More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, opening volume in the incredible Malazan Book of the Fallen series, for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen's rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.

For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand...

Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order--an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download the digital edition of the first Shannara trilogy for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Terry Brooks's The Measure of the Magic.

Twenty-five years ago, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks wrote a novel that brought to life a dazzling world that would become one of the most popular fantasy epics of all time, beloved by millions of fans around the world. Ten more Shannara books would follow. Now, for the first time in one elegant collector’s edition hardcover, and featuring an introduction by the author, here are the first three novels of that classic series: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara—the beginning of a phenomenal epic of good and evil.

The Sword of Shannara

Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil ruined the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. But the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races.

The Elfstones of Shannara

The magical Ellcrys tree is dying, loosening the spell that bars the Demons from enacting vengeance upon the land. Now Wil Ohmsford must guard the Elven girl Amberle on a perilous quest as she carries one of the Ellcrys’ seeds to a mysterious place where it can be quickened into a powerful new force. But dark on their trail comes the Reaper, most fearsome of all Demons, aiming to crush their mission at any cost.

The Wishsong of Shannara

An ancient Evil is stirring to new life, sending its ghastly Mord Wraiths to destroy Mankind. To win through the vile growth that protects this dark force, the Druid Allanon needs Brin Ohmsford—for she alone holds the magic power of the wishsong. Reluctantly Brin joins the Druid on his dangerous journey. But a prophecy foretells doom, as Evil nurses its plans to trap the unsuspecting Brin into a fate far more horrible than death.

Thus begins Terry Brooks’s thrilling Shannara epic, an unforgettable tale of adventure, magic, and myth.

Win a copy of Robin Hobb's ASSASSIN'S FATE

I received an extra copy of Robin Hobb's excellent Assassin's Fate, so I'm giving it away to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

More than twenty years ago, the first epic fantasy novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Now New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb brings to a momentous close the third trilogy featuring these beloved characters in a novel of unsurpassed artistry that is sure to endure as one of the great masterworks of the genre.

Fitz’s young daughter, Bee, has been kidnapped by the Servants, a secret society whose members not only dream of possible futures but use their prophecies to add to their wealth and influence. Bee plays a crucial part in these dreams—but just what part remains uncertain.

As Bee is dragged by her sadistic captors across half the world, Fitz and the Fool, believing her dead, embark on a mission of revenge that will take them to the distant island where the Servants reside—a place the Fool once called home and later called prison. It was a hell the Fool escaped, maimed and blinded, swearing never to return.

For all his injuries, however, the Fool is not as helpless as he seems. He is a dreamer too, able to shape the future. And though Fitz is no longer the peerless assassin of his youth, he remains a man to be reckoned with—deadly with blades and poison, and adept in Farseer magic. And their goal is simple: to make sure not a single Servant survives their scourge.

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

Eagle and Empire

Imagine a world where the Roman Empire never fell, but instead continued to expand. . .

Thus read the very first sentence on the back cover of the advance reading copy of Alan Smale's Clash of Eagles. I've never been too keen on the alternate history subgenre, but this book intrigued me from the get-go. The premise seemed to be quite interesting and full of potential. Mixing an ever-expanding Roman Empire that never fell into decline with native American lore and traditions made for a promising novel, one that turned out to be one of the very best speculative fiction debuts of 2015.

I was wondering if the author could imbue the subsequent volumes with the same sort of originality and inventiveness. But the sequel, Eagle in Exile, was everything its predecessor was and then some! Indeed, Smale managed to raise the bar even higher, with a finale that set the stage for what promised to be a memorable final installment. And now that I've read Eagle and Empire, I'm pleased to report that this last chapter delivers on all fronts!

Here's the blurb:

The award-winning author of Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile concludes his masterly alternate-history saga of the Roman invasion of North America in this stunning novel.

Roman Praetor Gaius Marcellinus came to North America as a conqueror, but after meeting with defeat at the hands of the city-state of Cahokia, he has had to forge a new destiny in this strange land. In the decade since his arrival, he has managed to broker an unstable peace between the invading Romans and a loose affiliation of Native American tribes known as the League.

But invaders from the west will shatter that peace and plunge the continent into war: The Mongol Horde has arrived and they are taking no prisoners.

As the Mongol cavalry advances across the Great Plains leaving destruction in its path, Marcellinus and his Cahokian friends must summon allies both great and small in preparation for a final showdown. Alliances will shift, foes will rise, and friends will fall as Alan Smale brings us ever closer to the dramatic final battle for the future of the North American continent.

As a matter of course, the backdrop of this series continues to revolve around the Mississippian Native American civilization which once dominated the lands surrounding the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers. The author's depiction of the Native Americans' way of life remains my favorite facet of this trilogy. Once again in this third volume, the worldbuilding was original and compelling. The uneasy peace brokered by Marcellinus is generating tensions between the Romans and the Cahokians. Unsure as to how long they have to prepare for the coming of the Mongol Horde, the Imperator orders Marcellinus to travel to the lands of the People of the Hand to forge new alliances to help them stand against the Great Khan's armies. Hence, Eagle and Empire is another book of journeys. Although Alan Smale had already set the bar rather high as far as worldbuilding is concerned, somehow he was able to maintain that level of depth and creativity in his portrayal of other civilizations. His depiction of the People of the Hand, the Mongols, and other Hesperians from beyond the mountains to the West was as impressive as that of the Haudenosaunee, the Buffalo hunters from beyond the Wemissori river, and the Cahokians.

