Sunday, 15 October 2017

Road Brothers contest and giveaway!

A signed Road Brothers hardback is up for grabs for the best entry, and a different signed book from my reserve for two randomly selected entries.

Since I have failed to explain this well enough below. Look at the picture above. Look at the entries below. I am not just asking for an email telling me your favourite. Write it on a bit of paper and send me a photo. Spell it out with cans of bean. Write it on the window ... something interesting. 

All you have to do is send in the name of your favourite of Jorg's road brothers (this can include any character who travels with him on occasion). The name must be written out in some, hopefully interesting, manner. I've done RIKE in books as an example.

Alternatively you could send in a representation, anything from a drawing to the Action Man figure you feel most closely resembles the person in question.

I will post entries here.

Email them to me at

I will announce the closing date widely and with several days to go.


#7 Simon

#6 Nikolas, tries them all!

#5 Rob, counters with "Gog"

#4 Fiona

#3 Amity Guen is rooting for Sir Makin (Guen is named for Dritzz's panther. My 3year old called her Guen because she loves Dritzz bedtime stories.)

#2  Earl

I loved Rike! He never changed, was always a hard cold bastard! But he was loyal and more importantly, (highlight for spoiler) he lived.

#1 Trevor

Friday, 13 October 2017

Angsty Teens?

I ran a poll for my readers asking simply how old they are.

I was motivated by a comment on reddit implying that the readers of grimdark were typically angsty teens, and by the many comments that imply I write grimdark.

All polls (elections included) are flawed. But this does not make them useless. When you invite votes on the internet that tends to skew results toward a younger demographic because the young are over represented online. I posted the link to the poll on Twitter and Facebook. These have their own demographics within the (generally younger) online community.

I have nothing against being read by angsty teens. Look, here's me at 19 all in black. I was into New Order and The Cure! The YA market is huge. Bring on the teens!

At the time of writing there are 820 answers on the poll. That's a sizeable number. With truly randomized sampling (which I don't have) you can accurately predict the outcome of an election involving tens of millions with a poll sample of ~1000.

It's good to see I have no (or very few) readers younger than 12!

The mode of this distribution is 31-40

The mean (most commonly used average) is 35.3

I appear to have more readers in their 50s than I do teenage readers, certainly the 51-60 bracket is as populous as the 17-21 bracket.

I have more than twice as many readers in their 40s than I have readers younger than 22.

Put this together with the poll I ran on my readers' gender, and we see that I have more women in their 40s reading my work than I do teens of any flavour.

So, the strong implication is that either angsty teens are not the main consumers of grimdark. Or I don't write grimdark. Or both.

Me at 50.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Road Brothers returns, bigger, stronger, better!

The blurb:

A volume of short stories by the bestselling author of THE BROKEN EMPIRE series, Mark Lawrence
This is a collection of fourteen stories of murder, mayhem, pathos, and philosophy, all set in the world of the Broken Empire.
Within these pages, you will find tales of men such as Red Kent, Sir Makin, Rike, Burlow and the Nuban, telling of their origins and the events that forged them. There is Jorg himself, striding the page as a child of six, as a teenage wanderer and as a young king. And then there is a tale about Prince Jalan Kendeth – liar, cheat, womaniser and coward.
To the new reader, welcome to a lawless world where wit and sword are the most useful weapons, and danger lurks as much in candle-lit palaces as in dark alleys and dense woodland. To those who have already journeyed with Jorg, we hope you will enjoy renewing old acquaintances with your favourite characters.

Pre-order now for November 2nd

UK editions HERE.

International hardcover HERE.

US edition HERE.

& for US readers, the chance to get the 4 new stories only at a price that means the old version plus the catch-up are the same as the new version, HERE

And, for purposes of scale, here is the book with a medium-sized cat, a huge Maine Coon cat, and my head.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

REVIEW: Traitor's Blade by Sebastien De Castell


The book has sat on my shelf altogether too long (as many do, sadly) and I was goaded into reading it by a friend who said I would like it. She was not wrong.

I'm giving this 5* since it's a gripping read with genuine emotion and excitement, and solid writing. I have a couple of niggles but they're minor in the grand scheme of things.

Basically this is the three musketeers in a fantasy setting. Well, that's unfair... The Three Musketeers is what springs to mind and gives you the vibe. The characters and plot aren't the same at all.

It's written in first person from the point of view of Falcio, one of our three rapier-wielding servants of the king from an elite military group. The trio get in and out of scrapes while a larger scenario unfolds, interwoven with flashbacks to fill in our hero's past and how the current (dire) situation arose.

As fantasy goes most of the story is very magic-light. There are plenty of fight scenes and de Castell does a good enough job at rapier-porn to convince the ignorant (i.e. me) that he knows what he's talking about ... which he may well do.

There are a number of quite harsh scenes, including some torture, but the mood is often raised by the main character's humour and the banter he has with his two companions.

The scattered musketeers (or Greatcoats as we must call them ... and we're given reason to use the sartorial boast as their coats really are quite great and relevant to the theme/plot) have been sworn to a range of secret tasks by their king and this gives considerable scope for twists and turns plus plenty of mileage for later books. Falcio's task is on the face of it rather nonsensical since he's looking for something and doesn't know what it is. While the task is rather Zen, by the end of the book I still didn't really have a feeling for why his instructions had been so vague ... but again when you mix the threads of fate into the mix and a guiding hand ... I don't have a leg to stand on.

My other niggles really concern the nature of some of Falcio's close shaves where grim and hopeless situations are rather deflated by the 'romantic' (not as in romance) nature of the escape, and by the upsurge in magic toward the end where fate and pre-destiny seem to overwhelm coincidence and logic giving events a rather arbitrary feel.

Oooo! One last niggle! When you cut an arrow in half mid-air with a sword ... it doesn't end up on the ground at your feet. At the very least the front half is going to carry on its merry way and quite possibly kill whoever it was aimed at if they're not too far off.

The take-home message, not to be over-shadowed by my nit-picking, is that this is a great read and you should definitely try it!

You can go like my review on Goodreads if you like.

An index of my reviews.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Well, this has never happened to me before...

Here are the current standings for my 7 books in print in terms of the number of ratings on Goodreads.
As you can see, today for the first time ever one of my newer books has overtaken one of my older books.

Red Sister has in 6 months (almost to the day) sold as many copies as The Wheel of Osheim has in 16 months.

That's pretty good going!


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Warlock of Firetop Mountain - the playing!

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons as a small boy back in 1977. Yes, I'm that old.

There are worse ways to misspend  a youth. By the time I reached my middle twenties I was mostly done with the game and save for a few years revival, when I GMed for my kids and one of their friends, that has been it.

The sad truth <violins> is that I don't have anyone to play silly games with anymore. </violins>

But perusing my shelves recently I happened across Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone's Warlock of Firetop Mountain!

Image result for the warlock of firetop mountain

 So, I propose to play with myself in public, and not get arrested! And I'm going to do it until I die!

Cue a hunt for dice.

So, roll my character up. Grab a d6. I get 4,2,3 & 2. Which results in:

I've spent several days in an inn and trekked two days to end up reaching the Warlock's mountain with no money and ten days' provisions. I opted for a potion of strength rather than luck or skill. Its lack of hitpoints you die of!

I've picked up a bunch of rumours about the Warlock whose treasure I plan to steal. There are goblins, he has magic gloves ... maybe. He is either young or old or somewhere in between.

The folk of the village have grown to love me during my short stay and wave me off with tears in their eyes despite my being a murderous thief. 

It's unclear what crimes the Warlock is guilty of other than owning a significant sum in gold. For me this is enough. Imma invade his home, kill what needs to be killed, and take that treasure. My name is Kram Ecnerwal, fear me! 

And we're off.

A dark slimy cavemouth...

Image result for cavemouth

Sword out, flick the on-switch on my lantern, sniff for goblins, in I go.

A junction! West or east? Fuck junctions. I'm paralyzed by choice. 

<angst> Why must our lives balanced upon such arbitrary decisions? What value is free will when faced by blind choice? Lives are lived in such caves seeing only shadows on the wall. Do those who stand in the light of day think themselves any more in charge of their destiny than Kram Ecnerwal faced with such a sharp dichotomy?</angst>

I don't even have a coin to toss. East. East, dammit. I will not diminish and go into the west.

(turns to 278) 

A locked wooden door. I listen and hear nothing ... possibly something has crawled into my ear? Do I go back to the junction or charge the door down?

As if I, Kram, will go back to that junction hat in hand (note to self: acquire hat)? Nay. Charge the door.

(turns to 156)

I roll two dice, get 7, it's less than my skill. The door caves!

