Musical Interlude

Another blast from the past!

Rewind back to my high school days. Def Leppard was huge back then, one of the most popular bands in the world. They were also the first rock band to take a 360° stage on their world tour. The Hysteria and the following Adrenalize tours with a similar set-up are among the very best live performances I have ever seen. Both were played in front of a packed house at the old Montreal's Forum.

Ah, the good old days!;-) Every time I hear this song, I turn up the volume and sing along!

A bit of trivia: "Pour Some Sugar on Me" remained undefeated for over 50 consecutive weeks on the TV show Combats des Clips on Musique Plus circa 1987-88. What clip finally won over them (there was a different song going up against it every Friday night)? "One" by Metallica, which lost the following week. . .

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

Forcing myself to take a break before plunging into Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest proved to be well nigh impossible. Both The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Canada, USA, Europe ) and The Girl Who Played With Fire (Canada, USA, Europe) make for compulsive reading and are extremely hard to put down. Especially with the way the second volume was brought to a close, I was aware that I needed to discover how the Millennium trilogy was going to end. And believe me, this one is everything you want it to be!

Here's the blurb:

Salander is plotting her revenge - against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.

One thing you can say about this series is that it's addictive. Had he not died mysteriously shortly following the completion of the Millennium trilogy in manuscript form, Stieg Larsson would have become a "must read" author for me. Like Carlos Ruiz Zafón, anything written by Larsson would have trumped whatever I would be reading.

The story is unveiled through a number of disparate perspectives that make this final installment such a satisfying read. The plot is even more convoluted than what was hinted at in The Girl Who Played With Fire. And yet, the author manages to streamline this huge tapestry of complex storylines into an easy to follow whole. And the more layers one uncovers, the more layers are revealed. This is thriller/mystery fiction at its very best.

Though she has been shot in the head and buried alive, Lisbeth Salander, regardless of the fact that she is recuperating in the hospital, demonstrates that she is not without resources. This conflicted and abused character has turned out to be the most intriguing heroine I have ever had the chance to discover. There is a lot of character growth in this one, but she nevertheless remains true to herself. Mikael Blomkvist's plotline keeps you at the edge of your seat, especially when you realize just how far-reaching this governmental cover-up truly is. The Zalachenko Club storyline was also fascinating, for it offered us a completely different perspective on the problems the Swedish state face if their cover is blown. The only storyline that leaves something to be desired is Erika Berger dealing with her stalker. This has nothing to do with the bigger scheme of things, and it did feel like filler material, there simply to keep her occupied and part of the book.

With Salander's trial about to begin, Stieg Larsson steers this complicated plot like a master, bringing it together at the end after a number of unanticipated twists and turns. In retrospect, this was an immensely ambitious project with an unusual and not necessarily likeable main protagonist. But Lisbeth Salander grows on you quite fast, and she and Blomkvist take you on a rollercoaster ride like you've never experienced before.

As was the case with its two predecessors, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is a veritable page-turner. And as the culmination of a panoply of engrossing plotlines, believe me when I tell you that it doesn't get much better than this. The Millennium trilogy is one of the best series, all genres considered, that I have ever read.

This novel deserves the highest possible recommendation. If you have yet to read the Millennium trilogy, you need to rectify the situation ASAP!

The final verdict: 10/10

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

Cover art for R. Scott Bakker's DISCIPLE OF THE DOG

This is the cover art for R. Scott Bakker's second thriller, Disciple of the Dog. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Imagine being able to remember everything you've ever experienced. This is the lonely world inhabited by Disciple Manning. He is able to recall every conversation, meeting and feeling he has ever had, making him an extremely dangerous private investigator. When a young woman disappears, not from her home, but from a religious cult, her parents turn to Manning for help. Manning accepts, but with a chilling sense of foreboding. Heading into the heart of the cult, he encounters the beguiling intelligence of its leader, obsessed with the idea that the world is a fantastical theatre, in which we merely act out our roles, ignorant of our true existence beyond; a belief he is intent on protecting, at any cost. Manning's investigation causes him to clash with the cult's eerie air of detachment and leaves him fighting for survival and elusive answers, before they are swallowed into the town's shadowy pool of secrets. Meanwhile, it's only a matter of time before the missing girl risks being abandoned forever to the depths of our collective forgotten memories...

Sounds interesting!

Failure to Launch: A CRUEL WIND by Glen Cook

After 218 pages, I finally gave up on this book. . .

Getting through the first volume, A Shadow of All Night Falling, took every shred of self-control I could muster. Sadly, the second installment, October's Baby didn't do it for me, either. I wasn't feeling it at all. . .

These books are a world away from the Black Company books. Rarely has a work left me so indifferent. I was bored out of my mind and I couldn't care less. The plot is pretty much linear, the characterization leaves a lot to be desired, and the execution is a little flat.

I was hoping that the Dread Empire books would be as fun and interesting as the Black Company saga. Alas, based on A Cruel Wind (Canada, USA, Europe), Glen Cook's earlier novels are probably not for me. . .

But since I figure that someone else might enjoy them, I'll throw in all the Dread Empire stuff I own in the Jackpot giveaway.=)


Okay, so I've just been notified that the Advance Reading Copies of Speculative Horizons should go out at some point next week. If you are on the Subpress mailing list, you should receive a copy in the near future. I will also host a giveaway for an ARC, as well as copy #1 of the limited edition closer to the pub date.

On the charity front, you know that 10% of the cover price from each copy sold during the first week of pre-orders will be donated to the American Cancer Society. Which means that the timing is important. The pre-order page should go live pretty soon, so keep your eyes peeled! The trade edition should be about 20$, while the limited edition (signed by all the contributors) should go for about 45$.

The Speculative Horizons anthology will be comprised of these short stories:

- "Soul Mate" by C. S. Friedman
- "The Stranger" by L. E. Modesitt, jr.
- "The Eve of the Fall of Habesh" by Tobias S. Buckell
- "Flint" by Brian Ruckley
- "The Death of a Love" by Hal Duncan

Down to the wire. . .

After the most spectacular performance by a goalie in NHL playoff history, Jaroslav Halak, with his 53 saves on 54 shots by the highest scoring team in the league, forced a decisive game 7 tonight in Washington D. C.

As the 8th seed, the Montreal Canadiens limped woefully into the playoffs, requiring 4 games to collect a single point during the last game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Against all odds, the Habs won the first game against the high-flying Capitals. Down 3-1 in the series, the beat Ovi and his crew to tie up the series and force a do-or-die 7th game tonight.

Monday night's game was unbelievable. And tonight, the entire province will be watching on TV. It doesn't matter if they find out that both Elvis and JFK are still alive, or if London gets nuked tonight. Nothing, no matter how important an event, can make the front page of tomorrow's papers. Win or lose, today the sun rises and sets with the Canadiens. As it should be in the Métropole. . .

I wasn't a believer this year. I put Washington in 5 games in my playoff pool, and most people thought that the Habs would be swept in 4 games.

But this is game 7. And anything can happen. . .

Go Habs Go!=)

Win an Advance Reading Copy of China Miéville's KRAKEN

Since I received two ARCs of China Miéville's upcoming Kraken, I'm giving one away to a lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

With this outrageous new novel, China Miéville has written one of the strangest, funniest, and flat-out scariest books you will read this—or any other—year. The London that comes to life in Kraken is a weird metropolis awash in secret currents of myth and magic, where criminals, police, cultists, and wizards are locked in a war to bring about—or prevent—the End of All Things.

In the Darwin Centre at London’s Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow, a cephalopod specialist, is conducting a tour whose climax is meant to be the Centre’s prize specimen of a rare Architeuthis dux—better known as the Giant Squid. But Billy’s tour takes an unexpected turn when the squid suddenly and impossibly vanishes into thin air.

As Billy soon discovers, this is the precipitating act in a struggle to the death between mysterious but powerful forces in a London whose existence he has been blissfully ignorant of until now, a city whose denizens—human and otherwise—are adept in magic and murder.

There is the Congregation of God Kraken, a sect of squid worshippers whose roots go back to the dawn of humanity—and beyond. There is the criminal mastermind known as the Tattoo, a merciless maniac inked onto the flesh of a hapless victim. There is the FSRC—the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit—a branch of London’s finest that fights sorcery with sorcery. There is Wati, a spirit from ancient Egypt who leads a ragtag union of magical familiars. There are the Londonmancers, who read the future in the city’s entrails. There is Grisamentum, London’s greatest wizard, whose shadow lingers long after his death. And then there is Goss and Subby, an ageless old man and a cretinous boy who, together, constitute a terrifying—yet darkly charismatic—demonic duo.

All of them—and others—are in pursuit of Billy, who inadvertently holds the key to the missing squid, an embryonic god whose powers, properly harnessed, can destroy all that is, was, and ever shall be.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "KRAKEN." 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!

Patrick Rothfuss news

It's now official! Or at least as official as these things can get. . .

If Rothfuss can turn in the final manuscript by September, The Wise Man's Fear (Canada, USA, Europe) will be released on March 1st 2011.

You can read all about this on Patrick Rothfuss' blog.

So roll on 2011!;-)

Grave of the Fireflies

Ever since I began watching Japanese anime films last fall, the movie that basically everyone agreed I needed to watch was Grave of the Fireflies. I finally did, and I never expected that an animated feature could touch me and trouble me to such a degree. In its own right, as far as war flicks go, Grave of the Fireflies just might be as powerful as Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.

Here's the blurb:

In post-World War II Japan, a janitor finds a deathly ill boy lying beside a metal candy container. The janitor unwittingly tosses the possession into the night, beginning a most unusual tale of survival set amid the atrocities of war in the Animé GRAVE OF FIREFLIES. Brother and sister Seita and Setsuko, ages 14 and 4, flee their disheveled home and deceased parents to make their bid for a new life. Before American troops begin to occupy their country, the children resort to dwelling in an abandoned bomb shelter in the countryside. Though these siblings later get a sense of safety, they realize necessities such as food and water will not be easy to come by.

One has to wonder exactly why director Isao Takahata felt that this film based on the semi-autobiographical novel by author Akiyuki Nosaka should be aimed at children. How anyone could think that teaming up Grave of the Fireflies with Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro as a double feature was a good plan, I'll never know. It defies comprehension. One has to be one of the most magical children's movie ever made, while the other is a sad and disturbing affair. No wonder Grave of the Fireflies turned away most audiences.

Forget whatever you think you know about anime in general. This is a movie that hits you where it hurts. Tragic in every facet of the story, Grave of the Fireflies focuses on the horrible repercussions that war can have on the lives of normal, innocent folks. Graphic without being sensationalist, the movie is a profoundly emotional journey that leaves no one indifferent.

Following Seita and Setsuko's daily struggles will break your heart. It doesn't happen often, but I felt my eyes water on more than one occasion. The heartrending ending -- or the beginning, as the whole movie is one big flashback -- hits you like a punch in the face. And this was supposed to be a children's film???

If any Japanese animated feature deserves the title of "must see" movie, Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies has to be it. Powerful, moving, heartbreaking, this one deserves the highest possible recommendation.

Here's the trailer:

And the beautiful and haunting theme:

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

Essay by Guy Gavriel Kay

Kay wrote an essay on the seven years it took him to make Under Heaven ( Canada, USA, Europe) a reality. Here an extract:

It actually feels strange to do the math, but I've been living with Under Heaven for over seven years now. Makes it harder, and more complex, to have it finally being published, no longer just 'mine' but out there in the world.

In 2003, around when I was finishing my tour for Last Light of the Sun, I started doing some reading about the Silk Road. I thought there might be a book for me in this, I saw it as a way of sneaking up on China, so to speak. I could use outsider characters to enter an eastern setting, to serve as 'windows' for the reader.

So I made the decision to explore this for my next book, and then my wife and I made another decision: we decided that it was a good year for us to live abroad again, with our sons, back in the south of France where we'd been before on writing trips, but not for a decade.

Follow this link to read the entire essay.

Win a set of David J. Williams' The Autumn Rain trilogy

With David J. Williams' final volume in the series, The Machinery of Light (Canada, USA, Europe), about to be released, I'm giving away two full sets of The Autumn Rain trilogy, compliments of the folks at Bantam Dell.

So in addition to this third volume, the lucky winners will also get their hands on the action-packed The Mirrored Heavens (Canada, USA, Europe) and its sequel, The Burning Skies (Canada, USA, Europe). Can't wait to see how it all ends!

This series is perfect for Joel Shepherd and Richard Morgan fans! For more information, check out Williams' website.

Here's the blurb:

With The Machinery of Light, David J. Williams completes his furiously paced, stunningly imagined trilogy - a work of vision, beauty, and pulse-pounding futuristic action.

September 26, 2110. 10:22 GMT. Following the assassination of the American president, the generals who have seized power initiate World War Three, launching a surprise attack against the Eurasian Coalition's forces throughout the Earth-Moon system. Across the orbits, tens of thousands of particle beams and lasers blast away at one another. The goal: crush the other side's weaponry, paving the way for nuclear bombardment of the cities.

As inferno becomes Armageddon, the rogue commando unit Autumn Rain embarks on one last run. Matthew Sinclair, an imprisoned spymaster, plots his escape. And his former protégé Claire Haskell, capable of hacking into both nets and minds, is realizing that all her powers may merely be playing into Sinclair's plans. For even as Claire evades the soldiers of East and West amid carnage in the lunar tunnels, the surviving members of the Rain converge upon the Moon, one step ahead of the Eurasian fleets but one step behind the mastermind who created Autumn Rain - and his terrible final secret.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "MACHINERY." 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!

Melinda Snodgrass contest winners!