Though I've been hoping for additional points of view, as I feel it would be interesting to get other perspectives, I have come to accept the author's decision to go with Marcellinus' first-person narrative and nothing else. Tahtay, Enopay, Sintikala, and Kimimela helped shape the sort of man Marcellinus needed to become in order to earn the Cahokians' trust, and they all played an important role in the second volume. It's also true in Eagle and Empire, and I would say that each of them show a lot of character growth. Marcellinus is torn between trying to be both Roman and Cahokian, which strains his relationships with both sides. Imperator Hadrianus comes into his own in this book, and his interactions with both Marcellinus and Tahtay showed that there is a lot more to the man than meets the eye. The sense of impending doom forces many of the protagonists to open their hearts, which elevates the characterization to another level. Thankfully, Alan Smale takes no shortcuts and his characters remain true to themselves, for better or worse.

Eagle and Empire is another big novel. Weighing in at 544 pages and considering the long journeys that comprise the tale, one would think that the pace would occasionally be an issue. And yet, never does the rhythm suffer and once again this one makes for some compulsive reading. Other than the long-awaited showdown against the Mongol Horde, that is, which goes on for about 180 pages. Sure, I was expecting violent and bloody battle scenes, and there are plenty of those. And though these action sequences were quite exciting and often surprising, after a while it just felt like one big drawn-out battle.

Marcellinus' fear is that even if, against all hope, the Mongols are defeated by the combined Roman and Hesperian forces, Nova Hesperia may still ultimately fall under the yoke of the Roman Empire. The grand finale is as gripping as readers want it to be, but it's the aftermath that is shocking. Alan Smale has more than a few surprises up his sleeve and he closes the show with style and aplomb. I'm definitely looking forward to whatever he writes next.

Eagle and Empire is a thrilling conclusion to a superior series. Highly recommended!

The final verdict: 8/10

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

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 17th)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is down three positions, ending the week at number 6. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down one position, ending the week at number 8 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Quote of the Day

No need to search, nothing to rescue. You either live or the moon kills you.

- IAN MCDONALD, Luna: Wolf Moon (Canada, USA, Europe)

Assassin's Fate

Even though it was another slow-moving affair which ended with another major cliffhanger, I enjoyed almost everything about Robin Hobb's Fool's Quest. In my review, I warned readers who hadn't read The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles to do so before they continued reading The Fitz and the Fool trilogy. The storylines from all these series, with the addition of The Tawny Man trilogy, officially merged at the end of Fool's Quest. As a result, to prevent the feeling of being left out of the loop and for the ending to make any sort of sense, one needed to have read Hobb's other series. The events featured in the second installment were brought to a close in a way that appeared to indicate that the final volume would be a tapestry woven of various threads from all those book sequences. Which is why I urged readers who had yet to do so to read The Liveship Traders and The Rain Wilds Chronicles before continuing on with this series.

And now that I'm done reading Assassin's Fate, I can vouch for the fact that this third volume is not only the final book in The Fitz and the Fool trilogy. It's much more than that. It's the culmination of the Farseer, the Liveship Traders, the Tawny Man, the Rain Wilds Chronicles, and the Fitz and the Fool series, tying up all the storylines together for one grand finale that will leave no one indifferent. And although the novel marks new beginnings and new directions for these characters and their world, there is no denying that Assassin's Fate also marks the end of several protagonists and plotlines.

And though it hurts, Assassin's Fate is everything one would want the "end" to be.

Here's the blurb:

More than twenty years ago, the first epic fantasy novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Now New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb brings to a momentous close the third trilogy featuring these beloved characters in a novel of unsurpassed artistry that is sure to endure as one of the great masterworks of the genre.

Fitz’s young daughter, Bee, has been kidnapped by the Servants, a secret society whose members not only dream of possible futures but use their prophecies to add to their wealth and influence. Bee plays a crucial part in these dreams—but just what part remains uncertain.

As Bee is dragged by her sadistic captors across half the world, Fitz and the Fool, believing her dead, embark on a mission of revenge that will take them to the distant island where the Servants reside—a place the Fool once called home and later called prison. It was a hell the Fool escaped, maimed and blinded, swearing never to return.

For all his injuries, however, the Fool is not as helpless as he seems. He is a dreamer too, able to shape the future. And though Fitz is no longer the peerless assassin of his youth, he remains a man to be reckoned with—deadly with blades and poison, and adept in Farseer magic. And their goal is simple: to make sure not a single Servant survives their scourge.

The bulk of this novel is comprised of two extremely long journeys. That of Bee, as a captive taken to Clerres, and that of Fitz, the Fool, and their companions, on their way to destroy the Servants. And though their destination is the same, both parties will follow vastly different paths to get there. One of my favorite aspects of Assassin's Fate was that these two journeys take us all over Hobb's universe. The Rain Wilds, Chalced, Bingtown and Trader Bay, the Pirate Islands, the Spice Islands, and, of course, the mysterious island of Clerres, just off the mainland of Mercenia. We discover new locales and revisit places we haven't seen in years. Revelations hint at countless new things to come and raise yet more questions. Still, for all that these journeys can be fascinating, the pace often remains an issue throughout the better part of this book.

