Instead of writing one huge post of all the books I’m looking forward to in 2012, I decided to highlight some of these books in their own posts throughout the rest of this year. That way I can include as much information as I want about each one without it being an 8-mile long post and can just compile a list of links to these posts at the end of the year.

Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper

Songs of the Earth is the first book in the Wild Hunt trilogy by Elspeth Cooper (and is her debut novel). I actually found this on a best of 2011 list and wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before because it sounded really good. After looking into it, I found it was released in the UK in 2011 but it will not be released in the US until February 2012.

The next two books in the series currently have the titles Trinity Moon and The Dragon House. I don’t see any news of when Trinity Moon will be released in either country on the author’s site, but according to Amazon UK it will be available there in June 2012.

There are a couple of excerpts from Songs of the Earth available on the author’s site:

A description for each book in the trilogy can be found on the author’s site as well.

About Songs of the Earth:

The Book of Eador, Abjurations 12:14, is very clear: Suffer ye not the life of a witch. For a thousand years, the Church Knights have obeyed that commandment, sending to the stake anyone who can hear the songs of the earth. There are no exceptions, not even for one of their own.

Novice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire—until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames.

With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

For the Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love.

Other Books of 2012:

Instead of writing one huge post of all the books I’m looking forward to in 2012, I decided to highlight some of these books in their own posts throughout the rest of this year. That way I can include as much information as I want about each one without it being an 8-mile long post and can just compile a list of links to these posts at the end of the year.

The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

The first of these books I decided to feature is The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells, the second of the Books of the Raksura. It’s the sequel to The Cloud Roads, a book I found very engaging with some inventive world-building (review). The Serpent Sea is now really high on my list of most anticipated new releases of 2012 because I enjoyed the first book so much! Fortunately, there’s not a long wait since it is scheduled for release in January 2012.

Excerpts are available from both The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea. Also, Goodreads is giving away 5 copies of The Serpent Sea right now.

Warning: The blurb below does contain a spoiler for The Cloud Roads. It’s not one that would have bothered me since it’s something I expected, but if you are wary of spoilers and haven’t read The Cloud Roads yet, you may not want to read the description of The Serpent Sea.

About The Serpent Sea:

Moon, once a solitary wanderer, has become consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. Together, they travel with their people on a pair of flying ships in hopes of finding a new home for their colony. Moon finally feels like he’s found a tribe where he belongs.

But when the travelers reach the ancestral home of Indigo Cloud, shrouded within the trunk of a mountain-sized tree, they discover a blight infecting its core. Nearby they find the remains of the invaders who may be responsible, as well as evidence of a devastating theft. This discovery sends Moon and the hunters of Indigo Cloud on a quest for the heartstone of the tree – a quest that will lead them far away, across the Serpent Sea.

In this followup to The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells returns with a world-spanning odyssey, a mystery that only provokes more questions – and the adventure of a lifetime.

Today I am very excited to have an interview with an author whose work I admire greatly, Jacqueline Carey. Jacqueline Carey has written the Kushiel’s Legacy series, the Naamah trilogy, the Sundering duology, and Santa Olivia and its sequel Saints Astray (available today!). She has amazing diversity as an author – all her books I’ve read are very different from each other and have very different main characters. I have really enjoyed every single one of her five books I have read so it is a great pleasure to have her here today.

For more information on Jacqueline Carey and her books, visit her website.

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey Saints Astray by Jacqueline Carey Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Fantasy Cafe: First of all, thank you for taking the time to do an interview. I love your writing and am ecstatic to have the opportunity to ask you some questions. Your newest book, Saints Astray, is a sequel to Santa Olivia. You describe Saints Astray as being more light-hearted than the first book. Can you tell us a little about how it’s different from its predecessor and what fans of Santa Olivia have to look forward to? Is this the end of the story or do you think you’ll be writing more books in this setting?

Jacqueline Carey: All the action in Santa Olivia takes place in one isolated setting, an occupied town in my fictional border zone.  In Saints Astray, the whole wide world is opened up to my (literally) fearless heroine Loup and her sidekick Pilar, and they experience it with wonder and delight.  Because they’ve led such restrictive lives, everything is a first.  Hotels, room service, phones, the ocean, airplanes, movie theaters, pain au chocolat… it’s all new.  There’s an inherent joyfulness in this exploration.  But of course, there’s always a shadow of sorrow and regret hanging over them, and ultimately, Loup will risk everything for the sake of those they left behind.

At this point, I don’t plan to write further books in this setting… but they are an awful lot of fun.  As always, never say never!

FC: I was very excited to hear you are working on an urban fantasy trilogy about a “reluctant hell-spawn heroine” and am looking forward to seeing what you do with it. I also wasn’t at all surprised to see you said it was very different from anything you’d written before since I’ve thought that about every new book/series of yours I’ve read. Can you tell us a little about the series, how it’s different from your other books, and what drew you to writing in the urban fantasy genre?  What do you foresee as being the biggest challenge about writing this series?

JC: It’s a contemporary, which is different!  Daisy Johanssen, my reluctant hell-spawn heroine, serves as the liaison between the mundane and eldritch authorities in a small Midwestern resort town that does a booming business in paranormal tourism.  When a young man drowns under suspicious circumstances, it falls to Daisy to investigate amidst rising tension.The series is a blend of whimsy, wonder and creepiness.   For me, one of the great appeals of urban fantasy is that rather than transporting the reader to another world, another time and place, it gives the reader a prism through which to view this world, here and now, and imbue it with magic.  That’s a marvelous gift.  The biggest challenge lies in the fact that this is a very crowded subgenre, and it’s not easy to put a fresh, unique spin on it.  But I’ll do my best!

FC: On your FAQ page, you say you “have been inspired by landscapes, by vivid dreams, by other books, by movies, by art history lectures, by passing comments, by a fleeting emotion, by misremembering an entry in a dictionary.” What are some of the specific details of some of these inspirations and how they’ve been used in your stories? I’m particularly curious about the story behind misremembering an entry in a dictionary and how that influenced your writing.

JC: I thought I’d seen the name “Elua” in A Dictionary of Angels, but it was actually “Eloa,” the name of a female angel born of of a tear shed by Jesus in a poem written in 1823.  That was the genesis of my deity Elua, born of the mingled blood of Jesus and the tears of Mary Magdalene.  A trip to the south of France – the quality of the sunlight, the scent of lavender – inspired the setting of Terre d’Ange.  Also, the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail (which also served as the basis for much of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code).  While I was still working a day job at a local college, an art history candidate’s lecture on Greek temples sparked an idea for the climactic scene in the Temple of Asherat in Kushiel’s Chosen.  Those are a few!

FC:  Religion plays a large role in your novels – the story of Elua and his companions that lead to the way of life based on “love as thou wilt,” Moirin’s devotion to where her goddess leads her, and the people of Santa Olivia who feel abandoned by God. What is it about religious themes that inspires you to include them in your work?

JC: Honestly, I couldn’t say.  They’re big themes, and I enjoy exploring them.  It may have arisen in part from a feeling that while religion frequently plays a role in fantasy, it’s often just another plot device.  Gods and goddesses may be super-powerful beings using mortals as playing pieces in a complex game, but there’s seldom a sense of actual living faith involved.  Which is ironic, since in our everyday reality wherein the existence of the divine can’t be proved by any measurable means, faith exerts considerable sway over human existence.

FC: I’m really impressed by your diversity as an author and your ability to write books with very different writing styles that are suited to the main character. Phedre is a much more complicated character than Moirin and they each have a very unique but beautiful narrative voice reflecting their personalities.  Likewise, Santa Olivia has a more modern, casual tone that fits Loup and the setting that shaped her very well. Do you find it difficult to keep the narration for each of your characters unique? Or do your characters, their personalities, and experiences dictate the writing and tone?

JC: It’s more the latter, although in Santa Olivia and Saints Astray it was a deliberate choice to write with a more simple, muscular lyricism.  After the more ornate voices of the Kushiel series, I needed a palate-cleanser!  My biggest challenge was probably writing a male protagonist from a 1st-person POV in Imriel’s trilogy – and most especially in Kushiel’s Mercy, which contains a serious feat of narrative gymnastics.

FC: You write very strong female characters, and I especially love how they all have different strengths and personalities – you never write the same character twice. Loup is a kickass character, Phedre is immersed in politics as a spy and courtesan, and Moirin has lots of compassion, devotion, and charisma. What do you think makes a well-written female character and what qualities do you think are important to giving her depth? Who are some female characters you think are particularly well-written?

JC: You know, the more I think about this, the harder it is to answer.  A lot of character-building takes place on an intuitive level for me.  But I don’t think there’s a single set of criteria or specific qualities.  Phedre’s a very complex and sophisticated character, while at the other end of the spectrum, Loup’s fairly simple and direct; it’s the effect she has on other characters that’s more complicated.  There are a tremendous number of ways for a character, female or otherwise, to be well-written.  It’s probably easier to discuss the ways in which they aren’t.

I’ve been going through a bit of a reading dry spell, and few examples of well-written female characters are springing to mind at the moment.  One recent exception is the eponymous heroine of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series.  Eleven-year-old Flavia is a budding chemist with a penchant for poisons who turns amateur sleuth when a dead man is found in her garden.  She’s sharp, hilarious and endearing, and I read the books thinking, “Okay, this is how you write a precocious girl!”

FC: Releasing your very first book about a courtesan who finds pleasure in pain seems like a really big risk for a new author to take. Did you ever worry that this would scare people away from reading your books, and if so, why did you decide to write about it anyway? Were you ever tempted to write about something tamer and get established as an author before releasing Kushiel’s Dart?

JC: Oh, I was terrified!  But from the first inkling of conception, that was Phedre’s nature.  Sometimes the Muse says, “It is what it is.  Take it or leave it.”  I thought long and hard before I decided to take the plunge.  Ultimately, I chose to write Kushiel’s Dart because I felt it would be fascinating to take the subtext of eroticized violence that pervades popular culture and turn it inside-out, put it in the foreground; to adopt and subvert the trope of the heroine-as-victim.  I actually did write a few “practice novels” that were a lot tamer, but none of them sold.  It wasn’t until I took a major creative risk that I found success.

FC: If you had the chance to send a message as Santa Olivia, what would your message be?

JC: “Love as thou…”  Oh, wait, wrong book.  Since I’ve given Saints Astray the affectionate nickname Loup and Pilar’s Excellent Adventure, I’ll go with “Be excellent to each other.”

Just one new book came through my door this week, all because I can’t resist a good bargain for a book that sounds good.

Warbreaker by Brandon SandersonWarbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

I partially bought this because of Memory’s recent review, which made it sound awesome. A god who doesn’t believe in his own divinity? This I must read!

After reading her review, I immediately went to add it to my mile-long wish list on Amazon. When I went to add it, I noticed it was currently a bargain book that was available for only $3. Instead of adding it to the list to pay full price later, I figured I may as well just spend the $3 now.

If you like to read ebooks, you can actually read the entire book for free on Brandon Sanderson’s website.

After bursting onto the fantasy scene with his acclaimed debut novel, Elantris, and following up with his blockbuster Mistborn trilogy, Brandon Sanderson proves again that he is today’s leading master of what Tolkien called “secondary creation,” the invention of whole worlds, complete with magics and myths all their own.

Warbreaker is the story of two sisters, who happen to be princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, the lesser god who doesn’t like his job, and the immortal who’s still trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago.

Their world is one in which those who die in glory return as gods to live confined to a pantheon in Hallandren’s capital city and where a power known as BioChromatic magic is based on an essence known as breath that can only be collected one unit at a time from individual people.

By using breath and drawing upon the color in everyday objects, all manner of miracles and mischief can be accomplished. It will take considerable quantities of each to resolve all the challenges facing Vivenna and Siri, princesses of Idris; Susebron the God King; Lightsong, reluctant god of  bravery, and mysterious Vasher, the Warbreaker.

Today I am pleased to have a guest post by Michael J. Sullivan on the topic of fantasy tropes. I just reviewed his Theft of Swords yesterday and found it a very enjoyable traditional fantasy. In this post, I think Michael makes some really good points about tropes in fantasy and what people often mean when they say they are tired of fantasy tropes. I hope you enjoy it, too, and thanks to Michael for stopping by today!

Michael Sullivan


Hello, my name is Michael J. Sullivan and I want to thank Kristen for having me here today.  For those that don’t know who I am I wrote a six-book series called The Riyria Revelations. The series has been picked up by Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group) and they are releasing it as a trilogy: Theft of Swords (Nov 23 release – although print books are already in bookstores), Rise of Empire (Dec 15), and Heir of Novron (Jan 31).  The best way to describe this series is traditional epic fantasy and Kristin asked me here for my take on using tropes in fantasy.

I guess I should start out by talking about tropes in general just so that we are all on the same page. Some people think tropes are clichés (which are stereotypes and trite) but in reality a trope is something that is familiar in the mind of your audience.  I write traditional epic fantasy, fantasy that I loved as a child, so there is a nostalgic quality to a lot of what is in The Riyria Revelations.

There have been times that I have heard fans of the traditional fantasy novels lament the repetitive themes and exhausted archetypes of the genre. They say they are tired of the same old hero-vanquishing-evil and want something new, something more real, more believable. To me sounds like someone saying they love chocolate, they just wished it wasn’t so chocolaty and that it tasted more like vanilla.

Part of the problem comes in that people say there is no such thing as a truly original idea, and every book borrows from ones that have gone before. It’s a valid point, and one that really can’t be argued with. But here’s the thing…it’s all about how you execute your story and what you bring to the genre. When I look at Harry Potter it has some of the most standard themes in the genre. Think about it…he’s an orphan…destined for greatness…there’s an ancient evil trying to destroy the world…and Harry must defeat it.  This has been done hundreds maybe thousands of times in the past and yet, for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the Potter series because the way in which Rowlings told the story was so enjoyable.

My thoughts are that I don’t think people hate to read the same type of story, they just hate to read bad stories. There are an infinite number of ways to combine old ideas to create new books. If the plot is good, if the reader cares for the characters, if the setting feels real, then it doesn’t matter that at its root is something you’ve seen before. In truth the fact that it is familiar is one of the things that makes it feel so welcoming…like your favorite pair of shoes or a beloved sweater. They are comfortable, and inviting and you like being with them. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me.

Of course, not all people will feel the same way, and that’s a good thing because variety, is as they say, the spice of life. If you do like something that has a familiar feel but breathes some fresh new air I hope you’ll look into my Riyria Revelations and if you do give it a try, please drop me a note and let me know what you think. My email is in the books and there’s nothing more that I love then hearing from people who have given me some of what is most precious to them…there time and thanks once again Kristin for inviting me to post.

Theft of Swords contains the first two books in the Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha. These books were self-published, but the series was recently picked up by Orbit Books, who are publishing the books in three volumes each released about a month apart. Theft of Swords is scheduled for publication on November 23. Rise of Empire, containing Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm, will be released in December. The final two books, Wintertide and the never-before-released Percepliquis, will be on sale in January 2012 as Heir of Novron.

The Crown Conspiracy introduces the thief Royce and the warrior Hadrian, the men comprising a famous duo of thieves known as Riyria. The two are masters of thievery and manage to consistently perform difficult jobs, some even considered to be outright impossible.

This reputation gives them the opportunity to earn a lot of money when a desperate man asks for their help with stealing a sword. He has been challenged to a duel by Count Pickering, a renowned swordsman who has only lost once. Since the only time the count lost was when he did not have his usual sword, this man believes his only chance of surviving the duel is making sure the sword isn’t available for the fight. Hadrian feels sorry for the man and rather likes the idea of taking a job that will help somebody out instead of the usual jobs that involve petty bickering between nobles. However, Royce requires some convincing because the job needs to be done in a short enough timeframe that he won’t be able to spend some time doing background checks and verifying the man’s story.

Hadrian convinces Royce to take the job with him and the two find the sword exactly where the man said it would be along with a dead body on the floor. To make matters worse, they notice a crown that fell off the head attached to the dead body, realize it is the king, and decide it’s best to leave immediately. Before the two can leave in all haste, they are discovered, accused of murder, thrown into prison, and sentenced to death by the prince. Fortunately for them, the princess Arista knows they are innocent and devises a scheme to get them out of there along with her brother, whom she suspects will be killed next, in return for embarking on a mysterious quest for her – a quest that will unravel a conspiracy and just may save the kingdom.

Avempartha takes place two years after the events of The Crown Conspiracy. It’s a new adventure that also starts when Hadrian and Royce are hired to steal a sword, this time to kill a beast that is destroying a village. While it is a new story, it also builds on the previous book and further exposes the depths of the forces conspiring to change the kingdom.

Theft of Swords is a very traditional fantasy story with elves, dwarves, thieves, warriors, wizards, royalty, and nobles. At least in these first two books, it’s not a series that tries to be realistic or plausible or tones down its characters by limiting their abilities. These are characters who are among the best at what they do, perhaps even are the best there is, making the outcome of some events rather predictable. It’s also easy to figure out much of what is coming since some of the hints are not at all subtle (for instance, there was a revelation in the second book that I knew was coming ever since chapter 2 of the first book). Writing a more conventional story that utilizes common fantasy tropes like this can be a difficult thing to do since it requires creating a plot and characters engaging enough that readers don’t get bored and dwell on how they’ve read similar books before. While I do have some reservations about these books, I also think they completely succeed as one of these more conventional stories that still manages to be very entertaining.

Focusing on two thieves as the main characters keeps it very fun, and Royce and Hadrian have a great rapport with each other. They work well together, but they also have a contrast in their personalities and balance each other nicely. Royce is more pragmatic and not much of a people person, but Hadrian is more idealistic and empathetic (and my favorite character in the books). While Royce tends to be into jobs for the money, Hadrian aspires to the warrior ideal of the fair fight and doesn’t really like the fact that he is a thief. They are somewhat stereotypical fantasy characters, but they are also such a great duo to read about with their mischievous ways and snappy banter. As the books continue, more is being revealed about their pasts as well and I am finding myself really interested in learning more about them, even when I suspect I know a lot of what’s coming next.

In general, more was revealed about the world, the different political groups, and the mythology/history of the realm in the second book with the definite feeling that much more will come in the following volumes. I love this technique in a series – not knowing everything right up front and having bits and pieces gradually come together more in each book.

While there is some great humorous dialogue, my main reservation is the writing. It’s written in a very simple style, which certainly fits with this sort of story, a fun adventure book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, if the writing is going to be plain, it should also be seamless so one is concentrating on the story being told and not the writing and that wasn’t always the case. There are times, mainly in The Crown Conspiracy, that the sentences in descriptions do not flow together very well and were a bit clunky because of this. Sometimes the sentences strung together were all very short and started very similarly or even the same way:


He turned over on his back and wiped his eyes. He had not slept well. He felt stiff and groggy, and the cold morning air chilled him to the bone. He sat up, dragged a large hand down the length of his face, and looked around. [pp. 99]

There are also times where the descriptions were far too detailed for the information being conveyed. For example, there was a section describing the simple room someone lived in but it described it in much more detail than necessary to get the point across. In Avempartha, the awkward sentences and amount of detail had improved and I wasn’t stopping to take notice of these as often although something still seemed a little off and stilted sometimes. The main issue I had with the writing in Avempartha was unnatural exposition in the dialogue. Some information is necessary for readers, but the amount of details given in these sections also made me stop to think about how the characters wouldn’t be talking to each other this way about subjects they’d already both be familiar with.

There is a bit of a dearth of female characters in the book with only two who are present enough to be worth mentioning, but the ones who are there are strong women. They are somewhat constrained by the patriarchal society they live in, but they are also independent. The princess Arista is a very smart, competent woman, and she’s the one who sets events in motion to rescue her brother, Royce, and Hadrian from the plot against the crown. She is viewed with suspicion by many people due to having studied at the university and learning a little bit of magic, but she is also gradually being allowed more opportunities to exercise her power and is shown to be very intelligent. Similarly, Thrace in Avempartha is not appreciated due to being a woman in a man’s world, but she also rises above these expectations and is the one who goes out and seeks help when her village is threatened. (She does more than that as well, but to go into that would be a major spoiler!)

While the writing was a weakness, Theft of Swords works very well as an escapist story. It’s not unconventional or particularly unique as a fantasy, although it is starting to reveal a bigger story in the second book. Yet it is entertaining and it manages to keep the plot and characters engaging enough to make the fantasy tropes fun and nostalgic instead of irritating and stale. When I reached the last page, I found myself really eager to find out what happens to Hadrian and Royce next.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher. (I also picked up a signed ARC at BEA, but I read the finished copy.)

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews: