Monday, 30 May 2011

List | Top 5 Silly (but nevertheless common) Descriptors in Blurbs

We're told not to judge a book by its cover (well, we generally ignore it. But I'm informed the telling is the important part). But surely we have to judge books by their blurbs? In the spirit of the endeavour, here's my top five blurb irritants:


1. Comparisons to Tolkien
Every fantasy writer is compared to Tolkien in some way - or at least contrasted. Great as he was, fantasy has moved on, and a comparison to Tolkien isn't just cliched - but a little self-defeating: if you're looking for original worldbuilding, a comparison to the trend setter of fantasy probably isn't a good idea. Comparisons, on the other hand, don't have to be bad. If I ever see a book with, say, this:

"As upbeat and sympathetic as Thomas Covenant! At least half the laughs of Hardy! Less Cthulhu than Lovecraft!"

On the back, I'll read it. For sure.

2. 'Page-Turner'
What do I need to say? If a book isn't making me want to turn the next page, there's probably something wrong. Calling a book a page-turner isn't bad... It just gives a hint of being damned by faint praise.

3. Mentioning a Prophecy
This might just be me. (Well, I'm fairly sure it is me). Prophecies have been done well, but for me, if the book starts, ends, and is described by a prophecy, it's not a selling point. Starting a blurb with a prophecy gives me that impression!

4. Characterisation by Cliche
It's good that a blurb tries to get across a sense of character: after all, that's why we're reading the book. When limited space means that side characters are characterised solely by one/two-word stereotypes and cliches, it's my time to get wary. Especially 'hot-tempered'. No, I don't know why.

5. 'Book One of Seventeen'
There are authors who can pull this off. However, when a blurb starts by introducing the book as a rather lengthy prologue... A book should be a story on its own merits first, rather than using the sheer numerical scale of volumes to impress the reader with the sense of an epic. To give a good example, Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings might in turn be an introduction, but its blurb sets us up with characters and situation rather than scale.

Any pet peeves you've got? Comment below and tell me.


Friday, 27 May 2011

Article | Surpassing Conventions - and Who Does

There are a few conventions in fantasy we've read dozens - or hundreds - of times. The orphan protagonist. The hero with a troubled past. The pet pengui- well, alright, that probably isn't one. But I wish it was. At any rate, there are a few conventions - even cliches - that have historically been so overdone that modern fantasy regularly gives them a wide berth: for good reason. So I'm going to venture into this territory to compile my toplist: how conventions have been best done, and by whom - in my rather whimsical opinion! So, here goes:

The Protagonist with a Troubled/Angsty/Excuse Past:  
Lupe dy Cazaril in The Curse of Chalion
The Curse of Chalion is a novel which I think is almost criminally under-read. Cazaril is a fantastic protagonist: flawed, sympathetic, and ultimately heroic - in an interesting way (secretaries don't go in for your everyday heroics, you see). Before the novel, Cazaril was a castle warder: omitted (intentionally) from the list of those to be ransomed following a siege, he was instead forced into slavery as a galley slave. Yes, it's a fairly tragic past, but Bujold uses it deftly: it's not belted out to other characters in a 'look, I'm really quite tragic and just look how angsty I am' monologue, but introduced gradually. It's also overcome and plot relevant - Cazaril is forced to confront, rather than be defined by his past, and it makes for interesting character development. This betters one of fantasy's typical conventions: and The Curse of Chalion is a great novel for it.
You can find The Curse of Chalion on Amazon.com here: Curse of Chalion 


The Power Which Glows:
Stormlight in The Way of Kings
 In most fantasy, magic seems to glow for no discernible reason - it's not an irritating convention, but an unexplained one, and something that should perhaps be thought twice about. Many modern fantasists have been opting for subtler magic systems, but The Stormlight Archive shows that you can still have pretty lights if you give a reason for it. In The Way of Kings, the magic system we first glimpse is based on stormlight - light stored from passing storms. When this is used to perform magic, the light itself is also released: so there's a reason for power to glow.