(turns to 343)

A cloud of splinters and I'm through ... but wait!

"But your heart jumps as you realize you are not landing on the floor, but plunging down a pit of  some kind!"

Be still my jumping heart. Falls into pits are just one of the pitfalls of the adventuring life. Kram dusts himself off at the bottom of a six-foot pit losing a mere 1 stamina.

It's a dead end. Kram trudges back to the junction and the westward journey that was ever his fate. The illusion of free choice has never seemed so thinly stretched over fate's skull-like countenance.

(turns to 92) 

Had Kram failed to open the door he would have been here with a bruised shoulder but his stamina intact. His much-vaunted skill has served only to damage him. He walks on vowing vengeance on all pits.

(turns to 71) 

At a right hand turn in the corridor a strange goblin-like creature is sleeping.

It's a fucking goblin, c'mon. Goblin-LIKE?

Against all his instincts to murder the goblin in its sleep Kram feels compelled to try to sneak past.

Luck is not with Kram, something crunches underfoot and the goblin's eyes flick open. This would not have happened if Kram had followed his first instinct. Well ... it might have ... but the goblin would have opened his eyes to see his headless body falling away.

(turns to 248)

OK, it turns out to be an orc. Kram vows not to leap to conclusions in future. The orc goes for a rope that may ring an alarm bell. You should have stayed asleep. Time to die orcy.


Kram lunges, a serious wound! 4 damage. That orc is hanging on by a thread. A backhand blow takes its head off. 

Kram notches his belt. Sorry, Kram-OrcMaster notches his belt! 

(turns to 301)

There's a door and Kram listens, hearing a rasping noise that may be snoring. Go through the door or carry on down the passage?

Let's face it, Kram came here to kill things, the Warlock's gold is just the golden icing on the blood cake. Whatever is snoring has snored its last snore. He tries the door.

(turns to 82)

A small, smelly room, a table with a box on it, a warty-faced creature sleeping on a straw mattress. 

Kram has learned his lesson. He does not assume this is another orc.

He feels his only options are to retreat or creep in to steal the box. Once again vicious murder is off the table, as is setting fire to the mattress. Kram frowns, sighs, and attempts to steal the box.

To his disappointment Kram's luck holds and he takes the box without waking the creature-that-is-probably-an-orc.

(turns to 147)

Kram leaves with the box. It contains a piece of gold which he pockets and a mouse which, against his better judgement, he releases, gaining 2 luck. 

(turns to 208)

Kram comes to a door on the side of the corridor. Nothing can be heard at it. He can try it or go on. 

When did life become reduced to such binary choices? He's in a dungeon ... where are his shades of grey?

Rather than be defined as an obsessive opener of doors Kram decides to mix it up a bit and go on.

(turns to 363)

Another door on the side of the passage. Someone is singing on the other side of it. Awful singing. The worst ever. This cannot pass. Kram tries the door. If someone thinks it's OK to murder a tune then Kram feels it's OK to murder them.

(turns to 370)

A small room, straw mattresses, table, candle ... the box is UNDER the table this time ... interesting!

Two warty creatures drunk on grog are responsible for the singing. Kram could slam the door and be on his way, or draw his sword and have at them.

Was there ever any doubt? To battle!

(turns to 116)

Two drunken orcs

                    SKILL STAMINA
First ORC      5            4
Second ORC  5            5

Kram skewers the weaker of the two with a lucky thrust through its mouth and out the back of its head.

At this point I notice that if I fail a luck roll I lose a point of luck and resolve to be more cautious in future.

Kram trades blows with the remaining drunkard and he dies the death of three cuts.

(turns to 378)

These orcs have green blood! Kram wipes his sword on the mattress and examine this box. 'Farrigo Di Maggio' it says on the lid. Open the box or go away? That's hardly a choice!

(turns to 296)

Hoorah! It contains a book from which Kram learns the Dragonfire spell.

I rock at this adventuring shit.

Kram notches his belt. Three nil, oooh yeah.

(turns to 42)

A junction, east or west. Kram Orc-Master is an east-leaning kinda guy.

(turns to 113)

Another mother-fucking junction, turn north or carry on east. Duh.

(turns to 78)

A heavy door, several things clattering pots and pans beyond... go in, or go back? The kitchens maybe? Kram's hungry. Hungry for killing!

(turns to 159)

Five orcs dining on rat-gizzard soup! Kram was promised goblins. Can't trust villagers for shit. He's going to keep on killing orcs til he gets to the goblins.

Kram spits on your option to try to back out unobserved.

(turns to 365)

The orcs attack Kram one at a time? Morons, don't they know he is the orc master? They deserve to die.

They go down one by one without landing a blow. Kram doesn't even work up a sweat. He brings the notches on his belt to eight.

(turns to 183)

A search of the dead orcs and their cupboards yields teeth, bones, nails ... meh. But Kram does gain 1 skill and regains full stamina. And there's a leather case half a yard long.

Will Kram open it? He's an adventurer. Of course he is going to open it. Does anyone ever not open this sort of thing?

(turns to 266)

Nice. Opening stuff pays off! And +1 luck. The additional luck only serves to make me realize that luck can't go above my initial score.

(turns to 237)

Kram heads back to the junction and goes north.

(turns to 285)

A door in the corridor wall ... a man screaming for help on the other side. Hmmm. Kram came here to steal treasure, not to help people. He carries on.

(turns to 314)

Another door in the wall, no sounds behind this one. Open or carry on. Kram tries the handle.

(turns to 223)

Locked. Bastard! Kram gives it a kick.

(turns to 53)

The door surrenders, splitting along its length and revealing a fine armoury!

Does Kram want to discard an item of equipment in order to lug a rather nice shield away? It's unclear what the consequences of leaving his armour, lantern, or backpack will be ... maybe it only means the bow he has? Nah. Shields are for wimps.

(turns to 300)

Another door in the corridor, metal this time, more tortured screams...

Not interested. Carry on.

(turns to 303)

Another junction but sealed by an iron portcullis. There are two levers. Kram can pull one or the other but not both ... why not both? Left or right? Once again the adventure balances on the knife edge of an unknowable choice...

Kram decides to pull the right lever, and hopes as well as being right that it is also correct.

(turns to 128)

The portcullis rises, no problem! East or west. East of course!

(turns to 58)

At a sharp bend northwards there's a bench to rest on and have a snack. Kram keeps going. It's killing he's hungry for.

(turns to 367)

The nine hundredth junction. East or west. Duh. Eastward and onward.

(turns to 323)

Another fucking junction and Kram's choices are north or east. Sigh.

(turns to 255)

A sturdy wooden door. Open it! Open it!

(turns to 193)

Ooo! Mosaics and inlays, a beautiful room with an iron cyclops statue, it's eye a big sparkly gem!

The inlays are all swirly but staring hard Kram manages to make out "this is an obvious trap, the cyclops will come to life and try to kill you.

Now ... Kram did come to fight and gain treasure. But not to stumble into traps. His plan is to stab the unsuspecting Warlock in the back and take enough gold away to make this gem look like a Xmas cracker gift. No thanks. Kram leaves.

(turns to 93)(turns to 8)

On, through a door, only to be jumped by a crafty barbarian axeman! To battle!


Three quick exchanges and the barbarian is food for the worms.

(turns to 273)

What treasure? Still, this mallet and stakes will be handy for the vampire they foreshadow, and this loincloth will make a nice handkerchief. Onwards!

(turns to 189)

A corridor a door, a splendid room. We're getting to the good stuff. Four fine paintings on the wall. Kram can charge straight through or stop to look at the artwork.

To be honest Kram's more about killing and stealing than art appreciation ... but there may be useful information that falls under the heading "casing the joint". So he looks.

(turns to 25)

Kram is face to face with Zagor the Warlock and he seems to be "an awesome adversary". He loses 1 skill! WTF! Fortunately Kram can hunt for a weapon with which to fight this loathsome enchantment.

(turns to 340)

Hmmm. That jewel might have been useful ... Kram could slash it with a sword ... seems a bit too predictable. Kram opts to hammer a stake into the portrait.

(turns to 241)

The stake is wrenched from my grasp and Kram loses ANOTHER motherfucking skill point. Bastard. He retreats in haste!

2 skill points down the shitter. That could make a big difference in fights...

(turns to 90) ignores a feeding stop (turns to 253)

A door, a pear-shaped room with a pile of rubble on which are two bits of wood joined with a rope.

Kram can study the rope, examine the wood, or carry on through the opposite door...

Hmmm. He checks the rope.

(turns to 125)

Curiosity gets the cat attacked by a snake! The rope turns into a freaking snake! Kram tests his luck and manages to discard it without harm. He hurries out through the door.

