INTERVIEW WITH JESSE TELLER

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Today, I’m excited to welcome fantasy author Jesse Teller.  This hard working indie author has been kind enough to take a break from creating his delightfully dark, twisted Tales from Perilisc to answer a few questions.

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Hey, Jesse, thanks for stopping by! For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself? 

At my most arrogant, I would say that I am a writer who understands fantasy and understands how to create it. At my most humble, I would say that I am a servant of the genre, that my love for fantasy is absolute and pure, and my only desire is to expand the conversation that is being had between all creators in the genre and the public at large. At my most juvenile, I would say that I am a child staring in wonder at the things the genre can do and the people around me who are doing it with me.

 What other authors have readers compared your work to and how do you feel about that?

HemlockFirst of all, I’d like to say that I try not to compare the work itself with other famous work that’s out there. There are a lot of people who say things about their work like, “It’s a cross between Harry Potter and Tolkien and the Trojan War.” I’m not interested in comparing my work, and the things I’m doing with it, to any other established fantasy. But I can say that there have been people who have compared me to other authors that have really excited me and humbled me. One of my books was compared to a cross between H.P. Lovecraft and J.M. Barrie. Now, that is the almighty Lovecraft, and Barrie created Peter Pan. To be compared to those guys just blew my mind, and I’m still not okay with it. That was years ago. People have compared me to R. Scott Bakker. People have compared me to Stephen King. I was compared to Greco-Roman myths. All of this really honors me and humbles me because these are magnificent servants of the genre. To be put in the same arena as these writers is exciting and terrifying. 

 So, you’re here today to talk about your current series, The Manhunters. What are some of the influences that inspired these books?

The biggest influence in the creation of this was not a book, it was a movie. It was a Tommy Lee Jones, Harrison Ford movie called The Fugitive. It created within it the U.S. Marshals. These are a group of people trained to hunt men. They have a dynamic leader with a singular focus who is masterfully portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones. The marshals could walk into any established branch of local government and take it over. There’s a part in the movie, my favorite line in the entire movie, where he tells a guy to go down to the police station and take it over, and he says, “Don’t let them mess with you about your ponytail.” It was the first time I realized that in this particular group, somebody could be so different that they had a ponytail. They could have quirks that other branches of law enforcement couldn’t. You’re never gonna see a cop with a beard. This particular branch could do whatever they wanted to. That leant itself to creating a group of heroes that were unique in every way but still serving the same goal. So as much as the genre of fantasy inspired my wizards, my spies, my witches, The Fugitive inspired the institution of The Manhunters themselves.

Did you plan out the details of each book before you wrote them, or did they develop organically during the writing process?

 My books always come out organically. Try to picture a brook or a stream. It flows from a fount uphill that you have never seen, never sought. It flows over rocks and down hills of experiences that shape and bend it to flow. It is in constant movement; nothing can stop it. Nothing can predict the way it will divide to go around an obstacle or a damming branch. It is added to by rain and other tributaries from all sorts of sources you can’t imagine or name. This brook will give nourishment to your work. It will give you your plot. And if you are writing a series or world, it will one day join a different brook and turn into something big and powerful, something that can move earth or flood the world.

 What were some of the best moments for you when writing this series? Most difficult challenges?

In the book Hemlock, I use the monster the vampire. I had to do a little research for this, because as much as I wanted to use the creature, I also know that many readers are turned off by the idea because vampires have become so predictable. They all have a certain romanticism to them. Many are beautiful creatures. They are seen more in a tragic light than a monstrous one. There are of course variations from that, some are monstrous. For the most part, you have vampires that are very overdone. I was involved in a conversation on Facebook the other day, the post was an article written by author Charles Phipps on ten tricks to writing a vampire character, and most of the comments said, just don’t. So I had to create a completely unique vampire that was not seen by the modern age. I did a lot of research into the very first incarnations of vampires for my inspiration.

 The covers are stunning. How much were you involved in the design process and what was that like?

SONGOh, I was very involved in the process. My wife and I hired the brilliant cover designer, Jenny Zemanek. Her process is very simple. First she asked us to find other covers that were in the vein of what we’re looking for and to tell her why we like them. Then she asked us to give her a list of elements that we wanted in our cover. There were many drafts. She did a lot of research. She worked with us on every step of the process. We had final say on every element. And I say that not to downplay her own creative fingerprints on the piece, but to highlight the fact that she wanted us involved in the process. Like all great designers, she wanted her client to be represented in the work. Now, had I been traditionally published, I would not have had any control over any of this, but as an indie author, I got to control the final product.  

How many writing projects do you juggle at a time? Do you ever catch yourself accidentally using ideas from one story in another without meaning to do so?

I’m almost always writing new material. I write 3,000 words a day, and it helps me get through quite a few books in a single year. On top of that, I have a blog. The blog features an interview with a selected author every other week. On the off weeks, I write shorts that will be used in an autobiography, detailing my life and the crazy things that have happened in it. And every third Wednesday of the month, I put out a blog post that discusses writing in some fashion. At the same time that I am writing new material and the blog, I keep up with revisions and editing the rough drafts that are already written for publication. Sometimes this involves nothing more than grammar changes and clarifications on an idea. And sometimes it involves writing an entirely new point of view character in a book and adding as much as 120 pages to the manuscript. I also have a newsletter that comes out on the 13th of every month. So, I’ve got a lot of things going on. But they never cross-influence each other. I’m always able to keep them in their designated spots because of the way I divide my time.  

