make a really bad portal reference?

You mean a REALLY AWESOME portal reference? That joke just materialized out of nowhere as I was writing the scene and I am so very grateful it did. I know some of these references take readers out of the book—but a lot of things (waiters, stop lights, falling asleep) take you out of a book. It was important to me that fellow gamers could read this book and think, “This Nick Eames guy…he’s one of us.”

I stayed up unreasonably late on a work night in order to finish the last 30% of your book. What’s the most ill-advised thing you’ve done due to the fact you couldn’t put a book down?

That’s amazing to hear! Thank you for saying so. And an easy question to answer! I was working in a restaurant while reading THE VIRTUES OF WAR by Steven Pressfield, and was starting my shift just as Alexander the Great was pulling off his brilliant ruse at Guagemela. Instead of putting the book away, however, I STOOD THERE READING IT in the middle of the restaurant—which was, in my defense, mostly empty! Boy, did I ever get in in trouble. Totally worth it.

So it seems Clay has a lot of difficulty keeping his weapons for more than a chapter or two. Was this a commentary on an aspect of his character (a rough man who deep down doesn’t really want to fight, and just wants to protect) or was this more of a running gag a la Jain and her band of oddly dressed thieves?

The former. Clay’s whole deal is protecting people, although he does hurt a lot of people with that shield, come to think of it. It was definitely a risk writing a huge final battle in which the protagonist can’t actually use a weapon, but I think it works wonderfully, since you get to see each member of the band—Clay included—do that they do best.

If Saga came out with an album, what do you think the album art would be?

Probably the cover of the book. The artist (Richard Anderson, who is amazing) was given the mandate of making it look like one of those old album photographs where the band is standing around looking as if they didn’t stage the shot at all, and I think he nailed it.

That, or just Blackheart’s scarred and weathered face. That might be cool, too.

Sticking with the band analogy that was ever-so-subtly peppered throughout the book, if Gabe is the frontman/lead singer, what instruments would the rest of the bandmates play?

Subtly? Were we reading the same book!? I kid, I kid! Again: awesome question! It goes like this: Gabriel on vocals/guitar, Ganelon on lead guitar, Clay (the forgettable one) on bass, Matrick on drums, and Moog on keyboards/triangle/cow bell.

Scenes involving certain characters were often influenced by the instrument they represent. While writing Matrick’s fight against Larkspur’s thralls, I listened to Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick (essentially a 20+ minute drum solo) on repeat. The same goes for Ganelon. There is a very specific live version of the Stairway to Heaven guitar solo that I’ve probably listened to a thousand times and had in mind whenever Ganelon was destroying people.

Kings of the Wyld has an interesting structure as a series. I noticed that the sequel no longer follows the cast from the first book, but their children instead. Was it hard writing a book knowing you would have to say goodbye to the original cast at the end? Do you wish you had more time with them?

Not really. In fact, some people interested in publishing it asked that all three books feature Clay and his bandmates, so I was glad when Orbit didn’t insist on it. The truth is, KINGS OF THE WYLD is about that ‘one last, great adventure’, and to drag it out would seem disingenuous to both the characters and the story I was trying to tell.

A few characters from the first book will show up in the second (and also the third) but in a setting where mercenaries are representative of rock bands…Well, sticking to one band would kind of be like listening to, say, Black Sabbath all the time. In book two, it’s time to meet Guns’n’Roses…

Are there any other music genres you would want to make a fantasy novel around? Country? Smooth Jazz? EDM? Would you consider adding in bands from other music tropes into the current world?

As insinuated above, the second book explores a world where new bands wander into the house after old band kicked the door in. Whereas my writing soundtrack to book one consisted largely of 60’s folk and 70’s rock, book two draws influence from 80’s punk, rock, and pop. So goodbye Floyd, Zeppelin, and Dylan (I’ll miss you, truly) and hello Queen, Van Halen, and Pat Benatar!

Any notable pet peeves? Overstuffed napkin holders? Dogs that act like cats? Smart cars?

Commercials that market cleaning supplies to women and BBQ’s to men. Fuck that noise!

Do you read fantasy yourself? Do you have favorite books or authors you recommend? Was there any other book that inspired you to write Kings of the Wyld?

I read all the time, almost every day. My favourite author—hands down—is Guy Gavriel Kay, and I would start with TIGANA or THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN if you haven’t read him before. His books are slow burns, but impossibly beautiful, and I’ve never, ever read anyone near as good. Also Scott Lynch, Pat Rothfuss, and Joe Abercrombie—in case you’ve been trapped under a rock and haven’t read everything by each of them yet. Also Lila Bowen’s WAKE OF VULTURES and Seth Dickenson’s THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT are recent favourites.

