Sunday, July 28, 2013

Books in the Mail (W/E 2013-07-27)

New arrivals this include titles from Jo Fletcher Books’s launch into the US market, as well as a couple of books from the fine folks at Tor.

Mage’s Blood (The Moontide Quartet #1) by David Hair (Jo Fletcher Books Hardcover 09/03/2013) – Hair’s doorstopper first appeared through Jo Fletcher’s UK imprint last year and is poised to be the launch title for the imprint’s entry into the US market. Smart move as this book received some good reviews.

For years the Leviathan Bridge was a boon for prosperity and culture. But when the Rondian Emperor turned his avaricious eyes toward it, peace became war. In successive crusades the Imperial legions and their mighty battle-mages plundered the East unopposed.

Now the Moontide has come again, the Bridge is rising from beneath the waves, and the Third Crusade is poised for release. The board is set and the pieces are moving. But three lowly pawns, barely regarded, threaten the game: A failed mage, a jaded mercenary and a lowly market-girl are about to be catapulted into the maelstrom. Their choices and their courage are about to change the world.

Come to Urte, where the moon covers half the sky and the tides render the seas impassable. Where windships ply the skies and magi with god-gifted powers rule the earth. Where East and West are divided by colour, creed, language and the sea, but drawn to each other irrevocably in a dance of life and death. The Moontide is coming, to sweep away all in its path.

A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books Hardcover 09/24/2013) – This is one of the first Jo Fletcher books to be published in the US and Littlewood’s debut.

A dark and disturbing tale from a bold new voice in horror writing: After the battlefront death of her husband, a soldier, in the sands of the Middle East, a distraught Cass decides to move to the bucolic, picture-perfect village of Darnshaw with her teenaged son. Since Cass’s website design business can be run from anywhere with an internet connection and Ben could benefit from a change of scenery, a move to the highlands village seems like just the thing.

But the locals aren’t as friendly as she had hoped and the internet connection isn’t as reliable as her business requires. And when Ben begins to display a hostility that is completely unlike his usual gentle nature, Cass begins to despair. Finally, the blizzards thunder through and Darnshaw is marooned in a sea of snow.

When things look their blackest, she finds one sympathetic ear in the person of her son’s substitute teacher. But his attentions can’t put to rest her growing anxiety about her son and her business. And soon, she finds herself pitted against dark forces she can barely comprehend. The cold season has begun.

Assault on Sunrise by Michael Shea (Tor, Hardcover 08/13/2013) – No where does the book or promo material indicated this is the second book of a trilogy, but it actually is. It is the follow-up to Shea’s 2010 novel The Extra.

Less than a hundred years in the future, pollution, economic disaster, and the rapacious greed of the corporate oligarchy has brought America to its knees and created dystopian urban nightmares, of which L.A. may be the worst.

Curtis, Japh, and Jool are film extras, who—with the help of a couple of very gutsy women—survived being anonymous players in a “live-action” film in which getting killed on-screen meant getting killed for real. Surviving the shoot made them rich enough to escape the post-apocalyptic Hell that L.A. has become. But their survival was not what Panoply Studios’ CEO Val Margolian had in mind, especially since it cost his company millions.

Now he's taking his revenge. After several plainclothes police are found dead in the former extras' new home, the bucolic, peaceful town of Sunrise, California, the entire town is subjected to Margolian's invidious plan to punish the entire town…and make a fortune doing it. Margolian has created toxic, murderous wasp-like mechanical creatures to set upon the people of Sunrise, while his film crew captures the carnage in what promises to be the bloodiest “live-action” film yet. With their haven from L.A. besieged by the deadly assault, the former extras—and their fellow townspeople—are faced with a grim task: to defeat the creatures and take back their town and their freedom. Michael Shea's Assault on Sunrise is a saga of courage and sacrifice in a world gone mad.

Under an Empyrean Sky (Book 1 of The Heartland Trilogy) by Chuck Wendig (Skyscape Mass Market Paperback 07/30/2013) – Chuck ventures into Young Adult territory with this novel, the first of a fantasy trilogy.

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It’s the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow—and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables. But Cael’s tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He’s sick of the mayor’s son besting Cael’s crew in the scavenging game. And he’s worried about losing Gwennie—his first mate and the love of his life—forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry—angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn’t seem upset about any of it.

Robert the Bruce (A Tale of the Guardians) by Jack Whyte (Tor Hardcover 04/02/2013) – The second novel in Whyte's series chronicling the life of the greatest heroes of Scottish history. 

From author Jack Whyte comes the true story of Robert the Bruce: a passionate man. An incredible warrior. And one of Scotland’s finest.

Robert I, or as he is known to a grateful Scottish nation, Robert the Bruce, was one of Scotland’s greatest kings, as well as one of the most famous warriors of his generation. He spearheaded the valiant Scots in their quest for freedom, leading his people during the Wars of Scottish Independence against the Kingdom of England during the middle ages. His reign saw the recognition of Scotland as an independent nation, and today Bruce is remembered in Scotland as a national hero.

It was by no means a fair and easy road for this indomitable fighter. As a young man he saw the English king Edward I award the vacant Crown of Scotland to John Balliol. The nation quickly splintered into factions and this spurred Robert and his father to at first side with Edward and then against John, whom many of the nobles did not feel was the correct person to guide the nation. Thus began a decades-long path for Scottish freedom. To achieve this goal, Robert sometimes had to delicately balance the power of the nobles against the might of the English. He was a tireless campaigner and after a full life of battle and diplomacy, in May 1328, King Edward III signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which recognized Scotland as an independent kingdom and Bruce as its king.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

SFFWorld Author Roundtable featuring James K. Decker, Hugh Howey, and T.C. McCarthy

The SFFWorld Author Roundtable discussion has returned!  The latest version of this series of forum threads is our first one to feature Science Fiction authors. (All the past Roundtables have featured Fantasy authors).

As the title of this blog post implies, this Roundtable features James K. Decker (The Burn Zone and The Revivors Trilogy including State of Decay under the name James Knapp, my interview with him), Hugh Howey (Wool, Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue), and T.C. McCarthy (The Subterrene War Trilogy - Germline, Exogene, and Chimera)

Go chat it up with these three fine Science Fiction authors:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Books in the Mail (W/E 2013-07-20)

Two books I’ve been anticipating for quite some time, one since closing the pages of its predecessor the other since its publication was announced.

Emperor of Thorns (Book Three of The Broken Empire) by Mark Lawrence (Hardcover 08/07/2012 Ace) – The first two installments of Lawrence’s epic trilogy were fantastic (Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns) and I’m very much looking forward to reading how Lawrence resolves the story.

Mark Lawrence brings to a thrilling close his epic trilogy of a boy who would be king, a king who would desire an empire—and an empire on the edge of destruction…

King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations.

His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.

For there is only one power worth wielding…absolute power.

Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg has plans to change that—one way or the other. He’s uncovered even more of the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.

But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.

The boy who would rule all may have finally met his match...

The Crown Tower (Volume 1 of The Riyria Chronicles) by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit, Trade Paperback 08/06/2013) – I really enjoyed the six book/three omnibuses Orbit published of Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations about a year ago (Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron). This book is the first of a prequel duology chronicling how Royce and Hadrian formed the Riyria. This is the finished copy of the e-ARC I received a few weeks ago.

Two men who hate each other. One impossible mission. A legend in the making.

Hadrian Blackwater, a warrior with nothing to fight for, is paired with Royce Melborn, a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Hired by an old wizard, they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm's most prized possessions. But it isn't gold or jewels that the wizard is after, and if he can just keep them from killing each other, they just might succeed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SFFWorld Review Round-up: Baxter & Pratchett, Hough, Kemp, Jemisin, Martin, Willis

Some new reviews  have been posted over at SFFWorld and the SFFWorld Blog over the past coiuple of weeks. Reviews from both Mark and myself, as well as Nila White.  Here goes...

Visitors to the SFFWorld forums who know Mark are probably aware he's a big fan of Connie Willis.  His take on the collection The Best of Connie Willis (SFFWorld / SFFWorld Blog):

There are 10 stories, the 2006 Worldcon Guest of Honor Speech and her Grand Master speeches (both given and as an alternative version) included. As the editor of the book points out, Connie is nearly as well known for her presence on the US convention circuit as she is for her writing, so her speeches are nearly as entertaining.

What may also make this a must-buy for those who know the stories is both the Introduction by Connie and an Afterword by Connie for each of the ten tales. Like the speeches, they are, as you might expect, emotional, filled with warmth, wit and great self-deprecation, as well as clearly showing a deep everlasting love for the genre. Connie’s Introduction to her stories and how she came to read (and write) SF is about as eloquent an homage to older writers as you can get. The Afterwords end each of the tales nicely.

Yesterday (7/16), I reviewed the debut novel from Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator, which also launches his Dire Earth Cycle of novels:

Hough does a lot of things well in his debut effort, The Darwin Elevator, which also launches The Dire Earth Cycle of novels. There’s a convincing sense of despair and desolation as conveyed through the characters who live in the world. Hough also imparts a plausible sense of fear about the Elevator and the characters concern over its source/origin. The elevator itself is more than just a MacGuffin, the mystery behind it, as well as potentially more events or contact with the builders is theme laced throughout the narrative. Neil Platz is the Donald Trump/Lex Luthor (with a slightly more altruistic bent, but still the Magnificent Bastard) like character who pulls many strings in Darwin and the civilized world. He was able to build his power and influence because he just so happened to have built power, water, and energy supply stations near the center of the civilized world which is now Darwin. Timing is everything and knowledge is power seem to embody Platz.
Unfortunately, the inconsistent pace of the novel brushes over some of the characterization, especially regarding Skyler’s crew and the snarling Russell Blackfield (surprise, he’s an antagonist). Danger is inherit in an apocalyptic landscape with an alien technology people fear, don’t understand completely and whose origins are in question.

Over the past weekend, Nila had a look at the first installment of N.K. Jemisin's Dreamblood duology, The Killing Moon:

The Killing Moon is more about a time and place of Jemisin’s making than it is about any of these characters, but they will make you rejoice and weep as you follow them into the dream world and struggle to overcome the corruption that seeps through the fabric of their lives and their religion. This is the book’s greatest strength: its richly layered world and its incredible characters.
Based on both Egyptian mythology and Nairobi traditions, I actually found the book to be too short. I wanted to spend more time with the characters in the places they found themselves, from the streets of the outer city of Gujaareen, to the desert oasis, and further afar into Kinsua. I found the cultures Jemisin created in the two city-states. as well as the religious Hetawa. to be both an interesting interpretation of African mythology as well as a relief from our own cultural hang ups concerning sex and gender. Not that the cultures in this book are perfect in that regard, but different from our own western sensibilities - and I liked it. I wanted more ‘meat’ to this story and would have been glad if the book was twice as long.

A little over a week ago, I dove into a long out of print fix up novel/collection from George R.R. Martin, Tuf Voyaging:
Seven stories are included in this fix-up novel/book and are presented in chronological order of the events of Haviland Tuf and his acquisition of the Ark rather than publication order.
Martin has long professed his admiration for Jack Vance’s writing and these stories can very much be seen as homage to Vance or his style. The balance of humor and fantastical situations were hallmarks of Vance’s work. In particular, one might imagine Tuf himself interacting with Cudgel the Clevor or Rhialto the Marvelous. Undoubtedly, Tuf’s deadpan style and pure logic work in direct contrast to every personality he encounters. Nobody trusts Tuf, he is distressed by this lack of trust when he always attempts to present himself as, if not altruistically as possible, as logically as possible. Humanity has evolved to a state on many of the planets he visits that logic is far from even the tenth lens to view their respective world.

Last week Mark posted his review of The Long Earth, the collaboration between Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (SFFWorld / SFFWorld Blog):

Much of the actual bones of the tale appear to be themes of Baxter’s, as there are resonances of his writing style, so reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke, throughout. There is an imaginative extrapolation of the ‘what-if’ here. The consequences of people migrating to these new worlds, the changes in society, trade, commerce and even religious belief are all examined here, and have that overarching tone of some of Baxter’s other books, such as Evolution. The characters also seem to fit the Baxter/Clarke template, in that they are not particularly deep or complex, but they are understandable and accessible. In terms of worlds, the writers clearly had a lot of fun explaining extinct animals and sapient civilisations. There’s a definite Arthur C Clarke/Olaf Stapledon feel of epic-ness to that aspect of the plot, which I am assuming comes mainly from Stephen Baxter.

If Stephen brings the imagination usually demanded by SF readers, what we seem to get, with added Pratchett, is a warmth and a less clinical, more human dimension that will appeal to those readers less SF-inclined. Readers should not be misled, however - this does not make a laugh-out-loud, comfortable Discworld-kind of novel – but there is, in places, a wry grin, and even at times a little acidic statement (something Terry can do very well.) In tone, this is more like Nation than Discworld. It is clear from the start, though, that when the power for the stepper is a potato, it’s obvious that there’s going to be a certain amount of humour involved. How a potato can change the world… 

A few weeks ago, I posted my review of Paul S. Kemp's second Egil & Nix novel, A Discourse in Steel (SFFWorld / SFFWorld Blog):

I said in my review of The Hammer and the Blade that Kemp is evoking Fritz Leiber, that evocation/homage continues here in A Discourse in Steel quite nicely. The protagonists Egil and Nix are fully realized characters who breathe and banter in my head like old friends. Kemp’s writing/storytelling with this duo puts you in the room, the tunnel, or dungeon with them; essentially, it feels as if you become part of their group. Sword and sorcery can be considered the fantasy equivalent of the buddy movie and Egil and Nix, along with Scott Lynch’s Locke and Jean, are perhaps the most entertaining buddies in the genre. Egil and Nix are a bit more experienced, which adds another layer to their dynamic and the depth of their history. At times I’d almost expect one of them to echo Murtaugh in saying I’m too old for this shite. That age and history comes into play as the Blackalley plays against a person’s fears, sorrow and loss. This affects Egil very profoundly as the regret over his lost wife and child continually come back to him as the duo progress through the narrative.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Books in the Mail (W/E 2013-07-13)

No new books at all this week, either in physical or electronic format. Instead, go see Pacific Rim, easily my favorite film this summer. 

Also, a picture of my dog Sully splayed out on the love seat. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Used Book p0rn - Science Fiction July 2013

Another trip to the used book shop against which I judge all used book shops, The Book Trader in Colonia, NJ. As I've said in other posts of this nature, I've been going to this shop for a couple of decades now and every time I go I find more books than I can take home. It isn't the biggest shop, but they haven't disappointed in terms of walking out with a stack of books.  I walked in with a bunch of books I either read and thought 'meh' or books I know I'd never read received as review copies. 

The photo above shows the books that left the store with me.  Some more information:

Eric Brown - I've read three books by him, thoroughly enjoyed all three. In fact, I ranked Kings of Eternity by Mr. Brown as my favorite book the year it published. The two books here, Xenopath and Cosmopath are books 2 and 3 respectively in his Bengal Station trilogy, a far future series featuring telepath Jeff Vaughn. I read and enjoyed the first, Necropath, and have been wanting to finish out the series for a while. 

Arthur C. Clarke - I've only one of  his novels, Songs of a Distant Earth. Clearly, I need to catch up with the late ACC of the Big Three.

Julie E. Czerneda - She's been on my radar for a while, since I was member of the Science Fiction Book Club years ago and I've intended to read her for a while. More recently, her guest post on Aidan's blog and my desire to read more SF by women pushed that even more. A Thousand Words for Stranger is her debut novel.

R.M. Meluch - Her Tour of the Merrimack space opera/military SF has been on my radar for a while, I'd received later books in this series for review and they intrigued me. Moreover, Jo Walton's and Liz Bourke's pieces on convinced me (as do many of their pieces) I need to get a start on these books. The Myriad is the launch of the series. 

Larry Niven - Another classic I've yet to read but have been meaning to for years, Ringworld. I read a couple of the later sequels he wrote with Edward M. Lerner (actually enjoyed the first in the sequence Fleet of Worlds quite a bit, but that enjoyment dwindled a lot with the next installment). 

John Steakley - Armor is one of the definitive and foundational Military SF novels and yet another classic I've yet to read.  The shop had two versions of the book, I went with the more classic/earlier cover.

Robert Charles Wilson - Like Brown, everything I've read by RCW (albeit, limited compared against his oeuvre) has been excellent. I consider Spin one of the best SF novels of the past decade.  Blind Lake looks interesting and if past experience with RCW holds, I'll enjoy this one a great deal.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Books in the Mail (W/E 2013-07-06)

Another week, another set of books. All of these are e-Arcs.

The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond (Strange Chemistry, Paperback 09/04/2013) –I loved Gwenda’s debut, Blackwood and look forward to reading her sophomore effort, which is completely unlinked to her previous novel. .

Five years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke around the world.

This morning, Kyra Locke is late for school.

Seventeen-year-old Kyra lives in a transformed Washington, D.C., home to the embassies of divine pantheons and the mysterious Society of the Sun. But when rebellious Kyra encounters two trickster gods on her way back from school, one offering a threat and the other a warning, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems. She escapes with the aid of Osborne “Oz” Spencer, an intriguing Society field operative, only to discover that her scholar father has disappeared with a dangerous relic. The Society needs it, and they don’t care that she knows nothing about her father’s secrets.

Now Kyra must depend on her wits and the suspect help of scary gods, her estranged oracle mother, and, of course, Oz–whose first allegiance is to the Society. She has no choice if she’s going to recover the missing relic and save her father. And if she doesn’t? Well, that may just mean the end of the world as she knows it.

From the author of Blackwood comes a fresh, thrilling urban fantasy that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Rick Riordan.

Ascension (A Tangled Axon Novel) by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Masque Books eBook 08/03/2013 / Mass Market Paperback 10/04/2013) – I first became aware of this, I think , from Aidan’s blog post here. This looks like it could be a very interesting novel.

Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he's a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego... and Alana can't keep her eyes off her. But there's little time for romance: Nova's in danger and someone will do anything - even destroying planets - to get their hands on her!

The Republic of Thieves (Volume Three of The Gentleman Bastard ) by Scott Lynch (Bantam Spectra Hardcover 10/03/2013) – The most anticipated fantasy novel of 2013, folks have been waiting a few years to read this one. I may have to re-read the first two (Red Seas under Red Skies
and The Lies of Locke Lamora) before jumping into this one.

After their adventures on the high seas, Locke and Jean are brought back to earth with a thump. Jean is mourning the loss of his lover, and Locke must live with the fallout of crossing the all-powerful magical assassins the Bonds Magi. It is a fall-out that will pit both men against Locke's own long-lost love. Sabetha is Locke's childhood sweetheart, the love of Locke's life, and now it is time for them to meet again. Employed on different sides of a vicious dispute between factions of the Bonds, Sabetha has just one goal-to destroy Locke forever. The Gentleman Bastard sequence has become a literary sensation in fantasy circles, and now, with the third book, Scott Lynch is set to seal that success.

The Crown Tower (Volume 1 of The Riyria Chronicles) by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit, Trade Paperback 08/06/2013) – I really enjoyed the six book/three omnibuses Orbit published of Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations about a year ago (Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron). This book is the first of a prequel duology chronicling how Royce and Hadrian formed the Riyria.

Two men who hate each other. One impossible mission. A legend in the making.

Hadrian Blackwater, a warrior with nothing to fight for, is paired with Royce Melborn, a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Hired by an old wizard, they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm's most prized possessions. But it isn't gold or jewels that the wizard is after, and if he can just keep them from killing each other, they just might succeed.

The Rose and the Thorn (Volume 2 of The Riyria Chronicles) by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit, Trade Paperback 09/17/2013) – I really enjoyed the six book/three omnibuses Orbit published of Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations about a year ago (Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron). This book is the second of a prequel duology chronicling how Royce and Hadrian formed the Riyria.

Two thieves want answers. Riyria is born.

For more than a year Royce Melborn has tried to forget Gwen DeLancy, the woman who saved him and his partner Hadrian Blackwater from certain death. Unable to get her out of his mind, the two thieves return to Medford but receive a very different reception —- Gwen refuses to see them. The victim of abuse by a powerful noble, she suspects that Royce will ignore any danger in his desire for revenge. By turning the thieves away, Gwen hopes to once more protect them. What she doesn't realize is what the two are capable of —- but she's about to find out.

Happy Hour in Hell (Volume Two of Bobby Dollar) by Tad Williams (DAW Hardcover 09/03/2013) – Last year, Tad launched this tight and powerful series with The Dirty Streets of Heaven, which I loved so clearly, I’m looking forward to reading this one.

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me—I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casi¬mira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nasti¬est, most powerful demons in all of the nether¬world—Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pan- demonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murder¬ous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The 2013 Half-Year Six Pack

I initially had 8 books on this list, but whittled it down to six; six months, six-pack of beer, six books. I realize this list skews heavily towards fantasy, but that's what I've been reading more of this year so far. The books represented below are those published in 2013 I enjoyed the most. The list goes alphabetically by author.

The Tyrant’s Law (The Dagger and the Coin #3) by Daniel Abraham
Quite simply, I think Abraham is the best practitioner of Epic Fantasy today, and this is my favorite book of the year so far. From my review:

I’ve previously remarked on how empowering Abraham’s female characters are—they operate as active characters who take control of their lives rather than react to the men around them. Clara’s story arc was perhaps the strongest, whether this was because she was new or because it was the most complex. The fact that she is a widow is a great indicator that she has a fresh start, Clara takes that proverbial ball and runs with it, awakening many aspects of herself she thought she knew—her mind, her drive for justice, her sexuality. She walks a thin line which divides the surface appearance of her actions and the true intent of her actions. As the series progresses, I suspect this line will only become thinner as her maneuverings have a greater effect on the world at large.

I’ve long been a fan of Epic Fantasy and when it is handled properly, expertly, there’s no form of entertainment I’d rather be enjoying. Such is the case with the books in The Dagger and the Coin. Everything he’s done in the previous novels so well, Abraham continues to do well here in The Tyrant’s Law.

Bennett has only published four books and I've only read two of them over the last two years (this and The Troupe), and overall, they may be the two best novels I've read over the last two years.

Bennett raises a lot of questions in the novel and the answers the characters provide are discovered through a narrative that is, for the most part, taut and flavored with unsettling and creepy scenes. Two primary mysteries plague Mona (and the reader) throughout the narrative – who was Laura and what was the nature of Coburn’s research? Mona’s discovery of those two things and how they relate to each other is filled with dread and some otherworldly elements that would fit right at home in an H.P. Lovecraft story, a Stephen King novel, or something in one of Neil Gaiman’s various invented worlds.

The Troupe, Robert Jackson Bennett’s previous novel, was my favorite novel published last year (2012) and a novel that is becoming an all-time favorite as I consider its impact on me against the other books I’ve read over the course of my life. That’s sort of a long way of stating that American Elsewhere was saddled with very high expectations. Parts of American Elsewhere were stronger (the subtle, hinted at dread and disquieting feeling Bennett evoked) while other parts I felt the novel wandered a bit from where it was strongest specifically a few of the random chapters focusing on residents of Wink seemingly unconnected from Mona’s central voyage of discovery. Though those chapters/passages give a larger scale picture of the oddity that is the town of Wink and its inhabitants, for me, they were more of a distraction from the more powerful aspects of the novel.

Fortress Frontier (Shadow OPS #2) by Myke Cole
Myke Cole is emerging as one of my favorite new writers in the genre and his Shadow OPS series, which started with a bang in Control Point, gets even better in this second installment.
Another thing Cole does in Fortress Frontier is to expand the borders beyond just the US military. When Bookbinder is introduced, it isn’t long after that readers are introduced to a contingent from the Indian military and his liaison to the Source, a Naga, a many-headed snake/serpent. Specifically, a Prince to the throne of the Naga people whom Bookbinder basically begs for assistance in getting back to Earth. There’s a certain resonance to Bookbinder’s situation to the situation in which Tony Stark finds himself in the first Iron Man film when he is tasked with building missiles for who he thought was an enemy. As the final third of the novel progress, the strength of these scenes is in their plausibility and the manner in which Bookbinder handles the stresses and problems thrown before him.

Whereas the majority of Control Point was told from Oscar’s point-of-view, only about 2/3 to ½ of Fortress Frontier is told from Bookbinder’s point-of-view. As I intimated, Oscar is not forgotten and some of the other POV scenes are through him, as well as a character familiar to both Oscar and readers who enjoyed Control Point. So, in short, Cole has admirably widened the geopolitical scope of his world in addition to increasing the character lenses through which we as the readers can view this world – a natural and impressive progression. The strength here is that character and world-building are equal parts of the whole and one’s development does not suffer from the growth of the other.