 How do you define success as a writer? Sales? Adoration? Creative satisfaction?

For me, success as a writer is about the reader, and the experience the reader has with the book. Things are getting exciting right now because I have published enough work where people are starting to make connections between books, within the series and without. So when the reader ties together a book from outside the series to something or a character that’s within this series, I get really jazzed about that, because people are starting to see just how big the world is and how many connections have been made. That experience is always really gratifying. But the highest pinnacle that I can reach as a writer is a statement quite like what was said about Hemlock in a recent review. One of my readers said she read the book in 12 hours in one sitting and didn’t regret the sleep she lost. When your book is having that sort of effect on people, you have to call it a success.

Have you felt pressure to be more active on social media to promote your books? How do you establish a presence without over promoting? 

This is a very interesting conversation when you’re looking at my career, because I walk down the street with a pit bull. When you walk down the street with a pit bull, there’s a certain experience you have, the looks on everybody’s faces, of awe and fear and envy. I have that going on for me on social media, on every avenue of my work. My pit bull is relentless, aggressive and focused, and cute as a button. She is my wife, and she has taken on the mission of getting my work out to the world. She has her finger on the pulse of all social media, and sees every time somebody is talking about my work. Every time there’s a gap open, she attacks it. She has created a presence on social media that frees me up from having to work at it myself. I don’t have to worry about social media. I just let it ride, because she tells me everything I need to know. This frees me up to focus on nothing but the work, so I am able to take on every project that catches my fancy, because I have a pit bull fighting for me.

What was the best advice you received regarding writing or self-publishing?

In The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer, he said the best way to learn how to write a novel is to write ten. So, I had to accept the fact that my first nine novels were gonna suck. It was just ground I had to dig at, like digging the foundation of a house. When you dig the foundation of a house, you have to rip up the earth before you can lay the concrete and the stone. The concrete and the stone is your first good book. It’s the foundation of your career. The digging of the hole is the books you have to write in order to lay that foundation. A lot of writers write those books and they call them trunk books, because those first nine are so bad that they never publish them. But all of my work is connected to itself. If I were to pull out one of those “trunk” novels, and not publish it, that would mean people weren’t getting the full story. So what I did was, after I wrote those trunk novels and got good enough to publish, I went back and wrote those novels a second time from the beginning. I call it “from blank document”. I read everything that happened in the trunk novel, pulled up a blank document, and wrote the whole thing again. This is how I built my career.

Favorite fantasy movie ever? Why?

King_Kong_2You ask this question a lot, don’t you? I would venture a guess that most of the time you get the Lord of the Rings series, maybe The Hobbit series, these absolutely fantastic works of fantasy, and I mean they are breathtaking. For your old school interviewees, I would say you’ve probably heard The Last Unicorn. For your dragon lovers, maybe Reign of Fire, that’s really good and gritty. You might have heard Dragonheart. All of these things, and they’re all great. But I would have to say that my very favorite fantasy movie is one you maybe haven’t heard a lot of, and that is Peter Jackson’s King Kong. This movie set up the idea that there was an island of monsters, which is impressive enough. You’ve got Kong fighting dinosaurs, you’ve got whole teams of men being attacked by massive insects, you’ve got Kong himself, this god of the wilderness. All of these things are amazing and intriguing and mesmerizing. But that’s not the part I would focus on if I were you. That’s not the part that, if I were to write Peter Jackson’s King Kong, that my book would be built on. In this movie, there is a native culture of humans that actually live on this island. They built a monstrous wall to protect their section of the place. They offer human sacrifices to Kong. They are savage and brutal and horrifying. And the most terrifying thing is, they did not build boats. They should have built boats! Why didn’t they build boats? What you do, if you find yourself and your entire civilization on an island completely populated by monsters, is you build boats! Get the hell off the island! There’s plenty of islands in the sea, it’s like fish. The first time you see Kong, it’s time to pick up stakes and move on. But that is not what these people did, and that’s the thing that fascinates me so much about Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

 The magic used in The Manhunters seems almost limitless. How do you portray the characters’ powers and continue to challenge them?

The reason it seems limitless is because the main character who is using it is 12,000 years old. He was trained by an elite group of warrior wizards called the Trimerian Knights and he is massive in his power and its scope. As it seems there is no limit to the magic he is capable of, that assumption is false. He’s like a very gifted writer, only the words he uses are magical. But he’s still working with a language. He’s still working with certain spells that do certain things. This is an arsenal of spells that has been written over time and they are the tools that wizards can use. They’re steeped in tradition, they’re ancient, and the spells a wizard has at his command are like a toolbox he can use. But imagine a group of wizards that wrote their own spells, that were young and inspired and creative. They didn’t look at a hammer and say, “This is a hammer. I can pound things with this.” But instead walked away from the hammer and created a completely unique tool. In Song and Hemlock we are faced with Rayph and his toolbox full of magical spells. In the third book, Crown, we find ourselves walking among wizards young, inspired, and hungry, who can use the elements of magic to completely reinvent the trade. So, if you think magic is wild in Hemlock and Song, wait until I reinvent the rules in the third book, Crown.

 Any favorite characters in the series?

This series is really fun because it explores a powerful group of people with all unique talents facing a host of different villains with all unique powers. It’s fun to watch them outwit each other and through conflict, up the stakes. But in each of these books, there is a second point of view, a more minor character, who is living a story that intersects with the story of the Manhunters. Those are the tales I enjoy the most. It’s the side stories that intrigue me. You have a father desperate to earn enough money to pay for the medications to keep his daughter alive in the book Song. In Hemlock, you have a man separated from his king and his brothers, facing torture and execution in a land he does not know, and he is frantic to get back to his king, to get back to his people, without any knowledge as to how he’s going to accomplish that. And in Crown, you have a young wizard who is literally facing the horrors of Hell to accomplish his goal, who is coming to terms with his power, and coming to terms with a brother who is slipping away from him. All three of these stories intrigue me, and it’d be hard to choose a favorite out of those.

 What do you hope readers will say when they finish these books?

My hope is that when the reader finishes reading the last line of Crown, and knows that the Manhunters story is over, I hope they are excited to know that I publish a book every six months, and while I have finished this series, there are four more series that are written as rough drafts and sitting in my closet waiting to be published. After you’ve finished Crown, you haven’t heard the last from me. We are just getting started.

What can fans expect from you next?

Well, Crown is coming out October 5th. And I have touched on a couple of things you can expect from it. So let’s move on to what’s next. Next year, on April 15th, I will be releasing a book called Legends of the Exiles. It’s a book that is broken up into four novellas. And while you can read each novella by itself, when you line them up and read them all in a row, they paint a picture of four women living in a barbarian culture, trying to survive and thrive in nations filled with powerful patriarchs. How does a woman make her power known when the men all around her are uber masculine and focused on themselves? How do women thrive in toxic male environments? I’m really excited about this book, so look for it April 15th, 2019. And before that, this October, keep a lookout for the final book of The Manhunters series. You won’t be disappointed.

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About the Author

jesse teller

Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.

He lives with his supportive wife, Rebekah, and his two inspiring children, Rayph and Tobin.

Hemlock is available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Recognition

1st Prize, The 2017 Drunken Druid Book Award
Literary Titan Gold Book Award
Drunken Druid Editor’s Choice, March 2017
Drunken Druid 2016 Book of the Year Short List
Hungry Monster Gold Book Award

Author Links:
Website
Facebook
Goodreads
Amazon
Twitter

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Praise for The Manhunters:

Mr. Teller gives us moral dilemmas, fierce and bloody battles, characters that come alive and the power of the magic of words to take us into another place, another time and another reality.
—Dii Bylo, Tome Tender Book Blog

This is one of the more fanciful and almost mythical like settings and storylines I’ve read in a while.
—The Weatherwax Report

Teller’s world is stunning in its complexity.
—M. L. Spencer, Bestselling Author of The Rhenwars Saga

The characters are interesting, the heroes likable, and the villains hateable.
—booknest.eu

Has all the ingredients of an exciting, dark fantasy epic: ancient and powerful mages, deadly and vengeful enemies, familial strife, malevolent politicking, and jailbroken criminals hell-bent on revenge.”
—Fantasy Book Review

Jesse Teller only takes his foot off the accelerator to switch to a higher gear.
—The Fantasy Inn

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OLD SCHOOL COVER LOVER #1

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I do a lot of posts focusing on speculative fiction book covers.  Some look at the good, but a lot of the time I’m poking fun at the weird, the strange, the bizarre from my favorite reading genre.  Too often I seem to be picking on the covers from decades past when the artistic style was much different from today. And that isn’t very fair of me, because a lot of those old covers were damn good, great even.

Today, I will seek to remedy my idiotic oversight and make amends for my former slight by taking a look at some of the most memorable speculative fiction covers of the past: the DAW SF Book line, where beautiful covers were almost always on display.

Let us start with a series of covers for a favorite author of mine: Michael Moorcock!

 

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Now, let us take a look at some of the science fiction covers DAW published back in the day!

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Cool stuff.  Damn cool.  The old school look and feel of these classic covers really a delight to my eyes.  Let’s end this with a look at few covers with a more fantasy feel to them.

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Have any to add?

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FUNDAY MONDAY, OR THE BOOKS THAT WILL HELP ME SURVIVE THE WEEK AHEAD (MAY 7, 2018)

funday-monday

Another week begins.  I quickly slip into my business suit and head back into the office to save a few innocent people. While I try to fool myself into being excited about the promise of a new week and the continuation of the regular grind, deep down, I’m not, so I’m going to escape dreary reality by finishing up a book I began last week and starting a surprise arrival from last week!

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lady henterman's wardrobeLady Henterman’s Wardrobe by
Marshall Ryan Maresca

Genre: High Fantasy mixed with urban fantasy

Series: The Streets of Maradaine #2

Publisher: DAW (March 6, 2018)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 352 pages

Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, the second novel of the Streets of Maradaine series follows the Rynax brothers’ crew of outlaws as they attempt their biggest heist yet and restore justice to the common people.

The neighborhood of North Seleth has suffered–and not just the Holver Alley Fire. Poverty and marginalization are forcing people out of the neighborhood, and violence on the streets is getting worse. Only the Rynax brothers–Asti and Verci–and their Holver Alley Crew are fighting for the common people. They’ve taken care of the people who actually burned down Holver Alley, but they’re still looking for the moneyed interests behind the fire.

The trail of breadcrumbs leads the crew to Lord Henterman, and they plan to infiltrate the noble’s house on the other side of the city. While the crew tries to penetrate the heart of the house, the worst elements of North Seleth seem to be uniting under a mysterious new leader. With the crew’s attention divided, Asti discovers that the secrets behind the fire, including ones from his past, might be found in Lady Henterman’s wardrobe.

