Your Servants and Your People – The Walkin’ Trilogy #2 – David Towsey

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Release date: November 6th, 2014
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 321
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

In a dystopian future the dead don’t always die – they are the Walkin’, but there are those that will not suffer the wicked to live . . .

Seven years after Thomas returned as a Walkin’, the McDermott family are pursuing a new life as they run from Barkley to the remote outpost of Fort Wilson. But the teachings of J.S. Barkley are not so easily forsaken – there are those that would see the sinners dead, and they are slowly closing in.

 

Review:

If you read my review for ‘Your Brother’s Blood’, the first book in the Walkin’ trilogy, you might know that I really enjoyed David Towsey’s approach of the zombie genre. ‘Your Borther’s Blood’ is an unconventional zombie story that doesn’t focus on the gore or the horror, but on the emotional struggle to be accepted by the society they once were a part of. I was especially fond of the strong father-daughter relationship that was portrayed there. Obviously I was very curious to see how the story would continue.
In ‘Your Servants and Your People’ we make a time-jump of several years.

 

The book takes its time to tell us what life is now like from two different points of view: that of the McDermotts and that of a young soldier called Bryn. Bryn is on his way with 4 other soldiers and their lieutenant to the mountains, relieving the soldiers stationed there at Fort Wilson. Meanwhile the McDermotts are trying to build a new life away from the judgement and harshness of others. The paths of the two sets of characters cross early on in the book, but both quickly go their own separate ways.

 

More so than in the first book I enjoyed the terminology for things that are familiar to us, but are things of the past in the time the McDermotts live in. Woolies, neats, blacktop and specks are just a few examples of the vocabulary our protagonists use.

 

It’s clear life hasn’t been easy on Thomas McDermott, his wife Sarah and their daughter Mary. The dynamic between Mary and her Walkin’ father has changed quite a lot in the years since ‘Your Brother’s Blood’. Growing up facing all the hardships her family has been trough, she has become a rather cold and detached person, though the love for her parents is still very much present. It was somehow very sad to see how much Mary had changed and how much everything had affected her. I absolutely adored Thomas’ character. Though life as a Walkin’ has made him a bit clueless as to how non-Walkin’ people can struggle and he though is in general a bit naïeve, his heart is in the right place. The most important thing for him is to make his family happy, especially after the treatment they have gotten for sticking with him all these years. Sarah has cocooned herself in a hard shell, not trusting anyone and trying to cope with their situation as best as she can. Sarah isn’t a very loveable character in this book, though her motives are understandable.

 

Bryn’s point of view gave us a whole different side of the story: the military side. Bryn is an intelligent farm boy who has the ambition of becoming a lieutenant. Bryn is still very young and it’s clear he has been quite shielded in the community he grew up in. In Fort Wilson he finds strength I’m sure he didn’t know he had, trying to survive. I liked his character a lot, because of his curiosity, the typical young, fresh look he has on life and his determination to do good.

 

The tone of ‘Your Servants and Your People’ is even darker than that of the first book. I wasn’t expecting it and the ending had me all twisted up inside. Despair is one word that would describe the last half of the book perfectly. Things in Fort Wilson escalate for the worse, leaving Bryn in the middle of a setting that would fit perfectly in a horror movie. The pace of the McDermott’s storyline in this book picks up immensely towards the end, climaxing on a few twists that left me breathless. It’s that kind of feeling where you desperately want someone, anyone to stop what is happening and make everything alright again.

 

‘Your Servants and Your People’ starts off slowly but builds up to an emotional and heart wrenching climax that will leave you thinking for days after you finished the book. With this powerful second book David Towsey has proven that he can take the fresh concept of the first book and create something more for his readers. He creates in-depth characters that aren’t set in stone, but can change profoundly with the course of time. He can make you care for them deeply, even though their actions might not always be the right ones. I would definitely recommend this series and I’m anxiously awaiting the final volume in the trilogy to find out what will happen next.

Spotlight: ‘The Chart of Tomorrows’ by Chris Willrich

Earlier this month the third book in the Gaunt and Bone series by Chris Willrich was published by Pyr and yet again I was blown away by the amazing cover art by Kerem Beyit. The first two books, ‘The Scroll of Years’ and ‘The Silk Map’ have a special place on my bookshelf. Not only are the books a joy to read, but they all look very pretty as well. I can’t wait to read about Gaunt and Bone’s adventures again and have this beauty on my shelf next to the others!

 

About the book

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The poet Persimmon Gaunt and the thief Imago Bone had sought only to retire from adventuring and start a family, but they never reckoned on their baby becoming the chosen vessel of the mystical energies of a distant Eastern land. With their son Innocence hunted by various factions hoping to use him as a tool, they kept him safe at the cost of trapping him in a pocket dimension of accelerated time.

Now free, the thirteen-year-old Innocence has rejected his parents and his “destiny” and has made dangerous friends in a barbaric Western land of dragon-prowed ships and rugged fjords. Desperately, Gaunt and Bone seek to track him down, along with their companion Snow Pine and her daughter A-Girl-Is-A-Joy, who was once trapped with Innocence too.

But as the nomadic Karvaks and their war-balloons strike west, and a troll-king spins his webs, and Joy is herself chosen by the spirit of the very land Innocence has fled to, Gaunt and Bone find themselves at the heart of a vast struggle — and their own son is emerging from that conflict as a force of evil. To save him and everything they know, they turn to a dangerous magical book, The Chart of Tomorrows, that reveals pathways through time. Upon the treacherous seas of history, Gaunt and Bone must face the darkness in each other’s pasts, in order to rescue their future.

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About the author

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Chris Willrich (Mountain View, CA) is a science fiction and fantasy writer best known for his sword-and-sorcery tales of Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone. Until recently he was a children’s librarian for the Santa Clara County Library System, in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work has appeared in Asimov’sBeneath Ceaseless SkiesBlack GateFantasy and Science FictionFlashing SwordsThe Mythic Circle, and Strange Horizons.

Website

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Update: April – June

It’s been a while since I wrote a post like this. I’ve been busy working on my thesis and the day before yesterday I finally graduated from University here in Belgium! It’s been a long road but I’m so glad I made it to the end. Now I have 3 months of summer to do nothing but travel and read. You have no idea how much I’ve been looking forward to this! So it’s about time I do an update post again to close off the first part of the year and start the summer with a clean slate.

Read and Currently Reading

I’ve read quite a few books since my last post, all of them books I really enjoyed.

First up I finished ‘Signal to Noise’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico, it tells the story of Meche at two different points in her life: in 1988 and in the present. Slowly we learn why Meche left Mexico and is reluctant to go back and what happened to her close friendship with Sebastien. Woven through it is a breeze of magic that gave this story full of emotions a little bit of spice.

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I read ‘Wolfhound Century’ by Peter Higgins next and though I was confused at first and didn’t really thing the book would fit me, it turned out to be a powerful, grim and beautiful story. I’m glad I looked past my earlier doubts and read on.

Next was ‘Blades of the Old Empire’ by Anna Kashina, a book that had been on my to-read list for quite a long time. At first when I started reading I thought this was a book with a bit too many clichés, but the twists and the action kept me reading. Ultimately all the clichés I thought were there were cleverly avoided by introducing plot twists and outcomes to story lines I wasn’t expecting. Conclusion: ‘Blades of the Old Empire’ really surprised me and I’m happy I finally decided to read it.

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I also read ‘Hexed’ by Michael Alan Nelson, a Young Adult book based on the Hexed comics. I’d never read the Hexed comics, so I started with no previous knowledge of the characters or the story. The book can however easily be read without any previous knowledge. ‘Hexed’ is a YA book that avoids being ‘one of the many’ beautifully. A strong and wilful heroine, a story full of demons and ghosts and a love story with a surprising outcome. I loved it!

I was absolutely thrilled to receive an ARC of ‘Marked’ by Sue Tingey some time ago and I read it right away. I adored it! A beautifully crafted tale that brings your from our familiar world and an encounter with a very creepy demon to a whole other world that is in every way very different than our own.

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‘The Pyre’ by David Hair I already reviewed last week and I can only repeat that it was an amazing read. It is set in India and uses elements of Indian mythology and history to create an exciting story about reincarnation and old debts that need to be paid. Read it!

‘Grudgebearer’ by J.F. Lewis was the next book I read and what an amazing book that is! It is complex without being too confusing and tells such an richly detailed story you can’t help but keep flipping the pages. For a link to my full review, scroll down!

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The last book I finished was ‘Path of Gods’ by Snorri Kristjansson, the third book in the Valhalla Saga. I have enjoyed every book in the Valhalla Saga and this one wasn’t any different. Reunited with my beloved Vikings I embarked with them on a trip to fight off two different evils. Bloody, snow-covered action lead to a satisfying ending for the characters I had become so familiar with.

Full reviews of these books will be posted on the blog throughout the summer!

 

So what am I currently reading?

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I started in ‘Oathkeeper’ by J.F. Lewis a few days ago to continue the story that was started in ‘Grudgebearer’. So far the pace is rather slow, but I’m still enjoying the imaginative world and cultures I got the know in Grudgebearer.

I’m also reading ‘Uprooted’ by Naomi Novik. I had heard a lot of good things about this book on twitter and various blogs, so I decided to request it on NetGalley. If I have to put a label on it, I’d say it feels like reading a fairy tale, but it is so much more. I absolutely love the main character and how fiercely loyal she is. I can’t wait to read more of this!

 

Movies and Series

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I finally got to watch ‘Interstellar’ last week and I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was really good, even though the ‘inside-the-black-hole’ thing was a bit weird. It’s freaky to think about time being so relative out there in space and that even though only an hour or a bit more has passed for you, years might pass on Earth. I’ve always been fascinated by things like that so I guess this movie was right up my alley.

In other news, I started watching ‘The Musketeers’! I have only watched three episodes so far, but I can already conclude that I really like what I’ve seen so far.

 

Posts in April – June

Grudgebearer – The Grudgebearer Trilogy #1 – J.F. Lewis

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Release date: September 2nd, 2014
Publisher: Pyr
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 415
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Kholster is the first born of the practically immortal Aern, a race created by the Eldrennai as warrior-slaves to defend them from the magic-resistant reptilian Zaur.  Unable to break an oath without breaking their connection with each other, the Aern served the Eldrennai faithfully for thousands of years until the Sundering. Now, the Aern, Vael, and Eldrennai meet every hundred years for a Grand Conjunction to renew their tenuous peace.  

While the tortures of slavery remain fresh in Kholster’s mind, most of the rest of the world has moved on. Almost six hundred years after the Sundering, an Eldrennai prince carelessly breaks the truce by setting up a surprise museum exhibit containing sentient suits of Aernese armor left behind, never to be touched, lest Kholster kill every last Eldrennai. Through their still-existing connection with their ancient armor, the Aern know instantly, and Kholster must find a way to keep his oaths, even those made in haste and anger. While Kholster travels to the Grand Conjunction with his Freeborn daughter and chosen successor Rae’en, his troops travel by sea, heading for war. 

Review:

‘Grudgebearer’ is a layered and complex story with multifaceted characters that is perfect when you want to immerse yourself in a whole new world and its rich history. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the book when I first started it, but after finishing it I can’t help but really love it.

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The Pyre – The Return of Ravana #1 – David Hair

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Release date: June 4th, 2015
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Age Group: (Young) Adult
Pages: 325
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Mandore, Rajasthan, 769 AD: Ravindra-Raj, the evil sorcerer-king, devises a deadly secret ritual, where he and his seven queens will burn on his pyre, and he will rise again with the powers of Ravana, demon-king of the epic Ramayana. But things go wrong when one queen, the beautiful, spirited Darya, escapes with the help of Aram Dhoop, the court poet.

Jodhpur, Rajasthan, 2010: At the site of ancient Mandore, teenagers Vikram, Amanjit, Deepika and Rasita meet and realize that the deathless king and his ghostly brides are hunting them down. As vicious forces from the past come alive, they need to unlock truths that have been hidden for centuries, and fight an ancient battle . . . one more time.

 

Review:

Set in India, the present as well as the past, and exploring the culture, mythology and history of the country ‘The Pyre’ seemed the perfect book to continue my list of books with diverse settings. No surprise then that I was very excited to start this book when it came in the mail and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed at all! Once you start this book it’s very hard to put down. Both the events set in the present and those in the past kept me flipping the pages, wondering what would happen next.

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Spotlight: ‘Oathkeeper’ by J.F. Lewis

Oathkeeper is the second book in the Grudgebearer Trilogy. The first book, Grudgebearer, is an exciting fantasy novel that I’m very much enjoying at the moment. Oathkeeper will be published on the 9th of June by Pyr in the US.

About The Book:

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Rae’en has taken her father’s place as First of the practically immortal Aern, a race created by the Eldrennai as warrior-slaves to defend them from the magic-resistant reptilian Zaur. Freed from all Oaths by Kholster’s death, Rae’en decides to wage war on the Eldrennai anyway out of rage and grief.

The war between the Eldrennai and Zaur has begun. Bloodmane, leader of the now independent mystic-warsuits, has underestimated both the sheer numbers of the Zaur and their field leader General Tsan. As the warsuits  prepare to assist the Eldrennai  in the  defense of their Watch cities, the Zaur warlord, Xastix, launches the bulk of his forces at the Vael in an attempt to cut off all outside help.

Prince Rivvek, having been accepted as an Aiannai (Oathkeeper) before Kholster’s death must claim the Eldrennai throne by completing the Test of Four so that he can enact his plan to save as much of his kingdom as possible.  Meanwhile, his brother Prince Dolvek hatches a plot to enlist the aid of the plant-like Vael to defeat the Zaur horde who are in league with the decapitated head of a dethroned deity.

 

About The Author:

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J.F. Lewis lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his patient wife, two growing sons, and a fairly hyper Labrador-mix mutt.  J spent eight wonderful years working in comic and game stores and is currently employed by a major telecom as a manager in a cubicle. He’s always been a writer and was thrilled when the Void City series was published in multiple languages.

An avid reader, J also enjoys pho, flavored iced teas, and old black and white movies. He’s currently obsessed with fountain pens, and sometimes uses them for drafting the current work in progress.  He’s been signing copies of Grudgebearer with a Pilot Cosmopolitan filled with Noodler’s La Reine Mauve ink.

J is a member of SFWA, where he volunteers as editor for their Pressbook pages. He is also a Codexian and a member of the League of Reluctant AdultsLike J on Facebook and follow him on Twitter… he does all his own Facebook and Twitter posts, so it’s really him on there.

Clash of Eagles – Clash of Eagles #1 – Alan Smale

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Release date: March 17th, 2015
Publisher: Del Rey
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 416
Format: e-book
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

It’s The Last of the Mohicans meets HBO’s Rome in this exciting and inventive debut novel from Sidewise Award-winner Alan Smale that will thrill fans of alternate history, historical fiction, and military fiction.

In a world where the Roman Empire never fell, a legion under the command of general Gaius Marcellinus invades the newly-discovered North American continent. But Marcellinus and his troops have woefully underestimated the fighting prowess of the Native American inhabitants. When Gaius is caught behind enemy lines and spared, he must reevaluate his allegiances and find a new place in this strange land. 

Review:

The first thing that caught my eye when I scrolled through the available books on NetGalley was the cover. It is a fierce, very sharp cover that hints at an action-filled story centered on the Roman Empire. Historical Fiction is my second favourite genre next to SFF and I simply couldn’t resist. The story wasn’t anything like I had expected it to be, though it was action-packed and had something to do with the Romans. ‘Clash of Eagles’ was an interesting spin on Roman conquest and puts the spotlight on a lesser known civilisation on the American continent.

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Interview – Sebastien de Castell

Following up on the review I posted yesterday of ‘Knight’s Shadow’, I had a little chat with the author, Sebastien de Castell.

 

DK: Who is Sebastien de Castell?

SdC: I’m a Canadian writer of swashbuckling fantasy novels, though if you’d asked me that question two years ago you’d have received a different answer and two years from now you might get a different one still. I love to travel—both literally and figuratively—and that’s led to frequent changes in my career. Aside from writing novels, I still perform as a musician and take on the odd speaking gig.

DK: What books made you fall in love with the SFF genre?

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SdC: The first one had to be The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, read to my brother and I by our older sister when we were very young. I spent the rest of my childhood looking for Narnia and most of my adulthood looking for things in our own world that would feel equally wondrous. That’s the power of speculative fiction: to inspire us to go out and find things that give us those same feelings of excitement and possibility that we experience reading our favourite books.

 

 

DK: That sounds very familiar indeed! Now about your own books: how many books are planned in the Greatcoats series?

SdC: The first series is intended to be four books but I’m deep into the third right now and I feel like I might need one extra to tell the full story of poor Falcio and his band of struggling heroes. One of the characteristics of the books that makes it difficult to be precise about the total is that I’m committed to making sure each one stands on its own as a complete story (which was the case with both Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow.)

Once the first series is complete there are definitely some other stories and characters in this strange world of wandering judges and desperate duellists that I plan to explore.

 

DK: Can you tell us a bit more about how the Greatcoats came to exist? How was the ‘journey’ to get to that first book?

SdC: I go running a lot and tend to tell myself stories to pass the time. Over the course of several years a certain disgraced trio of swordsmen kept interrupting my thoughts with their swashbuckling adventures and in 2006 I sat down and wrote the first draft of Traitor’s Blade (then called “Three of Traitors.”) Writing that novel was one of the most positive and powerful experiences of my life and one of the reason why I try to encourage everyone to write a book regardless of whether they want to publish.

In terms of the Greatcoats, part of their origin came from 12th Century English justices itinerant – the judges who were sent by the King to hear cases across the country while also keeping an eye on what the local nobility was up to. I wanted to explore what would happen if those wandering judges lived in a somewhat later, more developed time period closer to our 16th Century, and what it would be like if they lived in a culture where duels and trial by combat were the predominant way of resolving legal disputes.

The idea for the coats themselves came from an actual greatcoat my brother gave me that always made me feel a little invulnerable to heat, cold, and the occasional blade of a sword. I wanted my wandering heroes to have something to counter a Knight’s armour and thus was born the Greatcoats!

 

DK: That is very interesting! I absolutely love the idea of giving them greatcoats instead of armour. It sets them apart, but the greatcoat is also so much more to them. It has real emotional value.

A question that is always interesting for aspiring authors amongst my readers: how was your road to publication?

SdC: I think I’m a bit unrepresentative of the current publishing climate in that I got very lucky and had a relatively easy time of it. But something I did learn that might be helpful to my fellow writers is the importance of voice and premise.

When I first signed my book deal I asked my editors on both continents (Quercus and Penguin) why they’d decided to buy Traitor’s Blade. Both talked about loving ‘the voice’ of the book. I mention this because it’s not something that comes up very often in books on craft or even at writing conferences. Usually the conversations are all about characters and plot, and yet, I get the sense that publishers and readers alike are really looking for fresh voices—narrative styles that are resonant but feel distinct from the rest of the pack. I, of course, had no clue about ‘voice’ at the time, but I notice now as a reader how I’m drawn to some voices and not to others.

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A second point to consider is that for a publisher (including yourself when you self-publish) to be able to get readers’ attention, there needs to be something clear and strong in the premise. For example, think of a book like The Martian by Andy Weir. The premise is absolutely fabulous—a mission to Mars goes wrong and one astronaut is accidentally left behind. You instantly want to know what’s going to happen to him, how he’ll survive and whether he’ll ever get home. Note that I haven’t said anything about the character or even the plot—just the premise.

So while almost every craft book I encounter is talking about plot and character, a strong voice and an engaging premise seem to be  two things that are vital to grab people’s attention right now.

 

DK: I think every author is secretly thinking about what would happen if his or her work got adapted for the big screen. Any favourite actors that you’d like to play the characters in the Greatcoats series?

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SdC: I’m a big fan of Timothy Oliphant (from the TV series Justified), though I’m not sure if fans of the books would appreciate him as Falcio. I think Tom Burke (who plays Athos in the BBC series The Musketeers) is terrific in the role but, alas, probably wouldn’t want to jump to another swashbuckling adventure series. Finally, although it’s casting against type a bit, I think Martin Freeman (from BBC’s Sherlock) would be terrific as Falcio.

My friends disagree about this, but I think Benedict Cumberbatch would make a fabulous Kest. It needs to be someone who, at first glance, you wouldn’t think was especially muscular or athletic but whom, once you saw them in action, you would realize had perfectly shaped themselves to wield the sword.

Brasti’s always a tough one for me. He’s roguish and cheerful on the surface but there’s a fragility underneath that is vital to his character. This is especially true for Knight’s Shadow (since, if we’re imagining a movie based on Traitor’s Blade, why not have a sequel, too?)

That said, I’m much more interested in hearing other people’s ideas on this subject! Who would you cast to play Falcio, Kest, and Brasti?

 

DK: I’m personally quite bad a making casting decisions! Though I have been watching Suits recently, and I think Garbiel Macht (who plays Harvey Specter in Suits) would make a good Brasti. I’m curious to see who others might choose though! 

Do you have any ambition to write in a totally different genre than Fantasy?

SdC: I love weird detectives—the ones that are defective to the core but somehow use their flaws to make themselves brilliant investigators. I’m working on a mystery novel with a character I really enjoy and I’m hoping will come to life sometime in the next two years. I wrote a thriller/horror with a friend of mine a couple of years ago and we’re debating whether to give it another draft. Alas, both our writing schedules are pretty full right now.

 

DK: Which SFF books would you recommend to the Draumr Kopa readers?

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SdC: I mentioned The Martian by Andy Weir which was the first book I’d read in a long time that I just ploughed through at light speed. Peter Roman’s Mona Lisa Sacrifice is a cool book for fans of Roger Zelazny who like their fantasy on the edge. For years some of my favourite books were from Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series (the first of which is Jhereg.)

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Truth be told, though, my biggest recommendations these days are for books outside the genre. Sometimes it’s nice to give something else a try and see how other types of authors fashion their worlds, wether fantastical or mundane. In that spirit, City of Thieves by David Benioff, The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper, and The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett are all books with an element of the fantastical but their heroes have to work their way through life without the benefit of swords or magic.

 

DK: What can you tell us about ‘Tyrant’s Throne’?

SdC: I’ve been unintentionally working on both book 3 and 4 at the same time and so I’m not sure yet whether in fact Tyrant’s Throne will be the name of the next book in the series. What I can tell you is that it’s a story in which Falcio will come to learn that not everything he believed about his beloved Greatcoats is true and he’ll be forced to decide how far he’s willing to go to enforce the King’s Laws.

 

DK: I can’t wait! Where can fans meet you this year? Any conventions or singings coming up?

SdC: I’m going to be in The Netherlands for the next year so I’m positive I’ll be doing something in the UK this summer. I love meeting readers who enjoy the Greatcoats so, you know, if you’ve got a convention going on, give me a shout!

 

DK: Thank you very much for this interview!

Now it’s time to hear some suggestions! Who would you cast if the Greatcoats made it to the big screen? 

 

About the author

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Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way.

Sebastien lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.

Twitter: @decastell

Website: http://decastell.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SebastienDeCastell

‘Traitor’s Blade’ is also nominated for the Gemmell Awards, so if you liked the book you can vote for it via this link!

Knight’s Shadow – Greatcoats #2 – Sebastien de Castell

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Release date: March 5th, 2015
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 606
Format: Hardcover
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Tristia is a nation overcome by intrigue and corruption. The idealistic young King Paelis is dead and the Greatcoats – legendary travelling magistrates who brought justice to the Kingdom – have been branded as traitors. But just before his head was impaled on a spike, the King swore each of his hundred and forty-four Greatcoats to a different mission.

Falcio Val Mond, First Cantor, with the help of fellow Greatcoats Kest and Brasti, has completed his King’s final task: he has found his Charoites – well, one at least, and she was not quite what they expected. Now they must protect the girl from the many who would see her dead, and place her on the throne of a lawless kingdom. That would be simple enough, if it weren’t for the Daishini, an equally legendary band of assassins, getting in their way, not to forget the Dukes who are determined to hold on to their fractured Kingdoms, or the fact that the heir to the throne is only thirteen years old. Oh, and the poison that is slowly killing Falcio.

That’s not even mentioning the Greatcoat’s Lament…

Review:

The first thing I thought when I received the review copy of ‘Knight’s Shadow’ was something along the lines of “OH YES!” followed immediately by “What a tome!”. Knight’s Shadow is a lot longer than the first book, ‘Traitor’s Blade’. I don’t mind big tomes and was very enthusiastic when I saw that this one was more than 600 pages long. More of Falcio and his Greatcoats is never a bad thing.

A lot is happening in this second book in the Greatcoats series and it gave the story some more depth. Quite some time was invested in character development for all the main characters. Brasti’s more sensitive side and his surprising decision nearing the end of the book, Kest’s struggle with the Sainthood and all that it entails, Valiana wanting to prove herself as a Greatcoat and Falcio, who is facing certain death.

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Guest Post: “Plausible Fictions and Strange Realities” by Stephanie Saulter

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Readers of this blog will know that I absolutely love the (R)evolution trilogy written by Stephanie Saulter. Not only is it excellently written and tells an emotional, action-packed, intelligent tale, it also hits relatively close to home in my case. As a bioscientist I was not only fascinated by the science fiction, but also by the plausibility of the science Stephanie used in her books. It is great to read a book that uses my area of expertise as a scaffold to build a whole story around. When I talked to Stephanie at LonCon last year, I mentioned that for me, as a scientist, I thought it was incredible that she wrote a fictional story that I could see happening one day. To my surprise, she told me that most people who are not scientists don’t think the story is plausible, while scientists do.
To celebrate the release of the second (R)evolution book, Binary (read my review here), in paperback Stephanie stops by the blog to talk about the science in her books and the contradiction between what the scientists and the non-scientists think about it.


 

Plausible Fictions and Strange Realities

One of the things I imagine every author of science fiction dreads – especially if the science on which their fiction is based is one in which they are not personally an expert – is that someone who is expert will read it, snort derisively, and declare that it is completely off base, a million miles from reality, never ever happen. That their speculation has been wildly unrealistic, fundamentally implausible, and that the entire work is fatally flawed as a result.

There are a number of strategies to ward off this deadly possibility. They all pretty much begin with do your research: you should try to know at least as much as any reasonably well-read layperson. From that point, paths diverge. One option is to set the story so far into the future you can hand-wave away any objections to the technology; not my choice, personally, but a very popular one. Another is to be deeply descriptive and desperately specific about every last theorem, gizmo and widget, ensuring they are well within the known laws of whatever field you’re playing in; possible if you are the aforementioned expert, dangerous for anyone else, and tedious (in my opinion) for most readers. Or there’s the route I take: be specific enough to be plausible, but not enough to be wrong. Indulge in no more technical detail than that well-read layperson is likely to encounter within the pages of their intelligent, but mass-market, news or lifestyle journal. Speak in informed generalities.

Know that you might still be caught out, whichever route you take; that one way or another the passage of time will date the presumptions on which your work is based. Resign yourself to the possibility that, sooner or later, someone who knows what they’re talking about will declare that you don’t.

It might happen one day. But so far, I’ve had the opposite experience.

Oh, there’ve been comments that the radical genetic engineering that is the base ‘science’ of the ®Evolution books seems a bit farfetched and implausible, a bit over the top in novels which are largely social-realist in their core concerns. To my great relief, none of the people who think this have, so far, been geneticists.

The feedback from the people who do know what they’re talking about – people who actually work in the biosciences – is that my witterings about epigenetic triggers and suppressants, chromosomal modifications and mutations, inter-species splicing and the like, have in general been entirely plausible (and that, in a genre where the dominant science for speculation is still physics, they’re rather pleased to see their own discipline taken out and played with).

So. What are we to make of this?

It speaks, I think, to a general lack of appreciation for actual, ongoing developments in the biosciences. Given how radically those developments have changed the lives of virtually every person on the planet in less than a century – think vaccines and antibiotics, anaesthesia and antiseptics, painkillers, antidepressants, cloning, GM crops, organ replacements, genetic screening, artificial insulin, IVF, antivirals, and on and on and on – this strikes me as a massive cultural oversight. And I have a theory: fiction is partly to blame.

For a very long time now, speculative fiction has been primarily rooted in the ‘hard’ sciences of Newtonian physics, cosmology and more recently quantum mechanics, and the notions of expansion and exploration that they can so easily be made to imply. Extra-terrestrial imaginings abound. Thanks to Hollywood, just about everyone can conjure up a mental picture of what manned, faster-than-light space travel might be like – though we still don’t know whether such a thing could ever be possible.

Thanks to medicine, it is a certainty that no one anywhere in the world will get smallpox ever again. That is a real-life, honest-to-god miracle, accomplished during my lifetime; but there is no glamour attached to it. The fairy dust of fictional extrapolation has somehow passed it by.

The result is an impoverished imaginative space, which finds it easier to accept a space-operatic vision of today’s humans in a far future setting than a biologically altered humanity living in the world we know within the next century. In a way, the hand-waviness wins: a very long time from now we’ll be able to do all sorts of things! Never mind how! But, a fundamentally altered species in twenty, fifty, a hundred years? Within the lifetime of your children and grandchildren, people you might actually live to see and know? For some reason, the collective cultural imagination balks at that.

It shouldn’t.

I’ve got news for you, folks. I, Stephanie Saulter, born and raised in one of the world’s ‘undeveloped’ countries, am immune to polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and probably a bunch of other things I don’t even know about. (There was no anti-vaccine nonsense when I was growing up. People remembered what disfigurement, disability and early death were like.) I’ve recovered completely from an injury that in another age would have at the very least crippled me, and from an illness – several, actually – that in all likelihood would have killed me. I am already altered.

So, I suspect, are you.

We need fictions that engage with that reality, and with the potential it implies. It’s through our stories that we – individually, collectively, culturally – codify our attitudes and our ethics, our aspirations and our taboos. It’s how we work out what we think about the unthinkable.

We’ve done a lot of speculating about what might happen if and when we encounter intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. I enjoy those books; I don’t want people to stop writing them. But we’ve spent comparatively little storytime considering the impact that we, the only fully intelligent beings we are certain exist, are having on our own evolution, right here, right now. I don’t want us to stop doing that either, but I do want us to start thinking about it. I want us to start speculating about that reality. It is immediate and pressing, and we need a body of literature that addresses it.


 

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About the author

Stephanie Saulter writes what she likes to think is literary science fiction. She is the author of the ®Evolution trilogy: the first novel, Gemsigns, is available everywhere and the second, Binary, is out in paperback in the UK and Europe on 2nd April (and in hardback in the US on 5th May). The final book, Regeneration, will be released in the UK in July. Stephanie lives in London, blogs unpredictably at stephaniesaulter.com and tweets only slightly more reliably as @scriptopus.

 

 

 

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