The Burn Zone (Hangfei (?) #1) by James K. Decker
This book took me by surprise with just how much I loved it, so much so that I recently conducted an e-mail interview with the author James K. Decker. Here's a bit from my review:

Although The Burn Zone is the first novel to be published under the James K. Decker byline, the author published the Revivors trilogy under the name James Knapp, a zombie-noir series which began with the novel State of Decay. I read and enjoyed that novel and see some of the same sensibilities here in The Burn Zone. A non-stop narrative pace kept the plot moving, the pages turning, and this reader guessing which fork in the road the story would take. The noir-ish and gritty feel of The Burn Zone evokes a similar used, grimy, and dirty future as did State of Decay; there’s a clear inspiration from Blade Runner in Decker’s writing.
The novel takes place in the fictional city of Hangfei, which Decker set in a future analogue of China, based on some of the locations and character names. Smartly, he doesn’t specify the nation is China. As the novel progresses and Sam learns more about the haan and their relationship to our world since their ship crashed nearly fifty years ago, the full scope of the aliens effect on Earth becomes much more far ranging than either Sam or this reader could have expected.

Blood Song (Raven's Song #1) by Anthony Ryan
So far, this is the best debut of the year for me, it worked on every level imaginable for my Epic Fantasy tastes. A bit from my review:

Much of the novel follows the growth of Vaelin from a blank slate of a young child to a hardened warrior trained by the Order in the art of war and combat. Vaelin distinguishes himself early, gaining the respect of his peers and making close ties with a handful of boys, much like (I assume) soldiers would bond during their military training. Vaelin comes to think of these peers as his brothers, Barkus, Caenis, Dentos, and Nortah. The bonds of trust and respect that develop between these young men are strengths of Ryan’s narrative on full display throughout the novel. One writer I’ve always felt who handles such bonds of friendship between youthful characters is Stephen King (The Body, Hearts in Atlantis, for example) and here, Ryan captures that bond just as powerfully.
While playing with prophecy/destiny is a major theme of Blood Song, two other, intertwined themes that came across to me were morality and regret. Often, acting as the tool of the Order, Vaelin is tasked with committing acts of violence and destruction that go against what the perceived moral imperatives of the Faith would seem to be. As Vaelin matures and grows into an intelligent man, he questions the things he’s asked to do and often finds himself on a slippery slope through the gyre of doing what he’s told and doing what is right. In parallel to that morality, is an undercurrent of regret and sorrow, it seems. Though Vaelin claims to hate his father for leaving him at the gates of the Sixth Order that feeling doesn’t quite feel honest. There’s sorrow and pain which fuel the superficial hate Vaelin expresses.

The Blue Blazes (Mookie Pearl #1) by Chuck Wendig
I'd been following Chuck on twitter for quite a while now and had been wanting to dig into some of his novels, what blast this one was:

It’s a familiar tale, superficially. Daddy ignores daughter and wife for work, daughter rebels. Wendig provides points-of-view from Mookie and Nora, as well as Mookie’s friend Werth, Nora’s friend Skelly, and the primary antagonist of the novel Candlefly, one of the Boss’s new associates. The title of the novel is derived from the Cerulean powder characters rub on their temples opening their vision to the world of the paranormal and conferring enhanced strength/metabolism. The Blue Blazes is just one of the Occulted Pigments of power in the novel, Mookie comes across the Golden Gate (Ochre) and the Red Rage (Vermillion), but what he needs most is simply the Violet Void, also known as the Dead Head. The Violet is only a myth in this world, mainly because of its miraculous restorative powers, which Mookie hopes will heal the Boss. So, intertwined with this emotional family drama is a quest and descent to the underworld, rather The Underworld.
The Blue Blazes is novel/story with a rough, hewn-leather exterior of action and violence with a powerful, emotional core. Emotions that intertwine like love and hate, and emotions that fuel and underlie the motives and actions like regret, sorrow, and fear, and ultimately inform a man with powerful exterior who uses that exterior to often hide his fears and regrets. I found myself not wanting to move on with whatever my daily life required while I was reading The Blue Blazes, work, family activities, etc. The great power of this novel is that I feel like I have to read more of Chuck Wendig’s fiction.