Purchase the book at Amazon


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fall of angelsFall of Angels by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Saga of Recluce #6

Publisher: Tor (July 15, 1997)

Author Information: Website

Length: 592 pages

In Fall of Angels, Modesitt moves deep into Recluce’s past to chronicle the founding of the Empire of the Legend, the almost mythological domain ruled by women warriors on the highland plateau of the continent of Candar. He tells the story from the point of view of Nylan, the engineer and builder whose job it is to raise a great tower on the plateau known as the Roof of the World. Here the exiled women warriors will live and survive to fulfill their destiny. Here a revolutionary new society will be born…if Nylan can get the tower built and defenses in place before the rulers of the lowland nations come with their armies to obliterate them all. And if Nylan can learn to control the magical powers that are growing within him. Thus Modesitt relates the story of how magic comes into the world of Recluce, in a fantasy novel destined to please the growing Recluce audience and win new readers to the series.

Purchase the book at Amazon

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COBRA KAI REVIEW

cobra kai series

For those who don’t already know, Cobra Kai is the new streaming series on YouTube; a modern return to the California world of the eighties classic film The Karate Kid.  An opportunity to catch up on the original film’s hero and villain (There are many views on who is whom!) of that fan favorite.  Our two familiar faces returning, aged but on top of their game as this series exceeds expectations, refuses to just rely on nostalgia, and delivers a damn good story filled with everything good about the old story but with a more serious, complex tone.

I’m sure everyone has caught at least a few scenes of The Karate Kid film over the years.  It seems to me it is always being replayed on cable or featured on one of the streaming series all the time.  But for those unfamiliar with the story I’ll recap.  For those who know KK by heart just skip the next paragraph.

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A new kid and his single mom move into in a nice California town; this guy is New Jersey native Daniel LaRusso (as played by Ralph Macchio).  At a beach party, Daniel meets a pretty girl named Ali (played by Elisabeth Shue).  Unfortunately, Ali has a jealous ex-boyfriend named Johnny Lawrence (played by William Zabka) who is the top student at a karate dojo named “Cobra Kai.”  When Daniel intervenes in an argument between Johnny and Ali, a fight ensues where Johnny easily beats and embarrasses Daniel.  This fight leading to an ongoing feud at school as the two compete over Ali’s affection.  Fights ensue.  Bullying happens.  Pranks go bad.  And after a few bad beating at the hands of Johnny and his karate friends Danny begins to be trained by his apartment complexes handyman Mr. Miyagi.  This training leading up to a confrontation between Danny and Johnny at the All Valley Karate Tournament for respect, bragging rights, and the girl!

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Cobra Kai begins in present day, focusing in on Johnny and Daniel.  The opening episodes taking a look at where these two, teen rivals are at now, explaining how their lives have gotten to this point, and beginning a new journey forward for each of them (though part of moving forward is dealing with the past).  Naturally, their paths do cross as expected, but even though you knew it was going to happen, the creative team behind this show does an amazing job making it all complex and serious yet adding an amazing amount of fun to it all.  Johnny and Danny once again squaring off.

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Don’t let my description of the show make you think it is only about our middle aged rivals.  Sure, it focuses on them, but each has their own families and friends who bring a decidedly teen angle to a lot of the show.  Something which I usually could care less about, but here it really works because it is great to see Daniel and Johnny acting as teachers, trying to fill the roles of their old mentors yet not make mistakes, and watching the teens around them evolve and grow even as they change their mentors outlook on life.

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I realize many people might be wary of a KK revival.  It wasn’t the deepest, most serious film of all time.  Hell, it was a teen flick during the eighties, which means it didn’t even consider being anything except pure entertainment.  But Cobra Kai is different.  It does have many serious moments.  There is foul language.  Sexual references.  Scenes showing verbal abuse.  Times when cyber bullying is addressed in semi-serious ways.  But it never goes too far, finding the perfect mix of nostalgia, character development, modern sensibilities, teen angst, and humor to capture a binge watchers attention.  What is even better is the first two episodes are free to watch on YouTube.

If you give it a try, I hope you enjoy it!!  And, yes, I did binge watch the whole series this weekend. Loved every minute of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CABLE, VOL. 1: CONQUEST

cable conquestCable, Vol. 1: Conquest by James Robinson

Genre: Superhero Comics

Series: Cable (2017) #1

Publisher: Marvel Comics (December 19, 2017)

Length: 112 pages

My Rating: 3 stars

I’ve always found Cable to be an interesting concept for a character. Certainly, back in the 1990s, part of his coolness was his mysterious origins and the other part was the Rob Liefeld art. (Yeah, I’m a Liefeld fan, though I can admit the problems with his style.  No feet.  Weird body shapes and sizes, especially women.  Among other things.)

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But those days are behind now.  Long ago in the past.  Can’t say I’ve been a dedicated follower of the character since those days, but I picked up this graphic novel because I thought the idea of Cable as a time traveling hero stopping people from screwing with the timeline sounded okay . . . plus it had Carlos Pacheco art.

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The story here starts out okay with Cable chasing a baddie named Conquest around in time, attempting to stop this guy from collecting pieces of some Uber weapon. We don’t know much more than that about what is going on, nor does the plot ever really develop past this. What we do get is loads of fantastic fights between Cable and cowboys, Cable and samurai, and even Cable and dinosaurs. Pacheco’s fantastic art bringing it all to life for roughly sixty percent of the story arc.

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Biggest letdown I had with this book was the lack of development: story and characters. I’ve already mentioned how the plot never grew beyond the initial setup, and neither do the characters. Cable and Conquest are the same at the end of the tale as they are before. We never know exactly why Conquest was doing this. We don’t know when, how, or why Cable got involved. And the conclusion of it all doesn’t really tie up any of the loose ends.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say the conclusion is pretty meh.

To sum up, I’d say Cable: Conquest is a decent read, I guess. I enjoyed the fights and the art. Sure, the story could have been better, but it wasn’t a convoluted mess like many X-tales, plus it did make me want to read more about this character again, so it gets three stars.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in 3 Stars, Graphic Novels, Marvel, X-men | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FRIDAY FACE OFF MAY 4, 2018

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Welcome to the Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in the literary universe.  If you want to join us next week, check out next week’s predetermined them, choose a book, compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog

This week’s theme is:

‘‘A Hand without a hand? A bad jape, sister.’ – a cover featuring a hand/hands

Talk about a difficult theme.  I searched and searched for hands everywhere stinking where.  I saw lots of them, but never just them alone.  Finally, I settled on a book cover with a strong focus on hands, which I also just happened to like.

Hope you enjoy!

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AND THE WINNER IS . . .

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Yeah, it is a tie this week.  Different types of covers which both caught my eye.  If I was forced to pick I would go with the cover on the right, because of the fire and the sense of barely contained violence about to erupt.  But, hey, I do really think the left cover is damn clever as well.  Hence the tie.

So, do you agree with my picks?  Disagree?  Love them all?  Hate them all?  Let us know!

Posted in Cover Lover, Fantasy, Friday Face-Off | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

THE COURT OF BROKEN KNIVES

the court of boken knivesThe Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

Genre: Fantasy — Grimdark

Series: Empire of Dust #1

Publisher: Orbit (August 15, 2017)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 473 pages

My Rating: 2.5 stars

The Court of Broken Knives is a novel which has taken me on a long journey.  Not only alongside the characters which Anna Smith Spark has created, though that is true, but also my own journey of self-discovery, as I’ve found myself on a quest to reconsider my reading preferences, modify my bookish desires.  This causing my review to take months to finish, as I returned time and again to the book to do lengthy rereads, attempting to focus my mind, come to grips with the conflicting emotions which this novel had produced within me.

To be fair, when I finished The Court of Broken Knives back in November of 2017 I viewed it as yet another in a growing line of great grimdark, one I enjoyed so much that my rating was a solid 4 stars and included a spot on my Best Reads of 2017!.  Anna Smith Spark’s bringing her beautiful writing style to the genre, adding her elegant, lyrical, and unique voice to a genre previously known mainly for its dark, pessimistic, violent, and decidedly masculine outlook on life.  But under my initial euphoria was a growing seed of discord, one I will explain further after we set the stage.

The Court of Broken Knives takes place mainly in the city of Sorlost in the Sekemleth Empire.  This legendary rich and powerful metropolis mired in decadent decay, moving steadily toward ultimate destruction unless something occurs to halt the downward spiral.  Rising to the challenge. Lord Orhan, a nobleman and important councilor of the Empire, formulates an elaborate coup to destroy the Emperor and most of the ruling elite, thereby allowing him and his co-conspirators to take control and guide the Empire back to its former power and glory.

One of the keys to Orhan’s plans is a group of foreign mercenaries who quickly infiltrate the city; their leader an older, experienced warrior by the name of Tobias.  This guy is a practical, ordinary man who isn’t the most gifted merc but is determined, quick witted, and practical to a fault.  Those he leads tending to follow along in the same vein as their commander; all except for young Marith, who begins as a rather mysterious sort and slowly evolves into a fairly murderous individual with a horrible habit, terrible secrets, and a dark destiny.  Tobias’ plans complicated and jeopardized by having to deal with Marith’s growing issues while still attempting to be the Orhan’s weapon to mete out death among Sorlost’s elite.

Not initially caught up in these events, there is also Thalia, high priestess of the god of life and death.  This god not for the faint of heart, requiring regular human sacrifices (preferably small children) which Thalia is forced to personally perform.  The constant killing taking its toil on her mental state.  What makes it even worse is that she knows her life will remain this way until a new high priestess arises and kills her, just like she did to her predecessor.  This stress, depression, and apprehension causing Thalia to seek escape from her prison, even if that means tying herself to an even worse person/cause!

Without a doubt, all this sounds like grimdark fantasy at its best, and the classic staples of the genre are indeed present in abundant supply.  There are dark, jaded characters everywhere.  Plot twists abound.  Byzantine scheming and political machinations rule the day.  Dark humor, bloody action, unhealthy love, diabolical betrayal, and cringeworthy deceit are the norm.  Hell, in Marith, we even have a tortured, psychopathic character who would give anyone from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire nightmares and make Mark Lawrence’s Jorg Ancrath take pause.  But therein also lies the seeds of my problem with The Court of Broken Knives: it is horribly, terribly, completely, extremely, unbearable dark and grim.

A weird criticism I realize, especially coming from me: the grimdark convert who became an adoring fan after reading such classics as Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption, Polansky’s Low Town, and Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself.  Be that as it may, after months of reflection and numerous rereads of certain sections of the narrative, I finally came to the conclusion that what bothered me about this novel was the fact it had taken the grimdark genre to its ultimate apex, serving up a world and story so grim, so dark, and so damn depressing that even I couldn’t really appreciate it.  Let me try to explain why I say that.

For me personally, I prefer my stories to have contrasting characters, dueling ideologies, competing champions to keep things fresh and exciting.  If the darkness is too thick, too grim, too all encompassing, I get bored.  I mean, if all my choices are basically the same, why do I care if a certain character lives or dies, triumphs or fails.  I don’t.  And in The Court of Broken Knives, I really felt like there was no one to hold onto while all the goodness in the world died a painful death.  There was no hero or anti-hero to pull for until he/she is cast down.  No villain who has noble motives even if his/her means are vile.  Nope, here the darkness is unrelenting; the characters completely unsympathetic; and the plot a choice between what shade of black I would prefer.

The prime example of all this are the main four characters of the story. Let’s take a closer look at them, see the choices of black.

First, there is Lord Orhan; a man who initially appears to be a misguided idealist, someone who dreams of a change for the better.  Sure, he is willing to kill lots and lots of people to get the change he believes is needed, but he only wants to restore his city, his nation to greatness.  Brings to mind Hitler, but I can feel it.  Once you get to know him though he is pretty far removed from any semblance of an idealist.  Instead, Orhan is revealed as a dissatisfied man, married to a woman he does not love, yearning after a man he probably should not trust, living a total lie for reasons he doesn’t even totally believe in anymore, and hating the mantle of would be savior he has assumed.  Totally depressing.

Then we have Tobias, who is probably the closest thing to a decent human in the whole sorry bunch.  Problem being he is a glorified assassin, determined to kill people for gold.  His conscious is locked up at home somewhere, and he is willing to deal with anyone necessary to get the job done.  A good quality for a mercenary, necessary even, but one which doesn’t cause him to be terribly sympathetic.  The fact he is hooked up with Marith merely makes his faults even more pronounced and off-putting.

Next up is the mysterious Marith.  Some have described him as pitable, but I never saw him that way.  Where Jorg Ancrath of Lawrence’s The Broken Empire had some slim explanation for his sociopathic leanings, Marith is a despicable being in the present, past, and on into the future from the look of things.  I can concede he has personal issues from his past, haunting tragedies to bear around, and a terrible addiction to deal with, but none of it made me pity him in the least.  He is a sociopathic nightmare, wrapping his loathsome actions inside pathetic excuses while gorging himself on more and more extreme doses of violence and killing in the name of an ancient god.  Not sympathetic at all for me.

Lastly,  there is the deeply scarred Thalia, whose role sacrificing children to a blood-thirsty god has left her mentally handicapped, extremely warped, and generally unprepared for the real world outside her blood soaked temple halls.  Her choices in this narrative leaving me wondering if she has the smallest ounce of wisdom anywhere inside her body since she becomes fascinated by a man who promises to do nothing but take her down a road even more bloody than her previous one.  A choice which still strikes me as odd considering her desire to flee her former life.

Hopefully, you can now see that these characters are all shades of black, not grey, certainly not white, but dark black.  This consequentially means their individual stories are dark and grim, as you would expect from deeply flawed, horribly jaded, and near inhuman (at least in the case of one person) characters.  And compounding this problem is that there are no characters of a different shade (grey or white) to add contrasting points of view to the plot, insert a bit of levity, or bring a bit of light to the curtain of darkness which shrouds everything.  Without those “lighter” characters The Court of Broken Knives remains bleak, gloomy, and destructive from its opening page to its last, immersing a reader into the depths of total grimness.

It’s a gridmark.  It’s suppose to be dark, gory, and depressing.  Get over it already.  I hear some of you mumbling.

True.  It is very possible my criticism of this novel is merely my own personal foible come to light, showcasing my growing weariness of  unrelenting grimdark.  And, yes, I can acknowledge that perhaps at another time, another place in my reading journey, I might have been drawn into Anna Smith Spark’s tale of darkness, embraced it, and loved every moment of it.  But right now, I’m not interested in that type of tale.  Instead, The Court of Broken Knives depressed me, reinforced my growing feelings that I don’t want to visit a world this dark, this horrifyingly grim, inhabited by such deeply flawed people anymore in the near future.  I really need some light to fight against the darkness, some  optimism to dilute the pessimism, some good to struggle against the bad, a few decent people to make me care about the struggle I’m reading about.

That leads directly into why my rating went from 4 stars in November of 2017 to 2.5 stars in May 2, 2018.  Simply put, I finally realized why I initially gave The Court of Broken Knives those 4 star rating: Anna Smith Sparks writing style; her beautiful words and phrases nearly able to overcome the suffocating darkness of the story itself, wash away the bitter taste in my mouth, and convince me I adored this grimmest of grimdarks. But the truth, hard as it was for me to accept, is that I simply don’t love this novel, don’t have any particular fondness for any of these characters, and never was caught up in their stories.  Certainly, it is an okay read, especially if you enjoy grimdark at its most extreme, but not much better than that, hence the 2.5 stars.

Does all this mean you shouldn’t read the book?  I can’t answer that.  It is all based on your reading preferences.  Michael Fletcher, author of Beyond Redemption, has dubbed Anna Smith Spark “the queen of grim dark fantasy”; a title which is well deserved and very accurate.  And if you wish to immerse yourself in the complete darkness, cynical depression, and unswerving grimness, then this is a book which will not disappoint, because it truly is a grimdark for the ages.  However, if like me, you are a bit tired of pervasive bleakness, amoral violence, and pessimistic nihilism, then this might not be for you.  It is your choice.

I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank her for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Purchase the book at Amazon.

Posted in 2 Stars, Fantasy, Grimdark | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

GUEST POST: JENNIFER BROZEK

authorspotlight

Today, I’m excited to welcome Jennifer Brozek to Bookwraiths.  She has taken the time to drop by to shed a little light on how a one star review stuck with her and shed light on the difference between military brats and everyone else!

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OBSERVATIONS OF AN AMERICAN
MILITARY BRAT

by

JENNIFER BROZEK

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The Nellus Academy Incident was first released on Battle Corps, the subscription website for BattleTech fans. Then it was re-released as a novel in 2014 and won the Scribe Award for the best YA tie-in novel for the year. Two years later, it is now in print and I’m pleased. It is a good-looking book that holds the first chapter of my next YA BattleTech novel, Iron Dawn.

Even though it has been out for years and I’ve had good and bad reviews for it, one glorious one-star review has stuck with me. All it said was, “Kids just don’t act that way.”

I remember when I first saw the review, I laughed and thought, “You have never met a military brat or a cadet.” Then I moved on with my day. The review has stuck with me because, unless you have been a military brat or a cadet and lived on a military base for most of your young life, you will not understand how military brats think.

Military Brats Grow Up Fast.

We have a different mindset growing up on military bases and within the military culture. There is an early knowledge and focus on duty, responsibility, and preparedness. It is based on watching our parents as well as being taught it in on-base schools. There is a military custom and courtesy that must be adhered to.

We know that members of the military may be called into a hostile situation at any time… which means we know that our parents may be there one day and gone the next. That absence could be weeks or months or years… or forever. We know this. This means we need to be able to care for ourselves and our siblings.

I’m not even going to get into the presence of, training with, or knowledge of the different kind of available weapons.

Military Brats Are Adaptable.

On average, most military brats will move every 2-3 years of their lives. This means that they will never have that close friend from grade school through high school. They will never have the same classmates or that one favorite teacher. They will never know the security of owning a home that they know will still be there in ten years. I’m 47 and I have, for the first time in my life, lived in the same house for more than 5 years.

While we are missing out on the typical American civilian upbringing, we do have other awesome experiences. We get to reinvent ourselves everywhere we move to. No one knows our past. We learn to mimic accents within minutes of hearing them because if you sound local, you don’t get picked on as much. We learn to become a pseudo-local and know how to make friends fast. Some of these friendships go deep, but until we are older, they last only as long as we live in that location. We adapt to our new surroundings at a remarkable speed because we have no other choice.

Military Brats Get the Job Done.

There were several phrases I heard growing up military:

  • “Don’t start something you can’t finish.”
  • “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”
  • “You never start a fight, but you do your best to finish it.”

These are concepts I knew from the moment I understood what chores were and that not everyone agreed with each other all the time. If I was given a job, I finished it or I was forced to do it again and again until it was done right. If I argued with my parents over anything, I needed to have my ducks in a row before I began. I needed to see it through to the end whether or not I liked what that ending was. You do the job until it is done. You finished the argument and you accepted the end result.

Military Brats Understand Consequences.

Like most military brats, I had a fairly strict upbringing. I had rules. Actions had consequences. If I broke those rules, I would face the consequences. My parents didn’t hedge. Break the rule, get the punishment. Most military brats learned early to gauge the worth of the action. Was breaking that rule worth the punishment? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. It taught me to think before I acted.

It also taught me to learn how to skirt the rules or to be able to explain, very logically, why a rule had been bent or slightly broken. A good explanation could get you out of a punishment. Sometimes. It was a good lesson in risk assessment.

“Kids just don’t act that way…”

Military brats are not like civilian kids and most civilians will never understand that or them. They will never understand why a military brat acts the way they do, the language they use, or the habits they’ve picked up. While civilian kids can have some or all of the skills mentioned above, they won’t have the military mindset, the military training, or the absorbed military customs and courtesies.

While I don’t blame the reviewer for the one-star review, it brings home to me once more that I had the kind of upbringing most Americans did not have. For most of America, “kids don’t act that way,” but on military bases and in military academies, they do.

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About the Author

BROZEK

Jennifer Brozek is an award winning author, editor, and tie-in author. Two of her works, Never Let Me Sleep and The Last Days of Salton Academy were nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. She was awarded the Scribe Award for best tie-in Young Adult novel for BattletTech: The Nellus Academy Incident. Anthology Grants Pass won an Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication.

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Purchase her books at Amazon

Posted in Young Adult | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

TOP TEN TUESDAY

TOP TEN TUESDAYS

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! This is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, where a new top ten list hits the web every week!

This week’s topic was somewhat interest.  I did change it just a little to be more fantasy appropriate, but I think you’ll agree that wasn’t a big deal really.

One thing to keep in mind as you read this though is that this topic doesn’t apply to me at all, because I’m not fighting anything which could kill me to get a book of fiction.  Sorry, if that disappoints some of you, but I’m just being honest.  Anyway, here goes!

BOOKS I’D SLAY A DRAGON TO GET EARLY

thrawn alliances10. THRAWN ALLIANCES

This might seem a bit odd as a pick from a person whose been open about his dislike of Disney Star Wars, but so far they haven’t screwed up Thrawn, one of my favorite SW characters.  And I will always want to read more about the blue skinned dude.

Purchase Thrawn: Alliances at Amazon 


Foundryside RD4 clean flat9. FOUNDRYSIDE

A new series by the author of The Divine Cities trilogy.  This time out Bennett promises a story of a city run by industrialized magic and a secret war to overwrite reality itself.  Sounds like it could be a great series.

Purchase Foundryside at Amazon


KING OF ASHES8. KING OF ASHES

Yeah, yeah, I know many of you have read this one.  Some have enjoyed it; others have not.  I know I can’t recapture my youth by reading a new Feist series.  And, sure, the book will be released in a week or so.  But I’d still love to get a chance to read it before it hits the shelf.

Purchase King of Ashes at Amazon


age of war7. AGE OF WAR

The epic battle breaks out between the humans and their former god-like overlords.  All the players are now on the board and even allies might turn on one another.  How can a fantasy lover like myself resist such a story written by Michael Sullivan?  Answer: I can’t.

Purchase Age of War at Amazon


the deathless6. THE DEATHLESS

This opening installment of a new series by Peter Newman intrigues me.  Sure, it might be a new world, new weird concepts, and all that, or it just might be whether there is another badass goat in this story.

Purchase The Deathless at Amazon


the brass god5. THE BRASS GOD

I’ve been waiting for this installment of the series ever since I finished up book two.  With such a huge cast, giant world, and a cataclysmic event about to occur, I can’t wait to see where the author takes things. Instead of fighting the dragon though, I think I’ll just wait patiently.

Purchase The Brass God at Amazon


fall of gondolin4. THE FALL OF GONDOLIN

I mean, why wouldn’t I be excited for this one?  It isn’t every day that your favorite author (who has been dead for several decades) is able to posthumously release a new book.  Yeah, I might entertain the notion of taking on Smaug for more than an instance.

Purchase The Fall of Gondolin at Amazon


wrath of empire3. WRATH OF EMPIRE

Huge fan of this series, the powder mage world, and this author’s writing style.  Sure, I’ve already pre-ordered this one from Amazon and have my schedule clear to dive right in, but I’d still love to find a copy of it in my mailbox or email folder early.

Purchase Wrath of Empire at Amazon


winds of winter2. THE WINDS OF WINTER

I honestly don’t know why I even list this book.  I’m seriously beginning to doubt that there is such a novel in any form, anywhere.  And even if there is I doubt I’ll ever get to read it before I die.  But if it did exist, I’d think about taking on a dragon to get it.

Purchase at . . . Oops, you can’t do that!


port of shadows1.  PORT OF SHADOWS

One of my favorite authors is Glen Cook.  One of my all time favorite series is his Black Company novels.  Naturally, this book has been a dearly desired dream of mine for many years, and I desperately want to get my hands on a copy of this.  But, no, even this book isn’t getting me into the ring with a dragon.

Purchase Port of Shadows at Amazon


Well, that is my list.  Are there any of these you’d like to go toe-to-toe with a dragon to get ahead of the masses?  IF so, let us all know.

 

Posted in Top Ten Tuesday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

FUNDAY MONDAY, OR THE BOOKS THAT WILL HELP ME SURVIVE THE WEEK AHEAD (APRIL 30, 2018)

funday-monday

Another week begins.  I quickly slip into my business suit and head back into the office to save a few innocent people. While I try to fool myself into being excited about the promise of a new week and the continuation of the regular grind, deep down, I’m not, so I’m going to escape dreary reality by finishing up a book I began last week and picking up an older series I’ve never delved into very deeply!

black line

fall of angelsFall of Angels by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Saga of Recluce #6

Publisher: Tor (July 15, 1997)

Author Information: Website

Length: 592 pages

In Fall of Angels, Modesitt moves deep into Recluce’s past to chronicle the founding of the Empire of the Legend, the almost mythological domain ruled by women warriors on the highland plateau of the continent of Candar. He tells the story from the point of view of Nylan, the engineer and builder whose job it is to raise a great tower on the plateau known as the Roof of the World. Here the exiled women warriors will live and survive to fulfill their destiny. Here a revolutionary new society will be born…if Nylan can get the tower built and defenses in place before the rulers of the lowland nations come with their armies to obliterate them all. And if Nylan can learn to control the magical powers that are growing within him. Thus Modesitt relates the story of how magic comes into the world of Recluce, in a fantasy novel destined to please the growing Recluce audience and win new readers to the series.

Purchase the book at Amazon

black line
the wolfThe Wolf by Leo Carew

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Under the Northern Sky #1

Publisher: Orbit (April 3, 2018)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 512 pages

Violence and death come to the land under the Northern Sky when two fierce races break their age-old fragile peace and start an all-out war in this thrilling and savagely visceral epic fantasy.
Ready or not, Roper has been thrust into a position of leadership that he’s woefully ill prepared for. Now, a massive army approaches from the south, old allies turn against him, and new rivals seek to undermine his rule. Facing attack from within and without, Roper must forge reckless alliances, no matter the cost, to save his kingdom.
Bellamus is a brash but capable southern general, a commoner with the rare honor of having the discreet support of the Queen. Rising quickly from the minor ranks he was born into, Bellamus leads the march on the North. Victory means glory, power, and the favor of the king, but defeat promises much worse than disgrace.
A tale of war, rivalry, and honor, The Wolf creates a world that is both familiar and uncanny – one where the fiercest enemies are always closer than they seem.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in Funday Monday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments