The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This is a day earlier than usual since tomorrow I will be announcing the guests for the first week of the second annual Women in SF&F Month! Due to this, this weekly feature will be on hiatus until after April is over.

Since I haven’t had enough time to get caught up on reviews before April, I wanted to briefly mention the books I have in the pile of books to review right now. They’re all very good books and include my two favorites of the year so far. While I plan to review them as I have time, the earliest I’ll be able to get reviews up is sometime after the April series is over so I don’t want to wait at least another month to mention them. In brief, here’s the books I will be writing full length reviews for later.

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear
The sequel to Range of Ghosts is every bit as good as the previous book. It’s beautifully written, and I love the characters and story. I also love how magic isn’t a bunch of hand-waving but requires actual knowledge to do correctly. This is one of my two favorite books I’ve read so far this year.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
I have talked about this one a little since I interviewed Guy Gavriel Kay recently, and this is my other favorite book I’ve read so far this year. I loved the story and characters, and there were some beautifully written passages and reflections in it.

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
I’m still processing what I think of this one. It was definitely an enjoyable book, but I’m also finding it very difficult to review.

One ARC showed up this week, and shortly before writing this a mysterious box of books arrived. It contained books from my wish list but no gift receipt or indication of where they came from. I can only assume they’re for my birthday next week, but you never know… Maybe I’ve taken to ordering books in my sleep!

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls will be released in hardcover and ebook in the US on June 4, and it will be available in the UK and South Africa in April. An excerpt from The Shining Girls can be read online.

Lauren Beukes has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award. I haven’t yet read any of her books, but I’m excited to read this since I’ve been hearing her books are quite good.

 

The Time Traveler’s Wife meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in this story of a time-traveling serial killer who is impossible to trace–until one of his victims survives.

In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

Working with an ex-homicide reporter who is falling for her, Kirby has to unravel an impossible mystery.

THE SHINING GIRLS is a masterful twist on the classic serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing girl in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince, a stand alone young adult science fiction book, was just released the beginning of this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from the beginning of the book can be read online.

 

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

A Turn of Light by Julie Czerneda

A Turn of Light (Night’s Edge #1) by Julie E. Czerneda

Julie Czerneda is best known for science fiction and this is her first fantasy novel. It was released earlier this month (massive trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). The first chapter is available online.

I have heard that Julie Czerneda’s SF is great, and I’ve also been hearing that this book is really good so I’m excited about reading it.

 

The village of Marrowdell is an isolated pioneer community, but it is also the place where two worlds overlap, and at the turn of light–sunset–the world of magic known as the Verge can briefly be seen.

Jenn Nalynn belongs to both Verge and Marrowdell, but even she doesn’t know how special she is–or that her invisible friend Wisp is actually a dragon sent to guard her… and keep her from leaving the valley. But Jenn longs to see the world, and thinking that a husband will help her reach this goal, she decides to create one using spells. Of course, everything goes awry, and suddenly her “invisible friend” has been transformed into a man. But he is not the only newcomer to Marrowdell, and far from the most dangerous of those who are suddenly finding their way to the valley…

A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley

A Vision of Light (Margaret of Ashbury Trilogy #1) by Judith Merkle Riley

Book 1 in a completed trilogy, A Vision of Light is followed by In Pursuit of the Green Lion and The Water Devil.

 

The bestselling novel that introduces Margaret of Ashbury and launches a trilogy featuring this irrepressible woman

Margaret of Ashbury wants to write her life story. However, like most women in fourteenth-century England, she is illiterate. Three clerics contemptuously decline to be Margaret’s scribe, and only the threat of starvation persuades Brother Gregory, a Carthusian friar with a mysterious past, to take on the task. As she narrates her life, we discover a woman of startling resourcefulness. Married off at the age of fourteen to a merchant reputed to be the Devil himself, Margaret was left for dead during the Black Plague. Incredibly, she survived, was apprenticed to an herbalist, and became a midwife. But most astonishing of all, Margaret has experienced a Mystic Union—a Vision of Light that endows her with the miraculous gift of healing. Because of this ability, Margaret has become suddenly different—to her tradition-bound parents, to the bishop’s court that tries her for heresy, and ultimately to the man who falls in love with her.

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Sailing to Sarantium (The Sarantine Mosaic #1) by Guy Gavriel Kay

Having LOVED Tigana and River of Stars, I must now read all the books written by Guy Gavriel Kay! I was told that this was a good one.

Sailing to Sarantium has one sequel, Lord of Emperors.