Thanks to the cool folks at Tor Books, these winners will receive a copy of Melinda Snodgrass' The Edge of Ruin. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Scott Suehle, from Cary, North Carolina, USA

- Zafri Mollon, from Caledonia, Ontario, Canada

- Daniel Slack, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

Guy Gavriel Kay contest winners!

These three winners will receive a complimentary copy of Guy Gavriel Kay's amazing Under Heaven, courtesy of the folks at Roc. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

And don't forget that you can get Kay's latest at 57% off on, 50% off on, and 53% off on!

The winners are:

- Jakob Barnard, from Jamestown, North Dakota, USA

- Shaun Viechweg, from Ellicott City, Maryland, USA

- Yune Lee, from Mountain View, California, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Quote of the Day

There is no difference in the philosophical foundation of the beliefs of Mother Teresa and Bin Laden.

- TERRY GOODKIND, in an online discussion

Many thanks to my fellow Lemmings of Discord for unearthing this sparkling gem of wisdom. . .

In case you didn't know, his Yeardness signed a 3-book deal with Tor Books. It is yet unclear if Putnam dropped him, or if TG will be writing the two remaining books he was under contract to deliver simultaneously with the new SoT installments.

J. V. Jones contest winners!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, our three winners will get their hands on a copy of J. V. Jones' Watcher of the Dead. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Myra Castellano, from Edinburg, Texas, USA

- Rich Fiege, from Fishkill, New York, USA (What a name for a town, eh!?!)

- Robert Junker, from Auburn, Washington, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Thanks for nothing, James Cameron

The movie Avatar (Canada, USA, Europe) was released on Thursday, and like countless fans I bought it on the cheap. I knew that we couldn't expect much in the way of extras and surprises, but getting absolutely nothing sort of annoyed me.

When something like 27 Dresses offers more extras and additional footage than a visual masterpiece like Avatar, you know there's something wrong with the world. And it features the gorgeous Katherine Heigl instead of the giant smurfette to boot!

If you believe I'll fork out more dough when the movie is reissued and packed with extras, you have another think coming. I might rent it, but you won't see me purchase a second copy of Pocahontas in space. . .

Quote of the Day

So that's the problem, and it's not just Lamentable Moll's. It's every city the world over. Inbred ruling families and moaning priests--a classic case of divided power squabbling and sniping over the spoils of the common folk, with us mules stumbling under the yoke.

- STEVEN ERIKSON, Blood Follows, collected in Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (Canada, USA, Europe)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 20th)

In hardcover:

Jim Butcher's Changes debuts at number 1. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Patricia Brigg's Silver Borne is down five spots, finishing the week at number 6.

Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is down five positions, ending the week at number 13. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Christopher Moore's Bite Me is down ten spots, finishing the week at number 19. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Raymond E. Feist's At the Gates of Darkness debuts at number 21. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Charlaine Harris' Dead and Gone debuts at number 2.

Sherrilyn Kenyon's Bad Moon Rising is down three positions, ending the week at number 18.

Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is up one spot, finishing the week at number 23 (trade paperback).

Gail Carriger's Changeless is down eleven positions, ending the week at number 31.

Jim Butcher's Turn Coat returns at number 32.

US cover art for Richard Morgan's THE DARK COMMANDS

It sort of goes with the American cover for The Steel Remains. . .

Can't wait to see if the UK cover for The Dark Commands will be as gorgeous as the one Gollancz came up with for its predecessor.


Blake Charlton's fantasy debut came highly recommended, and I was looking forward to see what the buzz was all about. Spellwright is definitely a throwback book, reminiscent of epic fantasy and sword & sorcery novels from the 80s and the early 90s. Indeed, this is the sort of story that brings us back to a time when authors such as David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Raymond E. Feist, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman dominated the bestseller lists. And given Brooks and Feist's popularity, it appears that there is a huge market for books like Spellwright. Though they differ in style and tone, Charlton's fantasy debut reminded me of Feist's Magician: Apprentice.

Here's the blurb:

Nicodemus is a young, gifted wizard with a problem. Magic in his world requires the caster to create spells by writing out the text . . . but he has always been dyslexic, and thus has trouble casting even the simplest of spells. And his misspells could prove dangerous, even deadly, should he make a mistake in an important incantation.

Yet he has always felt that he is destined to be something more than a failed wizard. When a powerful, ancient evil begins a campaign of murder and disruption, Nicodemus starts to have disturbing dreams that lead him to believe that his misspelling could be the result of a curse. But before he can discover the truth about himself, he is attacked by an evil which has already claimed the lives of fellow wizards and has cast suspicion on his mentor. He must flee for his own life if he’s to find the true villain.

But more is at stake than his abilities. For the evil that has awakened is a power so dread and vast that if unleashed it will destroy Nicodemus... and the world.

As a throwback book, Spellwright embraces a lot of the traditional tropes of the fantasy genre. Which, in the end, will either please or put off readers. Fans of the "New Grit" movement and the school of hard knocks established by George R. R. Martin, and which includes writers such as Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Brian Ruckley, and Richard Morgan might have a hard time getting into this one. In Spellwright, the heroes are good, the villains are evil. The forces of good always beat the odds and manage to come out on top, with secret knowledge or power falling into their lap in the nick of time. The good guys are all handsome and beautiful, while the bad guys aren't. The whole good vs evil shebang. Which is not inherently a bad thing, mind you, provided that you are prepared to read such a work. On the other hand, readers who prefer subversion of these same tropes and clichés and love authors known to do that like Steven Erikson might not like Spellwright. Personally, although I much prefer grittier SFF books and series, as a child of the 80s I mostly enjoyed this homage to the works which made me fall in love with the genre.

The worldbuilding is classical and we only get a few glimpses at Charlton's universe. It will be interesting to see more of the world as the story progresses in the upcoming sequels. I'm looking forward to learning more about the Solar Empire, Language Prime, the Chthonic race, and a number of other concepts, as well as the ancient history of Charlton's world.

What truly makes Spellwright stand out is the imaginative magic system Blake Charlton created. Just when you think you've seen it all, like Brandon Sanderson in the Mistborn trilogy, the author came up with something fascinating and unique. Spellwriting allows magic-users to write spells using magical languages. It takes a while to fully understand how it's done, but once you do it allows Charlton to be quite creative and make Spellwright something special.

The characterization is a bit uneven and there are various bumps along the way. Nicodemus Weal, a dyslexic spellwright suffering from cacography, is the principal protagonist. Believed to be either the prophesied savior or destroyer, he is a likeable main character. The problem is that he is at times extremely naive and not necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed, while sometimes he appears to puzzle out key pieces of the mystery in a way that feels contrived. The same can be said of the cast of secondary characters, though Deidre and Shannon have a few surprises up their sleeves. Another detail which did not always work out well was when random conversations were used to cover info dumps.

The pace is good, and the short chapters keep the rhythm moving steadily forward. Despite the tropes, Blake Charlton wrote an engaging -- if not the most original -- story. Spellwright makes for a good reading experience that does bring back memories.

It's too early to say whether or not Spellwright will be the fantasy debut of the year. And yet, I would hazard a guess that Charlton's debut probably sits in the pole position at the moment. It will be interesting to see if Tor Books will attempt to market this one to the Terry Brooks and Raymond E. Feist crowd. Their fans are legions, and most of them would likely enjoy Spellwright quite a bit.

There is no doubt that Spellwright has a lot of potential, which bodes well for the rest of the rest of the series to come. I'll be curious to read the sequel, Spellbound.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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

Clash of the Titans

Finally saw it tonight. . .

Nothing to write home about, to be sure, but not as bad as I thought it would be. Still, compared to the original, it kind of sucks.

The 3D is basically worthless, and I have to wonder why they make us pay an extra 3$ when the visual effects don't warrant the 3D glasses. The rhythm is okay and after a shaky beginning the plot moves along rather well. The dialogue is so ridiculous it made me cringe at times. Can't believe they came up with so many atrociously bad lines. . .

If you must see it, at least go on a Tuesday night. And even at 5$ (plus 3$ for the 3D glasses) you're getting robbed.

Justin Cronin contest winner!

This lucky bastard will get his hands on my extra Advance Reading Copy of Justin Cronin's The Passage. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Humberto Morales, from Austin, Texas, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Early reviews are starting to crop up. You can find some here and here. There are probably more out there, with more to come in the coming weeks. . .

Massive discounts for Guy Gavriel Kay's UNDER HEAVEN

Speaking of Kay, I just discovered that there are huge discounts available for those planning on ordering Under Heaven (Canada, USA, Europe). Couldn't quite believe it when I went to peruse Amazon reviews of the novel.

You can get Kay's latest at 57% off on, 50% off on, and 39% off on! So follow the links to save a bundle!;-)

I never thought they would be this aggressive with the pre-orders in the USA. . . If only it can help Guy Gavriel Kay make it big south of the border!

New Guy Gavriel Kay interview

With Under Heaven (Canada, USA, Europe) already out in Canada and about to be released in the USA and around the world, Guy Gavriel Kay was kind enough to take some time off his busy schedule to do this interview.

My partners in crime for this Q&A were Elio and Linda (Ran and Linda from Westeros). Both are big Kay fans, and they submitted great questions. So much so that it's more their interview than mine!


- In a recent National Post interview, you're quoted as saying: "I'm not giving them fantasy in any sense that they understand," he says. "I'm doing history with a spin from the fantastic." Implicit in this is a sense that there's a fragmentation of the readership for fantasy, with some reading only in particular sub-genres. At the same time, you've recently remarked that you may be benefitting from a blurring of the genre boundaries. What do you believe motivates both the breaking up of literature into genre -- is it purely commercially-driven? -- and the blurring we're seeing today?

The context for that is readers of ‘now traditional’ 5-10 volume epic fantasies with the expectations those bring (magic systems, other races, good vs evil, mega-battles). One of the truly nice things with Under Heaven so far, in terms of response, is how many early reviewers from within the fantasy framework are so generous and enthused about it. I feel really good about that. It might be that by being stubborn (a western Canadian, what can I say?) and staying with something for a long time, a core part of the fantasy market has moved, or is moving, a little towards what I try to do. Early days, we’ll see. I entirely agree about fragmentation in the culture ... I’d just not limit it to discussion of this genre. Our entire society is fragmenting and sub-dividing, and the online world plays a big role. It is so easy to find and select your cyber-neighbourhoods and talk essentially about what you like to read (or play, or listen to, or watch) with others who share that specific interest. What I also see is that in purely literary terms, a once-rigid membrane between mainstream and genres (of various kinds) is becoming increasingly permeable. I think Under Heaven may (repeat: early days!) reap some benefit from this, or play a role in developing it. I don’t think any of this is ‘purely commercial’, I think it is demographic ... an entire generation of readers for whom the fantastic is a defining part of their mainstream.

- In the same interview, it's noted, "Later this year, Kay will travel to China for the first time -- he resisted visiting the country while writing Under Heaven." What led you to hold off on paying a visit while working on the novel? In the past, your experiences living in certain areas -- most notably Provence -- has proved a rich source of inspiration for your work.

That was an interviewer’s shorthand. Essentially I didn’t feel it was imperative for what I wanted to do. I resisted the temptation to avoid starting the book while I delayed (stall tactics!) with a long trip. The overlay of the modern in what has been done there is so extreme (consider the Three Gorges Dam erasing a part of the world that’s described in the novel ...). Remember, the period I am evoking is 1300 years ago. In Provence, when I wrote Ysabel, I was living and walking through the landscape and settings the novel employs. It was right there.

- You've explained in the past that you enjoy writing about extraordinary individuals in extraordinary circumstances. What makes the extraordinary aspects of these characters so enticing to you as a writer, and how do you maintain believability when presenting these extraoardinary individuals to readers?

Tricky question. For the first part, as a storyteller (and I start that way), the combination of character and drama is just about a defining pairing for a novel I’ll enjoy reading (language is a third element). So, as I writer, I work in that direction. Along the same lines, I am drawn as a reader to intelligent characters, I get irritated if I feel too much smarter than the characters (unless that’s being done with purpose, and it can be). Finally, in the historical settings I work with, absent blood and birth (so to speak) intelligence, acuity, cunning (and sometimes sheer brute strength and endurance) were central elements of success (and so might physical beauty be sometimes). We live in a world where politicians are often expected to be ‘regular sorts’, the type to have a beer with ... that’s a new dimension to leadership. It was rarely so in the past.

- There are a number of different perspectives as to the function secondary-world or epic fantasy carries out for readers. Le Guin once wrote that such fantasy deepened and intensified the mysteries of life, while R. Scott Bakker (a fellow Canadian fantasist) has put forward that humanity is neurologically ill-equipped for a modern, rationalist world and this leads some to seek access to a pre-modern worldview (or the fiction of one) where reality conforms to the mind's irrational, evolutionarily hardwired expectations. Others have denigrated it as mere escapism, an alternative opiate for the masses.

What is your view as to fantasy's function?

I resist, inherently, grand unified field theories. I back away from the examples you’ve offered as much as I am uneasy with someone explaining the ‘function’ of music, art, or novels as a whole (psychological, evolutionary, whatever). For one thing, as you noted above, yourself, the fantasy field is increasingly fragmented and it is also increasingly blended into mainstream fiction. Does someone really want to try to be definitive about the shared ‘function’ of paranormal vampire detective-romance and Robert Jordan and Guy Kay and Le Guin’s Lavinia (compared to her Earthsea)? Good luck to them. Take it even further: might not the ‘function’ for you be very different regarding the same novel, from its function for me, or someone else? I’ll suggest chances are good they are different, in smaller or larger degrees. Art serves many and varied needs, and the very same work can serve quite different purposes for different people - and for the same person at different times in his or her life.

- What comes first for you when it comes time to consider your next novel: themes you wish to explore, a setting you're interested in, or characters you want to write about?

In general setting precedes theme (which grows out of learning about time and place), then character, and from this process a narrative emerges. But this isn’t set in stone for me, and different books have had different arcs of emergence.

- In Ysabel, you reintroduced certain characters from your first works, the Fionavar Tapestry. Before then, all your novels had a nod towards Fionavar, but only as a sort of grace note. What motivated you in pulling these characters into novel after so long, and is this something you'd consider doing again in the future?

I fought it, Pat. For one thing it gave me a huge technical challenge ... the novel had to work, flat-out, for someone who had never even heard of Fionavar... and the trilogy was more than twenty years old by then. A lot of people wouldn’t know it, in 2006. By employing two earlier characters as secondary figures I was giving myself a huge headache to possibly very little benefit (and maybe some detriment). So, why? The two of them popped into my head one night as a just-about-complete formal solution to issues that vex me far more than most readers. I have a problem with the ‘random’ in fiction, and it was concerning me how I would explain (in my own mind) why this family connected as they did, through Ned Marriner, to the figures and events they encounter. If you’ll recall, right at the very outset of The Summer Tree this same issue came up (very start of my career!) regarding Kim Ford and how she’s the ‘hook’ for the five characters to Fionavar. The solution that came to me, by bringing two figures back to solve this randomness problem, felt both artistically elegant and ferociously worrying. I pushed it away for weeks before yielding and taking on the task. If you read Ysabel with an eye to this issue you’ll see how I dealt with the challenges. In a real sense (and I have said this before) it is a more perspective-driven book for someone who does not know Fionavar - because the reader is put in the position, regarding that part of the back-story, that the characters have regarding the millennial love triangle. We almost get it, but not quite ... we are just a bit outside, it is a tiny bit past us. Which is Ned’s angle on the three figures from the past, and that of the others. The reader who gets hints of Fionavar mirrors the characters who get hints of the Ysabel story. For readers of my earlier trilogy it is a ‘different book’: they lose this ‘almost-heard music’ effect but (I hope) are recompensed by what some have called the ‘squee moment’. It was a very complex book to write.

- Some writers admit having a favorite book among those they've written previously, others say that their favorite is their current work in progress, and others still say it's always the next book that hasn't been written yet. How about you?

That’s the ancient ‘choose your favourite child’ question, and I’m one of those who just can’t answer it, Pat. It is never the work-in-progress, as I am always in a death-match with that book and always feel I am losing. Never the next book, because I have no clue what it will be or become. No ready or easy favourites among any of the earlier works. I have said before, arm twisted high behind my back, that Arbonne is probably the world I’d most enjoy living in.

- Will you be touring during the course of the spring to promote Under Heaven? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?

All appearances are (or should be!) posted on for Canada, and, off the home page, will have worldwide events for the foreseeable future. I think they’ll also be relayed to Locus magazine for their author appearances page. Essentially I am running around a fair bit from mid-April to mid-May, then doing promotion and media in China in the second half of June. I’m registered for World Fantasy Con at the end of October.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. Now that most of your books are being reissued with new cover art, what are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the covers that grace your books?

It gets delicate to comment on various covers, Pat. I will say that the new Hungarian one for Ysabel is funny-bad – and they know I think that. The Polish Summer Tree, the original one, set the mark high (or low) for being the most unconnected and unexpected ... had the most naked woman I’ve ever seen on a cover, mine, or anyone else’s. (Stampede to look begins?) I think the last several books in North America have had gorgeous covers, many by Larry Rostant, and that Under Heaven’s is just flat-out terrific. I love it, and its beauty is deeply appropriate to the Tang Dynasty the book evokes.

Win a copy of Ian Tregillis' BITTER SEEDS

I have three copies of Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds for you to win, courtesy of the folks at Tor Books. This is my last "assignment" from GRRM for losing out NFL bet last year. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in between.

Raybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him.

When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities—a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present—Marsh is the man who has to face them. He rallies the secret warlocks of Britain to hold the impending invasion at bay. But magic always exacts a price. Eventually, the sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy will be as terrible as outright loss would be.

Alan Furst meets Alan Moore in the opening of an epic of supernatural alternate history, the tale of a twentieth century like ours and also profoundly different.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "BITTER." 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!

Musical Interlude

Pretty catchy song from Belgian artist Stromae.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 13th)

In hardcover:

Patricia Brigg's Silver Borne debuts at number 1.

Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is down two positions, ending the week at number 8. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Christopher Moore's Bite Me is down four spots, finishing the week at number 9. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Aaron Allston's Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Backlash is down one spot, finishing the week at number 19. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Kim Harrison's Black Magic Sanction is down three positions, ending the week at number 32.

In paperback:

Sherrilyn Kenyon's Bad Moon Rising debuts at number 15.

Gail Carriger's Changeless debuts at number 20.

Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is up two spots, finishing the week at number 24 (trade paperback).

Steve Hockensmith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls maintains its position at number 27 (trade paperback).

Exclusive excerpt from J. V. Jones' WATCHER OF THE DEAD

J. V. Jones' Watcher of the Dead has just been released. And in order to promote its publication, here's an exclusive extract from the book! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.


Do And Be Damned

Stannig Beade left the Hailhold in the same cart he’d arrived in, a six axle wheelhouse with walls of poison pine. He was dressed in the same narrow-shouldered robe of polished pigskin collared with mink and shod in the same nailhead boots. His hair and beard had been freshly dyed, his nails clipped, and his skin unctioned with resin harvested from thousand-year pines that grew in Scarpe’s Armored Grove. His ceremonial chisel was mounted in his right fist, and it was a testament to Blackhail’s wire-pullers that you had to look very closely to see the steel thread holding the fingers in place. No such subtlety marked the stitching of his wounds. Thick black sutures tracked the length of his throat, disappearing beneath the glossy mink collar, cinching hardened crusts of skin.

Raina Blackhail was relieved to see the last of them. As she stood on the paved court at the front of Blackhail’s roundhouse and watched the team of horses pull the wheelhouse south, she prayed they wouldn’t stop.

Go, she wished.

All the days of living with fear.


Sunlight flickered in and out of existence as bands of clouds passed overhead. It was close to midday; two hours later than planned. There’d been a problem with the wheelhouse--one of the rear axles had required remounting--and repair had caused delay. Raina had not known what to do with herself during those hours. She could not sit and wait. Walk? Ride? How could you go about your life when you feared being discovered for a murderer? In the end she had worked, taking herself off to the cattle shed to assist the spring calving. It was hard, bloody work and it had helped. A distressed cow in labor required one’s full attention. Two calves had been born, but only one had stood and suckled. Raina and the head dairyman, Vern Satchell, had been been lifting the second calf to encourage it to stand when the call had come from court.

“All ready with the wheelhouse.”

Raina had left the sick calf to Vern Satchell and now she was here, outside the Hailhouse, watching the wagon lurch into motion. Orwin Shank, Corbie Meese, Gat Murdock, Merritt Ganlow, Longhead, Sheelah Cobbin and other senior clansmen and clanswomen formed a silent company at her back. Scarpes were out in force. The dead man, Stannig Beade, had been their guide for seven years and respect was due. Scarpes in full mourning were a strange and unlovely sight. Over three hundred men, women and children had dyed their left hands black. Arranging themselves in single file around the great paved court of Blackhail they swayed from side-to-side as they named the Stone Gods out of order.

It was chilling to hear Behethmus, the god of darkness, named first.

They have not finished harming us, Raina realized as she watched them. All, even children, were armed with knives and lean-bladed swords. Their roundhouse had burned to the ground. Their chief had plundered her own clanhold, seizing livestock and grain from tied clansmen and distributing the spoils amongst her favorites. Now their guide was dead--killed, rumor had it, by a Hailsman.

Or Hailswoman.

Raina forced herself not to react. She was getting good at that. Harder. Cooler. Less like herself. More like a chief.

Rumors had infested the roundhouse like mice: squeaks here, a trail of droppings there. Ten days ago at dawn Stannig Beade had been found dead in the chief’s chamber. That was fact. Everything else was up for grabs. Mutilated, the rumors went, drained of blood, decapitated, his heart carved clean from his chest. Cowlmen, Hailsfolk said. Anwyn Bird and Jani Gaylo had already been taken by them. In this very house. It had to be a trained assassin from an enemy clan. Who else?

One of your own, countered the Scarpes. Beade kept his chamber door bolted while he slept. He opened it only for those he knew and trusted. And then there were the bloody footprints leading up the stairs from Beade’s chamber. The killer had been barefooted, and small if he was indeed a man.

Raina had kept her mouth shut and her eyes averted. She found manual labor during the day and kept company with the widows by night. Even bone tired she could not sleep. Leaving the chief’s chamber that night, after killing him, she had been filled with a sense of her own power. It hadn’t been enough to take Beade’s life, she was going to destroy the monstrosity of a guidestone he’d hauled here in that very wheelhouse from Scarpe.

Something had happened to her as she climbed the stairs from the chief’s chamber, though, and her thoughts had turned to self preservation. She felt Beade’s blood drying to a sticky paste against her legs. Footsteps sounded as she reached the top of the stairs, and her heart jumped. Light was filtering into the entrance hall and she could hear the clan awakening. Soon warriors would come and push back the door, luntman would begin snuffing lamps, kitchen boys would fuel the bread ovens, and children would run down the halls.

Scarpes would stir right along with them. One of the many silly girls who worshipped Beade would bring the guide a breakfast of warm milk and fried bread. In all likelihood she would be the one who’d find him dead, and if Raina wasn’t careful the girl would also find the person who killed him standing at the top of the stairs with bloody feet. Raina hurried. Slipping through the roundhouse’s shadows, she made her way to her chamber beneath the kitchens. Once there she stripped and cleaned herself with a wet rag, and then slept until she was awakened two hours later with the news of Beade’s death.

She regretted leaving the guidestone intact. From her position on the court she could view it; the halved monolith that had once belonged to Scarpe. Thick seams of bitumen made it weak, and its newly-exposed face was already eroding. When Beade was alive he’d directed it to be covered when it rained and snowed. No one bothered now. Birds shat on it and bitumen leached from the granite, staining it black. As Raina watched a raven land on its west corner and goose-stepped along the top. The guidestone was a worthless hunk of earth, and Hailsmen knew it. In the cold spring sunlight it looked like an abandoned shack.

Raina returned her attention to the departing wheelhouse. The wagon had cleared the court and was now on the dirt road heading south. Dust smoking from beneath the wheels soon obscured it from view. Raina took a deep breath and then another one. It was foolish, she knew, but she had convinced herself that once Beade’s body was gone from the Hailhold she would she be safe. Out of sight, out of mind.

We are Scarpe. Our tongues cut as deeply as our swords. Wrong us and you will feel the swift lash of both. The Scarpe boast. Raina had always thought it a nasty set of words.

Raina studied the Scarpemen and -women. They stared back with dislike. It was no secret that the chief’s wife barely tolerated their presence in the Hailhouse, and with Beade, their biggest champion gone, they were vulnerable. Scarpes had made themselves cozy in the Hailhouse. They were well fed by Hail farmers and cooks, and protected from the cold by the roundhouse’s nine-feet-thick walls. Return to the Scarpehold and they would be forced to find food and shelter for themselves. Yelma Scarpe, the Scarpe chief, ran a lean clan. She offered little incentive for refugees to return home.

And she’s coming here, Raina reminded herself. What had Longhead said? She will travel when the snow clears? Raina looked from the dry pavestones at her feet to the increasingly blue sky. A woman can always hope.

“Warriors returning!”

The cry came from lookouts stationed on the great domed roof of the roundhouse. Everyone who heard it looked to the southern horizon. The Scarpe mourners continued wailing and swaying, but their posture became alert.

“Five,” said the hammerman, Corbie Meese. At over six feet tall he saw further than most. “I think Ballic’s among them.”

Unable to help herself, Raina asked, “And Mace?”

It was a long three seconds before Corbie said, “No.”

Raina exhaled. Quite suddenly her nerves could no longer stand the sound of wailing Scarpes. “Empty the court!” she cried. “All inside.”

For a wonder they actually shut up. Unarmed Hailsfolk began to make their way indoors. They knew and respected the custom of warriors greeting warriors. At first the Scarpes hesitated to follow them--they were keen to see who was arriving--but the Hailsfolk left them little choice. Herded, was the word for it. Hailsfolk herded Scarpefolk into the house.

No one, not Corbie or Orwin Shank, made a move to herd Raina Blackhail. Glancing over her shoulders at the remaining warriors, Raina realized they were arranging themselves in formal ranking around her. Orwin, acting chief of the roundhouse and senior warrior, did not shift from his position at her right hand. Orwin’s brother-in-law Mads Basko, hero of the River Wars, took up position on her left.

Raina took a breath, raised her chin. It was possible, she realized, to feel relief and apprehensiveness at exactly the same time.

The returning warriors rode through dust raised by the wheelhouse. As Corbie had promised, one of the five was the head bowman, Ballic the Red. Grim Shank, Orwin’s eldest was also in the party, together with the young swordsman Jessie Mure, who had been apprenticed under Shor Gormalin, and the young hammerman Pog Bramwell. The fifth rider was a woman. Bareheaded with gleaming chestnut hair fanned out across her shoulders, she attracted the gazes of the men. Her mount was a full grown stallion, dock-tailed, and discreetly trapped in gray suede. As she drew closer, her facial features came into view. Pretty was not a word you could use for her. Her cheekbones stopped sunlight from reaching her lower face and her chin was strong like a man’s.
Raina could not tell if she was clan. Certainly the woman knew how to hold herself in the saddle, knew also her formal place in a party of four sworn clansmen: middle rear. Raina could feel the warriors’ interest. Glorious hair, skill at horse: here was a woman Hailsmen could admire.

“Welcome,” Raina called, as the party slowed to a halt on the court.

Ballic the Red bowed his small neat head and dismounted. As was proper, the remaining three clansmen followed his lead. The woman regarded Raina boldly, with interest. Dismounting a beat later than the men, she demonstrated her recognition of Raina’s status as chief's wife by meeting her afoot.

Clan then, Raina decided. Such subtly of custom was seldom understood outside the holds.

“Lady,” Ballic said, coming forward and grasping her forearms. Hazel eyes accustomed to spotting and tracking pray over distance inspected Raina. The bowman’s grip tightened. “I am at your service, always.”

So he found her changed. In need of service. Raina nodded a response. Accepting the greeting of the remaining three warriors she kept her face still. In the distance, the wheelhouse turned west onto the old clan road, a black phantom trailing dust.

One Scarpe down. A thousand more to go.

“Lady. Da.” Grim Shank broke into her thoughts. The huge fair-haired hammerman had caught the strange woman’s hand in his own and was bringing her forward. The woman’s cloak was heavy and very fine. Gray velvet gleamed like pewter as she moved.

“This is Chella Gloyal of Clan Croser.” Like all the Shanks, Grim had a ruddy complexion that burned easily in sun and wind. As he spoke, his color was so high across his cheeks it looked as if his face might explode. “My wife.”

Raina glanced at Orwin. From the expression on the old hatchetman’s face she guessed this was news for him too. He rallied himself well, though, stepping forward and catching the woman in his arms. “Daughter,” he murmured when his mouth was close to her ear. “Welcome.”

Beaming with relief, Grim clamped his father and his new wife together in a giant bear hug. Chella smiled serenely. Her eyes were gray-green and as cool as a forest lake. As she disentangled herself from the hug, her gaze found Raina.

“You have surprised us,” Raina told her.

Chella took the coolness in her stride. Bowing at the neck, she set her auburn hair in motion. “Love marches quickly in times of war.”

“Aye,” Grim agreed, slipping his hand around his wife’s waist. “Wait and your chance may be lost.”

All the warriors gathered on the court felt the truth of this statement. Silence fell. Looking at the bowed heads and axe-bitten hands of her fellow clansmen, Raina felt a welling of love and respect. My clan. And I must protect them.

It was easy then to be gracious to the self-composed stranger from Croser. She was a clanswoman, after all. And it made sense that Hailish warriors, working in alliance with Croser against Bludd, would come into contact with Croser maids. Dagro had been a firm believer in the benefits of unions between clans. “Every marriage is a length of string,” he had told her once. “Enough of them and we tie a rival to our side.”

Raina said to Chella, “Today you are a Hailswoman.”

Sometimes she forgot her own power. Nine words spoken by the chief’s wife were enough to change the mood from somber to celebratory.

“Aye!” called the warriors in agreement. Bullhammer came forward and clasped Grim’s arms in celebration. One-armed Gat Murdock hollered to the roundhouse for beer. Orwin gave Raina a sweet and noisy kiss on the cheek. Even the sun stayed out.

Chella smiled and nodded appropriately, but in no way seemed relieved. Why should she? Raina thought. Chella had not been worried in the first place.

As they waited for the beer to come, Bullhammer began the questioning and the mood shifted once more.

“Who holds Ganmiddich?”

“Pengo Bludd,” Ballic replied. “He repaired the gate and is staying right behind it. We’ve charged twice and he won’t ride out and meet us.”

Scathing curses followed this pronouncement. Sitting tight against a charge was considered cowardly by men who worshipped the Stone Gods.

“We didn’a do it,” Mads Basko said softly, referring to the strike against Ganmiddich by Spire Vanis. Even outnumbered three to one, Blackhail had ridden from the Crab gate to engage the army led by Marafice Eye.

“It’s worse,” Ballic said. “When Bludd reached the Crab Gate, the Spire army withdrew so quickly they left their equipment on the field. Pengo went prospecting and got himself some siege fire and a thrower.”

Raina felt out of her depth. She had never heard of siege fire, though she knew by the men’s reactions that it was something serious. How can I lead clan when I know nothing of war?

Learn, was the only answer. “What happened?”

“They didn’t know what they were doing during the first charge,” Ballic said, loosening the cloak ties around his throat. “Had the thrower up on the wall, spewing out black oil. No flames--at least not ‘till some damn fool set a torch to it. Entire wall goes up. The Bluddsmen manning the thrower get scorched. A handful of hammermen down below take harm, then the wind switches and the flames get blown back into the roundhouse. Charge breaks on the wall and we laugh our way back to Bannen. Pengo’s no Dog Lord. He’s not the brightest lamp in the hall.

“Six days later we mount a second attack, thinking that if we’re lucky the Bluddsmen will burn down their own gate. Someone there knows what’s he’s doing though. Had the thrower up and working. Waited until we were right on top of them--even cracked open the gate to goad us--and then blasted the van with fire. It was hell. Burning hell. Men. Horses.” Ballic shuddered. “Gods save them.”

Grim, Jessie Mure and others touched their horns of powdered guidestone. Chella Gloyal observed this before touching her own guidestone that was held in a pouch of orange silk at her waist.

“Who took harm?” Raina asked.

“Banmen formed the van. The honor was due--Hail led the first charge.”

Raina nodded softly. The clouds had returned, and a sharp wind gusted around the court, rattling the hammermen’s chains. To the south, the wheelhouse had passed beyond view. Good riddance to it.

“How many were lost?”

“Three hundred and their horses.” Ballic paused. His short stubby fingers with their bowman’s callouses twitched when he added, “They were screaming to be killed.”

Burned and still alive. Raina pictured the horror of it and fixed the images into place in her memory. Bannen had been Blackhail’s ally for a thousand years; their losses and suffering counted as her own.

Orwin said, “Bludd be cursed for its cowardice.”

“Aye,” seconded his son. “Siege fire is city evil. It has no place in the clans.”

“Where do our armies stand now?”

Grim turned to address Raina. Not one of these men, she realized, questioned her right to be here.

“We’re camped a day’s ride northwest of the Crab House, on Bannen Field.”

Raina made herself think about this. “So Mace plans to re-attack?”


At either side of her warriors stamped their feet and nodded. Corbie Meese reached over his shoulder, uncradled his great warhammer and sent the lead and iron head thumping against his left palm. Cheered, that was how he appeared. Raina did not share the feeling. Dark half-formed thoughts drifted through her head. Eight months ago Mace had given the order to slay women and children on the Bludd road. Now Bludd was blasting Blackhail with liquid fire. Both actions were unworthy of clan. What next?

With Mace you could not be sure.

“Any news of Dun Dhoone?” Orwin asked.

And there it was, the final distasteful piece in the puzzle: Robbie Dun Dhoone, the man who had tricked his fellow clansmen into a fatal attack on Withy as a diversion while he retook the Dhoonehouse. Dhoone had betrayed Dhoone. There was no greater wrong in the clanholds than a chief selling out his own clan.

“He’s expected to move on Withy any day now,” Ballic said. “Last thirty days he’s been laying siege. Hanro and Thrago Bludd have been sitting tight, but supplies’ll be running low. Dun Dhoone has the roundhouse surrounded--and rumor has it he’s salted the wells. Both sides’ll be getting jumpy. That means one of two things is likely. Either Thrago will order a charge from the gate, or Dun Dhoone will go right ahead and force one.”

The dark thoughts began to coalesce in Raina’s mind. It was surprisingly easy to anticipate disaster ahead. Dun Dhoone would take Withy. A house cut off and surrounded was dead meat--even a chief’s wife knew that. Bludd would be routed. Then killed. Robbie Dhoone was famous for taking no prisoners; the only Bluddsmen to live through the retaking of Dhoone were those who had found a secret tunnel and escaped right under his nose. So Robbie would take possession of Withy, crown himself a king, and then?

“He’ll come looking for Crab.”

She was hardly aware she spoke.

Looking into the faces of the warriors she was surprised to see that none of them were ahead of her. Ballic, Orwin and others nodded quickly enough but she could tell that they were following her thoughts, playing out in their minds a future where the three northern giants met in battle over the small but exquisitely placed clanhold of Ganmiddich: Dhoone. Blackhail. Bludd.

“Robbie knows Ganmiddich like the back of his hand.” Chella Gloyal said, surprising everyone by speaking. Her sage gray eyes looked straight at Raina, and Raina found herself wondering if the Croserwoman hadn’t been ahead of everyone.

“How so?” Ballic asked. Raina knew the master bowman well, and could hear the challenge and impatience in his voice. What business did a Croserwoman have speaking up at a Blackhail warrior’s parley?

If Chella heard it too, it had no effect upon her. Calmly, she pushed her hair behind her ears before answering. “He lived there for three seasons when he was fourteen.”

This was news. Orwin raised his eyebrows at Raina. Ballic frowned. Grim frowned too, but he obviously knew some things about his new wife that others did not, for his frown was one of agreement, not disbelief.

Chella touched his arm. The wind was pressing her cloak against her body, outlining her slender waist and full hips. “His father Mabb Cormac sent him away after he killed his horse. Robbie rode the old mare from the Stonefly to the Dhoonehouse without stopping to let her rest. She collapsed on the banks of Blue Dhoone Lake and he left her there to die. Mabb was furious and beat his son with a birch switch. When the beating was done Mabb still wasn’t satisfied and sent his son to Ganmiddich for two-hundred-and-fifty days. Best part of a year later, Robbie returned riding a stallion he’d won in a race from the Crab’s nephew Addo Ganhanlin.”

Men nodded. Now things were beginning to make sense. After being ousted from Ganmiddich, Addo Ganhanlin and others had taken refuge at Croser. It was possible Chella had heard Addo’s story firsthand.

Raina fastened the ties on her cloak to give herself time to think. Listen first to what people say, and then second to how they say it. Dagro’s words, spoken fifteen years earlier to his young, inexperienced wife echoed in her mind. Chella Gloyal had told a story and issued a warning: Robbie Dhoone knew more about Ganmiddich and its defenses than anyone could have guessed. The second thing was more subtle. She spoke with authority, assuming equal status with sworn clansmen, and she spoke in an accent that wasn’t wholly clan. This woman had spent time in the mountain cities.

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that anxious clansfolk were beginning to gather by the door. The meeting was going on longer than anticipated and Hailsmen were assuming the worst. Addressing the young swordsman Jessie Mure, she said, “Pass the word inside--no Hailsmen have been lost.”

She was not prepared for the bow the lean, dark-haired young man delivered to her, touching the hem of her cloak in courtly respect. “It is done, Lady,” he said, turning to make his way to the house.

He’d learned that from the master swordsman, Shor Gormalin. Shor had been dead for half a year now, killed by crossbolt to the back of the head. Mace Blackhail had ordered the killing; Shor had been his rival for the chiefship. And for herself.

Heart be strong, she told it.

“Mace is unaware of Robbie’s knowledge of the Crab House?” she asked Ballic.


“Then a message must be sent.”

“I’ll see to it.”

“Good. Chella. I would have you think on what other intelligence you posses that may benefit your new clan.”

The Croserwoman finally had the grace to look surprised. She took a breath, considering her answer, but Raina halted her.

“Do not speak now. You are weary from the road. If something occurs to you later, visit me. You will find me in the chief’s chamber.”

Gods do not send a bolt of lightning to strike me. Chief’s chamber? Where had that come from? Until the very moment the words left her mouth she had no inkling she would say them. Heat flushed her cheeks, and there didn’t seem much option other than to stand there and wait for the condemnation to come.

It didn’t.

The warriors seemed careless, as if she had said nothing out of order. Ballic was unclipping his bowcase from its shoulder harness. Grim had stepped back to steady his horse. Others were growing impatient to get inside the house and greet their kin. Only Orwin and Chella regarded Raina. Orwin had been present that day in the gameroom, when Raina had declared her intention of becoming chief. He knew her purpose . . . but perhaps this was the first time he’d heard her claim it publicly.

After a long moment of appraising her, he said, “Come on, lads. Let’s some food and ale in your bellies.”

Raina watched as the group broke up and began heading toward the roundhouse. As Chella Gloyal passed alongside Raina, she murmured, “In the chief’s chamber. I won’t forget.”

Raina stared ahead. Her chest was tight. Word would get around. It would get back to Mace. Raina Blackhail issues commands from chief’s chamber.

The wind blew across the open ground of the graze and the court, cooling Raina’s hands and face. During the meeting the only thing that had seemed important was Blackhail’s security. Over two thousand Hailsmen were camped northwest of Ganmiddich, and if Robbie Dun Dhoone succeeded at seizing the Withyhouse then Dhoone would march south to retake Ganmiddich. Dhoone, Blackhail, Bludd: the three giants would meet on the shores of the Wolf. That was what seemed important--not who took action or said what.

Do and be damned, that was what Dagro always said about being a chief. Mostly he said it with defiant joy--I’m chief, to hell with my critics--yet there had been times when he’d spoken it softly with fear, when he’d ridden into battle outmanned and out-positioned. To lead, one had to do, Raina realized. That was the message of Dagro’s words. inaction did not make a chief.

Risk did.

Settling that thought into her mind, Raina made her way to the house. As she passed into the dim lamplit space of the entrance hall, she spied a group of Scarpes building a fire in an iron brazier. Bristling, she gathered herself to engage them. Smoke would choke the groundfloor. Yesterday, when they had dragged the brazier indoors she had done nothing. Not today though. That was the thing about declaring yourself chief-in-abstentia: once you did it you had to act like one.

As she opened her mouth to issue a command, she realized she hadn’t thought about Stannig Beade in hours.