Reading for Love – Kavalierly

A guest post by Quill To Live editor Sean Burns:

We all have that person in our lives. A family member, a good friend, a co-worker, or a significant other. One who loves reading and can’t wait to recommend another one of their favorites to you, and that’s great! You smile as you accept the book, but somehow it comes out looking like a bit of a grimace. You bring the book home and decide to bite the bullet immediately, well maybe not immediately, maybe after opening up a craft brew or some wine, anything to help you relax a little bit. You read the back cover to make sure you know what you are in for, then you take a big gulp of your drink of choice, and you crack the cover. Then, just as you suspected, just as you feared, the book is terrible. Empty. Flavorless. Your loved one has recommended another dud.

I guess I am taking a leap here, I don’t know if everyone has someone like this in their life. Maybe all you get is recommendations like The Greatcoats, Lightbringer, or Malazan. If so, you are one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed with relatively few people who have managed to consistently maintain a stellar recommendation list for me (*ahem*the-owner-of-this-blog*ahem*), but I have had close friends and significant others recommend me some of their #favorites to which I sigh internally, grimace, and prepare for the dark work of appeasing them.This post is an ode to the many times I have endured suffering for a loved one, specifically when my most recent girlfriend recommended the book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, and I hope you enjoy the telling of my journey.

51o-jqnlkil-_sy344_bo1204203200_My girlfriend had just finished The First Law Trilogy on my recommendation, and wanted to return the favor (perhaps sadistically so?). So she walked over to her bookshelf and reverently drew forth a large red paperback and handed it to me. A Pulitzer Winner, and the premise was intriguing, something about superheroes, young misfits, and comic books. Needless to say, it was enough to pique my interest. My to-read list has never been short, but when your significant other gives you a book with special meaning to them, it gets a free pass to the top. So I brought Kavalier and Clay home with me, and started the book. I read before bed, which usually leads to a tiring morning because I am up too late turning the pages of my latest paper-based love, but let me tell you this, I was as rested as I’ve ever been the first week I tried to get through this book. There were some great, young misfits named Kavalier and Clay with some character driven moments that countered the droop in my eyes, but then I would turn the page and there would be two full pages of description about a partially run down building in New York that served only as a monument to the author’s descriptive ability. And then it would happen again. And again. And then all of a sudden I would wake up with the sun shining through my windows, and the book lying on the floor, where it had fallen from my limp grip after sleep claimed me.

So I quietly hid the book under the rest of my to-read pile, and got back to books that filled me with wonder and joy, all the while making vague obfuscations to my girlfriend about my progress in her beloved book. The guilt of not finishing it began to build up, and soon she and I were headed out on a weekend camping trip. I decided to take a drastic step. I brought no reading material with me EXCEPT for Kavalier and Clay. Gods help me. It had been long enough that I began again from the beginning, and I quickly learned to skip the excessive descriptives. In doing so I began to see some extremely well-written and realistic characters. There are great moments of darkness, light, and the shades in between during the story of two kids becoming friends and eventual business partners. There is a great dichotomy of the successful Kavalier and the failure Clay that brings about questions of friendship. But soon the weight of the prose, and a too slow buildup of the actual story continued to tear at what little interest I had managed to garner.

I tried to hold on to my goal of finishing this book for the sake of love, this book that I would normally have never looked at again after my first attempt. However, after reaching nearly the halfway point I must have let slip one too many sighs into the tent, as my girlfriend looked upon my brow, sweated with the effort of ploughing through the book, and asked if I wanted to stop. I shamefacedly admitted I did, but luckily she cared enough for me to take the book from my hands, set it down, and suggest we go out of our tent on an Amazing Adventure of our own.

All in all, I think it’s wonderful to get book recommendations from loved ones, even if you do have to struggle through them on occasion. The great thing about loved ones is that you can (usually) be honest with them, and they won’t love you one iota less. The same goes for giving recommendations. If your loved one hates City of Stairs, well, surely they have some other redeeming qualities, right? I sure hope they do.