Having said that, slowly but surely you can see the storylines coming together in unexpected ways and how they join other unconnected plotlines to elevate this tale to another level. And though the rhythm has been an issue in all three installments, it's obvious that Hobb needed time to lay down the groundwork for all these storylines to come together in a way that made sense and that would blow readers' minds. This latest trilogy required more patience and focus from readers to truly appreciate how special it truly is, more so than in any other Robin Hobb works. And yet, the amazing payoff at the end of Assassin's Fate was worth every single moment. And then some!

Mourning what he believes is his daughter's death, Flitz continues to be afflicted by self-doubt. Once more, I really enjoyed how Hobb portrayed him as a heartbroken man who gradually climbs out of the pit of his self-pity. Planning his revenge, he is aware that he will likely die avenging his child. The same goes for the Fool. Blinded and vulnerable as he was in Fool's Fate, as he heals the Fool will prove to be as crafty and driven as he used to be in the past. Many of their scenes are very emotional and add yet more layers to their long story. The closer they get to Clerres, the more fractured their relationship becomes. It was at times painful to see how at odds these two had become, and the guilt and terrible sadness they both feel will drive them apart even more. Though they share the same objective, at times it felt as though these two had never been as far apart as they were in Assassin's Fate. Often the hapless victim in the first two volumes, Bee shows a lot of character growth in this final installment. Encouraged by Wolf-Father, she tries to fight back and make her captors fear her. As a matter of course, Fitz and Bee are the only two POV protagonists. And as much as their perspectives are interesting, it's the supporting cast which makes Assassin's Fate such an unforgettable read. In the past, familiar faces made a few cameo appearances in other novels, but they never really played an important role in the resolution of the tale. Believe you me, it's not the case in this book. I wasn't lying when I said that Assassin's Fate was the culmination of the Farseer, the Liveship Traders, the Tawny Man, the Rain Wilds Chronicles, and the Fitz and the Fool, and understandably characters from all of these series show up and play an active role. Long-time Hobb fans like me will be pleasantly surprised to get reacquainted with Reyn, Malta, Thymara, Rapskal, Tintaglia, Icefyre, Prilkop, Leftrin, Alise, Paragon, Brashen, Althea, Vivacia, Boy-O, Kennitsson, the pirate queen Etta, Wintrow, Sorcor, and many, many more. I never expected that many characters to make appearances and it was awesome to see them again. Moreover, to discover just how Hobb wove all these storylines together and how it affected the greater scheme of things was truly remarkable. Robin Hobb has a knack for creating genuine and three-dimensional protagonists that you can't help but root for or hate with a passion, and God knows she has created a lot of them over the years. To see all of these men/women/boys/girls return unexpectedly was quite a treat for someone like me who's been there since Day 1.

In my humble opinion, no other SFF author writing today possesses Hobb's deft human touch. As I've often said, she can make you laugh and cry at will, often in the same chapter. There are some powerful scenes featuring Fitz and the Fool in Assassin's Fate. And there are also emotionally charged ones between many other characters. Some of these scenes are big and far-reaching, while many are small and intimate, but no less important and/or gut-wrenching. Robin Hobb is a veritable a master at this sort of thing and she pulls on readers' heartstrings whenever the mood strikes. Assassin's Fate  can be quite painful at times. Hobb made my eyes water on more occasions in this one than in any other of her works.

It's impossible to discuss the endgame and the grand finale without using spoilers, so I will refrain from doing so. Suffice to say that Hobb found a way to bring all the plotlines full circle in a way that is poignant and powerful. Things will never be the same in the Farseer/Elderlings universe. It will be interesting to see where Hobb decides to go next, but it appears that the liveships might be at the heart of her next project. There are a lot of casualties among the main characters, which seems to hint that the author wanted a relatively clean slate for whatever she has in store for future related installments/series. When it finally comes, the end cuts like a knife. Everything comes full circle so beautifully, yet so painfully.

So bittersweet. So heartbreaking. And yet so perfect.

I read Assassin's Apprentice when it came out in 1995. Little did I know back then that I would embark on such a long and marvelous journey. With Assassin's Fate, Robin Hobb brought this journey to an end for many of the characters that I have come to love over the years. It's not the end, for this one marks the beginning of what will doubtless be numerous quality tales that will fill Hobb fans with wonder. Nevertheless, it is the final chapter in what should definitely be considered one of the best, if not the best, fantasy sagas ever written.

Look no further. Assassin's Fate is the 2017 fantasy novel of the year.

The final verdict: 10/10

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

Cherie Priest contest winner!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Ace, our winner will receive a copy of Cherie Priest's Brimstone! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

Raman Ohri, from Fishers, Indiana, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Book trailer for Tad Williams' THE WITCHWOOD CROWN

Penguin Books have just released the book trailer for Tad Williams' The Witchwood Crown (Canada, USA, Europe).

Here's the blurb:

New York Times-bestselling Tad Williams’ ground-breaking epic fantasy saga of Osten Ard begins an exciting new cycle! • Volume One of The Last King of Osten Ard

The Dragonbone Chair, the first volume of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, was published in hardcover in October, 1988, launching the series that was to become one of the seminal works of modern epic fantasy. Many of today’s top-selling fantasy authors, from Patrick Rothfuss to George R. R. Martin to Christopher Paolini credit Tad with being the inspiration for their own series.

Now, twenty-four years after the conclusion of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad returns to his beloved universe and characters with The Witchwood Crown, the first novel in the long-awaited sequel trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard.

More than thirty years have passed since the events of the earlier novels, and the world has reached a critical turning point once again. The realm is threatened by divisive forces, even as old allies are lost, and others are lured down darker paths. Perhaps most terrifying of all, the Norns—the long-vanquished elvish foe—are stirring once again, preparing to reclaim the mortal-ruled lands that once were theirs…

As you know, this book was probably my most eagerly anticipated title of 2017. Couldn't wait to sink my teeth into it and give you guys an advance review, hoping that it would be awesome. Unfortunately, I got through 2/3 of the novel and decided to stop reading it for a while. With so many POVs and countless extraneous and superfluous subplots, The Witchwood Crown was a veritable chore to read. And since I didn't want the first review to be lukewarm at best (and that's if the author manages to wow me with a gripping finale), I elected to put the book aside for a couple of weeks and review it later this spring.

I'm sad to say that I wasn't feeling it at all. . . =(

Cover Reveal: REAPING THE AURORA by Joshua Palmatier

Here's the beautiful cover art for Joshua Palmatier's forthcoming Reaping the Aurora, compliments of the folks at Daw Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA.

Here's the blurb:

Final book in Joshua Palmatier's epic fantasy trilogy, set in a sprawling city of light and magic fueled by a ley line network.

In a world torn apart by the shattering of the magical ley lines that formerly powered all the cities and towns of the Baronies, there are few havens left for the survivors. The uncontrolled distortions released by the shattering have claimed the main cities of the Baronial Plains. And many of the Wielders who controlled the ley died in the apocalyptic cataclysm their manipulation of the ley created.

Wielder Kara Tremain and former Dog Allan Garrett, survivors of the city of Erenthrall’s destruction, have seized control of the new Nexus created at the distant temple known as the Needle, the stronghold of the White Cloaks and their leader, Father Dalton. With Father Dalton a prisoner, Kara intends to use the Needle’s Nexus to heal the major distortions that threaten to shake their entire world apart.

But while she and the remaining Wielders managed to stabilize Erenthrall, they have not been able to stop the auroral storms or the devastating earthquakes sweeping across the lands. Now they are hoping to find a means to heal the distortion at the city of Tumbor, releasing the nodes captured inside. If they succeed, the ley network should be able to stabilize itself.

But the distortion over Tumbor is huge, ten times the size of the one over Erenthrall. Kara will need the help of all of the Wielders at the Needle in order to generate enough power, including the rebel White Cloaks. But can Kara trust them to help her, or will the White Cloaks betray her in order to free Father Dalton and regain control of the Needle, possibly destroying any chance of healing the ley network in the process?

Meanwhile, Allan journeys back to Erenthrall, hoping to form alliances with some of the survivors, only to discover that Erenthrall itself has sunk a thousand feet into the ground. The vicious groups that plagued them on their last visit have banded together under a new leader—Devin, formerly Baron Aurek’s second-in-command. While discussing an alliance with the Temerite enclave, Devin’s men attack, forcing Allan and the Temerites to flee back to the Needle, leaving Erenthrall in Devin’s hands.

But the Needle is no safe haven. Father Dalton’s followers have begun to rebel, starting riots and creating unrest, all of it targeted at Kara and the Wielders. The tensions escalate beyond control when Father Dalton declares he’s had a vision—a vision in which the Needle is attacked from the north by dogs and from the south by snakes; a vision that ends with the quickening of the distortions called the Three Sisters to the north . . . and the annihilation of reality itself!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on the digital edition of Gregory Frost's Shadowbridge for only 0.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada and £0.91 in the UK.

Here's the blurb:

Sprung from a timeless dream, Shadowbridge is a world of linked spans arching high above glittering seas. It is a world of parading ghosts, inscrutable gods, and dangerous magic. Most of all, it is a world of stories.

No one knows those stories better than Leodora, a young shadow-puppeteer who travels Shadowbridge collecting the intertwining tales and myths of each place she passes through, then retells them in performances whose genius has begun to attract fame . . . and less welcome attention.

For Leodora is fleeing a violent past, as are her two companions: her manager, Soter, an elderly drunkard who also served Ledora’ s father, the legendary puppeteer Bardsham; and Diverus, her musical accompanist, a young man who has been blessed, and perhaps cursed, by the touch of a nameless god.

Now, as the strands of a destiny she did not choose begin to tighten around her, Leodora is about to cross the most perilous bridge of all–the one leading from the past to the future.

Shadowbridge is the first novel in a two-book adventure.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 10th)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is up one position, ending the week at number 3. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down two positions, ending the week at number 7 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Today only, you can download R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A score of centuries has passed since the First Apocalypse. The No-God has been vanquished and the thoughts of men have turned, inevitably, to more worldly concerns...Drusas Achamian, tormented by 2,000 year old nightmares, is a sorcerer and a spy, constantly seeking news of an ancient enemy that few believe still exists. Ikurei Conphas, nephew to the Nansur Emperor, is the Exalt-General of the Imperial Army and a military genius. He plots to conquer the known world for his Emperor and dreams of the throne for himself. Maithanet, mysterious and charismatic, is spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples. He seeks a Holy War to cleanse the land of the infidel. Cnaiur, Chieftain of the Utemot, is a Scylvendi barbarian. Rejected by his people, he seeks vengeance against the former slave who slew his father, and disgraced him in the eyes of his tribe. Into this world steps Anasurimbor Kellhus, the product of two thousand years of breeding and a lifetime of training in the ways of thought, limb, and face. Steering souls through the subtleties of word and expression, he slowly binds all - man and woman, emperor and slave - to his own mysterious ends. But the fate of men - even great men - means little when the world itself may soon be torn asunder. Behind the politics, beneath the imperialist expansion, amongst the religious fervour, a dark and ancient evil is reawakening. After two thousand years, the No-God is returning. The Second Apocalypse is nigh. And one cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten...

Star Wars: The Last Jedi teaser trailer

Not sure about this one. . .

Tad Williams Interview, part 1

Tad Williams kindly accepted my invitation to do an interview to help promote the forthcoming The Witchwood Crown (Canada, USA, Europe) a while back. But renovations, writing the second volume in the new trilogy, and other vagaries of life have gotten in the way.

Hence, considering how busy he's been these last few weeks, we've decided to split the interview into two parts. Here are his answers to the first batch of questions and the rest will be posted as soon as I receive them.


- After more than two decades, how special was it to finally return to the universe of Osten Ard?

Special and strange. I hadn’t really realized before how much I've forgotten of things I already wrote. I’ve occasionally had to check back into my old worlds for short stories, but usually that required only a little reading to refresh memory. What I discovered this time, with full rereads of the originals and lots and lots of research (also with the help of some readers who know the world better than I do) was how much effort and thought I had put into Osten Ard in the first place, so many years ago. Layers upon layers. So not only do I feel an almost holy obligation to treat characters well that I know readers care about, I’ve also had to be very thorough and thoughtful in expanding a place that had quite a documented existence and history already. I hope I’ve done justice to everything. I’ve had more fun doing it than I would have imagined, but you never know how people will take things, and the readers (who are both customers and curators) are always right.

- After so long and with the number of novels/series you have written since TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER was published, was it difficult to get back into the swing of things? I know you had help regarding the continuity, but were there other aspects that proved more challenging than you expected?

As I mentioned above, it took me a little while — I cursed the writer of such preposterously long books several times during the rereads — but I feel like I’ve been in a good mode with it. The most difficult thing was aging the familiar characters some thirty-plus years while still trying to retain the elements that (I hope) made them memorable in the first place. How do you take someone like Simon, who spends most of the early part of MST as a callow mooncalf of a youth, and show him as a competent middle-aged monarch without completely de-naturing him? It forced me to think deeply about all the characters who return from the previous books, about their lives since then, who they were, and how that has affected who they’ve become. It’s not always easy to clearly show that they are the same people — if we met our older selves when we were still young, leaving out facial resemblances, would we recognize ourselves? Some of us change quite a bit on that long journey.

- How well-received has THE HEART OF WHAT WAS LOST been thus far?

I have no idea about sales or anything, but the reviews were almost uniformly good, which was gratifying. I used to be just another unimportant hack fantasy writer here in the States, but apparently now I am an older but middling skillful fantasy writer, although still relatively unimportant. (That sounds like grumpiness, but it’s really not. I’ve learned that context is everything, that I can be a pretty okay genre fantasist in one country and an important modern writer in another, even when it’s the same books being discussed. I used to be angry at the unfairness of being judged by people who didn’t really know or care about my work enough to understand it. Now I know it’s just part of the deal, and a lot of perfectly good writers have it far worse.)

- Without giving anything away, since we don't really have a true cover blurb yet, can you give us a taste of the tale that is THE WITCHWOOD CROWN? Come on, Tad, throw us a bone!

Well, Simon and Miriamele are king and queen now, so you know some of it is about the eventual succession. And I’m spending a lot more time with the Norns in these books — several of the leading characters come from that background — so you know they’re going to be an important part of the tale. And since Utuk’ku was only stunned into retreat and deep sleep at the end of the first books, you know she hasn’t got any sweeter. What else can I tell you? Old and new characters, lots of both. More background and depth on the world and its history. Monsters — oh, yeah, I’ve got monsters, old and new, including a talking giant. And more subplots than you can shake a wizardly staff at, including many locales we didn’t see the first time, and the first use of both Norns and Sithi as focal-point characters.

And at last I’m going to talk about Josua and Vorzheva’s twins. Everyone assumed I included the prophecy about them in the first story as a jumping off point for a sequel. As the time elapsed since then proves, I didn’t really mean it that way at all, and simply wanted to show that magical, weird things would continue to happen in Osten Ard after MST was finished. But Fate always has the last laugh, and now I really am writing that long-expected (by everyone but me) sequel.

- Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?

The only thing different about writing The Witchwood Crown from my other long books is that I let more people see this one at an early stage, after what was for me a very loose first draft. Normally I assemble the first drafts so carefully (because of plot complexity) that you could read it in that form and assume it was a finished book. This time I wanted some feedback from longtime readers on what I was doing, and so I let some people in early, and listened carefully to what they had to say. Also, I’d say it’s the most plotted of any of my multi-volume stories, because I spent most of the first year just thinking about it while I was finishing the last Bobby Dollar book. And because I have all my usual research to do, plus making a complicated plot fit cleanly with the immensely complicated MST that already exists, I’ve spent more time thinking about it on a day-to-day basis than I usually have to. (And I usually spend a lot of time thinking about whatever book I’m writing anyway.) So in some ways it’s almost like I’ve been testing out a new working method, and that’s been quite a trip in and of itself.

- Are you still working on A CHRONICLE IN STONE (short stories set in Osten Ard) while writing the current trilogy, or has this project been incorporated into The Last King of Osten Ard series?

