Friday, 17 March 2017

REVIEW: The Vagrant

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I really enjoyed this book. 'loved' may not be too strong a word. Best thing I've read in quite a while.

It's an original tale. Every review will mention that it focuses on a man (our 'vagrant') who doesn't speak, and his co-stars are a baby and a goat. More importantly, the man's non-speaking is backed up by a text that spends no significant amount of time in his head - so he remains an enigma, illuminated only through his interactions. A second story thread begins eight years earlier and proceeds to explain the parlous state of the world we're dropping into. This past thread advances by leaps and bounds, revealing the Vagrant's backstory and seeking to wed it to the present action. It's cleverly done and works well.

I should mention the writing. It's very good. Sharp, efficient, full of observation and pleasing turns of phrase. None of it wordy or over-wrought. The writing doesn't try to milk emotion from you - just shows you what's what and leaves the reaction to you.

The world is 'new weird' - demonic-types have entered the world through a breach and proceed to warp, corrupt, co-opt, and take-over. We have all manner of monstrous constructs and most people are warped to some degree.

The goat provides a welcome edge of comedy, as does the baby. Newman clearly knows a lot about babies. I suspect him to have been a new father at the time of writing!

Although the demons do terrible things they're so alien that they don't fill the role of 'baddie' in quite the same way that a person doing terrible things or seeking to end our heroes would. They compensate that lack of someone to really blame/hate by being diverse and interesting, focused on their internal fights as much as they are on taking over the new world they've entered.

I found the story intriguing and the writing's 'voice' a fresh and compelling one.

For me The Vagrant started strong, and kept strong. Endings are hard and I wouldn't call it the perfect ending. It's difficult to avoid anticlimax at the end of any tale and it wasn't wholly avoided here, but there was a lot to like. And it left plenty hanging for a sequel.

Looking at my friends' reviews and the general rating I see the book has got a good reception but not the acclaim I would have expected. I guess this might be because the lack of a (human) head to watch events unfold from doesn't allow us to bond with a hero and their goals in quite the same way we might in more traditional tales. Possibly the weirdness is too much for some readers. And some may seek tighter plotting rather than a sprawling journey punctuated by 'random' encounters. But I really liked the journey, seeing it as canvas onto which the characters and world could be projected. I enjoyed the slow reveal of backstory and agendas.

All in all, very good. Something fresh and new. Give it a try!

It's also worth noting that this is a swift read, a book of modest length at ~90,000 words, which makes a nice change after Big Fat Fantasies over-topping 200,000 words. 



You can go and 'like' my review on goodreads, if you like.



Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Red Sister - I has it!

By lucky happenstance my brand new bookcase arrived an hour after my consignment of author copies of Red Sister from Ace.



On the same day I was sent these photos of the special edition!




Monday, 13 March 2017

Hype is a three-edged sword!



Hype, eh?

You need hype to get someone to pick up a new book these days. There's just so damn much to choose from. What's going to get someone to pick up Book A rather than Book B? Well, lots of people raving about book A will generally help.

And to get a lot of people raving about Book A you do need Book A to be pretty damn good. Nobody is going to rave about a book that was so-so or just decent.

But there's a second edge to the sword that cuts through all that noise, and that second edge can cut you instead. If a book gets too brilliant a press, if the readers are too hyped up, too excited ... then they expect to open the book and sit there twitching and slack-mouthed as each line sears itself unforgettably into the back of their skull, filling them with the kind of literary ecstasy that can only ever be remembered from your first great fantasy book and never recaptured no matter how many times you revisit that same story.

And if your new novel does not leave the hyped reader in a spent and satisfied pool of their own juices. If it turns out merely to be a great read, merely a 5* novel ... then there is always the risk of backlash, always the risk of it being rated and reviewed against what they had imagined it might be from the hype rather than against the competition.

So, hype, a necessity and an evil.

What about the third edge? Oh, I just tossed that in to hype it up. Who wants to read about a boring old two-edged sword?








Friday, 10 March 2017

Outlining a novel.

**Spoilers, of course.**

I am often asked how much planning I do for my books. I generally answer that I'm a gardener rather than an architect and that I follow where the story leads me. I find it more interesting and motivating if I don't know what's going to happen next.

However, publishing is a business and publishers, particularly the accounts department, like to feel they are in control of where things are headed. A business needs to manage its risk, or convince its shareholders that it's doing so.

So, "I'll make it up as I go, trust me!" doesn't really fly with them. At least not until you've earned that trust.

When I was nearing a three-book deal with Ace (and Voyager) on the strength of Prince of Thorns (titled "The Hundred War" at that point), I was asked for an outline for book 2, and 3 if possible.

I sent one back for book 2 the same day. I think it took me an hour or so to write. I didn't do one for book 3.

This is what I sent them for King of Thorns, as it's now known.

I never referred back to it, but clearly some of the ideas stuck and made it into the finished novel. Others were left out entirely, and large sections that appeared in the book weren't included at all here.

Anyway, it did the job. I got the deal.




King of Thorns outline.

Issues -

Queen Sareth births competing heir, Jorge's half brother

Gog becoming fire-mage - likely to die - Gorgoth plays a role

Has grandfather on the Horse Coast (mother's father) - will seek an alliance there

Insert more modern tech issues.

Very powerful faction will threaten Renar and Ancrath kingdoms - possible alliance with father.

Chella and Sageous to return.

Jorge's death magic to grow and cause problems.


---------
(2 threads one now (18) one 3 years earlier (15) - the now finds him about to be overwhelmed by the army of Arrow (with Katherine leading/featuring in it) and also about to get married to 'some girl'. Also he is haunted by the ghost of a child (3 years old) and has a terrible memory in a box.

The current thread is desparate preparations for defence.

The past thread is the below where we learn why Katherine uber-hates him, why the child is haunting him and toward the end find out who his bride is and where his help to withstand/defeat the Prince of Arrow comes from.

Jorge needs more men - Renar is a copper-crown kingdom. There is a power moving in the Ken Marshes. Baron Kennick has been over-run by his neighbour the Prince of Arrow and this huge army now threatens both Renar and Ancrath.

Jorge wants an alliance with his Grandfather's people on the Horse Coast and sets off leaving Coddin and Makin to guard his throne. He's travelling as a Road-Brother with his old crew because no amount of soldiers is going to keep him safe, it will just attract attention. Gog and Gorgoth stay at the Haunt. The wild fire is growing rapidly in Gog and threatening to destroy him. Jorge sees a parallel between Gog and himself. Both haunted by a lost brother, both with something wild burning in them, threating destruction.

Whilst skirting Ancrath border he learns that his step-mother has given birth to a son. Jorge decides to pay a call on his half-brother and maybe renew acquaintances with his aunt Katherine. This will require stealth and subtlty - skills that have not been top of Jorge's list this far

Jorge meets Katherine in woods near the Tall Castle. She turns down his advances. She isn't attracted to him.

Jorge watches Katherine from her window ledge sleeping. He moves on and with a little throat slitting gets his hands on the new-born heir. He holds the child agonizing over whether to kill it. The child dies in his hands - the death magic just seeps into him and stops his heart. His horror at what he has done feeds into rage and Katherine wakes to see him racing from the child's room. He nearly strikes her down. He escapes, rejoins the brothers, and sets off for the Horse Coast, haunted by the baby.

The ghosts of Jorge's life blow wilder than the wind - they follow him. On the journey he starts to go insane. They cross a rad-desert and Jorge encounters a seer, a traveller from the Utter East, possibly tutor Lundist's father. The seer helps him recover his way - the bad memory is put in a box.

Takes ship the last leg of the journey to avoid an unwholesome section of the coast where the corpse-eaters live.

Arrives at grandfather's castle on a rocky prominentry (shaped like a horse's head). Insinuates himself into service to learn about his relatives. Discovers they have a machine beneath the castle that in addition to powering some lights and doors will also replicate a non-functioning mechanical version of any animal placed in a chamber. It also generates a hologram of an annoying Builder who evades questions. Eventually Jorge tricks it into powering up a stainless steel wolf.


At the castle Jorge saves his uncle (mother's younger brother and heir to the throne) from an assassination and reveals himself to grandfather. The alliance is sealed with a marriage to his cousin and grandfather pledges ships and men to Jorge's aid.






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Monday, 6 March 2017

Sobering Sales Statistics!

First off, note that these graphs show the number of Goodreads ratings a book has.

For books in the neighbourhood of Epic Fantasy and published in the last 5 to 10 years I have observed a close correlation between number of GR ratings and sales.

For books in other genres and for books published pre-2007 this relationship will get sketchy. My impression is that the formula for sales in English (multiply number of GR ratings by 8) will start to underestimate sales more and more as the publication date retreats into the past. Additionally children's books (as opposed to YA) are heavily underestimated by the formula as children are less likely to use Goodreads than adults.

Anyway. Here are the numbers of GR ratings for a selection of fantasy books often discussed in places where my books are discussed.

click for detail

The interest in various forums skews in different directions, so in some places you might come away with the impression that any one of these was really killing it in terms of sales and "dominating" the genre.

But when we add in some of the really heavy hitters also discussed in those locales...

click for detail

...we get rather a different picture.

The level to which A Game of Thrones outsells the rest of the field is quite staggering, particularly when the publication date means this difference will *increase* significantly when converting figures to a sales estimate.

But when we widen the field of that fantasy lens still further to include urban fantasy, paranormal romance fantasy, YA fantasy, SFF, literary fantasy and fantasy written for children... even the mighty GRRM is dwarfed.

click for detail


I'm a minnow swimming in a puddle and even genre stars like Lynch, Hobb, and Sanderson are just big fish in a small pond. Fortunately even if sales may correlate to GR ratings, they don't always correlate to quality and there is excellent reading to be found both among the leviathans at sea and the little fish in the ponds.


I present this merely as an interesting (to me) representation of data.

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Red Sister art




 






Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, two thirds through!

The scoreboard is here.

This is just a snapshot of how things stand at the 2/3rds mark.

That's 2/3rds of the allotted time. We have 55% of the scores in and the number of scores per book right now varies from 4 to 8 of the final 10.

Here's how the finalists rank in terms of average score.

8.58    The Grey Bastards
7.25    Paternus
7.20    Path of Flames
6.93    Fionn
6.83    Larcout
6.50    Outpost
6.42    Assassin's Charge
6.25    The Moonlight War
5.25    The Music Box Girl
5.12    The Shadow Soul