Rating for Kavalier and Clay: Did Not Finish (DNF) ~50% (but 100% love)

Grayshade – 1 Shade of Gray

Back by popular demand (and because I chained him to a desk because I have been busy), our editor Will is here with a post about the new book Grayshade by Gregory A. Wilson

grayshade-digital-coverHaving been an avid reader of fantasy since my days as a child, I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore a wide variety of worlds and stories. From the heavy adventurer-focus of the Forgotten Realms books to the sardonic and dry wit of Discworld, all the way to the unique and unforgettable worlds of Sanderson’s Mistborn and Stormlight Archive series, fantasy fans have a wide breadth of choices for settings, characters, and worlds. It is partially due to this that authors have a choice to make when setting out the goals of their story and characters; do I try to expand the genre and write something never seen before, or do I write in the reader’s comfort zone and give them an enjoyable take on something they’ve seen before? Both of these options have their pros and cons, and we’ve seen fantastic series that follow both schools of thought. I mentioned Sanderson’s collections of stories as being an exemplar of building something completely fresh and new for a reader, and one need only look so far as Sullivan’s Riyria stories for how an author can take well-tread tropes and make them enjoyable without feeling like they’re pandering.

Grayshade and the world it takes place in attempts to fulfill both options. It is the second release in the brand new fantasy setting of Stormtalons, a series of 150 planned novels from a wide variety of writers. I’d like to take a second immediately after mentioning that to say, “Oh. My. God. That is a LOT of books.” Grayshade in particular is the first book in the self-contained The Gray Assassin trilogy. If the respective titles of the book and the trilogy it is contained within didn’t tip you off, let me do the honors. Grayshade is a book about an assassin of the same name. He is an Acolyte of Argoth, the god of justice, and has for his entire life to this point been a member of this order. We begin the book with Grayshade on a mission to assassinate a target, jumping directly into the action and never really stopping from there. Throughout the course of this book we learn more about the city of Cohrelle and the various religious orders that are contained within, as well as getting a look into a formative moment in Grayshade’s life and development as a character.

If this sounds like a well-trod path in other stories…well, it is. Following an assassin, or any character of nefarious profession, as they develop from a morally indifferent character to someone who takes a stand for their values and virtues is a trope that I’m positive everyone reading this blog has encountered at some point. I certainly don’t mean to paint that as a bad thing, necessarily. Tropes are tropes for a reason, and having something immediately familiar to readers as a touchstone into a brand new fantasy world and setting is very helpful in allowing the reader to place their focus on learning how this new world works without having to spend a great deal of mental energy on trying to understand where the main character is coming from. I think that Gregory A. Wilson does a good job in this novel of telling a satisfying, if familiar, story in a brand new world. I enjoyed Grayshade’s inner monologues and the way he went about his work to an impressive extent.

That being said, there were some things that started to get under my skin as the story went on, and kept me from truly losing myself in the reading. While I understand that Grayshade takes place in an entirely new setting, there were a great deal of names for objects and substances that seemed purposefully vague and opaque. At the 20% mark of the book (I read this as a Kindle ARC) there was the following line, “I laughed. ‘It’s rivid gas, first of all, not rethel. Rethel gas wouldn’t dissipate that quickly.’” What does this actually tell me about these substances? That they’re both dangerous and that one dissipates more quickly than the other. What this doesn’t tell me is why these substances are dangerous. Are they flammable? Poisonous? Do they explode? Are they acidic? I would have a much healthier respect for the substance if I actually knew what it did. This is a consistent issue I had with the book, whether it’s describing dangerous gasses, or never really describing what the “darts” that Grayshade uses in his missions look like. I want to know whether he’s talking about throwing knives or stars, whether they have a flat blade or are more like a stiletto. No, this doesn’t ruin the book, and no it isn’t a catastrophic error, but it’s a small thing that would have made it easier for me to fall into the story had it been addressed. It’s also an easy way to flesh out the world and setting that I thought was a missed opportunity.

The other issue, and a bigger one in my opinion, is that the pacing of the second half of the novel just felt off to me. Major events came out of nowhere and were handled in a page or two, while Grayshade’s travels through the districts and inner monologues were given entire chapters. The final showdown between Grayshade and his enemies was, while exciting and fun, over very quickly and without the fanfare it deserved. I was hoping for an epic showdown and was treated to a quick knife in the back. I felt let down at the end, which isn’t a note you want to end on in the first book of a trilogy.

