Wednesday 31 August 2016

The pain of having read a great book that nobody else has read.

We live in an age of miracles.

The ability to reach across the world and find people with similar interests has greatly benefited, people with rare sexual fetishes, religious extremists, and book readers alike.

As a young man I could discuss my favourite fantasy books with a tiny number of my small circle of friend. Now a mouse click or two will bring me to a forum where scores of strangers are ready with their opinions, observations, and open minds (sometimes).

It's great. Though it does remove some of the need to demand that the people I know read the books I like.

However with my latest read, the excellent Books of Babel.

Book 1: Senlin Ascends

Book 2: Arm of the Sphinx

I find that I have fallen into a time-warp. The books are self-published and currently have a tiny readership. And as such I'm having difficulty finding anyone to reinforce my belief that they are startlingly good. It's like being in the 80s!

Help me out by making these books popular.

click for detail 

Tuesday 23 August 2016

A lot of RED

On Wattpad I'm releasing a book I wrote back in 2001, immediately before Prince of Thorns.

I'm releasing it there because it's not quite good enough for proper publication, but it's a fun story that I'd like to share.

Agnes Meszaros and Pen Astridge made this cover for me:

You can read it here, free, gratis!

I note that that after the RED Queen's War trilogy, and the upcoming RED Sister, that Blood of the RED is starting to reveal a bit of a colour theme... No more RED, I promise!

REVIEW: Assassin's Apprentice

I haven't read a lot of fantasy in the last decade, so the fact I've read 12 of Robin Hobb's books in the last 5 years says a lot about how much I enjoy reading her work. The adventures of Fitz through three trilogies account for a big chunk of that reading.

Robin Hobb can write a first person story with rare skill. She shows you a world though Fitz's eyes and makes it matter, makes it vital. Some elements of Hobb's fantasy are fairly old school, but written with a modern style and a literary skill that one almost never used to see in fantasy and is still hard to find in the genre.

What Hobb does best, quite possibly better than every other fantasy writer, is build, develop, and breathe life into relationships. She writes great characters that you can believe in, but it's in interactions that they truly shine. The friendship between Fitz and the Fool is the heart of the two trilogies, and grows at a slow but steady pace through the books.

The rigid social structure and its constraints generate a lot of frustration for Fitz (and by extension for the readers). This drives much of the tension and plot. Some readers may find it too frustrating and may long for Fitz to break free of it, to drive his message home etc... but for me it was perfectly pitched for maximum effect.

I won't address the plot ... but it's good, and the mysterious attackers are chilling and intriguing. In short - go read this classic!

You can go 'like' my review on Goodreads if you like!

An index of my reviews.

Thursday 18 August 2016

The Final Round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016

300 contestants have been narrowed to 10 finalists.

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off has a winner and that winner is...

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French!


Here's the scoreboard. The reviews, the books, and the blogs are all linked on this table. (click scores to get reviews)

I give some analysis below.

* = Blogger chose this finalist
*= Blogger's top book.

Last year the ten bloggers/teams gave three scores of 9 among their hundred scores and they went to three different books.

This year there were nine scores of 9+ and six of them went to the winner! Including the SPFBO's first ever score of 9.5 and first ever perfect 10.

Last year the winner was the favourite of just one blogger and the books placing 5th and 6th were the favourites of two boggers each.

This year the winner was the favourite of six bloggers.

Last year the spread of scores was from 6.25 to 8.

This year the spread was 5.1 to 8.65.

All in all The Grey Bastards is a runaway winner and I must commend it to your attention.

2nd placed Path of Flames by Phil Tucker was favourite with three blogs and I've read it and can see why!

3rd placed Paternus by Dyrk Ashton was favourite with one blog.

All of these books were someone's choice for finalist and they all scored 7+ with two or more bloggers, so check them out. You never know what will hit a chord with you.

Huge thanks to all ten bloggers/teams for their very considerable efforts and to Katharine of Ventureadlaxre for stepping in to fill a gap. The bloggers are the stars of this show so be sure to keep checking them out now we're done.

Our most generous scorer this year was Fantasy-Faction, taking the crown from Bibliotropic last year. The Elitist Book Reviews remain the harshest scorer, though they were slightly kinder this year.

Anyway. That's my job done. Remember, this is only a success if you allow yourself to be moved by the exercise to try some of these titles. They are cheap to buy, and the top 3 are the 1% of the 300 entries to #SPFBO2. There's even a celebratory giveaway of Paternus audiobooks.

Will we do it again? I don't know. If there proves to be enough interest among bloggers and authors then probably. Let's just give the thing a moment for the dust to settle and the winners' confetti to be swept away.


In case you're interested, we have 5 male and 5 female finalists, from a field that was 49% male, 33% female and 18% unknown (initials).

I'm encouraging bloggers to give their finalist a score that allows them space to reward any even better books that come along.

I'm also encouraging bloggers to use the range of marks since if they mark all the books between 7 and 8 they will have a smaller impact on the final result than a blogger who scores between 2 and 9. (the range is 1 to 10).

On Fantasy-Factor Laura Hughes discusses the SPFBO at the half way point.
On Pornokitsch Jared covers 4 books in one go and agonizes about the vexed business of numbers.
On Fantasy Book Critic a general round up and stock take.
On Laura Hughes's site, a general SPFBO assessment.
Jared does a three in one on Pornokitsch.
Lynn enters the final round and targets her first victim!
Exit interviews with three runner uppers.
Exit interviews with two more runner uppers!
Sarah starts her final round campaign on Bookworm Blues.
A phase 2 round up from Fantasy-Faction.
Bibliotropic's Ria on ratings vs rankings.
Pornokitsch is first to the finish post, reviewing their last 3 finalists!
On Kristen Reads Too Much a review of Grey Bastards.
Elitist Book Reviews on the business of writing good.
SPFBO interview on Shona Kinsellas site with me!
SPFBO interview on Shona Kinsellas site with Dyrk Ashton!
On defining character, from Elitist Book Review.

*Bibliotropic is having to pass the torch to Ventureadlaxre for the last 4 finalists. Thanks to Ria for sterling work, and to Katharine for stepping up to help out!

Wednesday 17 August 2016

REVIEW: The Wise Man's Fear

There's a tendency when reading a series to rate the books against each other rather than against the world. I've seen it done to my own books: I loved XXXX of Thorns but it wasn't as good as YYYY of Thorns ... so 4*.

I didn't enjoy The Wise Man's Fear as much as I enjoyed The Name of the Wind. I didn't enjoy A Dance With Dragons as much as I enjoyed A Game of Thrones. But I'm giving them ALL 5* because compared to most books I read ... they're noticeably better. I won't 4* this book to make my point that it's (for me) not as good as its predecessor ... I'll make that point here. With words.

Readers often get 'confused' between the journey, the destination, and the story. When the reader thinks the story lies at the end of the journey, and the writer thinks the story IS the journey, it can cause tensions between them.

Reading TWMF part of me was always wanting to get back to 'the thing' where 'the thing' was where my knee-jerk tells me the story lies, i.e. making solid progress at the university in order to tackle the Chandrian. And that really doesn't happen in this very long book. In fact so little happens in that direction that I wonder if Rothfuss might not wholly evade that issue. Certainly if he's to conclude the story in three books it seems that a drastic up-ing of focus and pace (or a 10,000 page book) would be required to deal with Heliax and friends.

So, let's put to one side the fact that if you think the story is about revenge on the Chandrian then basically nothing happened, and note instead that all the 'side' adventuring was fun to read and very well written.

Kvothe continues to be brilliant at everything. The fact that on one page late on we discover he's not genius level at mathematics hardly balances that he picks up a difficult new language, makes startling progress at marshal arts, and impresses a sex fairy with his sexing, even though it's his first time.

If you let go of your destination desires this is an enjoyable book with great prose. The story meanders, seemingly with out direction. In fact a big chunk of it is about Kvothe and friends meandering without direction, hunting bandits in a vast wood. The aim doesn't feel particularly important (protecting tax collectors in a distant land), the meat of it doesn't feel very exciting (they wander for a LONG time), and much of it feels pretty random (the sex fairy encounter comes out of nowhere) ... but even so, I plain enjoyed reading it, we get our little band group dynamics, we get story telling around the camp fire ... and each told story is a fun bit of fiction in itself... It all sounds a bit dull when I lay it out, but the deliciousness (like the devil) is in the detail, and I kept coming back for more.

In the end we're back at the university and bugger all has been accomplished. On a basic level we're pretty much where we started, and left wondering how this story is going to move forward. But on an entirely different level, I've consumed a 1000 page book in an unheard of (for me) two weeks and enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. 

So five stars.

I now, at long last, join the end of a lengthy queue of people agitating for book 3.

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

An index of my reviews.

Thursday 11 August 2016

REVIEW: The Name of the Wind

I'll give this 5* with no begrudging. I'm pretty easy with my 5*, they're not reserved for the best book I've ever read, just very good books. I thought The Name of the Wind was "very good". I read it in what for me was a very short span of time - it had that 'more-ish' quality that best sellers need.

Can I see what makes this the single best selling epic fantasy for a generation (apart from George Martin's series)? No. Excepting that perhaps the lesson is that to be head and shoulders above your competition in sales "all" you need is to be better by a nose - after that the non-linear dynamics of the market take over and elevate you to godhood.

I loved the writing, and that's very important to me. Rothfuss often treads the thin line between prose and poetry, and fortunately it's excellent poetry that he brushes up against. The quality of the writing breathes magic into even fairly ordinary scenes, and makes some of the important ones extraordinary.

The story itself is mostly compelling. It uses the reverse of the device I saw recently in Blood Song of a framing story that's not in the first person, delivering up a first person narrative. Our hero, Kvothe has bags of attitude and is a total genius at everything. To balance out his 'all power' we have his poverty, bad luck, tendency to dig himself into a hole, and his powerful enemies. 

Kvothe's real powerful enemy sits in the background as a motivator (& presumably story for books 2 & 3) while his 'school-boy' adversary at the university fills in for bad guy for most of the book.

Like Blood Song, and many other really successful books, TNOTW is at its core a school story. Harry Potter, Wizard of Earthsea etc all feature magic schools, for Blood Song and Enders' Game it was a battle school, but the point is that the schools + lessons + masters combo sells bucket loads if you write it really well and plumb it into a compelling larger picture.

With magic the school system also provides a painless way of educating your readers in the magic-system you have (by virtue of it being delivered through formal education) elected to use.

Was there anything wrong with it? For me the whole 'and then I broke another string' and 'I was very hungry and dirty in Tarbean' sections were rather slow and lengthy - I understand their role in the story but they felt overplayed. And at the end the whole business with the draccus felt tangential and diluted the endgame for me. But no, nothing of great significance.

A final observation: throughout the book we (like Kvothe) are constantly aware of money. Kvothe's poverty is a driver and source of tension. He is constantly coming into money, losing it, incurring costs. We almost know the contents of his purse at any time and the price of all his needs. To me this was very reminiscent of Dostoyevsky's work (and to a lesser extent, Dickens) where a similar focus on the number of coins in our character's pocket is maintained and the need to cover their expenses drives much of the story.

In short though, given the impossible level of expectation built up by years of hearing how incredible this book is ... the text made a very good attempt to live up to its reputation.

You can 'like' my Goodreads review here, if you like.

An index of my reviews.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

REVIEW: Green Eggs and Ham

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who like green eggs and ham, and those who don't.

Well, three. Those who like green eggs and ham. Those who don't. And those who like the green eggs but not the ham. It's just ham, not green ham. We should get that straight. Oh, correction, it's green ham too.

Anyhow four kinds of people. The haters, the likers, the green egg but not green hammers, and the green hammers but not green eggs.

Actually I guess there are the people who would eat them with a fox, but not in a box. And some who would eat them with a fox, in a box, on a train, but not with a goat.

Ok. So there are lots of kinds of people in the world. Dr Seuss invents diversity. Kudos.

Really the book is about the key existential question in the 20th and 21st centuries. Green food, yes or no, and under what conditions. It's a metaphor for where a man ... or woman ... or thing called Sam ... draws the line.

Where people, where will you draw that line?

Green eggs and (green) ham is a cipher for our age, an antithesis to the jejune, a whirlwind of growing complexity into which we pour our souls and come face to face with the naked question - will we try them? Try them and we may, I say. 

Seuss offers us a black and white and green question - do we like them? But this devolves into shades of grey (green), we're crippled with choice, seduced by the rhythm, shocked by the goat.

In the end, my friends, there are only two kinds of people. Those who push the 'like' button on my review of Green Eggs and Ham, and those who suck.

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

An index of my reviews.

Saturday 6 August 2016

Gritty Realism

In many ways, but not those commonly cited, gritty realism is an oxymoron.

Literary realism is founded on a belief in an objective reality that can be delivered without distortion through the lens of the writer. The writer attempts to present a faithful representation of reality in their fiction ... one supposes that if they were to ultimately succeed we would have to call it non-fiction.

When you couple realism with a qualifier you are immediately acknowledging a choice of emphasis. And straight off the bat we're distorting reality by focusing on one aspect.

If one were to attempt a faithful representation of reality in fiction it would necessitate covering all the bases. If we looked at something as complex as nations going to war we would want to present the politics, economics, bureaucracy, the agriculture, the industry, the warfare, the individuals, the labourer working unexcitingly at dull tasks, the laundries, the sewage treatment, the movers and shakers ... all of it. Reality is a big thing. Much of it is quite dull.

So when the term gritty realism is employed it is not, as it is often accused of being, the case that the person is saying that 'gritty' is 'realistic', it is not that the term is implying that focusing on the 'gritty' aspects of life makes the fiction more realistic. Not at all. What it is saying is that this fiction is going to focus on the gritty aspects of a situation (a choice) and to attempt to present those realistically.

Now this is not something I claim to do. I have no interest in doing something like that. I write stories I hope are entertaining (sometimes by being exciting, sometimes by being thought provoking, or funny) and I focus on stories that interest me and that I would enjoy reading. People may label them as they want. I do not label them. And thus nothing said about my work in particular projects back onto the term gritty realism. It is a term in its own right, not defined by the handful of fantasy books at which people have thrown it.

As a separate issue, it seems to me that the more significant move toward 'realism' in the genre has been in terms of portraying more convincing humans. I certainly notice that many (not all) characters from 80s fantasy feel ... thin, they're rarely conflicted, they rarely show moments of doubt or weakness, their interest is generally plot focused, their deeds plot serving. Whereas in more recent fantasy I find that many (not all) characters feel closer to real people and are as a consequence more easy to identify with and compelling to follow.

I feel that this flavour of realism, that has chanced to parallel the rise in 'gritty' realism to some extent, is often wrapped up with it (GRRM's books being a prime example) leading to further confusion and conflation of the terms.

TL:DR = Gritty realism doesn't imply a work that suggests a dark and gritty view of the world is realistic. It implies a work resulting from the decision to focus on those aspects and present them realistically.

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Tuesday 2 August 2016

Prints of Thorns!

Contest over.

To celebrate Prince of Thorns' 5th birthday in print I'm going to send one reader an 18" x 24" print of the cover art!

If you feeling rich rather than lucky you can buy your own copy (or prints of any of my other Jason Chan cover art) here from the artist.

To enter the contest just comment on this page (comments are moderated so don't panic if it doesn't show for a while).

I'll draw the winner on Friday. If you don't leave any contact then you'll have to check back here to see if you won. Also ... if you comment anonymously it's going to be a little difficult to decide which of the anonymous commenters you are...

I went to for a number between 1 and 193 (if it hit someone with multiple entries I had fair coping strategies). I got 6. So Poornapragna is our winner!

Monday 1 August 2016

Prince of Thorns at 5!

Prince of Thorns is 5 years in print!

Check out the fourththirdsecond, and first birthday round-ups. 

I now have 6 books on the shelves!

Being a numbers guy as well as a words guy I like to keep track of things and record them for when I'm a doddery old guy looking back at my 'glory' days.

On Goodreads Prince of Thorns has passed 50,000 ratings!

And Prince of Thorns has broken the 1000 reviews barrier on!
And the blog has broken million views!

And finally my snail's pace conquest of Twitter continues its crawl.

Oh, and my books have now sold over a million copies world wide!