The Possession:
Matthew Swift in A Madness of Angels
  Examples of possession in fantasy are generally confined to the evil: and the cliched. Possessed characters can be expected to:
a) Acquire somewhat disturbing red eyes
b) Rather easily give themselves away
c) Be completely non-consensually possessed
A Madness of Angels puts a twist on the trope: yes, Matthew Swift is possessed by the blue electric angels - but they're cohabiting. Swift's narration might be slipping regularly into pupils, but the angels aren't bad - or good. They're spirits of information and electricity - waste life poured into the telephone system - and the real world is interesting enough for them already: they've got no need to destroy it. This uneasy shared human/inhuman personality makes Matthew Swift's own heroic journey an interesting one, and I strongly advise you to check it out. I've reviewed A Madness of Angels, and it is every bit as awesome as its title.

So, these were my choices: what are yours? And which conventions should I feature in my next post?
Comment below and tell me!



Monday, 23 May 2011

Link | Advice from Sam Sykes

Over at his blog, Sam Sykes has some interesting remarks for aspiring authors about the publishing industry. Unfortunately, I must point this out: he is wrong. Oh, so wrong. Why? Well, just look at this statement:

"it’s possible that he [Patrick Rothfuss] does have a diabolical lair beneath his humble Wisconsin home from which he directs his publishers to stymie and destroy people he doesn’t like while simultaneously stroking a cat that occasionally gets lost in the depths of his beard, but it’s not likely."

So naive.

Other than that, you can find his post HERE (and I really need to get round to reading his books!)

In other news, the collaborative map-making/worldbuilding project has started, over at Fantasy Faction: I'm taking part, and it should be an interesting initiative. If you're involved, go and check out the new subforum!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Blog Hop | Follow Friday and Blog Hop

Book Blogger Hop



Welcome to Drying Ink, blog hoppers! I review an eclectic mix of fantasy and science fiction, with my favourite authors including Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, and Patrick Rothfuss. I also include a number of articles and toplists. Comment and say hello!

"If you were given the chance to spend one day in a fictional world (from a book), which book would it be from and what would that place be?"
Certainly not an easy question! Although I love Erikson's world, I doubt I'd actually survive in it (what with all of those ascendants running around), and as for Martin... Well, let's not go there. I'd start jumping every time I heard The Rains of Castamere! So instead, I'm going to opt for either Chalion in Lois McMaster Bujold's books, or T'Telir from Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker: who could turn down such an incredible city with a really rather intriguing magic system - Awakening?

What was your reply? Comment and say hello below! 

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Review | The Damned Busters - Matthew Hughes

Who doesn't love a Faustian deal? ...Fictionally, of course. The Damned Busters is a fun subversion of the trope: Chesney Arnstruther is constructing a poker table when he hits his thumb. While mentally swearing, speaking nonsense. Which turns out to be precisely the right incantation to summon a demon - complete with Faustian contract and pen. Unfortunately, Chesney wants to keep his soul for just a bit longer: and when the demon returns, unsatisfied, it's behind on its molten-gold-to-misers quota - and the conflict escalates. Soon, the demons of Hell are on strike, and in the process of negotiating a settlement between Satan and minions, Chesney manages to grab a perk: the demon Xaphan is at his call for two hours every day to fight crime. (Unfortunately, the last time he visited Earth was during Prohibition - though he makes a very good gangster).

However, the superhero profession is harder than it looks. And when the people you've saved are as happy to give you a healthy dose of pepper spray as thank you? Well, it gets worse, and not least because wants him to fight crime. For their own reasons. And Chesney can't figure out why... And meanwhile, the word is that someone's writing a book. And the characters have taken it over - and some are looking for an ending...

