Category Archives: Fantasy

Round Up of Recommended Reads

I haven’t been posting much about books here lately. I’ve been very busy. Not only do I read, I also write and I also produce ebooks for other writers. Not that I’m reading less, but I have less time to natter on about it.

In no particular order, some books I’ve read lately that you might find fun and/or interesting to read, too.

The Moses MacGuire series by Josh Stallings.

When I first started reading about Moses I wasn’t sure I’d like him. He’s a burnt out strip club bouncer with a prison record and few socially redeeming qualities. He grew on me. Bad boys tend to do that. Stallings writes gritty, unapologetic thrillers with nasty bad guys, nasty crimes and a lot of surprising twists.  As soon as I finished reading Beautiful, Naked & Dead, I immediately read Out There Bad. Pretty soon there’ll be a new Moses story, One More Body. I’m looking forward to it.

Moses McGuire a suicidal strip club bouncer is out to avenge the death of one of his girls. From his East L.A. home, through the legal brothels of Nevada and finally to a battle with the mob in the mountains above Palo Alto, it is a sex soaked, rage driven, road trip from hell.

 

 

 

“Out There Bad is the follow up novel to the critically claimed Beautiful, Naked & Dead. Armenian mobsters, Russian strippers, human traffickers, Mexican assassins, they all want Moses dead. Hell most days, even Moses wants Moses dead, but he’ll have to put his dark thoughts on hold. Somewhere between Moscow and LA a young girl has disappeared. The hunt for her will take Moses deep into the heart of Mexico. He will be taught once again that that which does not kill you, often leaves you scarred for life.”

On the paranormal side, two stories from two of my favorite authors: Ben Aaronovitch and J.F. Lewis. Aaronovitch writes the Peter Grant series about a London cop who ends up apprenticed to a wizard. Sort of Harry Potter meets Sherlock Holmes, but funnier. The latest is Whispers Underground where Peter has to solve a magical murder with a most mundane motive. Then we have J.F. Lewis who writes the wildly funny Void City novels featuring Eric the vampire and a screwball cast of creatures. A Corpse of Mistaken Identity is not a Void City novel, it’s a novella featuring a zaomancer (a very special resurrectionist). I really hope everybody runs out and buys this to encourage Lewis to write more about the zaomancers.

If someone dies an unnatural death, an untimely death, and you have to have them back, no matter what the cost… Marlo Morne can help, but there are rules, time is an important factor, and there are always clients who want those rules to be broken on their behalf.

For a change of pace from murder, magic and mayhem, I read a Regency romance, The Taming of Lady Kate, by G. G. Vandagriff, the second in her series: Three Rogues and Their Ladies. Written with wit and style and plenty of big sigh romance.

Back to murder and mayhem, but this time in sci-fi, Riding Fourth, by M. H. Mead. Let us call it carpooling run amok. This short story (available free right now!) is a teaser for a new novel, Taking the Highway,  coming in December. Can’t hardly wait.

That’s not all I’ve read, but I have to get back to work. Ebooks don’t format themselves, you know.

Enjoy!

Dear Walking Dead Writers: A Show For You To Watch

I got into an argument with my cable service provider and ended up cancelling TV before the new season of The Walking Dead began. This bummed me out until I discovered I could buy episodes from Amazon and watch them on my Kindle Fire. Well… Well. After how disappointed I was in the last season, I was hesitant about watching this season. Marina kept talking about it and I am forever the optimist, so I’ve been keeping up.

And not digging it. Not at all.

Rule Number One (and the only rule that counts): Don’t be a bore.

Sorry, TWD, but this season is a wretched bore.

You writers have made an elementary mistake. You’ve mistaken situation for plot. I don’t care how interesting any particular situation might be, it can only hold a reader’s or viewer’s interest for so long. The zombies are a situation. Once you’ve killed a few thousand and had them kill a few dozen characters, nobody cares. They just aren’t that interesting.

What makes any story interesting is the drama. Drama comes from the characters. Boy, have you guys dropped the ball regarding TWD characters. Your second elementary mistakes lies in narrowing the individual stories to the situation. The characters are flat because the only thing they do is react to the zombies. Fine, we get it. Zombies bad. Kill or be killed. You’ve reduced the characters to survival mode, but survive for what? I wouldn’t want any of those sad sacks to attend my Christmas party. Last season you had some interesting conflicts playing out. Glenn and Maggie’s romance. Shane’s struggle with madness. Herschel’s hope for a cure. This season? Stick them in a prison. Big whoop. I had hopes for Andrea and Michon. But all Andrea is doing is playing mouthpiece and Michon just wanders around looking sullen. And the governor? Come on! Haven’t we seen this villain in just about every bad movie ever produced? The guy’s picture should be in the dictionary next to “Stereotype.”

I have a suggestion for you (that is, if you’re hoping for another season–if your real goal is to kill everybody off and the season finale will be a gray screen with THE END IS OVER, then ignore this post). If you want to salvage TWD, watch Faith.

Faith is a Korean fantasy-historical series. It has time travel and a mystic warrior and a king and queen and sword fights and martial arts and an annoying twit of a heroine and absurd sub-titles and gorgeous production values and wonderful costumes. Mostly what it has are incredible characters.

Every night for the past week I’ve been watching Faith on hulu.com. It’s riveting. I am caught up in the story. I am invested. Why? The characters.

As I said, the heroine is an annoying twit. She screams and whines and overacts and screws up and accidentally stabs people. She shouldn’t be likeable. Except… she wants to go home. She was kidnapped from the future and she doesn’t belong in ancient Korea. It frightens her. She doesn’t understand the culture. That’s kind of her strength, too. The other characters don’t understand her either and they either over- or under-estimate her. Annoying or not, she’s never boring.

And the hero? This is a guy with a story. What he wants is to honorably fulfill his obligations so he can retire peacefully. He’s suicidal, too, and you’d think that would make him a downer, but it’s a cultural thing and it doesn’t mean he’s depressed. It means that’s a reasonable option for him, which actually heightens suspense and causes genuine conflict between him and the heroine. Plus, he keeps making promises he is honor-bound to keep, so he’s in conflict with himself, too.

You want a villain? Watch a few episodes and meet Excellency Gi Cheo. That guy is evil. He’s also charming and sly and funny, and he tries to hide a huge weakness. He doesn’t just want power. He wants everything! If he can’t get it through the people, he’ll kill them all and get new people. If he can’t it through the king, then he’ll get a new king. And if heaven tells him no? Well, he’ll figure out a way to remake god. He’s fascinating to watch.

Faith knows how to use female characters. Strong, active female characters with their own stories, desires, goals and conflicts. A queen and a court lady and female warriors and an assassin and a drug dealer. The writers on this show aren’t afraid to give the females stories and big dreams and interesting things to do.

Know why viewers hated Lori? Because you bounced her around like an irritating puppet. What did she want? What was in her heart? Every time you worked up an interesting conflict for her, you solved it with a zombie attack.

So do yourselves and the fans of TWD a favor and watch Faith. pay attention to the characters. You’ll learn something.

In Praise of Purple Prose

This post also originally appeared in February 2011. I was in the mood then and the cycle has come back around. Enjoy!

“He felt it rising within his chest, and before he knew it, before he could stop it, the laughter bubbled up out of him. It erupted from his gut and spilled out like vomit, choking him, twisting his gut, and spasming his chest. It boiled quickly to the level of simple hysteria and flew upward from there. He laughed until tears welled from his eyes and snot bubbled in his nostrils and blood splattered the ground as he beat it with his fist. He shook and shivered and rocked from side to side as the blood erupted from his leg and soaked the greedy dirt.”

From: Ghost Road Blues, by Jonathan Maberry, 2006

Not that the excerpt is purple, but it is rich. Lush. Over the top. Fun.

In writing, as in life, there’s such a thing as being too safe. Too cautious and correct, mild-mannered and meek. Writing that timidly lifts a polite, self-conscience hand and says, “Pshaw, don’t bother looking at me.”

Okay, we won’t. Happy now?

Write your early drafts while saying, “No one will ever see this shit, so I can write anything I please!” Then blast it out of your story-maker, bold,  outrageous, overblown, muscular, and even, dare I say, purplish. Have fun with thesauri. Play with words. Write marathon sentences. Let your characters piss, moan, cry, wail, and howl. Let them love as no one has loved before. Let their hate bubble and boil straight from the bowels of Hell. Let yourself be stupid, sly, clever, moronic, delusional, and insane. Make each paragraph a bull out of the chute. Hell, plaster the page with puns. No one has to know.

Once it’s on the page, you have something to work with. Something that can’t even spell constipation, much less be so. You’ll see the good stuff peering up with hopeful eyes, begging you to clean off the verbal vomit and detritus. Which you will gladly do, ending up with rich, vivid, meaty writing that begs to be read and savored.

Density

This post originally appeared on my other blog February 12, 2011. Seeing as how lately I’ve been in the mood for lush writing, I thought this and another old post or two might interest readers…

My preference is for a lean, mean, crisp writing style–no wasted words. That is, until I find something like this:

While the dreary day faded into a drearier dusk, in a world colorless except for the blazing roses, Jack sat in the snow, oblivious of the dampness and cold, and spoke to Jenny as he had spoken to her during her years in a coma. He told her about the Guardmaster heist yesterday, about giving away all the money. As the curtain of twilight pulled down the heavier drape of night, the memorial park’s security guard began driving slowly around the grounds, warning the few late visitors that the gates would soon close. Finally Jack stood and took one last look at Jenny’s name cast in bronze letters on the headstone plaque, now illuminated by the vaguely bluish light from one of the streetlamps that lined the park’s main drive. “I’m changing, Jenny, and I’m still not sure why. It feels good, right… but also sort of strange.” What he said next surprised him: “Something big is going to happen, Jenny. I don’t know what, but something big is going to happen to me.” He suddenly sensed that his newfound guilt and subsequent peace with society were only the beginning steps of a great journey that would take him places he not yet imagined. “Something big is going to happen,” he repeated, “and I sure wish you were here with me, Jenny.”

Strangers, by Dean Koontz, © 1986

In the afterword in this edition/reprint of this novel, Koontz tells how he wrote Strangers entirely on speculation. It was a leap of faith, no guarantees it would ever sell, but he felt compelled to do it his way. After receiving his largest advance ever, he was offered a six-figure bonus if he’d cut the 960 page behemoth (about 240,000 words) by 30%. He refused. Published anyway, it went on to become a mega-bestseller.

This isn’t one of my fave Koontz novels. His more recent novels are leaner, more tightly written, and certainly easier to prop up on my chest when I’m reading in bed. Still… dense, lush, even bordering on overblown writing works sometimes. It certainly worked in this novel and even my manic inner-editor would have a hard time figuring where and what to cut. If that’s what a writer has to do, then that’s what he has to do.

 

What Is Horror? The Answer is in the Question

My friend, Marie Loughin, writer and fellow member of TESSpecFic* asked on her blog, “What is horror?” More specifically, what’s the difference between horror and dark fantasy?:

This possibility led to the question, “Just what is horror, anyway?”

In answer, I came up with this checklist of elements that I’ve found in my favorite horror and assessed whether I at least attempted to include them in my book. (The degree of my success is left to the reader to decide.)

1)   Creepy atmosphere. (Check)
2)   Suspenseful. (Check)
3)   Victims experience psychological trauma (i.e. they are aware and helpless). (Check)
4)   Inspires fear and/or dread in reader. (Check, check)

(Notice that violence and gore are not essential elements for me, though they are sometimes present in my favorite works of horror and are included in a couple of scenes of my book.)

(Just so you know, I read Marie’s Valknut: The Binding, and consider it fantasy.)

It’s a good question. I think the answer lies in what happens after the reader finishes the story. If the reader is left with the question, “My God, how can anyone live with that?” The story is horror. Horror fiction peels away protective coverings and releases dark things. Once released, they can’t be put back. They can’t be forgotten. They cannot be ignored. They cannot be vanquished. Even killing the monster does no good because the reader is left with the realization that the monster is inside us and never going away.

Take for example, the Master of Modern Horror, Stephen King. He writes horror and dark fantasy and thrillers and science fiction and works that are uniquely King, impossible to define or emulate.

Two novels, The Stand and The Shining, are the perfect examples of dark fantasy and horror.

The Stand, for those who’ve never read it, is an end of the world fantasy. A superflu is released killing almost everybody and the survivors have to rebuild civilization. Forces of good and evil gather to face the ultimate showdown. Despite truly horrific scenes, supernatural elements, and large doses of B-movie schlock, the novel is dark fantasy. The question for readers going in is, “Will good triumph over evil?” The story answers, “Of course.” That particular evil has been vanquished (In the original version anyway. In the author’s uncut version, Randall Flagg washes up on an island, presumably to wait for another opportunity to get his ass spectacularly kicked.). The survivors can now resume rebuilding their lives.

The Shining, on the other hand, is pure horror. Jack, Wendy and Danny are the winter caretakers for a haunted hotel. In order to reach Danny, a child, the ghosts manipulate Jack, the father, driving him insane. In the end, the hotel is destroyed, Jack dies, and Wendy and Danny escape. Sounds a lot like good triumphing over evil, doesn’t it? Nuh uh. Because at the end, the reader knows the real monster is inside Danny. The “shining” is both gift and curse. It’s power. Where there is power, there are those who crave it, who will not stop until they get it. The Overlook Hotel might have been destroyed, but young Danny is going to encounter many ghosts, many entities, many seekers of power. It will not end until he dies. Not only do Danny and Wendy have to deal with their guilt and sorrow, they also have to deal with knowing this isn’t over. What happened at the Overlook is going to happen again, and again, and again. It will never be over. My God, how does anyone live with that?

That’s my answer. To see what others think, check out Marie’s post and watch the blogosphere as other TESSpecFic members chime in.

Paul Dail – Friday, May 11
Kim Koning – Saturday, May 12
Aniko Carmean – Sunday, May 13
Jonathan Allen – Monday, May 14
Penelope Crowe –Tuesday, May 15

* The Emissaries of Strange: A Speculative Fiction Writer’s Collective is a group of writers whose fiction fits under the speculative fiction umbrella.

Jonathan D. Allen: Builder of Worlds

I’ve been talking to Jonathan Allen, author of The Corridors of the Dead and The Station. He has a created a large, complex world for his fantasy novels.

In a time long before humans walked the Earth, a mysterious being known only as The Lost Aetelia crafted an elaborate series of Watchtowers, along with their resident guardians, the Aetelia, to watch over the operations of the Universe. In time, a rebellious group of these Aetelia came to Earth in an attempt to challenge the established structure of the Universe. A bitter war ensued, and these rebels, who had come to be known as Watchers, disappeared from human history.

Since I’m fascinated by the process of world-building in fiction, I had to ask that cheesy question, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ Actually, what I’m really interested in is the ‘trigger’ moment. The article, the snippet of dialogue, the event or person that made you think, ‘Hmn, there is a story here.’

So what is yours, Jonathan? What launched your journey, so to speak?

World-building has become second nature to me at this point. I think it has to do with my early need to escape from the real world, due to some completely-out-of-my-control circumstances during my childhood. That or something in the rural water supply. Could be either, really. The thing is that I’ve always synthesized my influences into something that, I hope at least, is greater than the sum of its parts. Because of that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint just where a world or story originates. This snippet of conversation comes from a scene I watched on, say, the show Carnivale, or this concept is an evolved idea from something Lovecraft wrote. I think you get the idea.

I spend all this time laboring this point because The Station is nothing like that. The confines of the world had been somewhat established during the writing of The Corridors of the Dead, and the first sequence popped into my head practically full-born. Okay, that’s not quite true. Two distinct works probably influenced the kernel of the idea: Lost and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

I tend to get my ideas when I’m falling asleep, somewhere between the wrenching anxiety of thinking about my next workday and dreaming that I’m a Viking. One night during the last half of writing Corridors of the Dead I saw two men locked in a desperate battle in the middle of a snowfield. I held on to that idea for a few nights, continually asking myself what the men might be fighting over.

One night the dual influences that I mentioned above paid my subconscious a visit, and the answer became apparent: they fought over a piece of ancient technology. Before I knew it, that one scene expanded into a running film in my head of a librarian from the distant past descending into an even more ancient technological wonder. From there, linking it to the underpinning ideas of my trilogy was pretty simple: the nominal “good guys” had gone after the place to save it from the angelic bad guys, and the thing in the station tied to the revelation at the end of City of the Dead.

After that, it was all about trying to establish different levels of technological advancements between the ancient culture and the even-more-ancient cultures. Most of that came from some old Greek technological wonders. Perhaps not the most obvious connection, but you go with what you know, right?

I love the twisty, turny ways a writer’s mind works. Thanks, Jonathan. Your books are my TBR pile. Looking forward to seeing how you pull all this together.

Also available now (go ahead, click on the image):

You can visit Jonathan on his blog, Shaggin’ The Muse.

Magical Mystery Tour: Ben Aaronovitch

Six Excellent Reasons to read Ben Aaronovitch:

  1. Peter Grant: A London cop who’s a bit easily distracted, but brilliant all the same. That Peter can see and talk to ghosts earns the the young constable the new and strange posting as apprentice to London’s officially sanctioned Wizard.
  2. London: I’ve never been to London, but after Aaronovitch’s loving (though often exasperated) descriptions of the city, I want to visit London. Still not certain about the food, though. Even when Peter is enjoying a meal, it sounds horrendous.
  3. River Gods and Goddesses: After reading these books, you’ll never thoughtlessly toss an empty bottle into a river again.
  4. Mystery: Tricky, bendy, puzzling whodunnits with a supernatural twist.
  5. Humor: Peter is a funny guy, even though not everybody appreciates his sense of humor. Without a sense of humor, the poor guy would go stark raving mad. (earlier post on my other blog extolling the virtues of Aaronovitch’s wonderful dialogue)
  6. Tragedy: The supernatural entities are NOT nice. They don’t play nice either. I’m still very bummed about Leslie and Simone. Read the books. Tell me if they don’t break your hearts.

From the book description on Amazon for Midnight Riot:

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

From the book description on Amazon for Moon Over Soho:

BODY AND SOUL

The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus Wilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.

Body and soul—they’re also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England…

For those who read on a Kindle, you’ll be glad to know that the publisher, Del Rey, has done a very good job of formatting the ebook editions. I didn’t spot any significant problems or annoyances.

Discovered: Author is on my must-buy list.

 

And They Just Keep Getting Bigger: Spellbound, by Larry Correia

I could be saying that about the actual book itself. I purchased Spellbound in hard cover a few months ago and it’s been sitting on my desk, looking… huge. I’m spoiled by the comfort of reading on my Kindle. Print books are so clunky and awkward. But anyway…

Putting on my writer hat for a minute. When crafting a plot, the writer needs to keep thinking in terms of “upping the stakes.” The fastest way to lose reader interest is to introduce conflicts and situations that just don’t matter. Who cares if Spiff Bunkerson has to choose between coffee or tea for breakfast? What diff does it make if Spiff tells his boss, “I quit,” if he has another, better job waiting in the wings? The key to tension is risk. Danger can come in many forms: physical, emotional, psychological. True suspense comes not from the danger itself, but from what is at risk.

Larry Correia knows how to up the stakes.

In his Monster Hunter International series and in his Grimnoir Chronicles, Correia doesn’t mess around with run of the mill monsters. Spooky little creepies vulnerable to holy water or a splinter just aren’t big enough or bad enough. Correia’s characters have to tackle gods. When reading any of his books, you learn to cringe whenever a character has to open a door. Anything could be on the other side. Zombie elephants, anyone? Giant robots? How about Godzilla’s and King Kong’s foul-tempered love child?

It’s not just the increasingly monstrous monsters upping the stakes. If it were, then these stories would be nothing more than B-movie romps. Uh uh, it goes much deeper than that. One element runs constant through all of Correia’s books, and it is that constant that lifts his writing out of gobble-’em-and-forget-’em story pile. Sacrifice. Every time you think his characters can give no more, Correia ups the stakes. He rips away what little comfort they’ve earned and demands to know, “How much more you got?” Your life? Liberty? Honor? Dignity? Love? Reputation? Friends? Family? The world and every human in it? It’s all at risk.

Back up a minute and let me tell you a little about Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles. In a melding of steampunk, pulp noir and B-movie homage, the story is set in an alternative history, 1930s America. “Actives,” people infused with magical powers, are increasing in number and no one is sure why. On the surface, the big conflicts seem to be between “Actives” and “Normals,” those who have no magical ability. America is engaged in a Cold War of sorts with the Imperium–pre-World War II Japan. The Imperium has plans to conquer the world. There is, however, a threat much bigger than that. The Power is coming from somewhere and something is pursuing the Power. The Grimnoir Knights are a secret society of Actives self-tasked with saving the world, originally from the Imperium, and now from the dark entity pursuing the Power across worlds. Jake Sullivan and other Grimnoir knights are also faced with a battle on the homefront against their own government who want to round up the Actives and enslave them for the “good” of all society.

In the preceding novel, Hard Magic, the Grimnoir knights prevented the Imperium from wiping out America with a Peace Ray. Shady government types managed to twist that act of heroism around to fuel the hatred against the Actives and use it as an excuse to properly “control” them. (Correia draws spooky parallels with the real Progressive movement, from President Wilson through FDR, trying to destroy the Constitution and reshape America for “enlightened” ends) You don’t need to read Hard Magic to understand the story in Spellbound, but you’ll enjoy the series more if you read the books in order.

Back to sacrifice. A lesser writer would delineate between good guys and bad guys by making the good guys nice, always on the right side of the law, and of course good-looking, while the bad guys sneer and kick puppies. Correia draws a more powerful distinction. Good guys are willing to sacrifice themselves while the bad guys are only willing, and eager, to sacrifice others. That, my friends, makes for memorable characters on both sides.

But don’t think these are lofty, philosophical novels. No, these are high-octane action with lots of guns, battles, chases, twists, turns and high emotion to make for a thrilling read. Enough bright spots of humor, too, to ease the tension a bit before it ratchets right back up again.

The Healing spells on his chest were certainly earning their keep tonight. Sullivan got to his feet. The lack of noise from the courtyard indicated that his team had gotten all the mechanical men. “Thanks.”

Toru just grunted a noncommittal response as he lifted the feed tray to check the condition of his borrowed machine gun. They didn’t see the final robot inside until it turned on its eye and illuminated the Iron Guard in blue light.

Sullivan’s Spike reversed gravity, and the gigantic machine fell upward to hit the steel beams in the ceiling. Sullivan cut his Power and the robot dropped. It crashed hard into the floor where it lay twitching and kicking. The two of them riddled the mechanical man with bullets until the light died and it lay still in a spreading puddle of oil.

“Normally, this would be the part where you thank me for returning the favor and saving your life.”

“Yes. Normally… If we were court ladies instead of warriors,” Toru answered. “Shall we continue onward or do you wish to stop and discuss your feelings over tea?”

Sullivan looked forward to the day that the two of them would be able to finish their fight. “Let’s go.”

Spellbound: Book II in the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Discovered: Author is on my must buy list

Purchased: from Amazon, $16.50, November 15, 2011

The Titanboar Touchstone, by Darius Acheson

The story of Jager, a 16 year old hunter from the town of Derry, who discovers a dead titanboar in the forest. Compelled to touch the beast, Jager is transformed into the Bright One, the mystical, magical savior for the race of majestic titanboars. Jager is ill-equipped to handle the magical abilities or responsibility. He’s only a boy.

He is a good boy, though, with a good heart. Aided by the beautiful and feisty Rolinda, and three wizards, Wazdan, Wazilla and Wazatoni, and their contingent of magical cats, horses, birds and vipers, and guided by his new relationship with the titanboars, Jager learns how to use his magical gifts. It’s a strange magic, though, and it catches the attention of the evil emperor, Dragene. Dragene has been corrupted by dark magic and now his survival depends upon devouring the essence of the good and virtuous. No creature is more good or virtuous than the titanboars. The only thing standing between Dragene and the extinction of the titanboar race is one uncertain, and unreliable 16-year-old boy.

Author Acheson claims he is not a “real” writer. I didn’t have high expectations for this self-published novel. I did find some flaws and unevenness in the writing, but the story sucked me in anyway and I found myself utterly charmed by the titanboars, the talking cats, the haughty queen of horses and a wise old viper. The wizards are amusing. Rolinda is a strong female lead. Jager is an interesting young man with a good heart, but a teenager brain that often leads him astray.

Young readers will enjoy this story since it’s filled with action and adventure and some funny bits, too. The titanboars are a wonderful creation. Parents of young readers will appreciate the healthy messages about responsibility and the nature of good versus evil. Not this is a preachy novel. It’s not. It does have strong themes about doing the right thing even when it’s hard and accepting loss and not being too quick to judge based on prejudices and fear.

Format: Kindle

Purchased: December 30, 2011 from Amazon. FREE. Special deal. (regular price $.99)

Discovered: The Passive Voice blog.

Guest Post: Marie Loughin, Author of Valknut: The Binding

Just in time to load on that brand new ereader you’re getting for Christmas! Marie Loughin’s novel, Valknut: The Binding is live! When I found out Marie was writing an urban fantasy with roots in Norse mythology, reader greed snagged me by the throat. Vikings and Norse mythology are some of my favorite things.  Marie not only let me read an advance copy of the novel, she agreed to write a guest post for this blog. She answers my nosy question: Why Norse gods?

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Why not the Norse Gods?

When people ask me why I chose to use Norse mythology as the basis for Valknut: The Binding, my short answer is, “Because the Norse pantheon is a dysfunctional, combative bunch. Dysfunctional and combative go better with trains and gangbangers than would, say, the secretive and mysterious nature of the ever-popular Celtic faery.”

That’s the easy answer, though it makes me sound rather arbitrary. As if I woke up one morning and said, “I think I’ll write a book. Maybe I’ll put hobos in it. Yeah. And trains. Every good book has trains. Now, what goes with trains?” Think, think. “Oooo, how about Norse gods?”

Okay, so that’s exactly what happened. I never said I wasn’t arbitrary.

Happily, either my subconscious was at work or the god of serendipity was watching over me, because the Norse gods and their slave-like devotion to Fate were a perfect vehicle for the theme that drove me to write the novel. I’d love to elaborate on this theme, but it might be better if you read the book and figured it out for yourself. (Don’t worry, there are no wrong answers and there will not be a test, later.)

If I were to include all twenty or so Norse deities in the story, there wouldn’t be room for my human characters. I had to narrow the cast. That was tougher than you might think. Norse mythology is full of interesting characters.

Take Thor, for example. He’s hot right now. I could capitalize on that. His temper and impulsiveness would land him in all sorts of interesting predicaments. (This summer’s movie got that right, at least.) But Thor is also a tad slow-witted (also evident in the movie). I wanted someone clever. Someone devious.

Freyja, known for beauty (and, er, promiscuity), has great character potential. She’s associated with both fertility and war. This conveniently makes her capable of perpetuating a never-ending cycle of conflict. Like Odin, she collects fallen warriors and takes them back to her place, though it’s not exactly clear what she wants them for. Maybe Freyja is more suitable for a different kind of story.

Honir is too wishy washy and Hod is blind and all too trusting. They might make good color characters, but don’t fit the bill for clever and devious.

Balder is wise rather than clever, and is the antithesis of devious. He’s depicted as perfect, beautiful, and kind, so naturally some other gods killed him off long before I could consider using him as a character.

Then there’s Loki, the trickster. He’s clever. He’s devious. He’s also unpredictable, which makes him nearly irresistible. In my opinion, he’s the most interesting character in the whole pantheon. I could use Loki. Yessss.

Nooooo. Despite his attributes, Loki plays the wrong part. I wanted the “good” guy to be clever and devious. It all comes back to that theme that I’m not talking about, here.

How about Odin? He was clever enough to trick Fenrir into allowing himself to be tied up with a cord that would hold him until the end of the world. He was devious enough to cheat the re-builder of Asgard out of payment for his labors (long story for another time).  Yet Odin was thought to be good. Early poets called him the Allfather and revered him as the greatest of their gods.

And what about Fenrir, the Wolf? He doesn’t play much of a part in most Norse mythology, largely because he was bound when he was little more than a puppy and couldn’t get around much. Even so, the fate of the pantheon—indeed, of humanity—is tied up with Fenrir (yes, that was a pun). In my mind, the treatment of Fenrir and his two siblings, Hel and Jormungand, is the catalyst for the events leading to the prophesized end of the world. Even more intriguing, Fenrir is fated to eat Odin during the final battle. Clearly these two are not friends. That makes them a perfect fit for my story.

Still, I hate to let those other characters go to waste. Maybe a series?

Think, think.

Marie Loughin loves reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. Her current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where she gets to play god with characters from myth and legend. She has recently published a Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, currently available at Amazon. (Available soon at other retailers.) When she is not writing, Marie makes a living as a statistical consultant, teaches a university-level technical writing course, and embarrasses her husband with her artless attempts to curl. You can find Marie at her blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).

 

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Me again, I personally think, think Marie should go ahead and turn this into a series. I would love to see further adventures with Lennie and Junkyard Doug and those trouble-making gods.

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