Grayshade is a book that reminds me of so many other fantasy novels I’ve read. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. As I said earlier when I mentioned the “assassin with a moral compass” thing, tropes are essentially a gray area (see what I did there?) in storytelling. They’re not good or bad by default, as they’re essentially just references to experiences the reader has had before. What makes or breaks them is how they’re used. Grayshade has both the good and bad. It’s great that the book provides an easy to understand touchstone into this new world with a perfectly functional take on a story we’ve heard before, and bad that it relies on previous experiences for basic things like the gas issue I mentioned earlier. I think this is essentially the chicken noodle soup of fantasy. You’re not going to be blown away, and this isn’t going to be the best you’ve ever had, but you can’t go wrong with Grayshade if what you’re looking for is something familiar and satisfying.

Rating: Grayshade – 7.0/10

Guest Post: The Hatching – Spidery Horror that’s not quite spooky enough

I am letting Will slowly build his own spooky corner on the blog, as I am told horror books are pretty good but I am a huge pansy. Enjoy as he sets up a few cobwebs:

the-hatching-9781501125041_hrLet’s get this out of the way right at the start. If you couldn’t guess by the cover art consisting of cobwebbed lettering backed by silk, or the name The Hatching, this novel is about spiders. As such, this review will also at least be partly about spiders. If you have arachnophobia, or if they just give you the willies, you should ABSOLUTELY READ THIS BOOK.

Now that we’re done with the disclaimer, friendly reader, I’m sure you’re wondering why I would recommend a book about spiders to those with arachnophobia. I’m recommending it specifically because it’s a horror book, and horror is supposed to freak you out. That said, for spider lovers, spider enthusiasts, and the spider agnostic out there, while this book entertains I think it falls a little short of the mark in terms of spooks. This isn’t to say that The Hatching isn’t fun, it maintains a quick pace and achieves what it’s going for to a respectable degree. To me, though, it was notably lacking in chills running down my spine.

The Hatching is the debut novel in The Hatching Series, by Ezekiel Boone. In it, we follow a wide variety of characters as they find out about, and react to, an invasion by hordes (swarms?) of man-eating spiders. Think Arachnophobia on a global scale. It riffs heavily from previous novels of the “world catastrophe” genre and I was particularly reminded of both World War Z and Robopocalypse with their large casts of characters from around the world. In typical fashion, the world is given warnings that are ignored or dismissed before everything gets completely out of hand. Subsequently, a group of people (this group containing members with varying importance, from world leaders to a marine Lance Corporal) are forced to deal with the fallout. The fallout is spiders falling from the sky. Literally. Oh, and some nuclear fallout. Really, there’s fallout of all kinds to deal with.

Sadly, that fallout doesn’t really get dealt with. While that is likely due to Boone saving the meat of the crisis for later in the series, the satisfaction of the story within The Hatching itself suffers for it. The choice to write this story as a series of short to mid-length books, rather than one larger self-contained book, is a departure from the genre standard, and one I don’t entirely agree with it. Horror is significantly less effective when you’re given a chance to decompress from it, and breaking up what was a lightning fast, headlong rush into global catastrophe right at what felt like the denouement was a letdown to me. We’re left on a somewhat unsatisfying cliffhanger that sets us up for the next installment of the series, which precludes this book standing on its own. All this combined with a long wait for the next book, and some issues I’m about to get into, lead me to find it difficult to maintain the hype that I imagine the author, publishers, and readers were hoping for.

While I enjoyed the plot of the book well enough for what it was (crazy huge spider attacks, OH NO), the characterization left me feeling cold. We begin the book with 9 consecutive chapters from different viewpoints, two of which are never visited again. I still have no idea what the purpose of one of those two was, perhaps that will be fleshed out in the next installment? This could be easily moved past if these characters felt more real. We are introduced to three scientists, the White House Chief of Staff, an agent for a government organization that is never actually identified, a doomsday prepper, and a marine Lance Corporal. While that’s a decently diverse list of characters, I had some problems with exactly how they were made to feel human and their roles in the story. It seemed to me like Boone’s go-to character flaw was a sexual or relationship failing of some kind. The White House Chief of Staff and one of the scientists are divorced from each other, the agent is divorced and struggling with his wife’s new relationship, the President is cheating on her husband with the Chief of Staff, and the phrase “want to spend a week in the bedroom with ____” was used with such frequency it bordered on the inane. In addition, I don’t understand the purpose of the doomsday prepper character. Considering they are shown to live in underground bunkers they choose to seclude (read: trap) themselves in, I went in with the belief that they would be a highlight for swarms of carnivorous spiders. I was left confused and let down, as it almost seemed to be an exercise in simply showing how a specific subgroup in a population would react if things got weird. I don’t think they added much to this story, and while I’m sure they’ll be a more important part of the series going forward, I think they could have been completely excised from this novel without any negative impact. With such a large cast for a novel of its type, some of these issues are understandable, excusable even, but I can’t help but think that had Boone decided to crib a little more heavily from Brooks style in World War Z the errors wouldn’t have been quite as noticeable. Brooks’ use of a journalist as window dressing helped to smooth out any inconsistencies in his characters, and I think a similar device would have been an improvement here.

However, all of the issues are forgivable, as long as the book is scary. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the horror never quite hit the mark for me. A common complaint of horror fans in film is the oversaturation of jump scares and body horror. It is, understandably, much more difficult to sell an atmosphere of horror than it is to gross people out or have some supernatural icky thing appear with a string accompaniment in D minor. The Hatching falls firmly into the body horror category. While it is not without its tense moments, the constant descriptions of what was happening to people physically as they were overwhelmed by swarms of voracious spiders felt more gross than scary. To illustrate, one distinct thing that makes these spiders different is the fact that they “chew” on their food instead of the typical arachnid feeding method of injecting venom and sucking out the liquefied tissue from their prey. The distinct “clacking” noise that their mandibles make as they chew on the flesh of their victims is frequently and relentlessly described. This, in addition to a few other examples of behavior unnatural for most spiders (that I can’t go into because of spoilers) firmly cement this as gross-out horror, rather than the creeping, all-encompassing kind that I personally prefer. I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I would recommend this book to people that have already existing fears of spiders. As someone who isn’t afraid of spiders, this book missed the mark for me in terms of scares, but someone with a preexisting fear of them that enjoys the horror genre would probably find this scary without being so sinister and horrific that it would make them put it down.

The Hatching is ultimately a flawed book, but still enjoyable to readers that both know what they’re getting into and are fans of the genres it straddles. I enjoyed it well enough that I’ll likely be picking up the sequel once it arrives, but I’m not going to rearrange my reading list to do so.

The Hatching is fast and fun, but not without its issues, and is given a hesitant recommendation by the author of this post.


“Collaborative Creative Fiction” – Why You Should Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The [REDACTED]


It’s starting to warm up here in Chicagoland. The birds are chirping, the grass is growing, the sun is occasionally showing its face, and the scent of thawing dog shit is filling the air. You can understand why this is my absolute favorite time of the year. Now that we have that out of the way, as we start to make our way into the golden days of summer, I find myself longing for the shorter, darker days of autumn and the spooky stories that brings.

I have been a huge fan of horror writing for as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark being read around campfires, and less fond memories of the hours I spent later those nights staring out my window in expectation of some supernatural horror coming for my soul. Perhaps these experiences scarred me somehow, instilling a kind of Stockholm syndrome in me. “No, I love being scared….totally.”

I also have a fondness for novel window dressings. I love distinct storytelling formats and the unique constraints that authors writing within them have to deal with. It should be no surprise then, to those that are aware of it, that I am an avid reader of the SCP Foundation wiki. For anyone reading this that have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the Wikipedia definition: The SCP Foundation is a collaborative creative fiction writing website that describes the exploits of the SCP Foundation, a fictional organization responsible for containing entities, locations and objects that violate natural law. It is essentially one part creepypasta, one part science fiction, one part lab report.