The Damned Busters is a light urban fantasy, humorously deconstructing the hero - with plenty of witty banter from Xaphan. Its metafictional element is also very fun - when the characters in your book have realised they're in fiction, and are shamelessly manipulating the plot because of it, you've got something very original (and hilarious). There's also some genuine drama (near the end) mixed in with the humorous antics, and you might even end up feeling that maybe there's a little truth in the authorial concept of religion...

All in all, The Damned Busters is a very un-adult urban comic fantasy: something rare in modern genre, and definitely to be savoured! It's also quite a short novel (again, a rarity), and can be easily enjoyed without too much involvement: perfect for a bus or train read. It has its flaws - it doesn't take itself seriously enough for any real drama, which can be a good thing, and it's not as amusing as some of the masters - but definitely worth picking up.

8/10

The Damned Busters is published by Angry Robot Books, and you can find it on Amazon here: Damned Busters: To Hell and Back, Book 1 (Hell to Pay)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Fantasy Elements | The Cities (and if you insist, pop in a citadel too)

We've all got our favourite fantasy cities - or, in the case of urban fantasy, real cities with a fantasy twist. Well, this is a new feature I'll be trying: I'll list my picks, and I'd like you to tell me yours, as well! (I'm always looking for reading recommendations as well) So, here are my top fantasy cities - in two different categories:

The Real One: Chicago in the Dresden Files
 (Yes, the Dresden Files really are this awesome. Well, better)
In the Dresden Files, Chicago changes shape: far, far from reality. The White Court - feeding on emotions - live in uptown mansions, the local church caters to one of the Knights of the Cross, and the tunnels play host to the Winter Fae. And that's not even mentioning the people... By the third book of the Dresden Files, you'll be wondering how normal people even live in this city: it's just that insane. There isn't a dull page in these books, and that Butcher manages to make a real city play host to them is only more impressive. If you haven't read the Dresden Files, you really should: you can find my reviews by clicking on the 'Dresden Files' tag at the bottom of this post.
Storm Front, the first book in the series, can be found on Amazon here: Storm Front

The Imaginary One: Darujhistan in the Malazan Book of the Fallen
 Darujhistan is the City of Blue Fire: lit on every street by the blue flares of gas from the caverns under the city (which also play host to some rather sizable worms...). Its House of the Azath is inhabited by a Jaghut Tyrant (who would quite like a pet, apparently), its politics are scheming - and apparently manipulated by a sorcerous cabal -, it's home to its very own Guild of Assassins, and it is absolutely fantastic. First seen in Erikson's debut novel, Gardens of the Moon, Darujhistan has been home to some of the Malazan series' best characters at the Phoenix Inn, including Kruppe, a rather oily fence and reputed genius (if only he wouldn't speak of himself in the third person). The Malazan books are among my favourite series, and Darujhistan only makes them better.
Gardens of the Moon is on Amazon here: Gardens of the Moon

So, I've listed mine: what are yours? Comment below and tell me - if I haven't read them, I'm always looking for recommendations for the blog!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Best Of... | Comic Fantasy

Who wants gritty genre every day? Well, apart from George R.R. Martin, who'll happily kill off a couple of Starks to pass an afternoon... Anyway, these are the times when we turn to the genre's lightest subgenre: comic fantasy. Of course, this isn't to say that they aren't great books in their own right, just that these are the ones that make you laugh. A lot. So, here are my top three authors for that very purpose (in no particular order):

Tom Holt
Tom Holt is one of the masters of comic fantasy, and as the author of thirty novels in this genre, you've got a wide variety to choose from. His only real ongoing series, however, is the J.W. Wells company books, which make magic... rather corporate, and absolutely hilarious. Photocopiers that can only be worked by the seventh son of a seventh son? Always gets me. His books typically end in a convoluted confusion of plot - there might be holes, but it's always funny. However, his characters aren't as differentiated as some of the authors I prefer - several of his male protagonists seem to merge after a while, so if you're inclined to focus on character rather than comedy... Well, you'll still enjoy his novels, but perhaps not quite as much as otherwise.
If you're planning on starting Holt, I recommend the first in the JWW series: The Portable Door, which can be found on Amazon here - The Portable Door

Terry Pratchett
How could I possibly write this without mentioning Pratchett? The Discword is a setting that works mostly on narrative, and Pratchett's characterisation is fantastic: his humour is generally subtler than the other authors listed here, and he deals with more serious themes and issues as well, tending towards satire and deconstruction rather than outright insanity (Rankin). You've similarly got a large variety of stories here, with recurring characters and groups such as the City Watch, witches, and wizards - as well as spin-offs like The Science of Discworld - which I'm reading now. If you haven't read Pratchett... Well, let's just say that this needs to be remedied. Now. Personally, my favourites are the Moist Von Lipwig books, which focus around the involuntarily reformed conman-turned-public-servant, the first of which you can find on Amazon here:

Robert Rankin
 
 Rankin, on the other hand, is on the side of the spectrum that can be rather aptly named 'insanity'. Books are a hilarious confusion of running gags, plot twists made solely for laughs, and a 'fantasy kitchen sink' Earth in which anything can happen, and unlike many books, it frequently does. I mean, accidentally murdering the zeitgeist of the 60s with a client's brother, recently transmuted to gold? If you're not up for many, many running jokes, though, Rankin is not for you: they're everywhere. From finding zodiac signs in the streets of Brighton, to locating a pit to hell under a Brentford kitchen floor, Rankin is most probably the craziest writer alive: and if you're at all like me, you'll love his novels for it.
One of my favourites, The Brightonomicon, can be found on Amazon here: The Brightonomicon (Brentford Trilogy)

Read these books, or have any suggestions for others I could add? Comment below and tell me!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Review | Side Jobs - Jim Butcher

 If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've probably realised that I love Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. I mean, who wouldn't? The wisecracking, referential viewpoint of Harry Dresden combined with an urban fantasy world that is both integrated and genuinely fantastical (no sparkly vampires here... no, not even the White Court) makes the series an instant winner. But do the great novels equate to great short stories as well?

Mostly, yes! The stories are written at different points at Jim Butcher's writing career, and with differing levels of skill: although Jim Butcher slights the first story, Restoration of Faith, even this is really very professional. The stories span a number of different tones and situations: from smaller-scale cases themselves (such as when Harry visits a beer festival), to moments of comedy (such as the vignette in which Harry and Bob discuss the new advertisement - with Bob's fairly predictable advice). This is definitely its strength: Side Jobs explores fun situations that could never have made it into the novels, and Butcher is evidently having fun with it! There are some great moments here, although the scale is inevitably smaller, and you won't be getting many of the Dresden Files' famed dramatic moments.

A word of warning, though: this book is only for you if you've read the main series already up to Changes - otherwise, the characters don't get much introduction or history, so most of the stories won't be very understandable. You'll also be in line for some major, major spoilers: so read the novels first! That said, Side Jobs is definitely a fun read, although not quite up to the standard of the novels: mainly through its lack of scale, although the last story, set after the end of Changes, is genuinely fantastic: and really sets the series up for Ghost Story. If you've read the Dresden Files, Side Jobs is a must-read.

7/10

You can find the book on Amazon here: Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files 

Have you read this book, or have any comments on my review? Comment and tell me what you think!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Review | Nights of Villjamur - Mark Charan Newton

This was a difficult novel for me to review: superb in some aspects, aptly first-novelish in others. In conclusion, I'll just have to rip off Pornokitsch's accolade for Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, and turn it on its head. Nights of Villjamur is 'conceptually brilliant'.

