Extract from George R. R. Martin's A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS

The folks at tor.com just posted an extract from George R. R. Martin's A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin’s ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire. These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness.

Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne, there was Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals—in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg—whose true name (hidden from all he and Dunk encounter) is Aegon Targaryen. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lay ahead for these two… as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.

Featuring more than 160 all-new illustrations by Gary Gianni, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must-have collection that proves chivalry isn’t dead—yet.

Follow this link to read the extract.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

You may recall that I gave Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Lays of Anuskaya series glowing reviews, going as far as to claim that it was one of the most interesting fantasy series I had read in the last decade or so. The series was dark, ambitious, complex, and populated with a great cast of characters that leap off the pages. Even for jaded readers looking for a quality read, that book sequence was different from everything else on the market and definitely worth checking out. Looking forward to whatever the author would write next, when I received the ARC of Beaulieu's Twelve Kings in Sharakhai I knew I needed to give it a shot as soon as possible.

Perusing the slew of positive reviews on Goodreads, I realized that the most common denominator regarding most of those reviewers was that Twelve Kings in Sharakhai was the first Bradley P. Beaulieu novel they had read. Perhaps due to the fact that they had not experienced the brilliance of The Lays of Anuskaya, they didn't have the lofty expectations that I had coming in. Perhaps this was why they ended up enjoying the book as much as they did. And perhaps, sadly, this is why it took everything I had just to go through this book. Although I really wanted to love this work, I'm sad to report that Twelve Kings in Sharakhai features nothing that made Beaulieu's first trilogy such a memorable work of fantasy. Nothing at all.

About 200 pages into it, not much was happening and I wasn't feeling it at all. I came close to contacting the author and offer him to forgo reading the rest of the novel and not review it, for I didn't want what appeared would be a luke-warm review at best to hurt his sales. But then I recalled that each installment of The Lays of Anuskaya were not what one would call fast-paced affairs, and that I should have enough confidence in the author to know that he could still hit it out of the park if given half a chance. Unfortunately, it was all in vain. Indeed, to a certain extent, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai features all the shortcomings of the previous trilogy, but none of the depth, the great worldbuilding, or the superior characterization.

Here's the blurb:

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite ompany of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Although far from perfect, The Winds of Khalakovo, opening volume of The Lays of Anuskaya, featured fantastic worldbuilding. Very Russian and Eastern European in style and tone, Beaulieu demonstrated that he had a great eye for details. That backdrop gave the series a very distinctive vibe and flavor. I'm not sure why, but the author failed to imbue his new desert world with the same sort of depth. Which makes me wonder why so many Goodreads reviews praise the worldbuilding and its Middle Eastern environment, as if it was something so rarely done. I mean, though the market remains saturated with the classic medieval European backdrop, other SFF authors such as Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker have been doing this for over a decade, and doing this with much more depth and with a more arresting imagery. The city of Sharakhai and the rest of Beaulieu's creation fail to come alive the way the universe of The Lays of Anuskaya surprised and amazed me at every turn. One of the shortcomings that this novel shares with The Winds of Khalakovo would have to be that Beaulieu keeps his cards way too close to his chest. Indeed, once again he plunges his readers into the heart of the tale without offering a whole lot in terms of explanation or information. There are hints of hidden depth throughout Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, yet the readers are mostly left in the dark about most aspects of the plot. Which, understandably, given that the ending offers very little in terms of payoff and resolution, was quite off-putting.

One of the elements I loved the most about The Lays of Anuskaya was the fact that it was all shades of gray. This was adult fantasy the way it should be. Nothing clear-cut or juvenile, nothing so simple as good vs evil. The relationships between characters were complex and morally ambiguous, the way they normally are in real life. That trilogy featured none of the bells and whistles that thrill younger fantasy fans, yet it was satisfying on so many levels that it didn't matter. Still, for those reasons, some readers felt that Beaulieu's books were too slow-moving, not too exciting, and a bit boring. Which might be why the author opted for a more black and white approach when he set out to write Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. Indeed, the novel is filled with a lot of action and battle scenes, and the protagonists feature none of the complexity and moral ambiguity that made characters like Nikandr Khalakovo, Atiana Vostroma, Nasim, Soroush, Rehada, and Styophan Andrashayev such unforgettable people. Sadly, by trying to produce a work that younger fans more into black and white fantasy series akin to those written by bestselling authors like Brandon Sanderson, I'm afraid that Bradley P. Beaulieu had to take every single facet of his writing which made The Lays of Anuskaya so terrific out of the equation. Which, in the end, in my humble opinion, makes Twelve Kings in Sharakhai feel as if it had been written by a different person.

As far as characterization is concerned, I've always said that Beaulieu's style was some sort of hybrid between Steven Erikson and L. E. Modesitt, Jr. But he also has a deft human touch that often reminded me of Robin Hobb. That was true for the first trilogy, but not for this new novel. There is no depth to speak of when it comes to the main protagonists. Everything is black and white through and through, with not a single shade of gray anywhere within the storylines. Çeda is too badass for her own good, and I found it impossible to care for or root for her. With Çeda being a hardcore girl trained to be a weapon, I was expecting Beaulieu to use our own preconceptions against us, the way he has often done in the past, and surprise and shock us when we least expected it. Alas, that was not to be. In previous works, Beaulieu's protagonists, though not flamboyant, were always solid, genuine, and three-dimensional men and women that remain true to themselves. In that regard, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is a world away. Emre, who gradually falls under the yoke of the Moonless Host, is another decidedly black and white character with no depth. I had high hopes that Beaulieu would do with him what he did with Soroush, demonstrating that there is much more to him than just being a fundamentalist terrorist. Alas, once again that was not to be. At first, it seemed that Ramahd Amansir could be a wild card that could turn this tale around. But the culmination of his plotline fell a bit flat and he couldn't save this book.

The structure of the novel is also different from what Beaulieu has accustomed us to in the past. Like Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, it's made up of chapters occurring in real time and of chapters featuring flashback scenes meant to fill the gaps in Çeda and Emre's backstory. And while some flashbacks serve to further flesh out the storylines and help us understand how both teenagers became the way they are now, certain scenes only worked as filler material and actually broke the momentum of the book.

As was the case with The Winds of Khalakovo, by the time you reach the end of this novel you still understand very little about the magical system and why things are the way they are. We can only hope that the second volume will be more forthcoming in that regard. Trouble is, I'm not sure I'm willing to go through another such book. . .

The pace, I'm afraid, is atrocious. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, no Bradley P. Beaulieu book has ever been called a fast-paced affair. And yet, those works were usually slow-moving because the author was laying a lot of groundwork for what was to come, or he was weaving various threads to bring everything together. Not so with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. Indeed, the novel features quite a few chapters that seemingly bring little or nothing to the overall story arc and which could have been excised without hurting the tale in any way. Things pick up near the end, but it's a case of "too little, too late." The ending doesn't necessarily make a whole lot of sense, what with the Maidens taking Çeda's word for what happened and not question anything. As stated above, the fact that the ending offers very little in terms of payoff or resolution also robs the finale of any kind of impact.

Considering that Beaulieu's Twelve Kings in Sharakhai was one of my most eagerly anticipated SFF titles of 2015, this is a major disappointment for me. So much so that I'm thinking this series just might not be for me. The silver lining, if there is one, is that people unacquainted with The Lays of Anuskaya appear to be loving this book. Which means that most of those readers might be enticed to give the author's first fantasy series a shot. And the more people who do so, the better it will be for Beaulieu!

The final verdict: 6/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Win a set of C. S. Friedman's DREAMWALKER and DREAMSEEKER

Thanks to the generosity of the author, I have an autographed set of C. S. Friedman's Dreamwalker (Canada, USA, Europe) and Dreamseeker (Canada, USA, Europe) up for grabs!

Here's the blurb from the first volume:

All her life Jessica Drake has dreamed of other worlds, some of them similar to her own, others disturbingly alien. She never shares the details with anyone, save her younger brother Tommy, a compulsive gamer who incorporates some aspects of Jessica’s dreams into his games. But now someone is asking about those dreams…and about her. A strange woman has been watching her house. A visitor to her school attempts to take possession of her dream-inspired artwork.


As she begins to search for answers it becomes clear that whoever is watching her does not want her to learn the truth. One night her house catches on fire, and when the smoke clears she discovers that her brother has been kidnapped. She must figure out what is going on, and quickly, if she and her family are to be safe.

Following clues left behind on Tommy’s computer, determined to find her brother and bring him home safely, Jessica and two of her friends are about to embark on a journey that will test their spirits and their courage to the breaking point, as they must leave their own world behind and confront the source of Earth’s darkest legends – as well as the terrifying truth of their own secret heritage.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "DREAMSEEKER." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time, you can download Paolo Bacigalupi's Pump Six and Other Stories for only 1.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

Paolo Bacigalupi's debut collection demonstrates the power and reach of the science fiction short story. Social criticism, political parable, and environmental advocacy lie at the center of Paolo's work. Each of the stories herein is at once a warning, and a celebration of the tragic comedy of the human experience.

The eleven stories in Pump Six represent the best Paolo's work, including the Hugo nominee "Yellow Card Man," the nebula and Hugo nominated story "The People of Sand and Slag," and the Sturgeon Award-winning story "The Calorie Man."

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.

After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between 17 million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (September 28th)

In hardcover:

Chuck Wendig's Star Wars: Aftermath is down eleven spots, finishing the week at number 16.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback).

Andy Weir's The Martian is up one spot, finishing the week at number 2.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is down three positions, ending the week at number 13 (trade paperback).

Quote of the Day

Let me tell you of vengeance. Gods are vain and fickle, but vengeance is an honest thing born of man alone. It is as natural as breathing and as old as time, and it overrides all--even duty to your lord. It does so because it is itself a duty, a holy moral duty, and anything can be forgiven in its name--so long as you are prepared to give everything for it. This is being samurai. Do you understand?

- DAVID KIRK, Child of Vengeance (Canada, USA, Europe)

David Walton contest winners!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Pyr, our winners will get their hands on a copy of David Walton's Supersymmetry! For mor info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Mitja Lisjak, from Stanjel, Slovenia

- Christian Rast, from Bayreuth, Germany

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on Ian M. Banks' Matter for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In a world renowned even within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one man it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, even without knowing the full truth, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever.

Only the sister is not what she once was; Djan Seriy Anaplian has changed almost beyond recognition to become an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, charged with high-level interference in civilizations throughout the greater galaxy.

Concealing her new identity - and her particular set of abilities - might be a dangerous strategy, however. In the world to which Anaplian returns, nothing is quite as it seems; and determining the appropriate level of interference in someone else's war is never a simple matter.

MATTER is a novel of dazzling wit and serious purpose. An extraordinary feat of storytelling and breathtaking invention on a grand scale, it is a tour de force from a writer who has turned science fiction on its head.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (September 21st)

In hardcover:

Chuck Wendig's Star Wars: Aftermath is down one spot, finishing the week at number 5.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback).

Andy Weir's The Martian is up four spots, finishing the week at number 3.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One maintains its position at number 10 (trade paperback).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time, you can download Steven Erikson's Forge of Darkness for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Forge of Darkness: Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...

It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power… and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...

Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can once again get your hands on the digital edition of Glen Cook's The Swordbearer for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A young man’s dreams of warfare and glory turn into a bitter nightmare when an invading army, led by the Dark Champion Nevenka Nieroda and his twelve Dead Captains, the Toal, besieges his father’s feudal fortress. Nieroda and the Toal demand the surrender of an ancient artifact long-believed to be a myth. With the walls breached and his family slaughtered—or worse—Gathrid flees into the wilderness beyond his familiar castle walls.

Lost and alone in the woods, hounded by the Dead Captains, Gathrid takes refuge in a vast cavern. There he discovers an ancient sword— Daubendiek, the Great Sword of Suchara, the fabled weapon once wielded by the legendary tragic hero of an ancient age, Tureck Aarant. Daubendiek, a restless and thirsty blade, promises Gathrid the ability to claim his vengeance. But as he begins to take that vengeance, Gathrid starts to understand the terrible price that the sword will exact of him. Enemies soon become allies and strange bedfellows abound as the prophesies of an age swirl into chaos.

Bradley P. Beaulieu contest winners!

These three lucky winners will get their hands on a copy of Bradley P. Beaulieu's Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, compliments of the folks at Daw Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Frank Johnston, from Northampton, Pennsylvania, USA (Ancalagon on Reddit)

- Nick Guido, from College Station, Texas, USA

- Ashley Sowa, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Don't know for how long, but you can now download Songs of Love and Death, a speculative fiction anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois featuring an all-star list of contributors, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In this star-studded cross-genre anthology, seventeen of the greatest modern authors of fantasy, science fiction, and romance explore the borderlands of their genres with brand-new tales of ill-fated love. From zombie-infested woods in a postapocalyptic America to faery-haunted rural fields in eighteenth- century England, from the kingdoms of high fantasy to the alien world of a galaxy-spanning empire, these are stories of lovers who must struggle against the forces of magic and fate.

Award-winning, bestselling author Neil Gaiman demonstrates why he’s one of the hottest stars in literature today with “The Thing About Cassandra,” a subtle but chilling story of a man who meets an old girlfriend he had never expected to see.

International blockbuster bestselling author Diana Gabaldon sends a World War II RAF pilot through a stone circle to the time of her Outlander series in “A Leaf on the Winds of All Hallows.” Torn from all he knows, Jerry MacKenzie determinedly survives hardship and danger, intent on his goal of returning home to his wife and baby—no matter the cost.

New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher presents “Love Hurts,” in which Harry Dresden takes on one of his deadliest adversaries and in the process is forced to confront the secret desires of his own heart.

Just the smallest sampling promises unearthly delights, but look also for stories by New York Times bestselling romance authors Jo Beverley and Mary Jo Putney, and by such legends of the fantasy genre as Peter S. Beagle and Tanith Lee, as well as many other popular and beloved writers, including Marjorie M. Liu, Jacqueline Carey, Carrie Vaughn, and Robin Hobb. This exquisite anthology, crafted by the peerless editing team of George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is sure to leave you under its spell

Jeff Somers contest winners!

Thanks to the author's generosity, our three winners will receive autographed print copies of Jeff Somers' short story, "The Pale."

You can download "The Pale" for only 0.99$ here. The first two installments, The Shattered Gears and The Walled City, are available for the same price.

The winners are:

- Pat Lefebvre, from Montréal, Québec, Canada
- Todd Yuninger, from Paradise, Pennsylvania, USA
- Paulina Piazza, from Markham, Ontario, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

I don't know why the digital editions of Guy Gavriel Kay's novels are always so expensive, but that's the way it is. =( One of his signature works, The Lions of Al-Rassan, is available for a limited time for only 4.99$ here. Considering that all of his other books go for 10$-16$ a piece, it's a very good deal!

Here's the blurb:

The ruling Asharites of Al-Rassan have come from the desert sands, but over centuries, seduced by the sensuous pleasures of their new land, their stern piety has eroded. The Asharite empire has splintered into decadent city-states led by warring petty kings. King Almalik of Cartada is on the ascendancy, aided always by his friend and advisor, the notorious Ammar ibn Khairan -- poet, diplomat, soldier -- until a summer afternoon of savage brutality changes their relationship forever.

Meanwhile, in the north, the conquered Jaddites' most celebrated -- and feared -- military leader, Rodrigo Belmonte, driven into exile, leads his mercenary company south.

In the dangerous lands of Al-Rassan, these two men from different worlds meet and serve -- for a time -- the same master. Sharing their interwoven fate -- and increasingly torn by her feelings -- is Jehane, the accomplished court physician, whose own skills play an increasing role as Al-Rassan is swept to the brink of holy war, and beyond.

Hauntingly evocative of medieval Spain, The Lions of Al-Rassan is both a brilliant adventure and a deeply compelling story of love, divided loyalties, and what happens to men and women when hardening beliefs begin to remake -- or destroy -- a world.

You can also get your hands on David Gemmell's Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

He is a man of many names. Some call him the Golden One; others, the Lord of the Silver Bow. To the Dardanians, he is Prince Aeneas. But to his friends, he is Helikaon. Strong, fast, quick of mind, he is a bold warrior, hated by his enemies, feared even by his Trojan allies. For there is a darkness at the heart of the Golden One, a savagery that, once awakened, can be appeased only with blood.

Argurios the Mykene is a peerless fighter, a man of unbending principles and unbreakable will. Like all of the Mykene warriors, he lives to conquer and to kill. Dispatched by King Agamemnon to scout the defenses of the golden city of Troy, he is Helikaon’s sworn enemy.

Andromache is a priestess of Thera betrothed against her will to Hektor, prince of Troy. Scornful of tradition, skilled in the arts of war, and passionate in the ways of her order, Andromache vows to love whom she pleases and to live as she desires.

Now fate is about to thrust these three together–and, from the sparks of passionate love and hate, ignite a fire that will engulf the world.

Readers who know the works of David Gemmell expect nothing less than excellence from this author, whose taut prose, driving plots, and full-bodied characters have won him legions of fans the world over. Now, with this first masterly volume in an epic reimagining of the Trojan War, Gemmell has written an ageless drama of brave deeds and fierce battles, of honor and treachery, of love won and lost.

Kushiel's Chosen

This review comes late, I know. Several years late, to be honest. As I mentioned in my review of Kushiel's Dart, I felt pretty dumb to have waited for over a decade to finally give this series a shot. Especially given the fact that Jacqueline Carey's debut ended up being the very best fantasy debut I have ever read. And with the second installment being nearly as good as the first volume, I can confirm that this trilogy deserves the highest possible recommendation!

Indeed, taken together, Kushiel's Dart and Kushiel's Chosen are the best two-punch combination to ever mark the beginning of a fantasy series. Yes, better than Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates, better than Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt, better than Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice and Royal Assassin, and yes, even better than George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. And to the newer generation of SFF readers who mocked my review of Kushiel's Dart on Reddit last summer, claiming that it couldn't possibly be that good, it is better and more ambitious that the first two novels written by such talented authors as Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, and Brandon Sanderson. It is that and more. A lot more!

As an avid reader, the shelves of my apartment are full of books. My locker is full of boxes of novels and I also have boxes and boxes full of them in storage elsewhere. Try as I might, I couldn't find Carey's first series last summer. And thanks to the author, she cobbled together a set of the first three installments that she sent my way so I could review them. Having now read two of them, I can't thank her enough for doing this, for it's been a long time since I've read such extraordinary fantasy works.

Here's the blurb:

The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. The inhabiting race rose from the seed of angels and men, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman, the first to recognize that she is one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. He trained Phèdre in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber--and, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze.

When she stumbled upon a plot that threatened the very foundations of her homeland, she gave up almost everything she held dear to save it. She survived, and lived to have others tell her story, and if they embellished the tale with fabric of mythical splendor, they weren't far off the mark.

The hands of the gods weigh heavily upon Phèdre's brow, and they are not finished with her. While the young queen who sits upon the throne is well loved by the people, there are those who believe another should wear the crown... and those who escaped the wrath of the mighty are not yet done with their schemes for power and revenge.

Jacqueline Carey's debut was fantasy on a grand scale. In scope and vision, Kushiel's Dart was as impressive as other opening chapters of bestselling SFF series such as Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World, George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, and Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. I opined that time would tell if the rest of the trilogy and the subsequent series would show as much depth, but Carey's debut was a dense and complex novel that delivered on all fronts. Well, I'm happy to report that Kushiel's Chosen is another sprawling work that builds on the storylines introduced in its predecessor and take them and their characters even further on another convoluted tale of love and betrayal.

Once more, the worldbuilding was absolutely amazing. As I mentioned in my review of Carey's debut, the backdrop for this series isn't the traditional European medieval setting. It is more akin to the Renaissance era and it is set in an alternate version of Western Europe. Terre d'Ange occupies the territory which we know as France and was founded by Elua and his Companions, all of them fallen angels. Elua's motto was "Love as thou wilt." Which means that love and physical pleasure are important facets of D'Angeline society. As a matter of course, sexuality once again lies at the heart of this story, and service to the angel Naamah continues to be one of the most important religious institutions of Terre d'Ange. Kushiel's Dart was a sprawling novel, more far-reaching than most fantasy debuts, and the same can be said of Kushiel's Chosen. I was hoping that the author would take us on journeys that would enable us to discover more about her universe and I wasn't disappointed. Beyond the alternate France, other countries such as Italy, especially Venice, Croatia, and Greece are explored and play a big role as Phèdre's tale moves forward. Richly detailed and imagined in terms of cultures, religions, and politics, Jacqueline Carey produced another textured and sophisticated novel that hits all the right buttons. As was the case in the first volume, the web of murder and political intrigue woven by the author is as impressive and unanticipated as the politicking of such masters as George R. R. Martin and Katherine Kurtz. Like its predecessor, Kushiel's Chosen is almost impossible to put down.

Jacqueline Carey writes with an elegance that reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay. I'm a plot guy, always have been and always will be, and I seldom praise a writer's prose. And yet, Carey's prose is something else and it just might be the very best in the genre today. Even the darkest and more shocking scenes are written with a distinctive literary grace, making them even more powerful than they would be in the hands of a less gifted author. Her spellbinding prose creates an imagery filled with wonder and beauty that never fails to fascinate. Moreover, à la Robin Hobb, Carey also possesses a subtle human touch which imbues certain sequences with even more emotional impact. Truth to tell, I don't believe that Jacqueline Carey ever received the credit she deserved for writing such incredible books.

Last year in my review of Kushiel's Dart, I mentioned that a woman who embraces her sexuality can be quite intimidating to men. Even more so, I reckoned, to male SFF geeks. I felt that Phèdre's disturbing (according to some, even in today's Western society) sexuality, what with it tinged with sadomasochism, most probably had something to do with the fact that the Kushiel trilogy was not held with such high esteem as some of the boys' club favorites like Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, etc. Truth to tell, as a younger man I's sure I wouldn't have ever gotten into Carey's books. I also believe that Phèdre's sexuality and the way sex is portrayed and used throughout these books likely have something to do with the fact that Carey's novels seldom make the cut when feminist SFF bloggers/reviewers suggest books and series written by female SFF authors to read. Be that as it may, in order to understand and appreciate Phèdre's psyche and motivations, I still believe one must be part of a more mature audience. But not just because of the sex and other R-rated elements. As a matter of fact, I feel that it would be too easy to simply focus on the sexuality which permeates every aspect of these novels. Yes, sexuality lies at the heart of these books, no question. But there is much more than that. These stories are filled with nuances and nothing is ever black or white. Kushiel's Chosen is another remarkable and intricately plotted story featuring an unforgettable cast of characters that will leave no reader indifferent.

The book features the first person narrative of Phèdre nó Delaunay, a deeply flawed character. Still, her strengths and weaknesses make her genuine and her perspective, that of an older Phèdre relating the story of her past, misleads readers on numerous occasions by playing with their expectations. Once again, the supporting cast is comprised of a variety of three-dimensional men and women. Many of them, in their own way, through their interactions with Phèdre, add even more layers to an already multilayered plot. Several characters from Kushiel's Dart return in this sequel, but there are also quite a few new faces that will help or hinder Phèdre along the way. And even though it is Phèdre's POV which gives the book its unique flavor, this one would never have been such a satisfying read without the presence of such characters as Melisande Shahrizai, Joscelin Verreuil, Queen Ysandre, Phèdre's Boys, the pirate lord Kazan Atrabiades, and many more. And thankfully, once more, à la Mark Lawrence, Robin Hobb, and L. E. Modessit, jr., Carey doesn't follow the path of least resistance and her characters remain true to themselves. For good or ill.

In terms of rhythm, I feel that Carey paced this work perfectly. Kushiel's Chosen is another doorstopper of a book, yet it's a real page-turner. The author has a knack for coming up with plot twists that suck you in and won't let go, forcing you to read just another chapter. Which then forces you to read another one and another one, and so on and so forth. Doubtless, like its predecessor, Kushiel's Chosen makes for compulsive reading! Simply put, Kushiel's Chosen is another sophisticated and convoluted read full of wonder and sensuality. Written on an epic scale and with an elegance seldom seen in this subgenre, Jacqueline Carey did it again, proving that Kushiel's Dart was no fluke. Edgy and sexy, true. Yet it's also as complex, satisfying, and rewarding as any of the best works of fantasy, past or present, have to offer.

Hard to put down and highly recommended. Which means that you should drop whatever you are reading now and get your hands on both Kushiel's Dart and Kushiel's Chosen ASAP if you haven't read them yet!

The final verdict: 9/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can once again download Mark T. Barnes' The Garden of Stones for 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

When the Shrīanese Empire explodes into civil war, fighters of all kinds flock to the banners of their lords. Indris, a skilled swordsman and brilliant sorcerer, seeks to end the bloodshed once and for all. He knows this war is simply a ruse—a power play by a ruling Family desperate to take control of the Empire by any means necessary. Indris cares little for the politics except to see that justice is upheld. But even he can't see the terrible price his opponents are willing to pay to secure their legacy.

A true epic, the first book in the Echoes of Empire series creates a spellbinding new world. With its twisted politics, new races, compelling heroes and villains, and unique magic, The Garden of Stones is a lyrical fantasy on the grandest scale.

And you can also get your hands on the sequel, The Obsidian Heart, for the same price here, as well as the third volume, The Pillars of Sand, here.

Musical Interlude

Awesome track! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

I don't know for how long, but all the Mongoliad installments are now on sale! You can download the first volume for only 1.99$ here. You can also get your hands on the second installment for the same price here, and the same goes for the third volume here. And I just realized that you can get volume 4, Katabasis, and a volume 5, Siege Perilous, for 1.99$ each as well.

Here's the blurb for the first volume:

With bonus material! This Kindle edition features extra content only found in the Collector’s Edition of The Mongoliad: Book One, including an illustrated character glossary, a Foreworld map, and Sinner, a prequel to the Mongoliad series.

The first novel to be released in The Foreworld Saga, The Mongoliad: Book One, is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia.

But the saga reaches the modern world via a circuitous route. In the late 19th century, Sir Richard F. Burton, an expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, is approached by a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados about translating a collection of long-lost manuscripts. Burton dies before his work is finished, and his efforts were thought lost until recently rediscovered by a team of amateur archaeologists in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy. From this collection of arcana, the incredible tale of The Mongoliad was recreated.

Full of high adventure, unforgettable characters, and unflinching battle scenes, The Mongoliad ignites a dangerous quest where willpower and blades are tested and the scope of world-building is redefined.

A note on this edition: The Mongoliad began as a social media experiment, combining serial story-telling with a unique level of interaction between authors and audience during the creative process. Since its original iteration, The Mongoliad has been restructured, edited, and rewritten under the supervision of its authors to create a more cohesive reading experience and will be published as a trilogy of novels. This edition is the definitive edition and is the authors' preferred text.

Chuck Wendig contest winner!

This lucky winner will receive a copy of Chuck Wendig's Zer0es, courtesy of the fine folks at HarperCollins. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Josh Atkins, from Westbrook, Maine, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (September 14th)

In hardcover:

Chuck Wendig's Star Wars: Aftermath debuts at number 4.

R.A. Salvatore's Archmage debuts at number 17.

Christopher Moore’s Secondhand Souls is down eleven positions, ending the week at number 18.

In paperback:

Andy Weir's The Martian maintains its position at number 1 (trade paperback).

Andy Weir's The Martian is down three spots, finishing the week at number 7.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is down three spots, finishing the week at number 10 (trade paperback).

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is down two positions, ending the week at number 12 (trade paperback).

Seanan McGuire's A Red-Rose Chain debuts at number 13.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time, you can download Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Unnatural Creatures is a collection of short stories about the fantastical things that exist only in our minds—collected and introduced by beloved New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman.

The sixteen stories gathered by Gaiman, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, range from the whimsical to the terrifying. The magical creatures range from werewolves to sunbirds to beings never before classified. E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Gahan Wilson, and other literary luminaries contribute to the anthology.

Sales of Unnatural Creatures benefit 826DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students in their creative and expository writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

Win a copy of C. A. Higgins' LIGHTLESS

I have three copies of C. A. Higgins' Lightless for you to win, courtesy of the folks at Del Rey. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

With deeply moving human drama, nail-biting suspense—and bold speculation informed by a degree in physics—C. A. Higgins spins a riveting science fiction debut guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations.

Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship.

While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden.

As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "LIGHTLESS." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!