The website is essentially a large group roleplaying exercise, wherein the authors take on the roles of researchers and agents working for “The Foundation”, a worldwide, multi-planetary, trans-dimensional organization with the objective of Securing, Containing, and Protecting entities, objects, and places that don’t behave in the way they should. These range from vending machines that can dispense anything to some of the most horrific entities you can imagine. While the concept of a secret non-governmental organization operating behind the scenes to keep us safe from various boogins isn’t exactly one of a kind, the vehicle through which these stories are told is. Each individual SCP file, or skip, is given a numerical label and filed in the website in the form of a lab or field report. Within this report, they are given a classification that describes the level of difficulty in containment, what measures must be taken to maintain containment, and what anomalous behavior is manifested by each skip.

The dedication to the website’s conceit is such that each file has a variable amount of it redacted or blacked out, maintaining the illusion that the reader is a member of the foundation with limited access to certain files. By using this technique, the authors are able to “hide the shark”. Any avid fan of horror knows that the terror in your mind is always more intense than the terror you can see, and authors on the site use this with a great deal of efficacy. By covering up the details of various anomalous effects on victims, or various procedures, the author is able to let the reader decide just how sympathetic they want the Foundation to be.

All is not peaches and cream in the various Foundation facilities though, as in order to understand how anomalous objects and beings function and interact with their environment, tests must be undertaken. These tests are, frequently, horrific and gruesome. The reader is quickly shown that the Foundation, while acting for the greater good, is almost an example of pure philosophical utilitarianism. Due to the danger presented by the majority of the skips they encounter, the Foundation employs a variety of criminals that are given the designation of “D-Class”. These D-class are used as a sort of cannon fodder. They are used to guard dangerous skips, they are experimented on, and they are frequently killed in a huge variety of absolutely awful ways. It is in the interactions with D-Class that we see something of the true heart of the Foundation. The researchers directing these convicts are often shown to be cold and heartless scientific monsters, for example, forcing them to walk into an endless maze that they know there is no escape from, just to see what’s inside.

It is only in the asides, the journal entries and personal notes often included as “Addendum” near the bottom of each individual SCP report, that we see the conflict going on inside these characters. The conflict is visible in the suicide note of a researcher who has sent someone to their death, or the request for a transfer to a less dangerous skip due to an inability to deal with the consequences of one’s research. We are supposed to see that the researchers are humans, humans who believe that what they are doing is truly for the greater good.

The reports are entertaining to the extreme, and incredibly creative. I think, however, that in reading these reports, of which there are thousands, we as readers are asked the question: how far is too far? There are several places on the site that do not deal with skips, and instead deal with the organization itself. There is a piece explaining what the Ethics Committee actually does, and it is especially hard hitting for me. When the author is relating exactly how difficult their job is, the job of determining what the “line” is that the Foundation cannot cross, the reader is also asked what they think is “too far” when the stakes being played for are the continuity of reality and all life on earth. When the stakes are this high, can there be a “too far”?

With the advent of Amazon Kindle, and the ease of self-publishing, it has never been easier to get independent writing to the public. The SCP Wiki, and sites like it, are another option for aspiring writers to flex their creative muscles. With an active community commenting and voting on submissions, a healthy and robust set of rules for aspiring contributors, and a very distinct style that will force a content creator to use every tool at their disposal to create something fresh and exciting, the SCP Wiki is a must read for any fan of horror and a must-visit for any aspiring independent writer. If your time is limited, look at the top posts of all time. There is something for everyone here, and I cannot recommend falling into this alternate reality highly enough.

Rating [REDACTED]/10


Adding To The Pile – Even Movie Books Have A Place


This is a guest post by Sean Burns, filling in for Andrew, due to Andrew being too lazy to get up and write a post himself.

Dear reader, I imagine that if you are anything like me, then you love reading books so much that you likely have a large pile of books waiting and tantalizing you from your bedside table. So you also likely have the same problem I do, the problem of occasionally seeing that pile grow to an intimidating size; however, that doesn’t stop us from coming to a blog like The Quill to Live to find fantastic new books that you want to add to that pile. Having Andrew as a friend has added so many books to my pile, it is beginning to resemble a tomb. It is, however, a glorious tomb of books that I cannot wait to read my way out of. Books of mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, non-fiction, and more fill my bed stand promising a cavalcade of eclectic adventures, but it wasn’t always so diverse. For a long while I read almost exclusively books from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it is all because I was sucked in by one man’s writing. Subsequently, following the theme of adding tomb-encasing levels of books, I present to you my guest post on the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.