At this point many of the ideas that would have been in the anthology book have been used in the new series instead. If I ever write Chronicle, it will have the same framing idea but all different stories. However, I might still do it one day.

- How special is it to have Michael Whelan returning to illustrate the covers of The Last King of Osten Ard series?

More than almost anything else, that’s felt like returning home. I was very pleased when I heard — several of my readers heard it first at a convention and smuggled the information to me before I’d even heard it from my publishers. I’ve always felt very lucky to have Michael’s work adorning any of my books, but with this new one it feels really special and just right.

- Stephen R. Donaldson once said that he waited for so long to write The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant because he wasn't ready and needed to grow as an author before he felt comfortable tackling such a project. Would you say that, at least to a certain extent, this was one of the reasons why it took so long for you to finally decide to write the long-awaited sequel to Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn?

Yes, but not necessarily in the same way as Donaldson’s talking about. I said for years that I wouldn’t write a sequel to anything or even re-visit a world unless I had a story first, a story that cried out to be written. And for years Osten Ard was in that category, although I had thought a bit about the Chronicle project. Then, when I sat down one time to list off for Deborah (my wife and business partner) all the reasons I had no more stories about Simon and Miriamele and Binabik and the rest, I realized that I had left most of the main characters still very much in the bloom of their youth, and that after decades of life and growing responsibility — which I had undergone myself since I wrote it — they must all look at the world very differently. That set me to thinking, and within one night the first rudiments of the story for The Last King of Osten Ard (the title for the whole series) had begun to take real shape. So every moment I was aging, and moving from one country to another, and becoming a parent, and so on, I was actually creating a plot for new Osten Ard books without realizing it.

- Speaking on Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, given all the noise that will be made regarding THE WITCHWOOD CROWN this coming spring, it will doubtless pique the curiosity of new readers. How would you describe the series to someone who hasn’t read those books yet?

A very big epic fantasy, long (I hope) on both wonder and humor, but also full of horror and plot twists. It will be perhaps a tad less pessimistic than George’s Game of Thrones, and also with a bit more in the way of magical happenings — but not TOO many. Too much magic tends to cheapen a big fantasy for me, because I know the writer can always pull an ace out of his or her sleeve and save the day when it seems hopeless. I like to put my characters in situations that even I can’t imagine how to escape, and then have to figure it out alongside them.


Stay tuned for more!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

God is dead. Meet the kids.

When Fat Charlie's dad named something, it stuck. Like calling Fat Charlie "Fat Charlie." Even now, twenty years later, Charlie Nancy can't shake that name, one of the many embarrassing "gifts" his father bestowed -- before he dropped dead on a karaoke stage and ruined Fat Charlie's life.

Mr. Nancy left Fat Charlie things. Things like the tall, good-looking stranger who appears on Charlie's doorstep, who appears to be the brother he never knew. A brother as different from Charlie as night is from day, a brother who's going to show Charlie how to lighten up and have a little fun ... just like Dear Old Dad. And all of a sudden, life starts getting very interesting for Fat Charlie.

Because, you see, Charlie's dad wasn't just any dad. He was Anansi, a trickster god, the spider-god. Anansi is the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn the social order, create wealth out of thin air, and baffle the devil. Some said he could cheat even Death himself.

Returning to the territory he so brilliantly explored in his masterful New York Times bestseller, American Gods, the incomparable Neil Gaiman offers up a work of dazzling ingenuity, a kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth that is at once startling, terrifying, exhilarating, and fiercely funny -- a true wonder of a novel that confirms Stephen King's glowing assessment of the author as "a treasure-house of story, and we are lucky to have him."

For a limited time, you can once again download Neal Stephenson's Anathem for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Anathem, the latest invention by the New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, is a magnificent creation: a work of great scope, intelligence, and imagination that ushers readers into a recognizable -- yet strangely inverted -- world.

Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside "saecular" world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside -- the Extramuros -- for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent's gates -- at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious "extras" in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected." But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros -- a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose -- as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world -- as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.

Waking Gods

In my review of Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants, I explained how the novel spent the better part of last year on my "Maybe" pile of books to read. The premise was definitely intriguing and I really wanted to give it a shot due to the fact that the author was also Québécois. Still, every time I thought it was its turn in the rotation, something came up and I had to postpone reading it. There was always another book, another commitment. Realizing that maybe it wasn't meant to be, last fall I put Neuvel's science fiction debut in one of the boxes of novels I donate to local libraries and that was that. Or do I believed.

I forgot all about it, but a few weeks later a copy of the trade paperback edition showed up in my mailbox. Thinking that maybe the universe was trying to tell me something, I resolved to give it a shot as soon as possible. And once I was done reading it I felt like a complete fool, for Sleeping Giants would have made my speculative fiction Top 10 of 2016. There was a lot to love about this debut, and it left the door open for much more in the upcoming sequels.

I had no intention to repeat the same mistake, so Waking Gods went to the top of the pile as soon as I received it. And like its predecessor, it's another compelling read!

Here's the blurb:

In the gripping sequel to Sleeping Giants, which was hailed by Pierce Brown as “a luminous conspiracy yarn . . . reminiscent of The Martian and World War Z,” Sylvain Neuvel’s innovative series about human-alien contact takes another giant step forward.