Nights of Villjamur is set at the dawn of a new era: an encroaching ice age threatens starvation for the empire's capital, the city of Villjamur. As refugees cluster outside its gates, the empire itself is passing to a successor, and a escort is sent for the new Empress: Rika. However, intrigue is rife within the city (isn't it always? This is fantasy, after all) and a banned cult are plotting to take power. Meanwhile, Randur Estevu, an islander under an assumed name, comes to take up an occupation in the palace: teaching sword and dance to Eir, the second in line for the throne. But there's more afoot in the crumbling city - a Councilor has been murdered, and Inspector Jeryd is called upon to investigate the crime. And out on the ice, reports of a bizarre genocide are spreading through the Empire...

The ideas, for the most part, are fantastic: Villjamur is a Mieville-esque setting filled with plot opportunities in a crazy, New Weird-style mix. Banshees mourn the dead, cultists engineer relics of ancient civilisation to accomplish incredible feats (there's even a glimpse of a 'magic junkee' on one street, which I found a fun idea). The plot, likewise, could have been brilliant: there's something for everyone in the varied plotlines, with mystery in Jeryd's viewpoint chapters, a military endeavour with the guardsmen, and the occasional glimpse of the cultists' recovered magic. Furthermore, it's set in the preparations for an ice age, where food and fuel are scarce and the certainly isn't enough for anyone. If it had focused on this, it could have been an incredible transformative fantasy, with tough decisions being made constantly. Instead, Rika's attempts to help the doomed refugees are barely commented on or criticised as futile - the refugees are merely there in the background as vulnerable targets. The focus on the cult shifts everything away from the initial apparent target of the novel, which I found a slight decline in what could have been an even more original novel.

Nevertheless, a lot of what Newton does is superbly crafted: Randur's viewpoint is initially mysterious enough to intrigue us with questions. What is he after? Why under an assumed name? What does he want with the cultists? Although the tension isn't quite held up, there is definitely a fun climax to his plotline. Unfortunately, some of the technical aspects weren't quite so well handled: the relationship between Randur and Eir didn't quite seem convincing to me, and I though Brynd's partner needed more development. The cult, as well, were a bit of a letdown for me, seeming fairly stereotypically evil without much apparent reason: although I can see them making harsh decisions for the greater good, their reasons aren't elaborated on at all.

Despite these problems - which are very subjective - Nights of Villjamur is an intriguing fantasy with plenty of potential for future books in the series: I've heard that the sequel, City of Ruin is even better, so I'm looking forward to reading this. In conclusion, Nights is definitely a good book, but it could have been an incredible book: as its sequels may well prove to be.

6.5/10

Nights of Villjamur can be purchased on Amazon here: Nights of Villjamur 

Have you read this book, or know any similar novels? Feel free to comment and tell me! 

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Link | Second Column at Grasping For The Wind

My second column on magic systems is now up, over at Grasping For The Wind, John Ottinger III's excellent SFF blog. This time, I'm talking about the mechanics of the system of urban magic from Kate Griffin's identically-titled series! You can find it HERE, and I'm looking for suggestions for the next system I'll feature. If you've read a book with a great magic system you think I should cover, just comment and tell me!

Unfortunately, my posting schedule is also having to decrease in frequency, due to a short-term increased workload. Although I'm not going to stop posting (this is a fun hobby, after all!), I won't be able to keep up my former frequency, so my apologies for any delayed posts - once it's over, at the end of June, I'll be posting just as often as before.

As an aside, the next review will be Mark Charan Newton's excellent Nights of Villjamur.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Link | A Scene I Can't Wait To See In Print...

Ian C. Esslemont, Erikson's fellow writer in the world of Malaz, has written a post on the Tor-Forge blog HERE, in which he discusses his collaboration with Erikson (and describes a Kellanved/Dancer scene I can't wait to see in print!)

Being a big Malazan fan myself, I'm eagerly anticipating the future results of this collaboration on the part of both writers: although I didn't think Esslemont's earlier books were quite up to the standard of Erikson's post-Gardens of the Moon novels, Stonewielder really shows his talent. You can read my review of Stonewielder HERE.