(turns to 73)(turns to 218)

The corridor turns rough and sandy and opens into a cavern through which a deep, black river races. There is a sign advertising the ferry for 2 gold pieces, a rusted bell to ring, a raft with a pole, and a rickety bridge.

Kram could ring for the ferry, take the raft, try the bridge, or swim for it. He only has one gold piece ... which might get him half way?

None of these seem like good options. However ... if the bridge collapses then it turns into a swim, so there is zero point in swimming from the start.

With a sense of impending doom Kram tries the bridge.

(turns to 209)(turns to 47)(turns to 298)(turns to 7)(turns to 214)

A plank snaps, the handrail gives way, Kram slips on moss, but despite it all he manages to avoid falling and makes it to the far side. Hoorah!

A wall covered in pretty moss. Kram can follow the river, take a passage or try the door in the wall. Kram tries the door. Maybe the ferryman is in there along with all the gold he's been collecting...

(turns to 104)((turns to 49)(turns to 122)

A corridor, another door, a dark room, a blow to the head, Kram falls senseless, -2 stamina. WTF?

Ouch. Kram wakes with the mother of all headaches in what looks like a barn hung with agricultural equipment and four armed zombies standing in the middle of it. That's four zombies, with two arms each, and weapons, not an unspecified number of four-armed zombies.

There are two doors. The zombies have notice Kram moving. He can attack, talk to them, or scarper.

It seems to Kram that he can still attack them if the talking doesn't work out, so why not start with than since the chance to take them surprise has gone.

(turns to 268)

Moans and groans is all he gets. A fight it is then!

(turns to 282)(turns to 115)

Kram takes them on! One by one, thankfully. As always Kram is poetry in motion but even poets tire and the final zombie manages to cut him with its axe before he demolishes it. Stamina down to 13 now...

Kram knows he's being watched by whoever animated these corpses. He can check out the body in the corner, the barrels, or the weapons lying around...

Are zombies worth notches since they were dead already? Kram decides yes and adds another for that barbarian bringing his tally to thirteen in all. Better kill someone new quick before bad luck sets in!

Tune in later for the further adventures of Kram Orc-Master!

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Sunday, 1 October 2017

A fantastic vocabulary!

Having learned two new words from my most recent fantasy read (The Court of Broken Knives), loggia and caravanserai, I asked around to see what words other fantasy readers had learned from their most recent books.

This resulted in a surprisingly big and quite obscure list, which I have compiled into a list.

The question here is not, "have you seen this word before?" or "do you have a vague feeling you know what this means?" but "can you define this word for someone else?".

I've found this latter hurdle quite a high one. There are words on the list that I would happily read past thinking that I have the gist. But when it comes to speaking out loud what those words mean ... I stumble.

Anyway, have a go. Vote for the ones you can define. And when we have some data I'll arrange them in order of obscurity!

Check out the list in order of difficulty at the end of the post.

And here, with 57 votes in, are the words listed in order from best known (sycophant) to least known (stoicheiotical).

It should be noted that although 32 of 57 of those responding claimed to be able to define sanguination it is a task that Google and the dictionaries have trouble with. The word sanguine definitely exists (a flavour of optimistic), and the word exsanguination does too (draining blood), but sanguination? This perhaps can be considered an indication that in some of these votes we may be giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and be being wrong to do so...

Sycophant (49)
Portcullis (47)
Troglodyte (43)
Schadenfreude (41)
Epoch (41)
Pyrrhic (40)
Sapper (40)
Loquacious (40)
Oubliette (39)
Niggardly (39)
Apocryphal (38)
Dolorous (36)
Antecedent (34)
Pederast (34)
Brocade (34)
Widdershins (34)
Thaumaturgy (33)
Sanguination (32)
Intransigent (32)
Licentious (31)
Interregnum (29)
Denuded (28)
Susurration (28)
Maladroit (28)
Caravanserai (28)
Puissance (27)
Mellifluous (27)
Febrile (25)
Insouciant (25)
Inimical (24)
Venal (23)
Hierophant (23)
Milliner (21)
Mendacious (20)
Trenchant (20)
Coruscate (19)
Abnegation (17)
Orrery (17)
Limned (16)
Concatenation (16)
Exigency (16)
Nictitating (15)
Internecine (15)
Chiaroscuro (11)
Loggia (11)
Machicolations (9)
Vespertine (8)
Spavined (8)
Recrudescent (5)
Uxorious (5)
Orogeny (5)
Marmoreal (4)
Exsiccate (3)
Roynish (2)
Stoicheiotical (0)

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Saturday, 30 September 2017

Best book of the (new) trilogy?

I ran a poll in which you can still vote.

With 171 votes in the split is remarkably even!

It's not that readers don't have strong opinions. I see individuals saying book X was great but book Y was terrible. Or claiming that the trilogy starts off strong/weak and then heads rapidly down/up hill. But clearly all these preferences are scattered around the compass to such a degree that they balance themselves out.

Prince of Fools - 33%
The Liar's Key - 33%
The Wheel of Osheim - 34%

A result that's in stark contrast to the polls for The Broken Empire trilogy where a distinct favourite emerged.

In the case of the Broken Empire it seems that as the books fade into memory preferences harden. So maybe a clear favourite will emerge from the Red Queen's War books with time.

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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

REVIEW: The Lone House Mystery by J. Jefferson Farjeon


I re-read this at the hospice with Celyn some 40 years after my last read.

This is a book I had to add to Goodreads because it wasn't there!

Congratulations, you’re on your way to being a forgotten author. That's what this book tells me.

As a child I read and enjoyed (several times) a book called The Lone House Mystery. If it had a dust jacket it was long gone when I got to the book. The front cover declares it ‘A Collins Junior Mystery’. The spine reports the author as one J.Jefferson Farjeon. Shortly after joining I tried to find the book in their database (containing millions of titles) and rate it. It wasn’t there and none of the 11 million members have added it to the list of books. 

It wasn’t until I rediscovered the book on our shelves at home recently that I was convinced I’d got the details right. But I had. Inside the front cover in my mother’s handwriting is a large declaration of her ownership with a painted border. She would have been quite a small girl when she got the book new in 1949.

The book may not be mentioned on Goodreads but J.Jefferson Farjeon is. The site lists 10 of his books and says he wrote at least 70 others. The write up for Farjeon (1883-1955) includes:


Joseph Jefferson Farjeon was always going to be a writer as, born in London, he was the son of Benjamin Farjeon who at the time was a well-known novelist whose other children were Eleanor Farjeon, who became a childen's writer, and Herbert Farjeon, who became a playwright and who wrote the well-respected 'A Cricket Bag'.

The family were descended from Thomas Jefferson but it was his maternal grandfather, the American actor Joseph Jefferson, after whom Joseph was named. He was educated privately and at Peterborough Lodge and one of his early jobs, from 1910 to 1920, was doing some editorial work for the Amalgamated Press. 

He also wrote a number of plays, some of which were filmed, most notably Number Seventeen which was produced by Alfred Hitchcock in 1932, and many short stories.

When he died at Hove in Sussex in 1955 his obituary in The Times wrote of his "deserved popularity for ingenious and entertaining plots and characterization".


So, 80 books, obituary in the Times, a play for Hitchcock, born of actors and writers, descended from Thomas Jefferson ... and the 11 million members of Goodreads have given 10 of his 80 books a grand total of 11 ratings.

Time is the fire in which we burn and also the tide that drowns us. 

Extraordinarily few writers are noticed at all and the vast majority of those are lost from memory with the passage of five or twenty-five years. Sixty-some years has all but erased J.Jefferson.

So. I read his book again. I started reading it to my daughter but she got bored – it is rather dry and dated – and since it’s short and I knew the story I finished it for my own nostalgia.

The book was written and set very soon after the war. Three posh children outwit common and vulgar crooks. It has some similarities with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five in that respect. The book isn’t without charm or imagination though, and I do enjoy the ‘rather’, ‘do be a sport’ ‘I say’ ‘keep your pecker up’ ‘jolly rotten’ etc. The strong moral messages and reiteration that our three children are made of the right stuff are ... directed at children. Nobody here is complex except perhaps for a repentant thief – it is a children’s book after all and it was entertaining when I read it in 1972/3/4 less so now. 

The plot is implausible and discordant notes are struck when the crooks produce pistols and shots are fired and our children blithely carry on defending the house they’re ensconced in with a hose pipe. Possibly the proximity to the war put a different perspective on things at the time ... I don’t know. It seems bizarre now – as does the curious lack of emotion from their family who lose them from a train into a snow storm and don’t find them for three days. Most would expect the thaw to reveal frozen corpses . . . 

So in the end, putting nostalgia aside, I’ll give this 2* for ‘ok’. It has dated, and it’s too dry for today’s 8-12 year olds who have so much else on offer, and too shallow for the 13+ who might read past the old fashioned language.

So back on the shelf it goes and J.Jefferson’s shade can slip back into the nameless horde of thousands of other popular authors who we’ve forgotten that we forgot.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Fairness and the SPFBO

No System is Perfect

Kenneth Arrow won a Nobel prize for proving that no voting system is perfect. Each has its strengths but also, under certain conditions, will seem deeply unfair to someone. All democracies are flawed.

This observation extends to many other systems. Importantly for us it extends to selecting the "best" book from a field of 300.

It is possible to see a flaw and suggest a fix. But this will still leave the system flawed - just in a new way that may seem better to you and worse to someone else.

A natural consequence of this truth is that any such system will be subject to valid criticism. This is something that the system has to live with.

In addition to the unavoidable flaws a system may be corrupt. Flaws cannot be avoided but corruption can. A system that allows room for corruption (unfairness) will attract accusations of foul play even if none is actually happening. Hence it is important to have rules that allow no room for it.

For the SPFBO it is better that we select a good book by a process that is not only fair but seen to be fair, than to select the best book by a process that has room for unfairness in it (even if none is actually present).

Requiring each blog to choose the best book from their batch is a flaw since the blog may feel that a better book exists in the remaining 270 and has not made it to the final. It is a flaw that can only be fixed by introducing other flaws.

One seriously considered fix was the "Senlin Net" whereby a blog with a very strong 2nd choice (like last year with Pornokitsch and Senlin Ascends) could offer that book to other blogs to consider as their finalist instead of one from the batch they were assigned.

This is a reasonable idea whose only drawbacks are that it involves more work for the blogs (in the limit we could ask all blogs to read all books, resulting in a LOT more work but a better result - the line has to be drawn somewhere though) and that it may feel harsh to the "best" book from the batch that gets bumped to make room.

Other suggestions for the Senlin Net involve additional finalists. But this increases the workload for bloggers while diluting the cachet of being a finalist.

The Senlin Net was never entirely ruled out.

Importantly the Senlin Net suggestion always involved a push rather than a pull. I.e. one blogger with no connection to the author pushes the title out for consideration.

All bloggers are asked at the start of the SPFBO to identify any books in their batch by authors who they know. Those titles are then swapped with ones from other blogs. This is naturally to ensure fairness. It's not because anyone is saying they don't trust the blog to be impartial given the relationship with the author - it is to stop anyone being able to say that.

A possibility that has been suggested is that a Senlin Net be employed based on a pull. I.e. that the blog could select any entry over the best from their own batch.

The reason this isn't tenable is that we then have to consider the mechanism by which this book came to the blog's attention. It would be a system that favoured:

i) Authors with a high profile.
ii) Authors with pockets deep enough to send out physical review copies.
iii) Authors with whom the blog has some relationship, anything from best friend to casual social media acquaintance.

This is not to say that any of these things would happen or are even likely to happen, but that someone would then be able to say that.

In a contest where 97% of all entries are cut at the first stage it is natural for some to look for fault. The SPFBO must admit to its unavoidable flaws and to allow no space for accusations of unfairness.

A Senlin Net based on pull would allow the accusation that the blog that did it was always going to choose their friend. Valid or not, such an accusation would taint the contest and lessen the value of "finalist". The taint would spread to the winner and to past and future winners.

So, in order to avoid such issues, there will be no Senlin Net based on pull.

Whether there will be one based on push is still a matter for consideration and will only need to be considered should a blogger have a second choice they were very upset not to be able to put through, and another blogger is unhappy that the best from their batch is not good enough.

Monday, 18 September 2017

REVIEW: The Final Empire


This was an odd one for me. I've seen an enormous number of opinions about Sanderson's books on the fantasy forums I hang out on, the great majority favourable. I was interested to see what it was that had sold so very many books and got such an incredibly high average score on Goodreads. 

The opening was strong and engaging. Then I started to falter. For most of the book I didn't think that I would be giving it 5*. I started to worry that I might have a legion of Sanderfans on my case :o

I think I am too much of a scientist for the magic system not to jar against me. I liked the complexity, and the effects, and the ways it was used were cunning, clever, and ingenious. But the ingredients and the execution fill me with unanswered questions.

And for much of the middle section I was struggling through all the balls and house politics, having a hard time caring.

And the plans felt flimsy and dubious...


But, the last hundred and fifty pages were a huge payoff and I really liked all the twists and turns. Also the action scenes were great, and the tension was kept high, nobody felt safe, the reveals kept coming ... it was all really well done and I had a blast with it.

I've heard it said that Sanderson's biggest strength is plotting, and yes, the plot unwound splendidly.

The reading experience and writing put me in mind of Brent Weeks more than any other writer I know.

A really fun read.

You can go like my review on Goodreads if you like.

Book sales: how's it stacking up?

As I've noted before, the number of Goodreads ratings a book has give a good indication of sales

This, combined with Goodreads willingness to let you have the daily ratings statistics on any book for the last six months (though, annoyingly, not any longer than that) means you can generate all manner of analysis. Recently, some publishers have begun to offer their authors access to detailed and high tempo sales data online, but in reality a pretty good version of that is available to Joe Public on Goodreads.

Here are the daily ratings numbers for all 7 of my books for the last 6 months, stacked up in order, with Prince of Thorns at the bottom and Red Sister at the top.

So you can see that around its release Red Sister was outselling Prince of Thorns but that currently Prince of Thorns has regained the throne. You can see that collectively the Red Queen's War trilogy sell around the same as Prince of Thorns does on its own. And by using the ratings-to-sales ratio of 7.7 you can see that I'm selling around a thousand books a day in English.

Do publishers use these sources of data when looking at authors they might want to sign? My feeling is that they don't, but they probably should.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Why you're not getting a map.

A question posed to me on this blog.
Q: When are you going to draw a map for Book of the ancestors series? I'm dying to read Red Sister but can't bring myself to do it without a map.
A: I'm not going to. If you can't read a book without a map I guess it's not a book for you.

I'm often asked: "Did you draw the map first or as you wrote the book." This is frequently by people who haven't read any of my books. 

There is an assumption there ... fantasy books have maps. Which is odd, since I have read hundreds (possibly thousands) of novels without maps, many of them set in regions I'm unfamiliar with. The fact is that for a great many works of fiction maps are irrelevant, they are about what people are doing in their lives, if Sarah goes to visit her uncle in Vostok it is sufficient for me to know it took her several hours on the train and when she got there the forests were covered in snow. I don't need to look it up on a map. It doesn't matter. 

(small spoilers for the setting in The Broken Empire and The Book of the Ancestor trilogies follow)

When I wrote Prince of Thorns I did not draw the map first. Or during. Or the day, week, month, or year after I had finished. I didn't consult some map in my head. When Jorg goes to Gelleth it was enough for me to know that it took him and his men several days to get there, crossing through mountain passes ... or whatever ... I forget the details. It was never important to the story. The fact is that what was important was that he had to go somewhere and do something.

I drew the map for Prince of Thorns three years later when my publisher asked me to. Sure, I thought, I can draw a map. At that point I thought it would fun to use the map of Europe with a raised sea level. The map never mattered to me writing the story, so it can't really add anything to reading the story except for an illusion of "control".

I've nothing against maps, I just never look at them. I've read the five books of A Song of Ice and Fire twice. The first time I saw the map was when watching the credits of the Game of Thrones TV show. I certainly acknowledge that the map in a story of many nations and multiple widely separated PoV characters does have value to add, and if I wrote a story like that I would draw a map. But the fact remains, I very much enjoyed the story without reference to the map.

In Red Sister the vast majority of the story takes place within a circle a few hundred yards across. The small amount of traveling is simple. The rare references to remote places are similarly simple. The habitable world is a corridor fifty miles wide and tens of thousands of miles long, following the equator. The empire is flanked to the west by one country behind a mountainous border, and to the east by a sea with another country on the far shore.

A map would be a long skinny thing on a page that was 90%+ white space. The detail would be hard to see and invented by me entirely to fill the map ... no other reason. Or alternatively it would fill a dozen or more pages (the corridor now the height of the page and the length stretching through many pages) filled with even more arbitrary detail, hills, mountains, forests, rivers, roads, and towns never referenced in the book.

Well ... I'm not doing it!

By way of compromise, here's a "word map"

<-Points East, Scithrowl (mountains) Empire (Marn Sea) Durn, Points West->
Chocolate ... no wait ... more ice.