Saturday, 30 July 2011

Giveaway | DragonWorld - Anthology of Dragon Art

So, if you read my review of DragonWorld (you can find it HERE if you haven't - remedy this!), you might be wondering where you can get your hands on such a great art anthology. As the title of the post, ehm, gives it away, I'll get to it: a giveaway! One reader (US only, I'm afraid) can get their hands on this perfect coffee-table book, with dragons like this:
And this:
Entering the Giveaway

I'd prefer people to follow, but it's not a requirement! All you need to do in order to enter is comment on this post with your favourite fantasy dragon - mine has to be Tintaglia from Robin Hobb's books - and if you don't have a blog, a way to contact you.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Coming Up | End of July

Well, I'll next be reviewing some of the more interesting titles I've been receiving recently - namely, Bricks by Leon Jenner (the interwoven tale of a druid and bricklayer - odd, but, as I say: interesting) and Outpost: one of my few forays into the (grim, dark) world of the post apocalyptic. Fun!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Article | Newcomer's Guide to the Genre - Where to Start!

We've all been there - we weren't born reading SFF.

...With some exceptions. Sam Sykes, perhaps.

But leaving this disturbing image aside, where should newcomers start - based on what they already enjoy? Well, this is my brief - and very subjective! - attempt to tackle this problem: I've grouped my picks by the genre (outside SFF) you're reading now.

As always, tell me what you think, and what I've missed out, in the comments!

Historical Fiction

 If you're already into historical fiction, the minimal-magic setting of Guy Gavriel Kay's historical fantasy is a small step: and to me, the best place to begin is the recognizable 'Sarantium' (Byzantium) of Kay's Sarantine  Mosaic duology. Guy Gavriel Kay combines genuine historical interest with his characteristic prose to produce something that, while fantastic, could easily be a historical. For an extra bonus, it's got some nice Yeats allusions - and some very funny moments.

The first book, Sailing to Sarantium, can be found on Amazon here: Sailing to Sarantium: Book One of the Sarantine Mosaic

Crime/Detective Fiction

 ('...The hat isn't accurate? Damn' - second reaction of 85% of readers to the Dresden Files)

Put bluntly, the first few volumes of the Dresden Files pretty much transplant the noir PI into fantasy: and the character is familiar. Of course, Harry Dresden quickly develops beyond that, as does the series itself, but it's a great transition for anyone interested in crime and looking to get into the fantasy genre. It's also a lot funnier than most UF, which can only be in its favour.

Storm Front  can be found on Amazon here: Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1)

Literary Fiction

I'm hesitant to call this a type of fiction - you can find literary qualities in any genre - but for those of you who enjoy a dominant theme, I'm definitely recommending China Mieville. And a good place is to start is with The City and the City (not-so-coincidentally  one of my favourites as well): which also serves as a crime novel. The role of the fantastic is contained to one element, but aside from the talent of Mieville himself, The City and the City also has rather cutting insights into the nature of life today. Which, of course, I can't really say more about - it would ruin your chance to find out for yourselves!

Let's just say the speculative element won't disappoint. And that if you're wondering what on Earth is going on... Well, that's normal, too.

You can find it on Amazon here:   The City & the City. China Miville

What are your suggestions, for these or other genres? Ever encouraged someone to try SFF yourself? Comment below and tell me!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Review | DragonWorld - Many, many people!

I don't normally review art here on Drying Ink, but I have to make an exception for this: I mean, however cliched their portrayal is sometimes, what fantasy fan doesn't secretly squee a little when there's a dragon? Well, here's an art book full of them: and remarkably originally, in fact. Just look below:
(Steampunk + Dragon = ...Annihilation of the Northern Hemisphere with Awesome?)
Steampunk dragon, anyone? At any rate, you see my point: the originality isn't limited to the style, and the dragons here draw inspiration from a number of sources to create their variety! And if you consider that 49 artists contributed to the anthology: well, you can count on variety. And if you're interested in the creative process, there's a short interview with each of the artists, as well as their online identities. So if you enjoy one artist in particular, you can quickly find more of their work - which is actually rather useful.
(There's a lot of space devoted to each artist - no 'compressed image' worries here'!)

It's priced at $17.45, and while that might sound like a lot, you're getting 120 full-size (well, maybe not quite full size - some of those dragons are bigger than houses!) colour dragons, not even mentioning the interviews and bios. So for what it is, it's actually rather inexpensive! Though you've got a chance to get it for free - I've got a giveaway coming up, so check back here for details.
  (Don't judge a book by its cover - the art inside is actually much, much better - and even my inexperienced eye can see that...)
So, what about the quality of the art itself? Well, though the art caters to a variety of styles and tastes, it was all of uniformly high quality: from what I've seen, this book is fantastically compiled, and the artists' visions haven't been let down in the slightest. The only flaw I could find was that the interview questions could have been more personalised, to increase the interest of responses - but the art is the main selling point. And put simply, it's wonderful. 

This is the epitome of the perfect coffee-table book: to peruse, to flick through, to enjoy in moments - and then to let go til next time.

You can find DragonWorld on Amazon here: DragonWorld: Amazing dragons, advice and inspiration from the artists of deviantART 

Or here in the UK: Dragonworld: Amazing Dragons, Advice and Inspiration from the Artists of Deviantart

Read this book, or plan to? Comment below and tell me!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

July | The Releases I Can't Wait to Read

So we've got a week left of the month - and with so many great releases, I'm going to take a look at what I'm most looking forward to reading! And, of course, please share your own opinion of what I've so shamefully missed out...

A Dance With Dragons
 Really, how could I miss this out?

We've been waiting for more of Martin's brutal genius since A Feast For Crows, and now we finally get to see our favourite characters once more! I should have bought this already... Reviews are mixed in places, but even if Dance can only match Feast, for me it'll still be the equal of most fantasy out there.

Release Date: July 12th

Ghost Story
Ever since the massive cliffhanger of Changes (which brought just what the title describes!), I've been waiting for this once. And the sample chapters have just whetted my book lust. :P (You can find them here: Ghost Story Chapter 1 ) Well, the Dresden Files are one of my favourite Urban Fantasies for a reason: they're tightly packed, original, and don't just stick to the serious! And I just can't wait to read more...

Release Date: July 26th

(You can find Ghost Story on Amazon here: Ghost Story (Dresden Files, No. 13) )

 So, which new releases are you waiting for? Have you read Dance yet?

Friday, 22 July 2011

Review | Spectyr - Philippa Ballantine

Middle books are a problem in fantasy: series often begin intriguingly, and end fantastically, but have trouble keeping the reader's interest in the middle. After all, there's no final resolution...

Luckily, Spectyr is one of the books that manages to avoid this problem: and adeptly keeps the length to a minimum as well, making it a fast and engaging read - free of bloat. So if you think Robert Jordan-esque volume is all there is to the genre, think again!

So, let's go for our summary. Again, we begin with our paired protagonists: the Deacons, Sorcha Faris and Merrick Chambers.Now experiencing the rather petty enmity of the new Abbot, they haven't got a chance of being let near an actual geist: stuck instead with the rumours. (...The sort of rumours that happen in real life as well - what with all of the 999 calls for zombie attacks...). Nevertheless, when they learn that there's a potential threat to Raed Rossin, Pretender to the throne - and Sorcha's romantic interest - they manage to trick their way to a posting where they can help. Because the Emperor's sister has released a goddess. Or rather. a geistlord that wants its rival, the Rossin, dead.

It's an interesting plot, and to its credit for what could have become an episodic series, very different from the first. It also introduces us to some of Ballantine's rather unique and fascinating worldbuilding: and some intriguing clues about the abandonment of the 'little gods' in the past emerge. The Otherside and magic system, some of the more interesting aspects of Geist, also get their turn. Though there's less use of the runes, some of the plot points revolve around the geistlords. One in particular introduces an element which could get out of hand, and is unexplained in this book: so in order to avoid continual use, I'm going to be waiting for an explanation in Wrayth. (I would mention it, but - spoilers)

The characters are as entertaining as always: their interactions, especially with some personal acquaintances thrown into the mix, make Spectyr a constantly-surprising read! The gradual change in the Emperor's sister under the goddess' influence is also achieved well, as are the motives of the geistlords - often human emotions taken to extremes. What can I say? It's good to see the often stereotypical summoned 'demons' gain some actual motives rather than just 'for the evil!'.

All in all? Though without the surprise value of Geist, Spectyr keeps up the series' promise: well-crafted, tightly packed action, interspersed with clues to worldbuilding which should satisfy even die-hard fantasy fans. While Geist took us into the action, Spectyr is keeping us there: waiting for Wrayth.

(You can find Spectyr on Amazon here: Spectyr (A Book of the Order) )

Read this book, or have something to say? Comment below and tell me!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Review | The Stormcaller - Tom Lloyd

I don't like prophecies.

At least, prophecies played straight. So it came as a great relief to me for someone to finally one-up destiny in The Stormcaller - in possibly the best moment of the book! This is, I admit, a reread - I first read The Stormcaller a while back, but completely forgot its existence, and with the sequels now released, I think it's time for me to pick it up again. So here goes, my review.

Isak, our protagonist, is a white-eye: a breed of human made more powerful, charismatic, and quick-tempered by the Gods. He is rapidly elevated from a lowly position (when isn't it?) to the Krann, or heir, to the reigning Lord of the Farlan by their patron God, Nartis - but it soon becomes clear that there's more than Nartis working to manipulate Isak. As he attempts to accustom himself to his new position in court - Isak is remarkably impolitic, and this is probably his most unlikable stage, because Isak is hardly an unquestionably sympathetic protagonist - he is marked by more than his patron God: the newly met attempt his death, his gifts from the Gods are the weapons and armour of their betrayer (the last Elven King), and he dreams of Lord Bahl's death every night.

Luckily, Isak isn't the 'special' character of many fantasy novels: an author's darling able to do no wrong. Isak is impolitic, and his development into the new role makes him both more realistic and sympathetic. Far from being blessed by prophecy, it's more often a curse - and Isak is determined to escape this 'destiny'. However, he doesn't exist in a vacuum: the other members of the trio are likewise well-crafted. Tila and Count Vesna make an excellent (and at times amusing pair), and Lloyd manages to let her escape being a romantic interest for Isak.

However, for a relatively short epic fantasy, the Gods and magic leave little space for the development of more than the central characters: although the events in Narkang, where Isak is sent as ambassador, definitely introduce the reader to more development, both in terms of character and conflict. It's here where we really get to see the more complex elements of Lloyd's fantasy, and though it's -as yet- hardly Erikson-esque, this second section definitely has promise in that direction...

Altogether, The Stormcaller is a good start to a series, which doesn't quite cross the line into 'great': needing either more scope/complexity or character development to get there. Nevertheless, its success shows that its sequels might well get there, and Lloyd deserves a lot of credit for questioning and playing with accepted elements!

...Prophecy, for instance.


Comments, questions, or criticisms? Comment below and tell me your thoughts!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Coming Up | July

Well, firstly, I'll be continuing with my reviews of Philippa Ballantine's Order books, with a review of the newly released Spectyr. (Hint: it's good) Next? Well, I don't think I can resist A Dance With Dragons for long, but in an effort to be doing something differently (:P), I'll be going with a post on introductory books for fans new to the genre: basically, where I think it's good to start! This is, of course, shamelessly plagiarised inspired by the thread enquiring about this on Fantasy Faction (but don't tell anyone).

Anything else you think I should cover? Comment and tell me!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Review | Geist - Philippa Ballantine

Geist was a book I'd heard a little of before - and almost all of it good, from the Fantasy Faction forums (if you haven't already, I recommend checking them out). At any rate, as soon as I received my copy, I began my read - and it started fast. Refreshingly, Geist takes up a pace far from the fantasy norm: throwing you almost straight into an action-packed encounter with one of the unliving, the in-world term for spirits from the 'Otherside'. Our initial protagonists - Deacons Sorcha Faris and Merrick Chambers - have a duty to tackle these incursions, as a pair of Active and Sensitive, their magical talents complementing each other.

However, the unliving they're encountering are far from what the Order teaches - able to break accepted rules, these spirits appear to have been summoned... And when the newly paired Deacons are sent to investigate a wave of geist activity in the remote port of Ulrich, it immediately becomes apparent that their difficulties are only just beginning: there's a conspiracy (when isn't there?) and they are at the centre of it. Along, it seems, with another newcomer to the port. Raed Rossin, host of an inherited geist-lord and family curse - as well as the Pretender to the Emperor's throne.

It's an interesting combination of personalities, and in general, they're handled exceedingly well. The Bond between Sensitive and Active is made much more than a pretty 'look, they're empathic!' toy - it's essential for their function. Without the magical senses of Merrick, Sorcha's considerable power is useless: as the book makes clear, 'useless' can easily become 'dangerous' without direction. Compelled by the bond, the Deacons' partnership is a good one, with both partners having difficulties to overcome - starting with Merrick's fear of Sorcha, who was involved in the events which led to his father's death. Raed, meanwhile, was slightly irritating to start with, but certainly grew on me - though I felt his relationship with Sorcha may have seemed slightly rapid, within such a short book (to its credit), it's still done well. The only character I felt didn't get enough development was the rather mysterious Nynnia. Merrick's interactions with her aren't fleshed out nearly as much as the Sorcha-Raed ones, leaving her a little unclear (though as I've now read the second book, I can say that this state of affairs doesn't last).

 The magic system makes Geist really excel - while not a Sanderson, it's still an interesting mix of functional, rule-based magic and mystery. The runes, used by the Deacons through the objects of either the Gauntlets (for actives) and Strop (for Sensitives), provide the rule-based side. We're introduced to them early, and also to the fact that Sensitives are hardly inactive - a nice twist. This means we can anticipate their use, but also serves a limiting role: no deus-ex-machina here! The Otherside, by contrast, is completely mysterious, with the other systems of 'cantrips' and the 'wild talents': never truly used for resolution, but definitely serving the role of a not-fully-explored system (something like the exploration of magic in The Way of Kings). Ultimately, it's a set of systems we're quick to grasp, and used to great effect throughout.

All considered? Well, Geist is a novel which should be making its way onto your reading list. A fast-moving, rather riotous fantasy in a mainly slow-moving genre, it's definitely a refreshing read. And it's got sequels... (Insert badly-concealed hook for next review here)

Also... Airships. Let me just savour that word.


You can find Geist on Amazon here: Geist (A Book of the Order)

Read this book, or have any questions, comments (or some great criticisms :D)? Comment below and tell me!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Survivor's Guide to SFF | When to Run Away


Well, as a purely fictional exercise, let's see if I can get a toplist of when to run away in a genre novel - because frankly, it's a tried and tested strategy. And because I've been rereading A Clash of Kings, and there seems to a a great deal of need for it... here are mine (and you can tell me I'm wrong in the comments):

- You're hearing that nice refrain from The Rains of Castamere
- You're anywhere near a protagonist in a Goodkind novel. Or an antagonist. Or anyone, really. Inanimate objects might just survive.

- You're finding rather sticky secretions hanging from buildings near you, and some of that meat smells almost... human
- You're a mook Murgo in an Eddings novel
- You've just insulted a warship with a gravitas-related running joke for a name...
And most of all:
- If you've done ANYTHING to the tea production of the British Space Empire. Really. They don't like it.
What about yours? Comment below with your ideas for genre cues to run, run away...

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Review | City of Ruin - Mark Charan Newton

Okay, after my using the book as a good example in my post on Surpassing Conventions, you can probably guess what I'm going to say about this book! But anyway, here goes: my review.
Although Nights of Villjamur certainly wasn't bad, it's in City that we really see what Newton is doing: the 'transformative' elements of his fantasy (the encroaching Ice Age, for one!) are emphasised here in the harsh conditions of Villiren's siege, rather than being abandoned for more political struggles. As the crablike invading species approaches Villiren, a city rife with corruption - perhaps hopelessly so - social tensions are growing. The unions - conditions already poor - are protesting, but the city's authorities plan to deal harshly with such complaints. Worse, the invading army is led by rumel - causing antipathy towards the city's nonhuman inhabitants. Food is running low (but of course, it is a siege), and Inspector Jeryd has suspicions regarding the source of what there is: some of the meat seems to be human in origin...

Brynd, meanwhile, has the task of making the city ready for war. With the city's gangs uncertain allies, and his own personal habits discovered, it's an unenviable task. Meanwhile, outside the city, Eir, and Rika - members of the royal family ousted following a coup - are pursued by the Empire's soldiers, with Randur aiding their escape.

Newton tackles the familiar event of a siege very well: social as well as military tensions grow, and within the city, there's no overwhelming 'banding together in the face of adversity' mentality which we've grown to expect. Although there was somewhat of a 'New Weird' feel to Nights of Villjamur, it's in the city of Villiren - with its conflicted citizenry - that we really get the Mieville-esque nature of Newton's story, and cultists' magic becomes much more atmospheric. (I would argue that it's overused as conflict resolution in certain sections of the books).

Characterisation is also a lot better. Eir and Randur's relationship, which was one of my complaints in Nights, is far superior: it's now much more covert (her sister is there, after all) and more believable. We're also led to a lot more empathy for characters such as Brynd, which previously seemed to play only a plot-relevant, rather than thematic role in the book. (Although I do think Lutto, the corrupt reeve, disappearing halfway through the story lost the book one of its more interesting characters).

Beware, though - there are no author's darlings here! Characters suffer the consequences of their actions - or beyond them with impunity, and though it's no A Storm of Swords yet... There's definitely an 'anyone can die' feel to the book which definitely adds to the tension! There's no safety net of 'oh, x won't be killed off': because x very well might be. Then brutally dismembered for added drama, and sold as meat.

That really wasn't a spoiler, you know.

All in all, any flaws in City of Ruin are minor, and we're definitely seeing this fantasy as more than the norm: the arrival of an invading race, the ongoing ice age, and a plea to the usurped Empress Rika that I really won't spoil... All combine to make the third book one that I'll definitely be looking out for. Mark Charan Newton has reached a stage of brutal genius, and I can't wait to read more!


Read this book yourself, or just have something to say - or a suggestion? Comment below and tell me!