 

Crispin is a master mosaicist, creating beautiful art with colored stones and glass. Summoned to Sarantium by imperial request, he bears a Queen’s secret mission, and a talisman from an alchemist. Once in the fabled city, with its taverns and gilded sanctuaries, chariot races and palaces, intrigues and violence, Crispin must find his own source of power in order to survive-and unexpectedly discovers it high on the scaffolding of his own greatest creation.

Francis Knight’s debut novel, Fade to Black, is the first book in the Rojan Dizon trilogy. Fade to Black was released last month, and the rest of the trilogy will be available by the end of this year. The second book, Before the Fall, is scheduled for release in June, and the third book, Last to Rise, is scheduled for release in November.

Magic is not appreciated in the towering city of Mahala. It was once used to power the city until the substance synth was developed, removing the need to depend on magic practitioners, who often went mad and caused chaos. The mage king was overthrown and beheaded by the Ministry, and mages in Mahala went into hiding—-or worse, were sent to the ‘Pit when discovered.

Rojan Dizon is a licensed bounty hunter who uses his forbidden pain magic to locate people, mostly petty criminals and runaways. After a particularly difficult job capturing and returning a clever teenage alchemist to her parents, Rojan returns to the office to discover a message from his brother Perak. This is unexpected since Rojan and Perak parted on bad terms nearly 8 years ago, and the two have not been in touch since. After Rojan last saw him, Perak has made a great invention and risen to the rank of Cardinal, married, and had a daughter. Perak contacts Rojan because he needs his skills at finding people: Perak himself was shot, his wife was shot and killed, and his daughter was kidnapped by the gunmen.

Despite the rift between him and his brother, Rojan doesn’t hesitate to agree to find his missing niece—and continues this quest even after discovering the Ministry appears to be involved somehow. Rojan’s gut is telling him he’ll find his niece in the ‘Pit and his magic confirms this, leading him to devise a way to get into the lowest part of the city, find her, and return her to her father as quickly as possible.

While Fade to Black is a mildly entertaining book, the story, writing, characterization, and plot are not particularly well done or unique, and there is nothing that makes it a book that demands to be read when there are so many other books to read. It’s a fast-paced, dark-toned book told from the perspective of a narrator who is rough around the edges and trying to survive in a corrupt city. The setting is promising with the physical structure of the city, its history, and the combination of fantasy and dystopia, but it also has a lot of basic similarities to other settings in speculative fiction. (Of course, this is the first book of three, so it’s entirely possible that this was just an introduction and it will be explored in more depth later!)

The strongest element of Fade to Black is the development of the city of Mahala and its rule by the Ministry. The highest people are in the “Clouds,” looking down on those below them. In fact, everyone looks down on those below them, and the city’s structure quite literally represents the highest and the lowest. The Ministry have controlled everything since removing the king, from controlling magic to supplying synth to replace the use of magic. Once it was learned that synth killed people, they replaced it with the mysterious and less effective substance Glow. Magic does come with a price since it’s bought with pain, though it doesn’t have to be the magic user’s own suffering. Even aside from that, magic can cause mages to go insane and Rojan fears giving in and letting magic control him more than he does the pain, though he doesn’t particularly like that aspect of it, either. I enjoy seeing balances in systems so I really liked that magic use required sacrifice, but at the same time, I’ve read books with similar disadvantages to practicing magic. Likewise, the city under the thumb of the corrupt government is not a new concept, and while it was intriguing on the surface, there wasn’t enough depth to make it truly stand apart from all the other books utilizing this same type of idea.

Likewise, Rojan was a fairly typical character having commonalities with many others in books I’ve read before—the flawed type with a jaded past and tough exterior that appears to be hiding a decent person underneath in some ways. He’s had a difficult past, and his present is also difficult since he has to hide his abilities in order to survive. He acts tough, but he also seems like a product of his struggles and harsh environment since he also seems to be a bit softer than he’d like to admit. At the beginning of the book, he captures a teenage runaway and he’s not immune to sympathy with her plight when she begs him not to return her to her family. Having met her terrible parents, Rojan cannot blame her. He does tend to think about following his own rules of survival first, and he does return her to her family in the end since her father is an important person in the Ministry who could make his life quite miserable. Yet, he also realizes she’s clever enough to escape again, and before he returns her and collects his money, he shows her where she can go the next time she runs away. He also has rules that apply to not harming others, such as not using other people’s pain for his magic, and he doesn’t always follow his practical rules for remaining alive. Rojan doesn’t hesitate to help his estranged brother when there’s a chance he may be able to recover his daughter for him, despite the great risk to himself. That said, he’s not completely sympathetic since he is a womanizer who doesn’t treat the women he’s dating very well (such as, informing any of them of the existence of the others or seeming to really care about any one of them). The other characters seem rather one-note, with the more developed ones being influenced by their pasts with one or two motivating forces.