As I mentioned, this series takes place in the Star Wars Universe, but don’t let that throw you off if you have been burned by ‘movie books’ before. I know there are some terrible movie/game based books out there, but Timothy Zahn is a Hugo Award winning author and he brought his A-game to the table in this trilogy. Now I should mention there was a recent de-canonizing of all the Expanded Universe books after Disney acquired the franchise, so these books *officially* didn’t happen, but they will always have happened in my heart. Zahn is known as more of a military writer, and that comes through in new and exciting characters (as well as many from the original trilogy), an intriguing interwoven plot, and plenty of action. This series takes place five years after the end of Return of the Jedi, and deals with the remains of the Empire pulling itself together under a brilliant new military leader, with plans to overthrow the New Republic that has risen out of the Rebel movement after the Emperor’s demise. And how might he do this? He enlists the aid of a mad Jedi, conscripts a planet full of assassins, employs fascinating and varied forms of espionage, and matches his own cunning battle strategy against the best the New Republic has to offer.

Book One, Heir to the Empire, brings back the heroes of original trilogy while also introducing us to a whole new cast from the fallen Empire, including Grand Admiral Thrawn, the new supreme leader of the Empire and one of my favorite villains, a brilliant strategist who can hold his temper making things far more interesting. We also meet a brand new group of rogues; smugglers to be precise. These smugglers are led by a crafty, thoughtful, and generally honorable information broker named Talon Karrde who finds himself and his team dragged slowly but inexorably into the new galactic struggle. I don’t want to get too deep into the plot of the book, but there are harrowing escapes, a search for a long lost fleet of starships, deadly space battles, clandestine meetings, military maneuvers and out-maneuvers, love stories, hate stories, varied espionage and more.. The first book transports you straight into the story without preamble, and pulls you along with the characters as they face struggles and both sets of galactic forces try to outwit each other.

Zahn brings all these characters into a story that pulls you in quickly and rarely lacks for excitement. The story balances the load of characters and plots very well, and you are regularly left with a need to start the next chapter. Zahn does a very good job of following the heroic arc that the movies also follow, and if you are a Star Wars fan you will feel right at home. If you aren’t a Star Wars fan, the characters are still very well written, with the newly introduced characters holding greater depth and complexity than most of the original trilogy heroes, especially the likes of Luke ‘Pure Light Jedi’ Skywalker. One of the most interesting sub-plots of the series follows Mara Jade, one of Karrde’s Lieutenants who has a dark past as a spy and assassin working as the ‘Hand’ of the Emperor. She struggles under the weight of her past as she tries to move on with her life, and Zahn develops her character in a way that has made Mara Jade my favorite female ‘anti-hero’ of all time. I also found myself rooting for the Grand Admiral in some chapters, and hating him in others. Zahn does a fantastic job of continuing to engender these feelings throughout the series.

The second book, Dark Force Rising, brings you deeper into contact with the new characters of this series and you get to begin to unravel the mysteries of the mad Jedi and the former Hand of the Emperor. You also get a closer look at the home planet from which the Empire is pulling its assassins, and the political ambition threatening the developing New Republic. I feel like this book is the only place the trilogy lags a little, but I was easily able to power through some of the slower chapters about political rivalries to get back to the inner workings of the clans on the planet of assassins. Furthermore, this book does a fine job continuing the excitement and high-stakes sensations, while also bringing the first book’s character arcs closer together in preparation for the finale.

The final book, The Last Command, sees the many final confrontations that Zahn has masterfully built up. His story arcs are crafted to allow the whirlwind of events to come together in a coherent manner, never using “The Force” as a deus ex machina. The characters feel realistic and vivid despite its Sci-fi setting,  and come up with surprisingly clever ways to overcome the challenges the grapple with. As the book reveals the tantalizing mysteries it has been hoarding since book one, you are also treated to climactic battles in space and land, and some surprising turns as the series comes to an extremely satisfying end that left me looking for more in this universe.

In conclusion, even if you feel that books based on movies or within a movie’s universe are generally poor quality, this is a classic series that should appeal to any reader. Timothy Zahn introduces complex and interesting characters to the Star Wars universe and weaves together an impressive collection of story arcs in a satisfying finale. He introduces a multitude of new places, creatures, and ideas in an already exciting galaxy. I laughed, I raged, and I cheered throughout these books. It is frustrating that a story that shaped my early reading career is no longer canon in the Star Wars Universe, especially one that includes one of the most powerful and complex female characters in a galaxy far, far away, but the non-canon aspect doesn’t mean it is not worth a read. So if you look over at your growing stack of bedstand books with a hint of gnawing dread, what is the harm of adding another great series to the top of the pack? It might not bring you as deep into the Star Wars Expanded Universe as it did for me, but this series is definitely worth your time.

Heir to the Empire – 9

Dark Force Rising – 8

The Last Command – 10

The Thrawn Trilogy Overall – 9

Guest Post: The Wrong Post – A Post On Trusting Your Friends

A post by William Klein

I was wrong.

I want to get that out of the way, so let me reiterate, I was wrong. Horribly wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely and wholly despairingly wrong.

I think a major issue that a lot of readers face in starting new series and reading new authors is coming to terms with the fact that your initial gut feeling was incorrect. Being forced into the realization that your instincts, which you’ve been able to rely on in Fantasy Series X, are giving you incorrect information in Fantasy Series Y can be a bitter pill to swallow.

This guest post is being written entirely due to this happening during my initial reading of The Black Prism, book one in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks. Having not read any of Weeks’s writings prior to this novel, and entering into the series based on Andrew’s recommendation (with no knowledge as to its content), I was in a perfect position to judge a book by its cover, as the tired cliché goes. I was also just coming off a reading of a book by Joe Abercrombie, and thought that my ability to sense twists and plot reveals was at an all-time high. I had no idea how wrong I was.

For those of you not familiar with The Black Prism or its sequels, I’ll very vaguely sketch out the concept so you can see where I’m coming from. Outcast son of a drug addicted whore finds out he has magic powers, embarks on a “quest” to get better at using those powers and, shockingly, gets better at using those powers. As I was getting around a fifth of the way through the book, I remember scoffing at one of the main characters’ use of what is essentially a glider that is shaped like a glass bird pooping rainbow balls. This, after what I thought was a somewhat formulaic opening to a fantasy series, was nearly the final straw and had me seriously considering finding another book to read. I told Andrew this, and his only response (besides agreeing that the rainbow-poop bird-plane is absurd) was to laugh and tell me how wrong I was, and asking me to trust him and just keep reading. Rolling my eyes as hard as I possibly could, I continued reading, hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Was. I. Ever.

One of the, at a guess, ten major plot reveals/twists occurred in the very next chapter, and it left me with my jaw on the floor. Now, not every one of them was a total surprise, some of them had a good deal of foreshadowing or “this is the only outcome that makes sense” about them, but after that first moment I was absolutely hooked, and continued to be pleasantly surprised through the remainder of the series. I eagerly anticipate next year’s finale, The Blood Mirror.

Had I put the book down, and not given it the chance it needed to shine, I would not have read what is now one of my absolute favorite series out there, and would have missed out on so many excellent moments. It was during my conversation with Andrew that I learned about his “20% rule”, something I now take to heart. The rule is this: lots of authors have great book ideas and are incredibly talented, but have no idea how to start their books, so sometimes you have to give about the first 20% of a book a pass. While there are a lot of books out there that start strong, I feel like there is something to be said for making an effort to get to the halfway point before really evaluating your feelings on a story. I don’t think that’s the case with The Black Prism, as I think the “standard fantasy hero” beginning to the story acts to set up the story’s many plot twists incredibly well by setting the reader’s expectations against them.

So let me say it one final time, and send out an apology to Brent Weeks for my lack of faith at the same time. I was wrong about The Black Prism, it is as far from a formulaic hero’s journey as can be. I was the most wrong, wronger than wrong, the wrongerest, and I will use this experience to try to be less unbelievably wrong in the future.

The Black Prism: 9/10