As for what book inspired me to write mine? READY PLAYER ONE, by Ernest Cline. It was a face-paced, shameless love letter to everything the author loves. So, too, is KINGS OF THE WYLD.

Thanks for the questions!

 

Well I know I am pumped as all hell for book two, Bloody Rose. Thank you Nick for taking the time to talk with us, and for making such a fantastic debut novel.

Senlin Ascends – Climbing To The Top Of The Favorite List

17554595Ever since Mark Lawrence gave a vote of confidence for Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft, you can’t swing a dead cat (which is a weird saying might I add) without hitting a positive review of it. As such I figured I ought to check it out, because while you probably don’t need yet another review about this increasingly popular book, I was curious to see if Senlin could live up to all the hype. The short answer is yes, this is a great book. For the long answer you will just have to read yet another review of this great book.

Senlin Ascends is a new take on the Tower of Babel, an endlessly tall tower from the Bible filled with incomprehensible wonders and mystery. There have been a number of Babel stories I have read over the years, from Stephen King’s iconic Dark Tower to the manga Get Backers, and it is a subject matter I never get tired of. The running thread through all the stories is that the Tower of Babel is an infinitely tall structure, with something of incalculable worth (usually the means to ascend to godhood or ultimate power) at the top. To get to the top one must navigate through the endless labyrinthian floors of the tower, each with their own unique identity and themes – each floor getting harder to pass through as you ascend. The great thing about The Tower of Babel is that while the stories share this same skeleton, there is an unlimited amount of white space that authors can work with when they design the floors of the tower, and the people who climb them. It means that while there are a lot of tower stories, almost none of them reuse the same tower and the stories always feel fresh and fun. In this particular story, we follow Thomas Senlin, a dour school teacher who has recently married. Senlin and his new wife Marya have wanted to see the wonders of the tower their entire life, and saved up enough money to travel to it and explore the first few floors. Upon arriving at the tower, the two are immediately separated and Senlin soon realizes he must climb the tower to save Marya who has disappeared into the tower’s depths.

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Senlin Ascends hits everything I want in a good Tower of Babel story. First off, Josiah’s tower is impressive. He has managed to intertwine the feeling that the tower is a selfish machine that crushes the lives of those who enter with the wonder and mystery that pervade the entire structure. Each floor has its own unique feel and theme, exhibiting crazy ideas and concepts that run from awe inducing to horrifying, and each present unique obstacles for our protagonist to overcome. Senlin is a different and enjoyable lead from most fantasy. He is a quiet, dour, and naive school teacher who stands out in the tower like a signal flare. His personality means that his trip up is not easy, as he is constantly betrayed, swindled, and stabbed in the back as he moves from floor to floor. He has a pervasive feeling of helplessness that makes him seem a lot weaker and unimpressive that most protagonists of a story like this, but it resulted in me adoring him as I got to watch him grow and evolve through his trial in the tower. One of the central themes to the book is the battle of Senlin’s faith in humanity and the tower’s power to turn every person who enters into a selfish bastard. It means that most of the conflict in the book becomes emotional, and large parts of the story revolve around Senlin figuring out whom he can trust, and whom he can make a better person. It adds a lot of tension to conversations and relationships and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wonder if Senlin has made a mistake trusting someone, or if he has finally found a friend amidst the bandits that fill the tower to overflowing.

Senlin is a great character, and I would read about him in almost any context. However, while I certainly don’t dislike Marya, I found her a noticeably weaker character than Senlin. I found myself willing her passages to end faster so I could get back to Senlin, which is not a fun feeling. Josiah did a good job putting life into his damsel in distress, but I am not enamored by the idea of Senlin being so driven by his wife of all of a few days. The story quickly grows bigger than simply Senlin trying to find his wife (which is awesome and I can’t wait to find out what is happening in the tower), but I would occasionally find Senlin’s motivations uncompelling.

Senlin Ascends is a fresh new take on The Tower of Babel, and is just as mesmerizing, exciting, and fun as all the reviewers say it is. Based on the quality of this first installment, I’m excited to see where Bancroft can take this concept. What starts as a simple rescue, quickly becomes one of the most captivating mysteries I have ever read and a beautiful journey of self discovery. I highly recommend you check out this new entrant into the fantasy scene, and I don’t see the buzz surrounding it dying down anytime soon.

Rating: Senlin Ascends – 9.0/10