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

As critics have mentioned, Neuvel's The Themis Files is reminiscent of Andy Weir's The Martian and Max Brooks' World War Z, but only as far as the format is concerned. Once more in Waking Gods, the tale is told through a variety of recorded interviews and journal entries. I had doubts regarding such a dossier-like format at the beginning of Sleeping Giants, yet one soon gets used to the unconventional narrative structure. True, it remains an unorthodox way to convey the story, but it sort of gives this series its unique flavor.

The main question had to do with whether or not Waking Gods would suffer from the middle book syndrome. This being the author's only second published novel, I wasn't the only reader wondering if Sylvain Neuvel could do it again. Sleeping Giants was released without much fanfare, with no lofty expectations. But with the critical and commercial success of his scifi debut, there is no denying that Waking Gods had to deliver in order to satisfy fans. And I'm glad to report that this sequel is as good as its predecessor. Indeed, it lives up to the potential generated by Sleeping Giants and then some!

Once again, the interviews and journal entries allow readers to delve into the psyche of every character and to get to know them on a deeper level than I expected. As was the case with Sleeping Giants, the debriefings and interviews are conducted by a shadowy figure of power whose identity is finally revealed. I had a feeling that the disclosure of that particular secret might make or break the series, what with how powerful and high-placed this cold-blooded man appeared to be, but I'm not sure it had the sort of impact people were anticipating. Dr. Rose Franklin, now back from the dead, who used to be the heart and soul of the team, has an identity crisis. Kara Resnik and Vincent Couture are in a relationship and trying to make it work. Ryan Mitchell and Alyssa Papantoniou also return in this second installment, though not in ways they expected to be. Eva Reyes, a young girl who has strange dreams, and Eugene Govender, Commander of the Earth Defense Corps, are two new POV protagonists. And the mysterious Mr. Burns also makes a few appearances.

Like its predecessor, Waking Gods is a strange sort of hybrid. At its heart, once again it's a science fiction work that explores larger-than-life concepts and their impacts on the protagonists themselves and the world at large. It's also a political novel that explores the geopolitical conflicts caused by the shocking appearance of numerous robots similar to Themis all across the globe. Although science plays a major role in this one, I don't consider Waking Gods to be a hard scifi book. There are just enough scientific details to satisfy purists, yet the narrative is imbued with a sense of wonder that elevates this novel to another dimension. The realization that we are not alone in the universe and that an ancient civilization is light-years ahead of us technologically had dramatic repercussions all over the world, and now Earth seems threatened by that vastly superior foe. I feel that Sylvain Neuvel did a good job portraying just how arrogant and stupid mankind can be during times of crisis. I did not expect the body count to be quite so high and the destruction to be so widespread, but it's obvious that the author took it up a notch in this sequel. And the way the book ends sets the stage for what should be a gripping finale in the third installment.

Waking Gods is another relatively fast-paced read. Once more, I finished this second volume in just a few sittings. The chapters/files are short, feature interviews/debriefings/journal entries that focus on a single protagonist, and move across the timeline at a pretty good clip. If anything, this one might be even more page-turning than Sleeping Giants, especially once the proverbial shit hits the fan. From that point on, you just have to keep on reading to discover what happens next!

Sylvain Neuvel wrote another interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining novel. Waking Gods is definitely one of the science fiction books to read in 2017!

The final verdict: 8/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on the digital edition of Paul Kearney's excellent A Different Kingdom for only 0.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada and it's £0.99 in the UK.

Here's the blurb:

Michael Fay is a normal boy, living with his grandparents on their family farm in rural Ireland. In the woods—once thought safe and well-explored—there are wolves; and other, stranger things. He keeps them from his family, even his Aunt Rose, his closest friend, until the day he finds himself in the Other Place. There are wild people, and terrible monsters, and a girl called Cat.

When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the doors and looking away—or following Cat on an adventure that may take an entire lifetime in the Other Place. He will become a man, and a warrior, and confront the Devil himself: the terrible Dark Horseman...

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (April 3rd)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is down one position, ending the week at number 4. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up two positions, ending the week at number 5 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Jacqueline Carey content winner!

Our winner will receive a signed copy of Jacqueline Carey's Miranda and Caliban, courtesy of the folks at Tor Books! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Lisa Taylor, from Apex, North Carolina, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download the omnibus comprised of all three volumes of Katherine Kurtz's The Legends of Camber of Culdi for only 2.99$ here. It's the perfect starting point for anyone interested in discovering the Deryni saga!

Here's the blurb:

Three fantasy novels of intrigue, betrayal, and magic in medieval Gwynedd by the New York Times–bestselling author of the Deryni series—bonus story also included.

Camber of Culdi: Long before Camber was revered as a saint, he was a Deryni noble, one of the most respected of the magical race whose arcane skills set them apart from ordinary humans in the kingdom of Gwynedd. Now, the land suffers under the tyranny of King Imre, whose savage oppression of the human population weighs heavily on Camber’s heart—a heart that is about to be shattered by a tragic loss that will lead him to confront the usurpers whose dark magic haunts the realm.

Saint Camber: The yoke of tyranny has finally been lifted in Gwynedd, but Camber’s job remains unfinished. The dangerous remnants of a conquered enemy still mass at the borders, and the new ruler is desperately unhappy wearing the crown. With the stability of a fragile kingdom at stake, its greatest champion must make the ultimate sacrifice: Camber of Culdi must cease to exist.

Camber the Heretic: The king’s heir is a mere boy of twelve, and the malevolent regents who will rule until young Alroy comes of age are determined to eliminate all Deryni. Suddenly, the future of Gwynedd hangs in the balance, and Camber—once adored as a saint, but now reviled as a heretic—must find a way to protect his people before everything and everyone he loves is destroyed in the all-consuming flames of intolerance and hate.

Filled with mysticism and magic, these sagas reminds us that “Kurtz’s love of history lets her do things with her characters and their world that no non-historian could hope to do” (Chicago Sun-Times).

Bradley P. Beaulieu contest winner!

This lucky winner will get his hands on an ARC of Bradley P. Beaulieu's With Blood Upon the Sand! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Michael Morrison, from Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win a copy of Mark Lawrence's RED SISTER

I have a copy of Mark Lawrence's Red Sister up for grabs, courtesy of the folks at Ace! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

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

Today only, Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane can be downloaded for only 2.99$ here. It's 1.99$ in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

A major new work from "a writer to make readers rejoice" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)— a moving story of memory, magic, and survival.

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 27th)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology maintains its position at number 3. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Patricia Briggs' Silence Fallen is down eight spots, finishing the week at number 10.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up two positions, ending the week at number 7 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends received the seal of approval of both fantasy author Mark Lawrence and popular blogger Adam Whitehead last year and you can now download it for only 0.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada and £0.99 in the UK.

Might want to keep an eye out for this one. . .

Here's the blurb:

While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya.

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Thomas Senlin, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, is drawn to the Tower by scientific curiosity and the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The luxurious Baths of the Tower seem an ideal destination for a honeymoon, but soon after arriving, Senlin loses Marya in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

Quote of the Day

They will kneel, or they will burn. I will show no mercy.

- GEORGE R. R. MARTIN, The Winds of Winter

Being Ser Patrek of King's Mountain certainly has its perks! ;-)

The Player of Games

My first experience with Iain M. Banks' Culture cycle was Consider Phlebas back in 2009. Regardless of its shortcomings, I found the novel to be a work of vast scope and rare imagination. The worldbuilding, especially, was fascinating. The Culture and the Idiran Empire are fighting a galaxy-spanning war; the Idirans fighting for their Faith, while the Culture fights for their right to exist. But for all of its strengths, Consider Phlebas wasn't necessarily an easy book to get into.

Most Iain M. Banks fans opine that The Player of Games is an easier read and makes for a better entry point into the series, so I knew that this was the one I'd read next. As to why it took this long for me to finally give it a shot, I have no excuse. Too many books, too little time, I reckon. And yet, after finishing C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen I wanted to give another "older" scifi title a go. So here we are!

Here's the blurb:

The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.

Once more, though the worldbuilding is probably not as dense as in Consider Phlebas, it remains my favorite aspect of The Player of Games. I particularly liked everything that had to do with the Empire of Azad, where a complex game is used to determine social rank and political status. Known as the game of Azad, the game itself is subtle and convoluted and the strategy used by the players reflects their own personal political and philosophical outlook. It's a tactical game played on three-dimensional boards of different shapes and dimensions, and the winner is named emperor The bulk of the action takes place on the Empire's home planet of Eä and on Echronedal, the Fire Planet, where the last games of the tournament are played and where the emperor is crowned. Surprisingly, and that was likely my biggest disappointment, we learn very little about the Culture. I was expecting more in that regard. . .

The characterization was a bit uneven. I found that Gurgeh was ill-suited to carry the full story on his shoulders. Although he has his moments, he simply wasn't a compelling main protagonist. In addition, how the drone Mawhrin-Skel contrived to put Gurgeh in a position to be blackmailed so it could rejoin the ranks of the Culture's Special Circumstances (an organisation part of Contact, which is a bigger institution that coordinates Culture interactions with other civilisations) and send him to the Empire of Azad was more than a little far-fetched. Gurgeh's interaction with Flere-Imsaho, another drone sent to accompany him and help him in case things go south makes for some fun scenes. It was also interesting to witness Gurgeh's outlook on what he needed to do and his approach to the game change the more the tournament progressed and the more interactions he had with other players and Emperor Nicosar.

The pace is mostly fluid throughout the novel. There are a few rougher spots here and there, but for the most part the rhythm is never an issue. And though Gurgeh is not the most endearing or likeable of fellows, following his progress through the game of Azad is never dull. The conclusion of The Player of Games was satisfying, but the final revelation was telegraphed and came as no surprise to me. Which robbed the ending of a bit of its impact.

Having said that, for the most part I enjoyed reading this book and went through it in just a few sittings. Weighing in at 391 pages, The Player of Games is a relatively quick read. It's just not something that stays with you for very long afterward. It's entertaining, witty, intelligent, and well-written. But ultimately, it's not a novel that makes you want to read more Culture titles. Which is why I'm not sure if it's a better starting point for newbies than Consider Phlebas turned out to be.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Just saw that you can now get your hands on the digital edition of Sylvain Neuvel's excellent Sleeping Giants for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on one of science fiction's most beloved classics, William Gibson's Neuromancer, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus-hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century’s most potent visions of the future.

You can also download Rob Reid's Year Zero for 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on American pop songs ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), resulting in the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang and bankrupting the whole universe. Nick has just been tapped to clean up this mess before things get ugly. Thankfully, this unlikely galaxy-hopping hero does know a thing or two about copyright law. Now, with Carly and Frampton as his guides, Nick has forty-eight hours to save humanity—while hoping to wow the hot girl who lives down the hall from him.