Written In Fire – Going Out In A Blaze Of Glory

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Back in 2013 I was walking through a bookstore and the cover of Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey, caught my eye. I was lured in by its stand out art and the blurb on the back of the book promising a different take on mutants. The book focused around mutations that improved a person’s abilities like pattern analysis, strategic insight, or computer programming instead of superpowers. It primarily followed the relationships of mutants and normals in a world where the normals were becoming increasingly obsolete thanks to a very small number of gifted brilliants. While I think the book faltered a little in execution, I ended up really enjoying the premise and story to the point where I was excited for the sequel, A Better World. The sequel continued to hone and improve the ideas of the first book while expanding the scope and story. It was a stand out book, but not quite enough for me to stand on the rooftops shouting its praise. However, the final installment, Written In Fire, has stepped up and achieved brilliance.

Written In Fire continues the climactic story from A Better World, in which the world starts to essentially burn down. Relations between brilliants and normals have continued to deteriorate even further and the world is falling into chaos. The book manages to increase the stakes and danger slowly throughout the novel, culminating in a fiery showdown that nicely fits the series as a whole. The pacing is much better than in previous novels, with Cooper, the main protagonist, problem solving on the fly as he tries to hold the world together by the seams. Sakey does an impressive job of immersing you in in Cooper’s dilemma and I found myself frantically trying to ferret out the antagonist’s designs. The book is easily the most exciting of the three, and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

Part of the reason the book is so exciting is the slight departure in style Sakey made from his earlier two novels. In many ways, Brilliance and A Better World feel like a well written set up for the execution of Written In Fire. The first two books focus on world building and exploration of mutations; showing you the potential many of the brilliants have for disaster. As I think a finale should, Written In Fire focuses much less on this world building and much more on the promise of disaster made real. All the dangers hinted at in the previous books were well executed and made for a book that I could not put down. The book also tied up the series nicely, while leaving Sakey definite room to make more and continue the series.

All that being said, the book was not perfect. I felt that Sakey still tended to go a little too hard on the loving parent angle, and delved a little too much into Cooper’s personal life at inappropriate times. While I certainly enjoy and appreciate the value of progressing a protagonist’s love life, it is really hard to take a character seriously when he is monologuing about which girl to choose instead of focusing on dealing with the fact that an entire continent is on fire. A little less time spent on the subject and a little more focus on Cooper’s personal life would have made me care about it a lot more. In addition, while this might seem like a minor gripe I am extremely disappointed that the cover art style changed from its incredible minimalist style on Brilliance and A Better World to its more generic version for Written In Fire. It may not seem important, but Brilliance had one of my all time favorite covers and I was really looking forward to seeing what they did with Written In Fire.

However, these are fairly minor gripes to an otherwise very enjoyable series. The series flows much better as a whole than as individual books, and upon finishing Written In Fire I found myself reassessing and improving the scores of the first two novels. With a standout finale, The Brilliance Saga is a very original take on the realm of mutants and is a take I recommend highly.

Written In Fire – 8.5/10

The Brilliance Saga – 7.5/10

*Note, netgalley provided me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ruin And Writing – An Interview With John Gwynne

511cb7dyv2bl-_sx324_bo1204203200_It is an unfortunate fact of life that there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. Due to this, every time a reader makes a ‘best of’ list there are invariably going to be some gems that slipped through the cracks simply due to time constraints. This year, Ruin falls into that category. Ruin is the 3rd installment of The Faithful and The Fallen, a quartet by the author John Gwynne. For those unfamiliar, the series is an alternate take on the ‘hero’s journey’ trope. John uses his fast paced writing style and massive cast to create an original and thrilling epic that makes something new out of a tried-and-true story. The Faithful and the Fallen is considered by many fans, myself included, to be an underrated gem. Thus, it is with immense pleasure that I had the opportunity recently to speak with John about his writing style and his future plans. Enjoy!

 

  • One of the best things about The Faithful and The Fallen, to me, is your deconstruction of the “farm boy with a destiny” fantasy trope. I love how you have taken it apart and were able to breathe new life into the story. What was your inspiration to create the new take on this plotline?

 

I’m really pleased that you’re enjoying Corban’s journey. There is something in his story that is very nostalgic, a harkening back to classic fantasy. I grew up on epic fantasy. I clearly remember my teacher gathering up the class and reading from ‘The Book of Three,’ book one of The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. I was 7 or 8 years old, and I loved it. After that it was a slippery slope of Hobbits and dragons, magic rings and giant spiders, minotaurs and Holy Grails and swords in stones…

I loved the hero’s journey. When I began writing ‘Malice’ I wanted to try and capture some of that nostalgia, but I also wanted to merge it with more modern sensibilities where there is a lot of grey in between the black and white. So I tried to write a character that could potentially become a hero, but through his own choices, his own internal struggles and code, his own sense of family and friendship and what courage and cowardice meant to him, rather than some pre-ordained ‘royal blood’ type of predestination. It’s a story where choices matter.

  1. The cast of The Faithful and The Fallen is gigantic. I am extremely grateful to you for your character keys at the start of the books, as it really helped me to remember who everyone is and where they left off. Why did you decide to go with such a large set of characters instead of focusing on a smaller cast?

 

I wanted to write something that felt epic, where the fate of the world was at stake, not just a case of border disputes and who gets to be be king or queen. So the Faithful and the Fallen has different levels, ranging from personal disputes as small as bullying right up through border rivalries to a conflict that threatens all human life. I tried to choose POV characters that would best be able to tell the different threads of the story, which just seemed to keep growing for a while, and as many of these POV characters were situated in different realms the world around them kept on growing and filling out. There did come a point where I thought ‘whoa, this is too big!’ so I trimmed it back, removed whole realms, kings and queens, merged some characters and trimmed sub-plots.

Now it doesn’t feel that big to me, but I think that is probably because it’s my baby, a world in my head!

 

  1. I really enjoyed your shorter chapters and punchy narration while reading the series. I have seen some criticism of the books, namely that some readers feel as though they do not get enough time with each character. I personally felt it made the story move more quickly and raised the excitement. Was this writing style intentional for the story, or something that sort of just happened?

 

That’s really a case of my own style evolving, and becomes more apparent as you move through the series. When I was writing I was aware that with a large cast the pacing can feel slow, so I made an effort in each chapter just to tell the story, tell the event, let the character do what they needed to do, then move on to the next character POV. I think this has managed to keep the story and pace moving, but it can sometimes feel like POV chapters come and go too quickly, and if you add to that a large cast then there is a risk of the reader forgetting threads. I suppose it’s down to the reader’s preference. Writing’s one big juggling act! Plot, pace, character, world-building, keeping them all moving forward. I do prefer to write in shorter chapters, and without even realising it I will start to feel a bit twitchy if a chapter is dragging on. I’m glad you like it.

 

  1. I am very excited for (I believe) the conclusion to The Faithful and The Fallen next year with Wrath, your 4th installment in the series. Do you currently have any plans to do more in The Faithful and The Fallen universe, or do you have plans for any new series in the future?

 

‘Wrath’ is the final installment in the series. I finished writing it in November 2015. It is with my editor now and is due for publication towards the end of 2016. Finishing it was a very bittersweet experience; wonderful to be writing scenes that I’ve imagined for so long, wonderful to see the end of story arcs that have been in my head for many years, and also wonderful to see a villain or two finally get their comeuppance! But it was also sad, saying goodbye to characters and story.

I am writing something else, though. It’s a trilogy, set in the same world, the Banished Lands, but around a hundred years or so after the events of Wrath. I don’t want to say too much as I wouldn’t want to give away events from ‘Wrath.’ I’ll just say that the central character is a winged berserker named Rae, and that there will be warrior-angels, nomadic, bow-wielding tribesmen, giants, monsters running amok, and demonic serial-killers. Oh, and of course, plenty of betrayal. Book 1 is due for publication in 2017. The working title of the series is ‘Of Blood and Bone.’

Thank you again, John, for taking the time to talk with me. I have marked my release calendar for 2017 and greatly look forward to reading Of Blood and Bone. In the meantime, Ruin is here to tide fans over as a very solid continuation of a series that was already quite good. For those of you who have been waiting to pick up your copy of Ruin, I suggest you stop waiting. In addition, if you haven’t read The Faithful and The Fallen and are looking for a new take on the hero’s journey, I highly recommend you pick up book one, Malice, and give it a read.

Rating: Ruin by John Gwynne – 8.5/10

Perdido Street Station – Foul And Fanciful

91foj28uxxlPerdido Street Station is the first of the New Crobuzon series by China Miéville. The series is made up of semi-stand alone stories (they are independent but have a few recurring characters) about inhabitants of a giant metropolis in a fantasy world. This particular story follows two individuals: Issac, a human mad scientist who works on the fringes of society on whatever project strikes his fancy, and Lin, a Khepi (bug head, human body) artist who is commissioned for a dangerous art project. Through these two characters we are treated to life in New Crobuzon, both the good and the bad. With an emphasis on poetic prose, extensive world building, and nightmare inducing horror Perdido Street Station has a lot to offer.

Perdido devotes a large portion of the initial book to intense and methodical worldbuilding before easing off roughly a quarter of the way in but never fully stopping. Through characters taking casual strolls and running errands, Miéville heavily fleshes out his city and sets the stage for the rest of his story. His descriptive writing style marries both fanciful descriptives and hard science to give you an exotic setting with easily understood rules of operation. In addition, his city is disgusting. I live in New York City, and I felt right at home in Miéville’s New Crobuzon in the sense that in both cities I am afraid to touch anything because it’s sticky and smells bad. Miéville manages to paint a world that is repulsive and grotesque, yet strangely appealing. Unlike many other sci-fi and fantasy books, Perdido’s races and species are not clean or organized. The city feels like a melting pot of commerce and practicality, much like metropolises today. Most races feel as if they were designed for functionality not appearance, and I feel as though I would have trouble making eye contact with many of them due to repulsion. Despite all of this, New Crobuzon feels like a place I want to visit so that I can experience the magic and science underneath all of the grime. Miéville’s ingenious combination of the foul and the fanciful makes for a unique reading experience by itself.

The book’s plot revolves around the reckless pursuit of happiness, the dangers of ignorance, and accountability for mistakes. Once the world is established, both the lead characters accept dubious work without considering the consequences of their actions. Unsurprisingly, these actions set into action events that turn the city into a living nightmare of death and horror. The growth of the characters through the book is very impressively done. From humble and ignorant beginnings, to taking responsibility for their actions, to trying to stop the horrors they have unleashed, I enjoyed every moment in the heads of both the protagonists. Miéville also spends a lot of time fleshing out his cast of side characters that all bring a lot to the story in their own way. There is a lot of moral ambiguity with the cast, making them feel more real and relatable. When I finished the story I had to sit and think about the actions and context of each character before I was comfortable judging them. The complexity and growth of Perdido’s cast made for some of the most memorably characters I have read recently.

Finally, horror is a difficult medium to do in written form. Without the visual stimuli to contextualize danger and force pacing, scary often falls flat when written. That being said, Perdido Street Station gave me nightmares for a few days. Miéville’s use of grotesque and vile descriptives create a palatable atmospheric horror, and his inventive imagination for creatures and species creates original monsters that disturbed me more than once. This terror is not only well done, but it is also well placed to drive the plot while also helping build tension in the story at large.

Perdido definitely does not fall into my normal wheelhouse of books, but that did not in any way keep me from enjoying it immensely. This is the first book I have read that both grossed me out and kept me enthralled at the same time, and as my first Miéville work has definitely inspired me to look into his other publications. If you are looking for something a bit gross, a bit scary, and a lot captivating I recommend Perdido Street Station.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Masters Of Prose

When talking about the most talented authors, I hear a lot of fans say it comes down to who has the best prose. While I completely disagree that it is the end-all of importance when judging someone’s books, it is none the less an extremely important aspect of every book. Prose is the vessel in which you tell a story, and requests for recommendations of masterful prose have come pouring in. One of the culprits of this surge in prose love is the talented Patrick Rothfuss, a master wordsmith and one of the current kings of the fantasy world. I get daily requests for authors on par with this giant, so I have decided to make a list of the authors I have read that are prose masters and why. So without further delay, in no particular order, let us begin:

cover_ukPatrick Rothfuss – Let’s start with Rothfuss himself as a introduction. Patrick Rothfuss is almost as much a poet as author, and the fact that his character is also poetically inclined only enhances this fact. Rothfuss’s prose feels both beautiful and accessible, which is what makes it such a powerhouse. He describes scenes in vivid detail, but only focuses on the important and does not waste time on the frivolous. With his honed writing and clever direction Rothfuss piques your curiosity and then paints your imagination without a single word wasted. The combination of both beauty and clarity is what makes him so good.

14497Neil Gaiman – Gaiman’s writing always reminds me of Grimm’s Fairy Tales; serious and dark subjects surrounded in whimsy and mystery. There are few authors with prose as imaginative and fun as Neil with his fanciful descriptions and mysterious and silly conversations. Yet these words still pack a punch, with layers of meaning and philosophy built into every single paragraph. Every single time you reread a work of Gaiman’s you will find some new meaning you didn’t see before and find the words more captivating than you remember. He is a thoughtful writer who has induced endless conversations about the complex meanings of stories.

51tpik8k2btlScott Lynch – Lynch has the one of strongest voices I have ever read. When you read any of his books you become the characters he creates, and live their lives. His books are both hilarious and alive. I don’t have a favorite part of any of his novels because if you were to open to any single page and start reading you would find yourself smiling and laughing. His books read like your best friend making you laugh after a rough break up and continue to bring me comfort whenever I need them. His prose will make its way to your heart and warm it with his lovable rogues and perfect humor. I have only found one or two books even close to as dripping with humor as Lynch’s work.

th_b_bennett_cityofstairs_ukRobert Bennett – I have only read one of Bennett’s books, City of Stairs, but it was enough. Bennett has displayed a talent for action, description, and imagination in his prose. His prose has both vivid detail, and an edge of humor, that makes scenes and descriptions both clear, beautiful, and memorable. In addition, in the creation of his original creatures and places he demonstrates a clear talent in helping the reader see his own imagination with clarity and understanding. His outrageous descriptives, dark humor, and use of the present tense in City of Stairs made me feel like I was reading something one of a kind.

61-whhujivl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Joe Abercrombie – Next we have the king of combat and the Escher of the fantasy world, Joe Abercrombie. I think that many in the fantasy world would agree that Abercrombie is one of the, if not the, most clever writers in the genre. There is so much going on in his prose that multiple people can read it, discuss it after, and wonder if they read the same story. Abercrombie’s prose feels like reality instead of a story, and does wonders bringing his tales to life. In addition, there are only a few authors who can write combat prose as well as Abercrombie. Many books feel like people just waving swords, but with Abercrombie you can feelevery sword blow, run every footstep, and take every breathe alongside the warriors in every battle.

828352Terry Pratchett – The world lost a giant when Terry Pratchett passed away last year. I honestly do not feel like I am a good enough writer to describe the power of Terry Pratchett’s prose, so instead for once I am going to refer you to the words of someone else on this list, Scott Lynch, as he describes what it was like to wake up in a world without Terry Pratchett (Warning – It will make you cry).

leguin01Ursula K. Le Guin – Le Guin’s prose is very, very powerful. She writes the kind of novels that make you feel bad about the way you live your life, and cause you to vow to give more to charity. Her prose uses tone and flow masterfully to manipulate your emotions and makes her messages incredibly heavy hitting. She is one of the few authors I have read to move me with just short stories like this one (only four pages long). Her work hits you like a truck full of bricks and is a great choice for someone looking for moving prose.

60211Gene Wolfe – Gene Wolfe writes the most dense, elusive prose I have probably ever read. His works are not on the same continent as “easy reads”. However, while his work requires a huge investment of time and patience, even the smallest snippet of his prose is enjoyable and oversaturated with meaning. You can read a book like Shadow of the Torturer 30 times and still find that each chunk of prose has new secrets that you did not find before. People are still writing books about the depth of his prose 30 years after it was published, so if you are looking for someone who meticulously chooses each word in a sentence/page/chapter/book he is always worth a read.

104089Guy Gavriel Kay – Kay writes mostly standalones, and his release times are infrequent. However, the long waits are always worth it as Kay’s prose will make you feel like you are living in another world or era. Kay is the most transportive writer I have ever read. He spends years studying the cultures and places he writes about so that he can get the details just right. His prose, without fail, takes you on journeys and fully immerses you in the characters lives until they feel like your own. His writing style is also incredibly poetic but also not too dense. This combination creates passages that are deeply moving but don’t require hours of thought to decipher their meaning. If you want to go on a journey, give any of his books a shot.

fellowship-of-the-ringJ. R. R. Tolkien – Tolkien. I feel like I really don’t need to justify why Tolkien is on this list, as Lord of the Rings is accepted as literature by a lot of people. However, I will say this – The Lord of the Rings is the kind of book that everyone wants to say they read, but doesn’t want to actually read. Its combination of popularity and dense prose encourage lots of people to skim through them in order to simple claim they have read it. This is a huge shame, because the prose (and everything) in Lord of the Rings is incredible. Tolkien’s prose is poetically descriptive, deeply laden with metaphors and symbolism, grand and inspiring in scope, and often times surprisingly funny and light hearted all at the same time. There is a reason he will forever be considered one of the all time fantasy masters, if you haven’t take some time and read through his books some time.