Fade to Black was a diverting, quick read, but it didn’t offer me anything numerous other books could not. The setting was intriguing, but it also wasn’t developed enough to truly shine. The gritty noir feel and rough-around-the-edges main character also seemed like elements I’d read many times before. Fade to Black was not a bad way to spend some time, but it was not a book that made me take notice or made me want to continue reading the series.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Fade to Black

Other Reviews of Fade to Black:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week, one ARC and three review copies showed up in the mail. One of these has already been mentioned in one of these posts when the ARC showed up: River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay, which will be released in hardcover and ebook on April 2. I have already read this one and thought it was excellent, and it’s my favorite book I’ve read this year so far. Last week I posted an interview with Guy Gavriel Kay about this upcoming book and his writing, and he had really interesting answers.

On to the other books!

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

This first book in a new young adult science fiction series will be released in trade paperback and ebook in the US and Canada on May 7. It will be available in B-format paperback in the UK and Australia on May 2. There is currently a Goodreads giveaway for 3 copies of Zenn Scarlett, and those from several countries are eligible to win.

I am incredibly excited about reading this book! The author contacted me awhile ago to see if I wanted an ARC when they were available, and I was immediately intrigued by the premise of a character training to be a veterinarian specializing in alien life forms on Mars. I wanted to be a veterinarian myself when I was young, and I just love this concept. And the cover is quite striking, too!

 

When you’re studying to be exoveterinarian specializing in exotic, alien life forms, school… is a different kind of animal.

Zenn Scarlett is a resourceful, determined 17-year-old girl working hard to make it through her novice year of exovet training. That means she’s learning to care for alien creatures that are mostly large, generally dangerous and profoundly fascinating. Zenn’s all-important end-of-term tests at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars are coming up, and, she’s feeling confident of acing the exams. But when a series of inexplicable animal escapes and other disturbing events hit the school, Zenn finds herself being blamed for the problems. As if this isn’t enough to deal with, her absent father has abruptly stopped communicating with her; Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, is acting unusually, annoyingly friendly; and, strangest of all: Zenn is worried she’s started sharing the thoughts of the creatures around her. Which is impossible, of course. Nonetheless, she can’t deny what she’s feeling.

Now, with the help of Liam and Hamish, an eight-foot sentient insectoid also training at the clinic, Zenn must learn what’s happened to her father, solve the mystery of who, if anyone, is sabotaging the cloister, and determine if she’s actually sensing the consciousness of her alien patients… or just losing her mind. All without failing her novice year….

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock (The Lumatere Chronicles #1) by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock, winner of the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel and the first book in a young adult fantasy trilogy, is available now. The second book, Froi of the Exiles, has also been released. Quintana of Charyn, the third book, will be released in the US on April 23, 2013. (It appears to already be out in Australia, where Melina Marchetta lives, and may be available in some other countries now, too.) An excerpt from Finnikin of the Rock can be read on the publisher’s website.

The cover quote by Kristin Cashore calling it “Dark and beautiful and utterly believable” has me very excited about reading this.

 

2008 Printz Award Winner Melina Marchetta crafts an epic fantasy of ancient magic, exile, feudal intrigue, and romance that rivets from the first page.

Finnikin was only a child during the five days of the unspeakable, when the royal family of Lumatere were brutally murdered, and an imposter seized the throne. Now a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escaped roam the surrounding lands as exiles, persecuted and despairing, dying by the thousands in fever camps. In a narrative crackling with the tension of an imminent storm, Finnikin, now on the cusp of manhood, is compelled to join forces with an arrogant and enigmatic young novice named Evanjalin, who claims that her dark dreams will lead the exiles to a surviving royal child and a way to pierce the cursed barrier and regain the land of Lumatere. But Evanjalin’s unpredictable behavior suggests that she is not what she seems — and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her, but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

Rebel Angels by Michele Lang

Rebel Angels (Lady Lazarus #3) by Michele Lang

Rebel Angels, the final book in the Lady Lazarus trilogy following Lady Lazarus and Dark Victory, was released in hardcover and ebook on March 12. An excerpt from Rebel Angels can be read on tor.com.

 

Magda Lazarus has twice come back from the dead to fight the Nazis’ devastating conquest of Poland. To prevent the Holocaust her sister has seen in terrible visions, Magda will need the Heaven Sapphire, a gem powerful enough to defeat even the demon Asmodel. With the future of all Europe in the balance, Magda and her husband, the fallen angel Raziel, begin a perilous journey to the Caucasus, the resting place of the fabled stone.

Surrounded by Germans, Russians, and mistrustful Azerbaijani tribesmen, Magda must summon all her magic to withstand the predations of the deadly supernatural foes. But more dangerous yet is the power of the Sapphire itself, which could stop Hitler…or destroy Magda.

Rebel Angels, the climactic book of Michele Lang’s Lady Lazarus trilogy, filled with suspense, magic, and action, will have readers at the edge of their seats until the exciting conclusion.

Today I’m excited to have an interview with Guy Gavriel Kay, the author of the upcoming novel River of Stars, to share with you! River of Stars will be released on April 2, and you can read the first chapter now.

Of course, Guy Gavriel Kay has written several books in addition to this forthcoming novel, including Under Heaven, a book set in the same world approximately 400 years before River of Stars. A few years ago, I read Tigana, and it became an immediate favorite with powerful scenes that stuck with me long after reading it. River of Stars is a beautifully reflective novel with compelling characters that also remained with me after reading it, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask the author a few questions. I hope you enjoy reading his answers as much as I did!

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

Fantasy Cafe: First, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions today. I recently finished reading River of Stars and enjoyed it immensely so I’m glad to have the opportunity to learn more about it directly from you. Like many of your books, River of Stars is set in a fantasy setting inspired by history, specifically China’s Song Dynasty. What was it about this particular place and time that inspired you to write a story using it as a foundation?

Guy Gavriel Kay: Happy to do it, Kristen, and a good set of questions here.

As I have often said (written, orated!) I have a fascination with the way the past works on the present. Both personal memory and personal history (as in Ysabel, say) and collective, for a nation or an empire. The Song Dynasty was obsessed with aspects of what had gone before it, some scholars ands collectors looking to discover or reclaim the past, while politicians were fiercely anxious to avoid the ‘mistakes’ made 400 years ago and more recently. The period was just about perfect for me to explore some of my own fierce interests. Add a complex, sophisticated society in flux and conflict, both internal and external, (something I always look for) and some spectacularly interesting men and women and … it was a pretty powerful lure.

FC: The Acknowledgments discuss the extensive and detailed research you did when writing River of Stars. What is the most fascinating or surprising fact you learned in the course of your research for this novel?

GGK: I love the research phase, my problem is always bringing it to an end.  There are so many things I could share (and probably bore you with!). One unexpected discovery was how hot the Song is today among historians of China. There is so much being written and debated regarding that period, because it is seen now as the beginnings of the modern world there, the shift from ‘medieval’. That meant I had a great many new books and articles to read, and a great many people to contact, with topics of controversy and discussion (which I love to find). In reading and correspondence, I was especially engaged by the shifting role of women in this period. In general it was a difficult time, scaling back the scope allowed for women in some earlier centuries. But in the midst of this one of the very most beloved and influential woman songwriter/poets ever in China emerged. I was also really engaged by the intense political clashes of the day, the revolving door of exile and recall to power (assuming exile didn’t kill you!). It isn’t so much finding parallels to today (there is a risk in forcing parallels) but the sheer ferocity of the political battles is so dramatic.

FC: Since we’ve discussed the historical side of your writing, I don’t want to leave out the fantasy side of it! On your website, there’s an essay about fantasy titled “Home and Away” in which you state:

 

What I am offering is the notion that fantasy has the potential to be one such way of addressing the issues that the past so often throws at the present day. It isn’t just an evasion, an escape, a hiding from truths of the world: it can be an acknowledgment that those truths are complex, morally difficult, and that many different sorts of techniques and processes may lead to a book’s resonating deeply for a reader and a time.

What truths of the world resonate with you? Which specific fantasy stories have showed you these complex truths and made you think about them in a new way?

GGK: Well, excellence is rare – that’s why we value it so much, if you think about it. That means I’m more inclined to cite masterpieces. From The Once and Future King, read so long ago, I learned how elements of the fantastic are entirely consistent with larger themes of peace and war and good stewardship through all times and periods. I also will never forget the complexity of some figure, such as White’s Lancelot, gentle in the extreme because he so feared the anger within himself. And White is also masterful at switching tone within a book, from whimsy to deep sorrow – just as our lives switch tone. Tolkien is a master class in harnessing myth and legend to narrative and theme. Alan Garner’s The Owl Service is brilliant on the resonance of place in our lives and through history, something that remains important in my own thought and writing. And I’ll mention E.R. Eddison whose word-drunk glory showed me, very young, that language could be so utterly central to shaping mood and a sense of strangeness, the idea that we are not here.

I also like working with the fantastic in exploring history for another reason. It is way too easy for us today to be smug and complacent about our values, our insights, how much more we know than the poor fools of yesterday. I want to give value and resonance to what people believed. So if ghosts or fox-women (or faeries in the forest, in an earlier book) were part of the worldview of my characters, I will show that in the books, to try to help modern readers better see that world view. Using fantasy is a gateway to doing that. (I’ll also work with psychological elements and interpretations – we are all children of our own time, too.)

FC: Do you think that epic fantasy works differently than, say, science fiction (which has long had an explicit goal of putting a warped mirror to the real world) or fantastic fairy tales (which are repositories of parable) when it comes to casting the past and present in a new light?  Does adding epic-ness to fantasy change how that works?

GGK: A tricky question, partly because your science fiction comment applies (I suspect you’d agree) only to a subset of science fiction. The ‘bundling’ of science fiction and fantasy is always problematic, a function, as much as anything, of American publishing history. I have a long habit of resisting obsessive categorization, so if we steer towards subdividing fantasy into epic, sword & sorcery, paranormal, urban, gritty … I’m going to need a drink or two and have to watch my inner curmudgeon. As a glancing answer I’ll say that ‘epic’ tends to imply (or demand) a focus on scale and narrative, and this often puts a negative pressure on character, language, and theme. This isn’t a rule, but it is a tendency. It dovetails with, say, the famous Hollywood injunction to ‘cut to story’. Cutting to the story kills nuance.

FC: The characters in River of Stars are inspired by people with great achievements, such as the female poet Li Qingzhao and General Yue Fei as the basis for Lin Shan and Ren Daiyan, respectively. How do you balance inclusion of historic achievements and qualities with making them unique characters?

GGK: That’s a great question. It happens to make me feel good, too, as I just received a letter last week from a scholar in Chinese history who said really lovely things about ‘owning’ the material and finding a way to make the characters ‘them and not-them’, referring to those inspired by real people. But remember – only some of them, as with all my books, are inspired by the actual. Novelists invent, too.

Let me begin by saying that my expectation, always, is that the vast majority of readers will not know the templates and inspirations for such characters and that’s as it should be. No one should need to do homework to read a novel! At the same time, I take a lot of pride in trying to work carefully with the core material for my own satisfaction. My creative process seems to flow best when I do that, rather than allowing myself some sort of ‘it’s just a fantasy, do what you like’ out clause. The real figures of history often trigger my thinking and imagination, but the novels take place in Kitai, not China. There are many reasons why I do that (I have written speeches and essays on the topic.). This means that character interactions and plot elements can happen in my novel that could not (did not!) in history. I can offer those who know the period some grace notes, while giving those who don’t know a thing about the time what I hope will meet my permanent goal: interesting things happening to interesting people, written in an interesting way.

FC: You seem to have a great deal of respect for the people you are building from in your stories. Have you ever put a historical tidbit in just to honor the real person or removed an aspect of their life out of respect, even if the character might have worked better another way?

GGK: That one stopped me cold! I have certainly made some significant changes in the lives of characters inspired by real ones, in that their fates are not identical. But these are always in the service of the story being told. These changes can be for very different reasons, book to book. A Song for Arbonne reverses the result of the Albigensian Crusade, my hope being that readers might think a bit about how the potential for women in western history might have been different if that had happened. The Sarantine Mosaic involves the death of someone that precludes an invasion that really occurred, again shifting what we understand of western history. There are a couple of small grace notes in River of Stars that honor one or two magnificent figures (secondary ones) but I can absolutely say that this wouldn’t ever happen if the character or story would have been better without that! I will add that I have often wanted to avoid the death of characters (going all the way back to Fionavar) but the imperatives of the story were too damned strong.

FC: The power of words was an important theme in River of Stars, which seems like a logical value for an author to get behind. Are there words or writings that you go back to at different times in your life and find power in?

GGK: Endlessly. I am a believer in re-reading. I think, especially with fiction, we often push hard to find out what happens, and subtleties in language or character emerge far more a second (or third!) time around. With poetry it is so much about language that re-reading is simply a reaffirmation of love and pleasure. And one of the things that fascinates me is how changes in us, in our own lives and understanding of the world over time, make for changes in our response to works we’ve read before. Reading, as I often say, is a dialogue, not a monologue, readers brings themselves to the book, and what we are as people is not constant. A favourite quote from someone I know is that every time he read Shakespeare, Shakespeare seemed to know everything that had happened in his life since the last reading!

FC: In River of Stars, there’s reference to a single defining moment, one where if things had just been a little different or fallen into place a little differently, a person’s path would have gone down a different road and changed everything. Did you have one of these moments when it came to becoming an author or writing one of your books?

GGK: I do believe that ‘accident’ can play a role in our lives, on a macro or a micro scale. Certainly the early circumstance of my involvement with The Silmarillion played such a role in mine, in complex ways that would take way too long for an answer here. On a smaller scale, the fact that I went with my family back to Provence in 2004-5 led directly to Ysabel. I had a trunk full of research books, intending to read and then begin writing a book inspired by the Silk Road. But returning to the south of France after many years I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, history of that part of the world, and ideas and images began pressing hard. I resisted for a bit, but most writers are likely to tell you that’s fruitless and foolish (both). And then, because of that shift to writing Ysabel, came Under Heaven, because even though I knew I would go back to a China-inspired book after, in the period that intervened, I moved away from the Silk Road idea (I think it would have been too close to Sailing to Sarantium) and ended up obsessed with the Tang Dynasty. So two novels, out of an accident of geography. What if I had gone to Melbourne, instead?

FC: If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be and why?

GGK: Cute story: my youngest brother carried, for years, through high school and university, a card in his wallet that said: ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’

My caveat to this answer is that reading something for the first time in my fifties would be an utterly different experience from reading it first at twelve or twenty. So I’m actually not sure what to say. I think I’ll go with Shakespeare’s tragedies, and add Twelfth Night, because I love it so much. There is something almost overwhelming, trying to imagine the impact of those plays today, if I knew absolutely nothing about them. Of course I could also pick Goodnight Moon …

About Guy Gavriel Kay:

GUY GAVRIEL KAY is the #1 internationally bestselling author of eleven previous novels and an acclaimed collection of poetry, Beyond This Dark House.

Kay was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and raised in Winnipeg. In the 1970’s he was retained by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien to assist in the editorial construction of Tolkien’s posthumously published The Silmarillion. He returned to Canada from Oxford to take a law degree at the University of Toronto and was called to the Bar in Ontario.

Kay became Principal Writer and Associate Producer for the CBC radio series, “The Scales of Justice“, dramatizing major criminal trials in Canadian history. He also wrote several episodes when the series later moved to television. He has written social and political commentary for the National Post and the Globe and Mail and for The Guardian in England, and has spoken on a variety of topics at universities and conferences around the world.

In 1984, Kay’s first novel, The Summer Tree, the first volume of The Fionavar Tapestry, was published to considerable acclaim in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, and then in a number of countries and languages. In 1990 Viking Canada’s edition of his novel Tigana reached the national bestseller list, and his next book A Song for Arbonne debuted at #1 in Canada.

Translations now exceed twenty languages and Kay has toured and read on behalf of his publishers and at literary events in Canada, the United States, England, Poland, France, Russia, Croatia, Serbia, Mexico and Greece, among others, with his next international appearance being slated for June 2010 in Shanghai and Beijing. He has been nominated for and has won numerous literary awards including the World Fantasy Award and is the recipient of the International Goliardos Prize (presented in Mexico City) for his contributions to the literature of the fantastic. Guy Gavriel Kay’s work has inspired artists and writers around the world to create original music, verse, and art.

Kay lives in Toronto with his wife and sons.

Please visit: www.guygavrielkay.ca and www.brightweavings.com for additional information or follow Guy Gavriel Kay on twitter @GuyGavrielKay

GGK Photo

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week, I purchased one book I’ve been wanting to read for awhile and four review copies showed up. Two of these are books I already mentioned in one of these posts when the ARC showed up, so I’ll just link to those posts in you want to know more about them:

Shattered Pillars was one of my most anticipated releases of 2013 since I LOVED Range of Ghosts, and I’m reading that one now.

On to the other books!

Quintessence by David Walton

Quintessence by David Walton

Quintessence is David Walton’s second novel; his first, Terminal Mind, won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2008. Walton is working on a sequel to Quintessence.

Quintessence will be released in hardcover and ebook on March 19. The first three chapters can be read on the author’s website.

 

Imagine an Age of Exploration full of alchemy, human dissection, sea monsters, betrayal, torture, religious controversy, and magic. In Europe, the magic is thin, but at the edge of the world, where the stars reach down close to the Earth, wonders abound. This drives the bravest explorers to the alluring Western Ocean. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares only about one thing: quintessence, a substance he believes will grant magical powers and immortality. And he has a ship.

Warchild by Karin Lowachee

Warchild by Karin Lowachee

Confession: This is the second copy of this book I have purchased. When I first got my iPad, I read a sample online and purchased the ebook since new print copies are hard to find and/or expensive. I really enjoyed what I read from it but never finished it despite that because I discovered I hate reading on the iPad. With the second annual Women in SF&F Month coming up, I was thinking about this book again (Shara from Calico Reaction said it was her favorite science fiction novel last year and Janice from Janicu’s Book Blog also mentioned it as one of her favorite science fiction books last year). I decided I need to actually read all the way through because it seemed REALLY good so I found a used print copy and ordered it.

There are two other books set in the Warchild universe, Burndive and Cagebird. They are mosaic novels instead of a trilogy following the same character. Here’s what Lowachee says about how the three novels fit together on the Warchild Universe page on her website:

 

I began to envision a mosaic of novels, each told from single points of view, interpreting the effects of war and an arduous peace process. The protagonists would be full of flaws, their personalities would perhaps challenge the reader; they would be as real as I could make them (writing in depth from a single point of view is what I call ‘method writing’), each with a unique way of looking at their world, each with the ability to become better people (sometimes despite themselves.) Many different themes manifested through the telling, providing a mostly unconscious cohesion to it all. I don’t regard these books as a chronological trilogy, but as a mosaic series: each piece is as individual as the characters who narrate their stories, and put together they form a bigger picture. It begins with Jos, continues with privileged Ryan, and has temporarily concluded with the voice of the ‘enemy,’ Yuri. I never intended Yuri’s to be the final piece in this mosaic, but we’ll see what the future brings.

There’s more on the series on the page linked to above, and it sounds incredibly interesting.

 

When Jos’ parents are killed in an attack on their trading ship, the boy is kidnapped by the attackers and then escapes – only to fall into the alien hands of humanity’s greatest enemies. He is soon coerced into becoming a spy against the human race.

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire #3) by George R. R. Martin

This one probably needs no introduction… A Storm of Swords is the third book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (and the best one, in my opinion).

This particular mass market paperback is the official tie-in to the HBO series Game of Thrones. Season 3, which will include events from this book, begins on March 31st in the US. This edition of the book will be available on March 26th.

 

Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. And as opposing forces maneuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords…

Midnight Blue-Light Special
by Seanan McGuire
328pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.7/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.13/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.38/5
 

Midnight Blue-Light Special is the second book in the InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire, following Discount Armageddon. The first two books in this urban fantasy series are set in New York City and follow the adventures of Verity Price, a young woman torn between her family calling of cryptozoology and her lifelong love of dancing. The next two InCryptid books will be about her brother Alex.

While Midnight Blue-Light Special could be read as a stand alone, it is a direct sequel to the first book and there may be spoilers for Discount Armageddon in this review. If you are new to this series, I’d recommend reading my review of Discount Armageddon instead of this one. It’s a better introduction to the series in general, and I also explain why I want to be Verity Price when I grow up (setting aside the fact that she’s technically younger than I am).

 

Cryptid, noun:

1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.

2. That thing that’s getting ready to eat your head.

3. See also: “monster.”

Long ago, Verity Price’s ancestors defected from the Covenant of St. George, an organization dedicated to eliminating cryptids from the world. They began to question whether or not there were cryptids worthy of preservation, and now they remove the destructive ones and protect those that aren’t particularly harmful (such as the enthusiastic, talkative, devoutly religious creatures known as the Aeslin mice). Since then, the Price family has lived in the United States in secret—that is, until the day Verity was captured by Dominic de Luca, a member of the Covenant of St. George. After an understandably rocky beginning, the two end up working together, and they’re kinda-sorta-dating by the beginning of Midnight Blue-Light Special, even if Verity is a bit unsure about just how far she can trust a member of the Covenant.

When Verity is working her shift one day, Dominic interrupts her at work, insisting he needs to speak with her immediately. He informs her that some members of the Covenant will be visiting New York City to check on him and begin purging the city of cryptids, and he warns Verity to leave the city before their imminent arrival. However, it’s impossible for Verity to remove all the cryptids in the city, and she refuses to flee when she may be able to help some of them. Even though she feels betrayed, she agrees to allow Dominic to assist her, but both Verity and Dominic have a choice to make. Neither can serve two masters forever—Dominic must choose to either continue to hold to his lifelong beliefs or embrace a new perspective (and Verity), and Verity’s year in New York City is nearing its end, meaning she must choose between her dedication to cryptozoology and her lifelong dream of professional dancing.

Like the first book in the series, Midnight Blue-Light Special is full of humor and Price family quips, but it is darker than its predecessor (though it hasn’t reached the same dark depths as McGuire’s other urban fantasy series, October Daye, so far). Some difficult decisions need to be made, there’s danger in spades, and some heartbreak. While I generally prefer darker books in which the characters are faced with tough choices, I think I had more fun with the first book since it introduced me to the world of the cryptids and the amazing Price family. I felt a bit like this second book didn’t provide any deeper exploration of the world and premise introduced in the first book. Despite feeling like the second installment didn’t expand on the first book as much as I’d like, I did enjoy it very much.

The one aspect that did seem further developed in this book was the characters. This was a book of choices for Verity, Sarah, and Dominic. For the most part, the choices they made weren’t particularly surprising to me, but I did enjoy getting to read more about Verity’s cousin Sarah, who has a point of view in this book (though I did find the parts containing her from Verity’s perspective more compelling and illuminating than her own viewpoint). I particularly love just how different Verity and Sarah are, and the type of “kickass” character Verity is. She is one of those characters who never leaves home without weapons hidden all over her person and has no qualms about jumping into a fight. Yet she is not all brawn without brains but a combination of both with a side of compassion. She’s a cryptozoologist who enjoys learning about the world and helping those around her. Also, while Verity will get involved in the action, she considers her situation first. When she’s in a tough spot, she doesn’t just fight her way out–she thinks of her best chances for success and she can exercise caution when necessary.

Sarah is a very different character from Verity and it not at all the type to want to be in the middle of the action. She has different strengths with her telepathic abilities and intelligence, and is capable of doing what she feels needs to be done. While she’s really not the main protagonist, in many ways this is Sarah’s book in the end. It’s about her, the strength she finds within, and the difficult choice she makes.

While I loved how Verity and Sarah were depicted as two very different personalities with different strengths, the romance didn’t entirely work for me since I don’t quite understand Verity’s attraction to Dominic. Apparently, he’s handsome and the two obviously have a bit in common since he could compete closely with Verity in a “Who Can Hide the Most Weapons on Their Person” contest. I can admire the fact that he can question his ingrained beliefs about cryptids enough to want to warn Verity to get out of New York City when others from his organization are coming, but it didn’t seem like his character was developed all that much more in the second book than the first. These thoughts may be based on unfair comparisons since Tybalt from McGuire’s October Daye series oozes with charisma and only gets better as a character as the series progresses. I think I found it easier not to compare the two with the first book because I was interested to see where Dominic’s character ended up, but I didn’t learn much more about him in this book than the first, nor was I given any hints to wonder about him. This is perfectly reasonable given the structure of the InCryptid books. After all, the series isn’t all about Dominic and Verity; it would be a bit frustrating to have burning questions only to have the next books focus on a different character!

Despite some misgivings about the romance, I did really enjoy how Verity and Dominic’s relationship was not weighed down by unnecessary drama. Since Dominic is part of an organization that is an enemy of Verity’s family, there’s plenty of opportunity for this, especially when he comes to her at the beginning of the book to warn her about the upcoming visit by other Covenant members. Verity’s first reaction is to tell him to get out since she feels betrayed. She’s upset by this for a little while, but once it’s pointed out to her that Dominic seemed to be concerned about her and might be willing to work with her to minimize the damage to the cryptid population, she actually listens to this advice. Verity decides this is the reasonable thing to do. This could have quite easily turned into a Big Angsty Book where she refused to talk to Dominic to increase the tension, but it did not. I rather liked that there wasn’t a lot of drama between them because of this, and the focus was on Dominic’s choice between the Covenant and Verity rather than a spat between Dominic and Verity over their arrival, which he had no control over.

Like its predecessor, Midnight Blue-Light Special is humorous and highly entertaining without a dull moment. While I wanted to see the premise of the first book built on a little more in the second book, I thought it did a great job with a kickass main protagonist who had strengths beyond her fighting ability as well as a quieter character with inner strength. I also enjoyed that it got a bit darker and the stakes were higher for the characters, and I’m certainly looking forward to reading more in this series.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the author.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Midnight Blue-Light Special: