Today I am delighted to have an interview with M. L. Brennan, author of the wonderful Generation V series! I realized I had come across something special when I read Generation V, which is an excellent first book, and I’ve only come to love the series more with each book I’ve read. It’s entertaining—and often hilarious!—with excellent characters and an interesting twist on vampires. Dark Ascension, the fourth book in the series, was one of my most anticipated books of 2015 after I found out it was coming out this year, and I started reading it soon after its release last week (and, like the previous books, I am enjoying it immensely!).

Generation V by M. L. Brennan Dark Ascension by M. L. Brennan

Fantasy Cafe: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions! The first three Generation V books are some of my favorite urban fantasy books, and I’m very excited about Dark Ascension—and, of course, also that you are here today! First, I was wondering about your earlier experiences with discovering fantasy and science fiction. You credit War for the Oaks by Emma Bull as the book that led to your love of genre fiction even though it wasn’t your introduction to it. Why did this particular book resonate with you so strongly? Did you immediately want to start writing genre stories or did that come later?

M. L. Brennan: Thanks so much for having me! I enjoyed genre fiction for many years, but I do credit Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks as being the book that first got me very excited about urban fantasy as a particular sub-genre. I think what made the book stand out so much was that Bull’s protagonist isn’t a detective, or a private investigator, or in any way initially connected to the mystical world – which, up until then, was pretty much the only mold that I’d seen urban fantasy cast in. Bull’s protagonist, Eddi, is a small-time musician in local bands – and getting unwillingly hauled into a conflict between warring faerie courts isn’t going to distract her from her life, her desire to make a band hit it big, and her pre-existing friendships. There’s such a great focus on character and scenery in this book. I stumbled across War for the Oaks about fifteen years after it was initially published, but I found it just electrifying – just as electrifying as it was to urban fantasy as a whole, because there are a lot of big series that owe a tip of their hats to Emma Bull.

At the time that I read War for the Oaks, I was an undergraduate in college. At the time I was writing fairly seriously, and had already had some of my short stories published in well-respected magazines, but I was working in literary fiction. I continued working in that field through grad school, and actually wrote one literary fiction novel after I’d received my MFA – a novel that, rather thankfully, was never published. But as a writer you’re always accumulating ideas and storylines, so after I’d come to the unfortunate end of my two-year push to get my existing novel published (and realized that it wasn’t going to happen), I decided to write something that would be fun and a palate-cleanser – and that book was Generation V, the first in my series, and War for the Oaks definitely cast a long shadow while I was writing.

FC: One particular feature of your series that I (and many other readers!) enjoy is your unique twist on vampires. What do you find appealing about vampire myths and what are some of your own favorite stories about them? Were there any vampire tropes in fiction that you especially wanted to skewer when you began writing the series?

MLB: Something that I enjoy so much about the vampire as a character type is how flexible, yet at the same time permanent, they are in the public consciousness. If you read up on classic vampire myths you see an amazing progression in how we regard them and what we believe – but they have a resilience in books and films. There’s the Stoker presentation of Dracula (significantly less sexy in the book than in any film, by the way), then the film presentations of Stoker’s Dracula, then Anne Rice’s vampires in book and film, then the behemoth of Meyer’s Twilight vampires. Then there are, easily, a dozen high-profile writers in urban fantasy alone who have vampires of some type. Many are very different, yet we all seem to agree on almost all of the basics (undead creatures, changed by another vampire, fangs, blood-drinking, attraction to teenage girls).

When you look into older vampire myths, so much of what we take as common ground is actually part of our modern creation. Something as basic as how a vampire is created, for example – in a lot of older stories, vampires are the result of a sin on the part of a child’s parents. Sometimes it’s not even a sin – one of my favorite old vampire stories is that a vampire is created when a woman does not ingest salt during her pregnancy. (talk about something that What To Expect When You’re Expecting failed to mention!) Or even what a vampire is will come up. My absolute favorite old vampire belief involves gourds – don’t leave your picked gourds outside overnight, or they will become vampires. (Twilight would probably play a little differently if it was about sparkly gourds)

In terms of tropes – I was a bit tired of the whole vampire presentation. Sexy, brooding, ageless, hanging around for centuries doing not much of anything until the day comes that they fall in love with an attractive and moody teenage girl. To me, there didn’t seem to be much particularly interesting about it, and worse, it just didn’t make any sense to me. A non-aging creature of the night that can reproduce itself with just a few drops of blood? That’s what we call a population crisis just waiting to happen! They’d be worse than rabbits in Australia! Plus, if a creature is never going to die a natural death, then most of life’s basic impetus is taken off of them. There’s no urgency, no worry – just wait around another forty or four-hundred years!

So putting my own twists on vampires really grew out of my own desire for them to not only make sense, but to make them more interesting to me as a writer. That led to the creation of a life-cycle, a parasitic-appropriate reproductive system, and also my own particular nod to the logical outcome of a vampire bride.

FC: When doing research for Tainted Blood, you found Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures by zoologist Bill Schutt a great resource and wrote that “Many scenes owe their existence to Schutt’s excellent book” in the acknowledgments. What are some of the most surprising or interesting pieces of information you learned about sanguivores from this, and what scenes resulted (if you can say without spoilers)?

MLB: I do owe a great deal to Bill Schutt’s excellent and riveting book, which also has a particularly sly sense of humor that made for great reading. Some things were just wonderful little pieces of practicality – for example, Schutt was in charge of tending to the vampire bats at the Cornell bat lab, and that involved feeding them. Simple, we think – not so. The lab was supplied with blood from a local stockyard, which Schutt and another grad student would go down and get. But it turns out that you can’t just stick blood in a freezer – the clotting factors will turn it into a messy lump that will just thaw into a solid, not a liquid. The solution is that the clotting factors have to be manually removed – and that is done by agitating the blood with little hand colanders, then scooping out the clots as they appear. (hospitals get around this by adding trisodium citrate, btw) This turned into one of my favorite scenes of Tainted Blood, where Fort’s sister Prudence walks him through the process of creating defibrinated blood in her kitchen.

There was another particular tidbit that I learned from Schutt’s first-hand experience with vampire bats that became a scene in Dark Ascension. I won’t give away too much, because I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say that being an obligate sanguivore is just about the most inefficient feeding system on the planet – lots of liquid intake with low nutritional value. There’s only so much that the stomach can fit at a time, and most of that is just useless water. I won’t say any more, but bats have developed a certain bodily tactic to address this that rather adds insult to injury.

FC: One aspect of your series that I love is how each book reveals a little more about the world and myths surrounding it, and I think you achieve just the right balance between too much and too little information: there’s enough to be satisfying but there are still some tantalizing mysteries to look forward to learning more about in future volumes. What is your process for achieving this balance?

MLB: I tried my best to never overload any particular book, but at the same time I didn’t really want too many things to suddenly just crop up. One of the ways that I approached this was in terms of creatures. The elves, for example, are key players in Iron Night, particularly their use of modern technology to address their population crisis. I knew I was going to be working with them, so I included a scene in Generation V that introduced them in broad terms – that way, when they came up in a bigger way in the next book, there was an element of recognition rather than them being something completely new that I had to introduce from the ground up. For the most part I’ve also tried to do that with the other elements that are important to the story – whenever Fort is going to have a particular issue with his family, or if something is going to be an important plot point in a later book, I try my best to lay it in as a tertiary scene in the present book. That’s worked pretty well when I knew for sure where I was going – other times, when I came up with a great idea while I was elbow-deep in the book I wanted it to go into, it hasn’t quite happened as smoothly!

FC: How many books do you plan to write in this series? Have you considered writing any prequels about any other members of Fort’s family?

MLB: There are six books planned in the series. Dark Ascension is probably the book that I was the most excited to write, since it’s really setting the stage for the major thematic conflicts in the last two books, and in a lot of ways it’s the book where the safety net suddenly gets pulled out from under Fort.

I’d enjoy writing a short story here or there about Fort’s family – they’ve got a lot of history and backstory that right now is existing primarily in my notes – but I’m not sure there’d be much interest in a full novel. What I do get near-weekly emails and questions about is when I’m going to write a book that puts the kitsune center-stage! That’s actually something that would be much more likely to happen.

FC: I love reading your book recommendations on your blog and want more! But, let’s get more specific. What books or series would you recommend people read if they loved these particular aspects of your own books…

  1. The narrative voice and sense of humor?
    A:
    Definitely Lish McBride’s Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Lish and I have joked that Fort and Sam would be best friends.
  2. The different spin on vampire mythology?
    A:
    Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kinkaid series has a very fun spin on the whole concept of creatures like vampires or succubi. It’s a very fun series with an excellent payoff in the last book.
  3. The inclusion of some mythological beings not commonly occurring in fantasy fiction (such as kitsune and metsän kunigas)?
    A:
    War for the Oaks includes a phouka, which I’d never seen featured in that form before, and it’s hilarious.
  4. Character interactions that keep one glued to the pages?
    A:
    Patrick Weekes’s The Palace Job.
  5. A mysterious history/background that is fun to discover as the book/series progresses?
    A:
    Stephen Blackmoore’s Eric Carter series has an amazing series of mysteries and reveals – I’m eagerly awaiting the third in that series!
  6. Endearing characters (like Fort and Suzume)?
    A:
    Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
  7. Characters that are interesting because you find yourself liking them one moment and disliking them the next (like Chivalry and Prudence—or, at least, that’s how I feel about them!)?
    A: Max Gladstone’s Craft series. Lots of twists and turns, and I think that Two Serpents Rise was his strongest character book.

Book Description from Penguin Random House (CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR FOOL’S ASSASSIN):

Ranking alongside George R. R. Martin as a groundbreaking master of fantasy, New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb delivers the second book in her long-awaited Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

The harrowing adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer and his enigmatic friend the Fool continue in Robin Hobb’s triumphant follow-up to Fool’s Assassin. But Fool’s Quest is more than just a sequel. With the artistry and imagination her fans have come to expect, Hobb builds masterfully on all that has gone before, revealing devastating secrets and shocking conspiracies that cast a dark shadow over the history of Fitz and his world—a shadow that now stretches to darken all future hope.

Long ago, Fitz and the Fool changed the world, bringing back the magic of dragons and securing both the Farseer succession and the stability of the kingdom. Or so they thought. But now the Fool is near death, maimed by mysterious pale-skinned figures whose plans for world domination hinge upon the powers the Fool may share with Fitz’s own daughter.

Distracted by the Fool’s perilous health, and swept up against his will in the intrigues of the royal court, Fitz lets down his guard . . . and in a horrible instant, his world is undone and his beloved daughter stolen away by those who would use her as they had once sought to use the Fool—as a weapon.

But FitzChivalry Farseer is not without weapons of his own. An ancient magic still lives in his veins. And though he may have let his skills as royal assassin diminish over the years, such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten.

Now enemies and friends alike are about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose.

Fool’s Quest, the second book in Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool trilogy, is out in the US today! As mentioned in my recent review of the previous book, Fool’s Assassin, this trilogy is related to other series about the same characters and is not the place to begin reading, as wonderful as it is. Fortunately, the series leading up to this one are also excellent as well, and having read them is part of what made this book absolutely fantastic—as a long-time fan of these books and characters, there are parts that are immensely satisfying. Because I do not want to spoil any of these incredible moments for anyone, this review may be rather vague but suffice to say that it’s been awhile since I read a book I loved so very much. (I realize that I just said that about about a book a couple of months ago, but I actually enjoyed Fool’s Quest even more than Uprooted!)

While Fool’s Assassin was delightful, it was a slower book until toward the end. Fool’s Quest continues after these exciting developments and starts to pull in more of the epic while remaining character-centric. Less time is spent focused on everyday life, and Fitz spends more time with the other characters than in the first book, some of whom share the spotlight as well. Robin Hobb is superb at writing characters and poignant moments between them, and while some of the best parts of the book involve Fitz spending time with characters we’ve come to know in previous books, she also introduces some wonderful new characters in this installment. Even the animals often steal the stage, and I was particularly impressed with the crow Motley. While many animals convey more complex thoughts through the Wit, Motley does not, yet she still has her own mannerisms and quirks that make her memorable even without this. Like many of the characters in these books, she faces difficulty because she is different—the other crows will not accept her since she has some white feathers—but even aside from being immediately sympathetic due to this, she’s incredibly drawn due to the intelligence and personality shown in her scenes.

I also appreciated that Shun, a new character introduced in the previous book in this trilogy, was given more depth. Shun was spoiled and demanding and did not seem to have a single redeeming quality in the first novel. In this book, she’s still far from perfect, but I found myself admiring her bravery and even liking her at times. This reminded me a little of Malta in Liveship Traders, who was irritating in the beginning though she grew by the end of the trilogy, but it didn’t seem like the same situation. Perhaps Shun will also transform as a character, but I rather suspect the difficulties she faced just allowed us to see a different side of her since she still had some of the same qualities.

The writing is a rarity—dense without seeming so. There are often lengthy paragraphs and each chapter begins with a piece of writing that is often verbose yet it’s so immersive that I didn’t notice this while reading. While it’s a huge book, it never felt overlong, nor were there parts I wished to rush through to get to better parts since all of it was worth reading. At first, it did bother me that it seemed like the characters were interrupted every time they began to discuss their situation enough to begin piecing it together. While the timing was perhaps too convenient and even seemed to be taunting me at times, I ended up being glad that this was delayed. If it hadn’t been, it may have propelled some events forward quickly enough that some of the unforgettable, gratifying scenes in this book could not have taken place.

By the end, more of the wider world is involved and it’s moving toward becoming a more epic story (and I also now wonder if it would be helpful to read the four books in the Rain Wilds Chronicles before this trilogy, but I didn’t feel lost even without having read them). Like the last book, this one does end on a horrible cliffhanger and the wait for the next book is excruciating.

Fool’s Quest is not only even more excellent than the first book in the trilogy but is also the most satisfying novel about FitzChivalry Farseer of all. Though the world is an amazing place to explore, the deft characterization and smooth writing truly bring this book to life, especially the poignant scenes between some of the characters I’ve long enjoyed reading about. Robin Hobb is a phenomenal writer who has written many of the best fantasy books I’ve had the pleasure of reading—and while I’m not sure I could select a single favorite from her many beloved novels, Fool’s Quest is the one I’d pick if I must.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC/finished copy from the publisher. (I mostly read the ARC but I read later parts of the book in the hardcover version).

Read the First 50 Pages

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 (often unsolicited). 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.

Last week brought a few books, including one I had to have as soon as it was released! I have some time off coming up soon so I’m planning for it to be my vacation read.

There will be an interview with M. L. Brennan, author of the book I’ve been looking forward to that I just mentioned above, on Thursday! I’m planning to post my review of Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb on Tuesday (it’s a fantastic, wonderfully satisfying book!).

On to the books of the week!

Dark Ascension by M. L. Brennan

Dark Ascension (Generation V #4) by M. L. Brennan

The fourth Generation V book came out last week, and I ordered it over the weekend so I could get it as soon as it came out! I’m enjoying these books a lot—it’s one of my favorite urban fantasy series at the moment—and I am so excited about this particular book after seeing what M. L. Brennan had to say about it on Goodreads.

All books in the series are available in mass market paperback and ebook. An excerpt from Dark Ascension is also on the publisher’s website (click “Read an Excerpt” under the cover image).

The previous books in the series are as follows:

  1. Generation V (My Review)
  2. Iron Night (My Review)
  3. Tainted Blood (My Review)
 

After a lifetime of avoiding his family, Fort has discovered that working for them isn’t half bad—even if his mother, Madeline, is a terrifying, murderous vampire. His newfound career has given him a purpose and a paycheck and has even helped him get his partner, foxy kitsune Suzume, to agree to be his girlfriend. All in all, things are looking up.

Only, just as Fort is getting comfortable managing a supernatural empire that stretches from New Jersey to Ontario, Madeline’s health starts failing, throwing Fort into the middle of an uncomfortable and dangerous battle for succession. His older sister, Prudence, is determined to take over the territory. But Fort isn’t the only one wary of her sociopathic tendencies, and allies, old and new, are turning to him to keep Prudence from gaining power.

Now, as Fort fights against his impending transition into vampire adulthood, he must also battle to keep Prudence from destroying their mother’s kingdom—before she takes him down with it….

Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein

Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein

Weighing Shadows will be released on November 3 (trade paperback). Lisa Goldstein’s novel Red Magician won the National Book Award, and her novel The Uncertain Places won the Mythopoeic Award. Her work has also been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.

 

Ann Decker fixes computers for a living, and in the evenings she passes the time sharpening her hacking skills. It’s not a very interesting life, but she gets by—until one day she’s contacted with a job offer for a company called Transformations Incorporated. None of her coworkers have ever heard of it before, and when Ann is finally told what the company does, she can hardly believe it: TI has invented technology to travel in time.

Soon Ann is visiting a matriarchy in ancient Crete, and then a woman mathematician at the Library of Alexandria. But Transformations Incorporated remains shrouded in mystery, and when Ann finally catches her breath, there are too many troubling questions still unanswered. Who are Transformations Incorporated, and what will they use this technology to gain? What ill effects might going back in time have on the present day? Is it really as harmless as TI says?

When a coworker turns up dead, Ann’s superiors warn her about a covert group called Core out to sabotage the company. Something just isn’t right, but before she has time to investigate, Ann is sent to a castle in the south of France, nearly a thousand years in the past. As the armies of the Crusade arrive to lay siege, and intrigue grows among the viscount’s family, Ann will discover the startling truth—not just about the company that sent her there, but also about her own past.

Zero World by Jason M. Hough

Zero World by Jason M. Hough

The latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Jason M. Hough will be released on August 18 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from Zero World is available on the author’s website.

 

Published in rapid succession, Jason M. Hough’s first three novels, The Darwin Elevator, The Exodus Towers, and The Plague Forge, earned mountains of praise and comparisons to such authors as James S. A. Corey and John Scalzi. Now Hough returns with a riveting near-future spy thriller that combines the adrenaline of a high-octane James Bond adventure with mind-blowing sci-fi speculations worthy of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Technologically enhanced superspy Peter Caswell has been dispatched on a top-secret assignment unlike any he’s ever faced. A spaceship that vanished years ago has been found, along with the bodies of its murdered crew—save one. Peter’s mission is to find the missing crew member, who fled through what appears to be a tear in the fabric of space. Beyond this mysterious doorway lies an even more confounding reality: a world that seems to be Earth’s twin.

Peter discovers that this mirrored world is indeed different from his home, and far more dangerous. Cut off from all support, and with only days to complete his operation, Peter must track his quarry alone on an alien world. But he’s unprepared for what awaits on the planet’s surface, where his skills will be put to the ultimate test—and everything he knows about the universe will be challenged in ways he never could have imagined.

Reawakened by Colleen Houck

Reawakened (The Reawakened #1) by Colleen Houck

This first book in a new series by New York Times bestselling author Colleen Houck will be available on August 11 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from Reawakened can be read on the author’s website (click “Read the Teaser” beneath the cover image).

 

When seventeen-year-old Lilliana Young enters the Metropolitan Museum of Art one morning during spring break, the last thing she expects to find is a live Egyptian prince with godlike powers, who has been reawakened after a thousand years of mummification.

And she really can’t imagine being chosen to aid him in an epic quest that will lead them across the globe to find his brothers and complete a grand ceremony that will save mankind.

But fate has taken hold of Lily, and she, along with her sun prince, Amon, must travel to the Valley of the Kings, raise his brothers, and stop an evil, shape-shifting god named Seth from taking over the world.

From New York Times bestselling author Colleen Houck comes an epic adventure about two star-crossed teens who must battle mythical forces and ancient curses on a journey with more twists and turns than the Nile itself.

Press Start to Play edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

Press Start to Play edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

This anthology about video games will be released on August 18 (trade paperback, ebook). It contains stories by Seanan McGuire (hers is an InCryptid story!), Yoon Ha Lee, Cory Doctorow, Ken Liu, Catherynne M. Valente, Holly Black, Rhianna Pratchett, Charlie Jane Anders, Charles Yu, Django Wexler, and more!

 

IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE! TAKE THIS.

You are standing in a room filled with books, faced with a difficult decision. Suddenly, one with a distinctive cover catches your eye. It is a groundbreaking anthology of short stories from award-winning writers and game-industry titans who have embarked on a quest to explore what happens when video games and science fiction collide.

From text-based adventures to first-person shooters, dungeon crawlers to horror games, these twenty-six stories play with our notion of what video games can be—and what they can become—in smart and singular ways. With a foreword from Ernest Cline, bestselling author of Ready Player One, Press Start to Play includes work from: Daniel H. Wilson, Charles Yu, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, S.R. Mastrantone, Charlie Jane Anders, Holly Black, Seanan McGuire, Django Wexler, Nicole Feldringer, Chris Avellone, David Barr Kirtley,T.C. Boyle, Marc Laidlaw, Robin Wasserman, Micky Neilson, Cory Doctorow, Jessica Barber, Chris Kluwe, Marguerite K. Bennett, Rhianna Pratchett, Austin Grossman, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Catherynne M. Valente, Andy Weir, and Hugh Howey.

Your inventory includes keys, a cell phone, and a wallet. What would you like to do?

Marked by Sue Tingey

Marked (The Soulseer Chronicles #1) by Sue Tingey

This debut novel was released in the UK earlier this year and will be available in the US on October 6 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from Marked can be read on Civilian Reader.

 

With no family and very few friends, Lucky’s psychic ability has always made her an outcast. The only person she can rely on is Kayla, the ghost girl who has been with her since she was born.

But Kayla is not all that she appears.

And when Lucky is visited by a demonic assassin with a message for her friend, she finds herself dragged into the Underlands – and the political fight for the daemon king’s throne.

Lucky, trapped in the daemon world, is determined to find her way home… until she finds herself caught between the charms of the Guardian Jamie, the charismatic Daemon of Death Jinx – and the lure of finding out who she really is.

Black Dog Short Stories
by Rachel Neumeier
138pp (Ebook)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: --/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.97/5
 

Rachel Neumeier’s collection Black Dog Short Stories contains four short stories, an introduction to genetics, and an essay on how genetics impact the world of the Black Dog books. Three stories are set between the end of the first book, Black Dog, and the beginning of the second book, Pure Magic, which was released shortly after these stories. The other story takes place before the first novel. I’d recommend reading Black Dog before this collection, both because I think having more background on the characters and world is helpful and because I preferred the novel (but then, I almost always prefer to read longer fiction!).

While some were enjoyable, the only story I thought truly stood out was the prequel, “The Master of Dimilioc”; however, I appreciated the collection as a whole much more once I’d read all the stories. Each had a different main character, but all worked together to characterize Grayson, the only one present in every single story. “Christmas Shopping” paints him as a wise and competent leader who is strict but sympathetic in foreseeing potential danger for one of his people and protecting her but still allowing her freedom. “Library Work” also shows how Grayson is firm but not unkind in his role as Master of Dimilioc. He doesn’t allow those in Dimilioc to get away with manipulating him, but he can also devise fitting and effective punishments without resorting to cruelty. This is contrasted with the old leadership in “The Master of Dimilioc,” which shows how Grayson earned this title after long being someone many in Dimilioc entrusted with their problems. His harder side is shown in “A Learning Experience,” in which he and Thaddeus are hunting stray black dogs who cannot control their shadows and are thus a danger to others. Thaddeus is tested by Grayson, and he comes to change his view of the Master by the end. Grayson was a character I found especially interesting in the novel, and I was glad this collection featured him so prominently.

I loved seeing more of Grayson, but I usually found that his character was the best part of each story. “Christmas Shopping” and “Library Work” are both cute, quick reads although I thought the first of these took a long time to get to the point. The beginning consisted of Natividad pestering Grayson about wanting to go shopping, his decision to send Keziah to protect her, descriptions of the drive to the store, and an accounting of the shops the two young women visited before anything of interest happened. Once the action started, it got better but I was also a bit disappointed that most of what was revealed about the problem they faced was shared via infodump and then it was over quickly. However, I did enjoy seeing the development of Natividad and Keziah’s relationship. “Library Work,” my second favorite story in the collection, focuses on Miguel, who is annoyed when Etienne orders him to dust every single book in the huge library. He’s tired of the way Etienne treats him because he sees him as a mere human and decides to try to change that. I did not think Miguel was as clever as he thought he was, and I was glad that his own view of this was challenged in the end.

“A Learning Experience” and “The Master of Dimilioc” are heavier stories than the first two and also develop their main characters more. The first was my least favorite, which surprised me since it was about Thaddeus. His perspective is well done and he’s still an intriguing character, but I felt this story was too drawn out despite having a couple of great scenes. There were a couple of flashbacks, and while I did find learning more about how black dogs view the Pure interesting, the rest of the history didn’t hold my attention nor did reading about searching for other black dogs. Even though I enjoyed his final scene with Grayson, I found that to be longer than necessary as well. Ezekiel’s story, “The Master of Dimilioc,” was the most compelling story of the four and the only one to hold my attention from start to finish. Ezekiel contends with examining life in Dimilioc more closely and begins to wonder how it could be.

Overall, I enjoyed Black Dog Short Stories although not as much as the novel Black Dog. I was actually quite surprised by how much more I appreciated these stories after I finished reading all of them and was able to look at them all together instead of individually. The fourth was still easily my favorite as the only one that hooked me immediately, but I did like how each told a different story while showing what kind of leader Grayson is—and it managed to make me quite curious about what happens to these characters next in Pure Magic!

My Rating: 6.5/10

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

Review(s) of Other Books in This Series:

Book Description from Goodreads:

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.

Last year brought the start of a new trilogy about fantasy favorite FitzChivalry Farseer with the publication of Fool’s Assassin. The second book in the trilogy, Fool’s Quest, will be released on August 11.

This is not the place to start reading if you’re new to these books. The first trilogy focusing on this character is the Farseer Trilogy, which begins with Assassin’s Apprentice. Once those have been read, it can be tempting to skip straight to the Tawny Man Trilogy to read more about Fitz, but I would recommend reading the Liveship Traders Trilogy next. One of the characters from Farseer shows up in it, and it is best to know what happened between Farseer and Tawny Man—and it’s actually my favorite of the three trilogies despite being the one I thought had the slowest start. Fool’s Assassin takes place after the end of the Tawny Man Trilogy.

I haven’t read any of Robin Hobb’s novels since shortly after Fool’s Fate was released more than 10 years ago. Since these books were among the first books I read in the fantasy genre, I was worried I might find that my tastes had changed and the series had lost its appeal, but I need not have been concerned—I loved Fool’s Assassin (and Fool’s Quest is even better but I’ll write more about that one later!).

Fool’s Assassin is mostly a quiet book until toward the end. Fitz resides at Withywoods where lives a quiet life and stays out of the politics surrounding the crown as much as he possibly can. Due to his close ties to Chade, Kettricken, and Dutiful, he’s not able to escape completely, but he resists spending much time in Buckkeep. While there are events that shake up Fitz’s life before the Major Occurrences near the conclusion, most of the novel is focused on everyday life at Withywoods and developing a character I’m not going to discuss to avoid spoilers. This may sound boring and I’m sure some will find it to be just that, but personally, I enjoyed every moment of it. Robin Hobb’s writing is magic, and this particular book reminded me very much of how I feel about Jane Austen’s novels—not because the two authors’ books or writing styles are similar (they’re really not) but because it kept me glued to the pages even though so many of them were dedicated to simply following the characters’ lives. I am in awe of Robin Hobb’s ability to make me care about her characters so much that I hang on to every word of their conversations and narratives whether they’re involved in intrigue or just hanging around home.

It works so well because her characters are real and memorable. Fitz is an introspective narrator and all his thoughts are laid bare, showing him at both his best and his worst. He can be very endearing, but he can also be so dense that it’s infuriating. One of the earliest scenes in the book shows his steward telling him that he and another member of the household have some concerns about some so-called “minstrels” who appeared for Winterfest. They appeared to be sneaking around and one claimed they were minstrels, even though they had no instruments, while another claimed they were tumblers. Despite this suspicious behavior, Fitz dismissed it as unimportant. He’s been trained to be observant so I found this difficult to believe, although the argument could be made that he’s been living a quiet life and may be afraid of being paranoid about things that are inconsequential (and it’s true that lots of strangers do show up during Winterfest although I’m not quite sure why they’d lie about why they’re there). This isn’t the only time he overlooks the obvious, either, but it does seem like this is supposed to be part of his personality since the other characters seem to frequently react to him the same way I did—mostly with fondness but with occasional irritation. (That said, they were usually irritated with him for different reasons. I did think the other characters were sometimes too hard on him even though I sometimes understood where they were coming from and also realize that while I knew all his thoughts the other characters usually did not.)

It also frustrated me a bit that one of the characters in the trilogy title was not present for most of the book, mostly only showing up in Fitz’s thoughts. At times, I did get tired of hearing about how much he missed his old friend without actually getting to spend time with him myself, but at the same time, it fit well with the narrative. After all, we’re privy to all of Fitz’s reflections and the two were very close so it’s perfectly reasonable for him to think about someone he misses.

As mentioned earlier, much happens close to the end of the book. This is definitely just the first part of a larger story, and this book sets up the rest of the trilogy and then ends in a most inconvenient place. You will want to have the next book available when you finish (admittedly, the ending of the second book isn’t any more convenient but I’m still glad I continued reading rather than waiting longer to continue the story!).

Robin Hobb is one of the best fantasy writers there is. The amount of introspection and focus on everyday life wouldn’t work in the hands on most authors, but somehow she makes it work incredibly well. I enjoyed Fool’s Assassin more than the vast majority of books even before reading its exciting final pages. I didn’t want to put this down and was tempted to reread the previous books—but instead, I immediately began reading the next book in the trilogy!

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read the First 50 Pages

Other Reviews:

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 (often unsolicited). 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.

One of last week’s books is not included in the list this week because I just mentioned it a few days ago and am giving away 2 copies of it! I also reviewed The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman last week. It’s a lot of fun, and shortly after my review went up, I heard the news that it will be published in the US in June 2016! I was thrilled to hear this since it’s a great book.

Now, on to this week’s book list!

This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie Czerneda

This Gulf of Time and Stars (Reunification #1) by Julie Czerneda

This Gulf of Time and Stars, the first book in the Reunification trilogy, will be released on November 3 (hardcover, ebook). It takes place in the same setting as the Stratification and Trade Pact trilogies. To read more about the book and cover design, check out the cover reveal on SF Signal!

 

First in a new science fiction trilogy, set in the same universe as the Clan Chronicles, by the Prix Aurora Award-winning Julie E. Czerneda.

Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick

Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick

Chasing the Phoenix will be released on August 11 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from the book is available Tor.com.

 

A science fiction masterpiece from a five-time Hugo Award winner!

In the distant future, Surplus arrives in China dressed as a Mongolian shaman, leading a yak which carries the corpse of his friend, Darger. The old high-tech world has long since collapsed, and the artificial intelligences that ran it are outlawed and destroyed. Or so it seems.

Darger and Surplus, a human and a genetically engineered dog with human intelligence who walks upright, are a pair of con men and the heroes of a series of prior Swanwick stories. They travel to what was was once China and invent a scam to become rich and powerful. Pretending to have limited super-powers, they aid an ambitious local warlord who dreams of conquest and once again reuniting China under one ruler. And, against all odds, it begins to work, but it seems as if there are other forces at work behind the scenes. This is a sharp, slick, witty science fiction adventure that is hugely entertaining from one of the best SF writers alive.

The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson

The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson

This debut novel will be released on November 3 (hardcover, ebook).

 

It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring great shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

With a rich and inventive historical setting, nonstop martial arts action, authentic Chinese magic, and bizarre monsters from Asian folklore, The Girl with Ghost Eyes is also the poignant story of a young immigrantt searching to find her place beside the long shadow of a demanding father and the stigma of widowhood. In a Chinatown caught between tradition and modernity, one woman may be the key to holding everything together.

The Pilots of Borealis by David Nabhan

The Pilots of Borealis by David Nabhan

The Pilots of Borealis will be released on August 11 (paperback, ebook).

 

Top Gun heads to outer space in this throwback to the classic science fiction of Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.

Strapped in to artificial wings spanning twenty-five feet across, your arms push a tenth of your body weight with each pump as you propel yourself at frightening speeds through the air. Inside a pressurized dome on the Moon, subject to one-sixth Earth’s gravity, there are swarms of chiseled, fearless, superbly trained flyers all around you, jostling for air space like peregrine falcons racing for the prize. This was the sport of piloting, and after Helium-3, piloting was one of the first things that entered anyone’s mind when Borealis was mentioned.

It was Helium-3 that powered humanity’s far-flung civilization expansion, feeding fusion reactors from the Alliances on Earth to the Terran Ring, Mars, the Jovian colonies, and all the way out to distant Titan. The supply, taken from the surface of the Moon, had once seemed endless. But that was long ago. Borealis, the glittering, fabulously rich city stretched out across the lunar North Pole, had amassed centuries of unimaginable wealth harvesting it, and as such was the first to realize that its supplies were running out.

The distant memories of the horrific planetwide devastation spawned by the petroleum wars were not enough to quell the rising energy and political crises. A new war to rival no other appeared imminent, but the solar system’s competing powers would discover something more powerful than Helium-3: the indomitable spirit of an Earth-born, war-weary mercenary and pilot extraordinaire.

The Song of Synth by Seb Doubinsky

The Song of Synth by Seb Doubinsky

August 4 is the official release date for The Song of Synth (paperback, ebook), but the print edition seems to be available in at least some stores now.

 

Williams Burroughs meets Philip K. Dick in this dystopian drug-fueled novel set in the not-so-distant future.

Synth is a drug able to induce hallucinations indistinguishable from reality. But it’s brand new, highly addictive, and more than likely dangerous. Even the dealers peddling the pills don’t know what long term effects the drug will have on its users. For Markus Olsen, Synth offers an easy escape to his crumbling life. Markus, an ex-hacker, has been caught red-handed, and while his friends were sent to jail for thirty years, Markus decided to cooperate, agreeing to lend his services and particular criminal expertise to Viborg City’s secret service, aiding the oppressive state power he’d been fighting to break in exchange for his relative freedom.

But Markus’ past as an anarchist comes back to haunt him, in the form of a credit card with no account but an seemingly unlimited balance as well as the discovery of a mysterious novel in which he is a main character. How much of his reality is being produced by Synth? How disconnected from real life has Markus become? Forced to face his past and the decisions he’s made, Markus must decide to choose between the artificial comfort of his constructed life and the harsh reality of treason and the struggle for freedom.

The Left-Hand Way by Tom Doyle

The Left-Hand Way (American Craftsmen #2) by Tom Doyle

This novel, following American Craftsmen, will be available on August 11 (hardcover, ebook). The first chapter of The Left-Hand Way can be read on the Tor/Forge blog.

 

Poe’s Red Death returns, more powerful than ever. Can anyone stop him before he summons an apocalyptic nightmare even worse than himself?

In The Left-Hand Way, the second book of Tom Doyle’s contemporary fantasy series, the American craftsmen are scattered like bait overseas. What starts as an ordinary liaison mission to London for Major Michael Endicott becomes a desperate chase across Europe, where Endicott is both hunted and hunter. Reluctantly joining him is his minder from MI13, Commander Grace Marlow, one of Her Majesty’s most lethal magician soldiers, whose family has centuries of justified hostility to the Endicotts.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul and Tokyo, Endicott’s comrades, Scherie Rezvani and Dale Morton, are caught in their own battles for survival against hired assassins and a ghost-powered doomsday machine. And in Kiev, Roderick Morton, the spider at the center of a global web, plots their destruction and his ultimate apotheosis. After centuries of imprisonment, nothing less than godlike power will satisfy Roderick, whatever the dreadful cost.

Chaos Unleashed by Drew Karpyshyn

Chaos Unleashed (The Chaos Born #3) by Drew Karpyshyn

The conclusion to the Chaos Born trilogy will be released on October 13 (paperback, ebook, audiobook). The first two books in the series are as follows:

  1. Children of Fire (Read an Excerpt)
  2. The Scorched Earth
 

The Demon Cycle meets The Wheel of Time in this action-packed adventure! From New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed videogame writer Drew Karpyshyn comes the third and final novel in an original epic fantasy trilogy for fans of Terry Goodkind, Peter V. Brett, and Brandon Sanderson.
 
Four unlikely champions, each touched with Chaos magic at birth, are all that can stop the return of Daemron the Slayer, a hero who became a god—and then a demon. Exiled by the Old Gods, Daemron has long plotted his vengeful return. Now that moment is at hand, as the barrier imprisoning him—the Legacy—crumbles.

Armed with mighty Talismans, the four champions—Keegan, a wizard beset with self-doubt; Cassandra, a seer terrified by her own future; Scythe, a peerless warrior whose only weak spot is a broken heart; and Vaaler, a prince without a kingdom—seek the Keystone, a fabled place where, or so it is said, the Legacy can be restored.

But the plots of the Slayer are cunning and deep, and even the most noble heart can be twisted by the tainted magic of Chaos—as Keegan, Cassandra, Scythe, and Vaaler will soon discover.