Monday 26 December 2016

REVIEW: Watchmen


I didn't read this until last year. I saw the film about six months later. I'm a new convert still radiant with that 'just converted' glow. 

Along with the Sandman graphic novels this is my favourite work in the medium (Zenith and Preacher get honourable mentions). Watchmen wins over all of the other candidates in ambition. This is a work of vast ambition. It doesn't deliver on every level, it isn't perfect, but it contains so much that succeeds, and comes so close to fulfilling its promises that it would be churlish to mention any failings.

Alan Moore is a great writer. He's not a great writer for comics, he's a great writer period, who happens to have made the graphic novel his medium. Watchmen is at times literary, funny, erudite, tragic, exciting, intriguing... it's written for intelligent grown-up readers. 

The plot sprawls, it's convoluted, it spans generations and a large cast. What keeps it together are the deeply personal stories on various scales. Its scope was what kept it from the big screen for so long, and in truth the movie (whilst good fun and well done, I thought) is just a 2D projection of this complex multi-dimensional work. That same complexity is stopping me from doing it justice in this short review. Rather than try I'm just going to back off the grandiose praise and return to the punchline:

This is a fun read. It's exciting. The artwork ROCKS. It's as deep as that hole Alice fell down, but you never notice you're falling. Pick it up. Read it with pride. If someone sneers at you for reading a comic-book... hit them with it. It's nice and fat!

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

Friday 23 December 2016

My reading in 2016

Some book bloggers can devour four books a week. I struggle to read a book a month, though this year I have done significantly better than the last two.

Since my post this time last year I've managed to read 16 books (I'm on my 17th & 18th).

I also read out loud 6 children's books to my daughter, Celyn (at the bottom of the list). This is a significant drop but Celyn's choice of entertainment does vary and has included endless repetition of Malory Towers audiobooks this year...

As is my wont I have reviewed all of these books on Goodreads and you can reach those reviews by clicking on the covers. Listed in chronological order of reading.

Some great reads this year but of all of these I have to say Senlin Ascends was my best read, one of my favourite books of all time in fact. So read it. Nod was the most literary and also a very good book. The Girl With All The Gifts wasn't fantasy, but it was excellent. Many of these titles got 5* from me.

Finding a self-published book that ranks among my best reads ever was a real pay-off from the SPFBO. Many successful authors (and many who are successful in other fields) suffer from impostor syndrome, and to some extent I had a sense of it before I was published. Prince of Thorns sat for years on my hard drive as I felt sure that even if it was of sufficient quality the chances of getting it through the lottery of agents and publishers were slim.

Then I tried to get published and met with almost instant success. But even though I had seen the system "work" I still couldn't help feel that there had been a lot of luck involved. So, I set up the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off to try to offset all that to a small degree and give other authors another ticket in the lottery.

The fact that a book as fine as Senlin Ascends floundered for years despite the author's best efforts seems to me confirmation of all my instincts. Quality on its own is no guarantee of success. In fact it may be that it only gives a modest edge and that the true struggle is reaching a critical mass of readers.

Click on the text to get my Goodreads review for each book.















Currently reading something brand new and something thirty years old.

Books I read to Celyn (12)







To Be Read

In 2015 I read 12 books. In 2014 about the same.

This is a pile of books that have been sent or given to me recently. Some from previous years have fallen off the stack unread as I realize that I will never get to them.

(click photo for detail)

It has 13 books in it!

And, of course, I don't want or intend my whole reading year to be decided by obligation. I will read books that I've heard a lot about, that friends or family recommend, or that just plain grab my attention for whatever reason. I will also re-read some old favourites.

All of which is to say that even these books stand a good chance of not being read by me despite my best intentions.

This post exists for two reasons. Firstly, general interest. Secondly, so I can point in its direction the next person who wants to send me their latest book.

I wish I was one of those people who can read a hundred books a year. But I'm not.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Sex! ...again...

In response to the wall of text on my Facebook page by someone unhappy with this poll (among their postings we touch on FGM and planned parenthood rights) I am happy to acknowledge that the "other" option should read "other answer" thereby not ruling out "none".

Anyway, I ran this POLL to find out about my readers. I show the result at this point before mentioning it on reddit and possibly "corrupting" the statistics with votes from a particularly male-heavy population.

I ran a similar poll in 2013 which had 599 replies (and was aired on reddit). That showed I had at that time a 72% male, 28% female readership. I hope to get some reddit votes on this current poll to see what kind of effect it has and maybe see if that earlier poll was significantly skewed by it.

But anyway, the bottom line seems to be that I now have almost as many female readers as I do male readers and have been moving toward an equal distribution over the years. Perhaps The Red Queen's War trilogy has played a role here, or simply that word has spread from an initially male-heavy base into the wider population.

Perhaps Red Sister will continue the trend. I hope so, as I think any writer would like to think that whether or not someone enjoys their book doesn't depend on something that can be captured in so simple a poll. 

Tuesday 20 December 2016

A Year in Numbers ... Six!

So following on from similar posts at the same time in 2015201420132012 and 2011 I record a year of ups and less ups. I take a minute to do the sums and raid the scrapbook.

It's been a very good 2016 all told!

High points include the release of The Wheel of Osheim. The Wheel of Osheim turned out to be my sixth book in a row to make the Goodreads Choice Award semi-final (albeit on a write-in, thanks readers!). Another very high point was when The Liar's Key won the Gemmell Legend Award!

My agent, Ian Drury, delivered my second Legend Award!

Book number 6, trilogy number 2 complete.

And, thanks to the marvels of a daily kindle deal Prince of Thorns got to return to the UK fantasy top spot in its sixth year.

The Broken Empire special edition omnibus has been delivered and is being shipped out to readers as I type. Readers are reporting arrivals already. I am told the lettered edition is done but waiting on delivery of the slip cases before it can be shipped out.

(Shawn Speakman with the first copy out of the box!)

This year I started to write and advise on an online multi-player game for Xbox! Can't share more than that for now.

Progress on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse card game has been frustratingly slow but the project now seems close to completion. Since I have no official role in the project (the money and responsibility went to Ragnarok) I haven't been able affect the schedule other than by being sure to supply anything I'm asked for in a timely manner.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics to follow:

Prince of Thorns got its 50,000th Goodreads rating this year, and I sold my 1,000,000th book in English in 2016. I finished writing the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, and the first book, Red Sister, comes out in April 2017.

I now have almost 150,000 Goodreads ratings and over 350,000 'books added'! The numbers boggle my mind.

I also established a rule of thumb linking Goodreads ratings to sales, which tells me that in addition to breaking the "million books sold" barrier earlier this year, I have now sold 1.1 million books in English! 

I'm slimming Amazon stats down to the first and latest book. This year Prince of Thorns broke the 1,000 reviews barrier on!

The blog had its 1.5 millionth hit in 2016 and got over 70,000 hits in one month!
I do have to report though that an increasing percentage of my traffic is Russian spammers/hackers...

Blog traffic since inception.

And finally, Twitter, where at last I broke the 15,000 follower barrier!
My relentless ascent continues and soon I will compete with the Twitter might of minor celebrity's pets' accounts!

Monday 19 December 2016

My readers' best books of the year!

On ThatThornGuy Agnes ran a contest for a free signed copy of The Wheel of Osheim. All you had to do to enter was list your 5 top reads of 2016.

There were 137 comments and I've done a quick run through to see what came up most often.

Note this wasn't limited to books published in 2016.

Unsurprisingly my books featured heavily and I won't include them except to note that The Wheel of Osheim came top :)

Mark Lawrence Readers' top books of 2016

(The Wheel of Osheim, duh, 50 votes)

Blood Mirror - Brent Weeks (13 votes)

Senlin Ascends - Josiah Bancroft (10 votes)

The Vagrant - Peter Newman (7 votes)

The Skull Throne - Peter Brett (7 votes)

Arm of the Sphinx - Josiah Bancroft (7 votes)

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss (7 votes)

The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch (7 votes)

Saint's Blood - Sebastien de Castell (6 votes)

Promise of Blood - Brian McClellan (6 votes)

Morning Star - Pierce Brown (6 votes)

& on 5 votes: The Warded Man - Peter V Brett, Bands of Mourning - Brandon Sanderson, Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie, Half a War - Joe Abercrombie.

Thursday 15 December 2016

Senlin is Ascending!

Congratulations to Josiah Bancroft as Senlin Ascends reaches 500 Goodreads ratings and still doesn't fall below an average rating of 4.5.

EDIT: The book has, as of August 15th 2018 (~18 months from the original publishing date of this blog post) passed 5000 Goodreads ratings!

Goodreads watchers like myself will know that average ratings almost always go down as the number of readers goes up. It is very hard to find a book with 500+ ratings and an average of 4.5+, especially a non-YA book, especially if you stick to first novels where the author doesn't have the advantage of a following and doesn't have a book 1 to keep those who don't like the work from rating later ones.

Ratings numbers are proportional to sales. In the three years to Summer 2016 Senlin Ascends gathered 50 ratings. In the four months to this point the book reached 500. That means it has gone from a rate of ~130 sales per year to a rate of many thousands of sales per year!

EDIT: three years to reach 50 ratings, four more months to reach 500, less than two more years to reach 5,000! & in 2021 on the day the 4th and final book was published, Senlin Ascends passed 20,000 Goodreads ratings.

All of which lends credence to my stated views on what it takes to get a book to succeed sales-wise,

The TL:DR is:

i) A book that is so good it forces readers to get others to read it.
iii) A critical mass so readers have other readers to talk to about it.

Here's what the author said recently about his journey:

I actually did a lot of marketing in the past three years. I sent my book to more than a hundred indy reviewers, about twenty of whom reviewed the book in some form. I've been rejected by BookBub twice. I did four or five giveaways on Goodreads. I purchased ads on reddit, Goodreads, and Google. I was Writer of the Day here on r/fantasy last year. I (to my chagrin) paid several hundred dollars for a couple of reviews from disreputable sources. I later submitted the book to more than a hundred and fifty agents, and about a hundred publishers. I started a website, a Facebook page, and began attending conventions where I sometimes wore funny clothes as I mewed at the teeming throngs, "Please buy my book."
The SPFBO was the absolute last gasp of effort I had in me. After entering the contest, I fell into a general drunken despondency which led to the deletion of my Facebook page, the renunciation of the series, and an abrupt departure from my full time job. Then, believing I was having a heart attack, I woke my wife in the middle of the night to drive me to the hospital only to learn that I was having a panic attack. Those were not my finest days.
And then a couple of weeks later, all of this started to happen. I don't think I necessarily deserve this attention, but I am very grateful for it, 


I've chosen to be frank about all this not to garner pity, which I find loathsome, but because I want everyone to know just how much this means to me. Thank you. Thank you all.

After years in the wilderness it seems the planets have aligned for Josiah, and I'm happy to have done my bit to get this gem into the light! Do yourself a favour and give it a read.

The next book is just as good!

Wednesday 14 December 2016


The long-awaited omnibus has arrived. The leather-bound lettered edition sold out in 9 minutes, but there's still time to hop on board the numbered edition shown here!

It's a fatty.

It's stylish!

It looks good with its clothes off...

There's an eye in there, looking out.

A ten thousand word Jorg story at the end...

Ten pieces of internal art! All scenes chosen from the story by readers.

And it's signed by me!
Also the cover artist of the trilogy (& artist for the internal art) Jason Chan
And Nate Taylor who did all the graphic design (as he does for Pat Rothfuss)

Here's Shawn Speakman of Grim Oak Press getting the first copy out of the box!
(#284, no prize for being 1st out, sadly)