The Tainted City is the second book in The Shattered Sigil trilogy by Courtney Schafer. This novel follows The Whitefire Crossing, which was Schafer’s debut novel, and the third book in the series will be entitled The Labyrinth of Flame (release date forthcoming).

Since this is the second book in a series, there will be spoilers for the first book in the series. If you have not read the first book, you may want to read this review of The Whitefire Crossing instead. I’d just like to add that I think The Tainted City is one of the most enjoyable, well-executed novels I’ve read this year. After reading it, the third book in the trilogy has moved to the list of forthcoming books I am most excited about.

Also, later tomorrow I will be posting an interview with Courtney Schafer that I’m very excited about!

The Alathians are holding both Dev and Kiran as prisoners. Dev is forced to haul coal, but he’s really there as incentive to make sure Kiran performs his assigned task to the best of his ability – discovering fellow blood mage Simon Levanian’s methods for getting past Alathia’s strong border wards.

As the days go by, Dev becomes increasingly concerned about finding a way to escape Alathia and return home to Ninavel. When his friend Sethan was dying, he’d asked Dev to take care of his daughter Melly. Melly is Tainted, meaning she has magical gifts that will fade away completely – and very soon as Melly is very close to the age when this happens. Once her abilities are gone, she’ll be useless to her handler, Red Dal. As a former Tainter who worked for Red Dal, Dev is all too aware that he’ll have no problem selling Melly to the highest bidder. He takes his promise to keep her safe very seriously and is desperate both to return home to figure out a way to keep Melly from a horrible fate.

The day Dev begins to put his escape plan into motion, it’s interrupted by an earth tremor that nearly kills him. Both Dev and Kiran automatically assume the quake is Ruslan, the blood mage Kiran was running from, attempting to break through Alathia’s wards himself to bring his runaway apprentice home. However, they are informed that the Alathians received news from Ninavel indicating that the tremor appears to be related to a magical occurrence there. Someone appears to be trying to tamper with the water supply that is necessary for the survival of those living in the desert, and mages have been killed as a result. Since Ninavel’s problems are also causing problems with Alathia’s precious wards, a small group of Alathians decide to investigate, and they decide to bring Kiran for his knowledge of blood magic and Dev for his knowledge of the streets. Understandingly, Kiran fears leaving Alathia’s wards before they deteriorate since it will place him closer to Ruslan. The Alathians insist they can keep Kiran safe from the older blood mage, but can they actually keep their promise – and find the killer – before it is too late for both Ninavel and Alathia?

While I enjoyed The Whitefire Crossing and thought it was a very good debut novel, I wanted more from it. It had some great characters, and both Ninavel and Alathia were intriguing with their opposing strategies to handling those who had magicial ability, but I felt like I was just getting a small glimpse of the edge of the big picture. There was incredible potential for some deeper exploration of the characters and world, and I had a feeling that the second book may cover more of that territory once it had been introduced in the first book. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much I ended up loving The Tainted City, though. It has everything I like to see in a secondary world fantasy – a fascinating, well-built, and consistent world; excellent, authentic characters who are put to the test; an exciting story that kept me on the edge of my seat; and magic that is not easy and often requires making tough choices. It’s a very thoughtfully written fantasy book, but not in a way that’s trying too hard or takes away from the story being told. It’s thoughtful in how seamless the characterization and world-building are, and the way good and bad are balanced in societies and characters.

One example of this balance are the societies created in Ninavel and Alathia. Both are faced with powerful people who can use magic, but each chose to handle mages in very different ways. In Ninavel, mages are given free reign and quite often have too much power. Yet the people of Ninavel have choice and freedom, which is restricted in Alathia where magic is very heavily regulated. Those with magical ability are forced into their country’s service and have to follow a strict set of rules. With completely opposing viewpoints like this, it could be all too easy to portray one as being better than the other, especially when both point of view characters are from Ninavel. Dev is very opposed to a lot of the Alathian ways, but even so both societies seemed to have both their advantages and their problems. Alathia did seem more proper since Ninavel’s ways allowed people to be more self-serving, but it’s also very apparent that Alathia does pay a price for its restrictions.

Similarly, the characters are well-rounded without falling firmly into the category of “black” or “white.” Some were darker than others, and they all had to face difficult choices that showed what they valued and where their priorities lay – Dev had to figure out just what he’d sacrifice to keep his promise to save Melly, and Kiran had to decide just how far he was willing to go to be a blood mage. Those other than the two main characters also had to wrestle with various choices, and I really appreciated that no matter what a character did or how much I might disagree with it, I always understood WHY he or she acted that way. Each character had experiences that had shaped them and put their experiences in context; each did what made sense to him or her and there were no flat characters. I’d be quite happy to read a story about any one of them because each of them did have their own backstory, goals, and motivations that made them well-fleshed out characters.

In particular, I loved the portrayal of Ruslan, the ruthless blood mage who taught Kiran. He is definitely leaning toward the “evil” side of the good/evil spectrum, but he manages to be villainous without falling into the trap of becoming the purely black-hearted, cardboard villain whose every act and thought is dedicated to evil. Ruslan seems to genuinely care for those he considers a part of his family, including Kiran. As much as I despised his methods and what he did to Kiran, I also got the impression that he really did care about the well-being of his apprentice and thought he was doing what was best for him.

Likewise, there is an argument to be made for many of his actions and some of the logic used to sway Kiran to the side of not fearing blood magic wasn’t completely illogical. There were times when it was about survival and doing what was necessary. That’s not to say Ruslan never seems to take joy out of acts that do seem rather evil, because he does. Yet not all these acts are incomprehensible given the circumstances and the urgency behind finding the killer he’s seeking. In addition, Kiran’s perspective gives a glimpse of just how good blood magic feels, and knowing that Kiran’s a decent person who doesn’t wish to harm anyone made me wonder – what did Ruslan used to be like and what set him on this path? It’s obvious that he too could have once been a decent person who ended up on this slippery slope, and I just love the complexity of Ruslan as a darker character. (I am kind of hoping for a story about his past at some point now.)

As characters, Dev and Kiran are both also wonderful to read about, and I think it’s a good choice to have Dev carry a lot of the story. While I do enjoy reading about Kiran’s tribulations and felt I got a better idea of just who he is in this book, Dev’s first person narration is delightful and full of personality. Kiran can be a bit naive, but Dev is a man of the streets and clever besides. He gets how it works and has a cynical eye, yet he also manages to remain reasonably jaded instead of paranoid and jaded. Lots of bad things happen to both characters over the course of this novel, and they are put to the test.

In fact, the entire second half of this book was fast-paced, urgent, and kept me on the edge of my seat. If I had one complaint, it’s that there were some parts in the first half that were a little slow, but it really wasn’t a bad sort of slow that was boring. It just seemed to take awhile to really get to the heart of the story, but once it did things moved at a rapid pace and it was a fast ride full of twists and turns right until the end.

There is no middle book syndrome with The Tainted City, and I thought it was superior to The Whitefire Crossing in every way even though the first book was enjoyable. It contained deeper exploration of the world and characters, and it excelled on all levels – crisp prose, strong storytelling, intriguing and well-developed characters, a good narrative voice, and excellent world-building with logical consistency throughout. Quite simply, I loved The Tainted City, highly recommend it, and cannot wait for the sequel.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from a publicist/the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from The Tainted City:

Other Reviews of The Tainted City:

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.

Epic: Legends of Fantasy Edited By John Joseph Adams

Epic: Legends of Fantasy edited by John Joseph Adams

This anthology is quite well-named since the list of authors with stories in it is rather epic: Robin Hobb, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, N. K. Jemisin, Brandon Sanderson, Kate Elliott, Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams, Mary Robinette Kowal, Juliet Marillier, Michael Moorcock, Aliette de Bodard, Paolo Bacigalupi, Orson Scott Card, Melanie Rawn, Carrie Vaughn, and Trudi Canavan. It also includes a foreword by Brent Weeks and an introduction by the editor. The table of contents with the title of each story is listed on the book page on the publisher’s website (I do recognize some of these from other publications so it’s worth checking out the list to see if you have the stories already). This includes a story set in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire world, one set in Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings, one set in N. K. Jemisin’s world from her Dreamblood duology, and some others in familiar settings.

Epic: Legends of Fantasy is available now in trade paperback and ebook. If you want to sample a story from it, “The Narcomancer” by N. K. Jemisin is available to read online.

There is a sickness in the land. Prophets tell of the fall of empires, the rise of champions. Great beasts stir in vaults beneath the hills, beneath the waves. Armies mass. Gods walk. The world will be torn asunder.

Epic fantasy is storytelling at its biggest and best. From the creation myths and quest sagas of ancient times to the mega-popular fantasy novels of today, these are the stories that express our greatest hopes and fears, that create worlds so rich we long to return to them again and again, and that inspire us with their timeless values of courage and friendship in the face of ultimate evil—tales that transport us to the most ancient realms, and show us the most noble sacrifices, the most astonishing wonders.

Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams (Wastelands, The Living Dead) brings you seventeen tales by today’s leading authors of epic fantasy, including George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire), Ursula K. Le Guin (Earthsea), Robin Hobb (Realms of Elderlings), Kate Elliott (Crown of Stars), Tad Williams (Of Memory, Sorrow & Thorn), Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicle), and more.

Return again to lands you’ve loved, or visit magical new worlds. Victory against the coming darkness is never certain, but one thing’s for sure—your adventure will be epic.

The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell

The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell

This young adult fantasy will be available in hardcover and ebook in January 2013. This is a debut novel, and it was a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award in 2010.

This is the first I’d heard about this book, but I’m really curious about it now (if more than a little skeptical about the comparison to George R. R. Martin that is becoming so common now).

Tamora Pierce meets George R. R. Martin in this smart, political, medieval fantasy-thriller.

There is a new king on the throne of Tildor. Currents of political unrest sweep the country as two warring crime families seek power, angling to exploit the young Crown’s inexperience. At the Academy of Tildor, the training ground for elite soldiers, Cadet Renee de Winter struggles to keep up with her male peers. But when her mentor, a notorious commander recalled from active duty to teach at the Academy, is kidnapped to fight in illegal gladiator games, Renee and her best friend Alec find themselves thrust into a world rife with crime, sorting through a maze of political intrigue, and struggling to resolve what they want, what is legal, and what is right.

The Annotated Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

The Annotated Sword of Shannara (35th Anniversary Edition) by Terry Brooks

The first of many Shannara books was first released 35 years ago. On November 13, a new hardcover edition will be available that contains annotations and an introduction by the author. This edition is also available for preorder as an ebook and audiobook.

THE PHENOMENAL EPIC OF GOOD AND EVIL LIKE IT’S NEVER BEEN EXPERIENCED BEFORE

Thirty-five years ago, Terry Brooks brought to life a dazzling world in The Sword of Shannara. Fourteen more Shannara volumes would follow, making the series one of the most popular fantasy epics of all time. Now comes a fully annotated collector’s edition of the novel that started it all—featuring never-before-shared insights into the classic tale, an all-new introduction by the New York Times bestselling author, and replica sketches of some of the long-lost paintings and color plates by the Brothers Hildebrandt that decorated the original edition.

Long ago, wars ravaged the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. Then the giant, forbidding Allanon reveals that the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races.

Soon a Skull Bearer, dread minion of evil forces, flies into the Vale, seeking to destroy Shea. To save his home, Shea must flee, drawing the Skull Bearer after him in menacing pursuit.

Thus begins the enthralling Shannara epic, a spellbinding tale of adventure, magic, and myth.

The Six-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher

The Six-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher

This debut novel will be available in hardcover and ebook in January 2013. The author won the Grand Prize in the Strange New Worlds SF-writing contest.

Buffy meets Deadwood in a dark, wildly imaginative historical fantasy

Nevada, 1869: Beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck; some say he is a dead man whose time has not yet come. His half-human deputy is kin to coyotes. The mayor guards a hoard of mythical treasures. A banker’s wife belongs to a secret order of assassins. And a shady saloon owner, whose fingers are in everyone’s business, may know more about the town’s true origins than he’s letting on.

A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the primordial darkness stirring in the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town. Bleeding midnight, an ancient evil is spilling into the world, and unless the sheriff and his posse can saddle up in time, Golgotha will have seen its last dawn…and so will all of Creation.

Wonders of the Invisible World
by Patricia A. McKillip
240pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.5/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.12/5
 

Wonders of the Invisible World is a collection of previously published short stories by Patricia A. McKillip. McKillip is perhaps best known for her Riddle-Master trilogy or her World Fantasy Award winner, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, but she has many well-known works. She has been a published writer for about 40 years, and she has released numerous novels and short stories since then. This recently released collection of her work contains an introduction by Charles de Lint, sixteen stories by McKillip from various publications, and McKillip’s Guest of Honor speech from WisCon 2004 entitled “What Inspires Me.”

The stories included in Wonders of the Invisible World are as follows:

  • Wonders of the Invisible World
  • Out of the Woods
  • The Kelpie
  • Hunter’s Moon
  • Oak Hill
  • The Fortune-Teller
  • Jack O’Lantern
  • Knight of the Well
  • Naming Day
  • Byndley
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses
  • Undine
  • Xmas Cruise
  • A Gift To Be Simple
  • The Old Woman and the Storm
  • The Doorkeeper of Khaat

Most of these stories are fantasy, but there are some science fiction stories as well.

Confession time: Wonders of the Invisible World was my first experience reading the work of Patricia A. McKillip despite being such a huge fan of the fantasy genre. I actually read it quite by accident since I had intended to start with one of her novels. While I like the idea of short fiction, I often find myself unable to really immerse myself in it since I tend to enjoy stories that are long enough to allow one to get to know the characters. It’s very rare that I make it through a short story collection, especially if I don’t take a break between stories.

Yet not only did I read this collection in its entirety, but I read it without having the urge to take a break from it. I took a glimpse at the beginning to get an idea of what McKillip’s writing style was like and figured I may as well start with the introduction. The brief but heartfelt introduction by Charles de Lint made me want to read everything McKillip had ever written, so I took a look at the first story. I finished it, and then moved on to the next story. By the time I was immersed in the third story I was convinced by McKillip’s writing itself that I want to read everything she has ever written. She is one of those authors who has the gift of saying much with few words, and her stories sparkle because of her lovely but spare prose, her characters (who are often quite developed despite the short length of the pages that contain them), and her depth and insight. She tackles some heavy themes such as gender, death, and the stagnation that can result from longheld traditions and resistance to change. It’s not all serious, though, and there are parts with warmth and humor, as well as light-hearted stories. McKillip’s range is impressive and her stories a joy to read.

It’s impossible for me to pick a single favorite story from this collection since there are three that compete for that title. “The Kelpie,” one of the longer and more complex stories in the collection, is a love story that intertwines fantasy and myth while exploring artistic and feminist themes. It also has some of the most memorable characters in the entire collection in Nick and Emma, the two who meet and fall for each other at a gathering of artists. Emma captures the attention of both Nick Bonham and the handsome Bram Wilding at this event. When she is pursued by Mr. Wilding, Emma shows him some of her paintings only to be told they could be a lot better. As she tells her brother in the company of Nick later, he told her that “most women painters should confine themselves to watercolors, since they have not the breadth of soul to express the fullness and complexity of oils, though he had seen one or two come close enough to counterfeit it.” It is during this conversation that Nick manages to capture Emma’s heart:

 

“What are your thoughts on the breadth of a woman’s soul, Mr. Bonham?”

“I think,” he said fervently, “I could travel a lifetime in one and never see the half of it.”

She regarded him silently for a heartbeat, out of eyes the color of a fine summer day, and in that moment he caught his first astonished glimpse of the undiscovered country that was theirs.

The story is about their developing relationship as well as Mr. Wilding’s obsession with Emma that invades her life, and it also manages to bring in the struggle of a group of female artists to get their work taken seriously. Of course, there is an incident with the titular kelpie that is quite a pivotal moment. “The Kelpie” is both an engrossing and intricate story dealing with deep themes, and I felt it was also the most emotionally involving story of all. (After writing about this one, perhaps I can pick a very favorite story, but I liked the other two stories mentioned almost as much even though they are very different from “The Kelpie”!)

“Naming Day” was a more light-hearted story in which an adolescent girl learns an important lesson through an amusing situation. As a serious student of magic at the top of her class, Averil is too busy with her studies and her imminent Naming Day to listen to her mother when she says she needs help with her four-year-old brother. When a witch casts a spell on Averil on Naming Day, she has to go on a quest to remove the spell – and learns about what is truly important in the process. This may sound trite, but it’s a very well-done story with warmth and humor that keeps it from seeming like a life lesson or an after school special. By the end, Averil is not the same person she was at the start and she undergoes this development over the course of a very fun story.

The final of my three favorites is a fairy tale about a soldier, Val, who could become king titled “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” On his way back from the war, Val learns of a king who has offered his kingdom and one daughter to any man who can discover how his daughters escape their locked room every night. Every morning, they are so worn they sleep until noon, and the only trace of their adventure is their twelve pairs of shoes, so worn from dancing that they are no longer wearable. However, any man who tries to solve this mystery of the dancing princesses and fails will be killed. It’s largely a traditional fairy tale with its premise, the involvement of a mysterious crone, and the way it follows the rule of three. It’s creepy at times, and it also has some beautiful imagery:

 

They turned then onto another broad, tree-lined road. Val closed his eyes and opened them again, but what he saw did not change. All the leaves on these trees were made of gold. Like tears of gold they glowed and shimmered and melted down the branches; they flowed into Val’s outstretched hand.

I also appreciated how war was handled in this tale. It’s not a story that repeatedly dwells on war or violence, but it gives a brief glimpse of what Val experienced in a way that is both simple and effective:

 

“What is your name?”

“Val,” he answered.

“A good name for a soldier. Did you win the battle?”

Val shrugged. “So they say. I could not see, from where I stood, that winning was much better than losing.”

As with all short story collections, some stories were better than others. The three just discussed are my very favorites and stories I consider nearly perfect, but there are other stories I loved as well such as “Byndley” and “Knight of the Well.” In fact, many of these stories are quite lovely, and even if I didn’t love every one of them I could appreciate most of them on some level. For example, “Undine” was not one of my favorites but it was memorable because it was a somewhat humorous story about a young undine who tried to ensnare her first man – only to have the tables turned on her in an amusing way. There was only one story that fell completely flat for me, “Xmas Cruise.” This story explored the relationships of two couples who met on a cruise during Christmas vacation, but I found it to be rather dull. However, if there’s only one story in a collection containing sixteen that did nothing at all for me, I think that’s doing very well!

Wonders of the Invisible World is a wonderful collection of stories full of wit and insight wrapped in beautiful, effortless prose. McKillip’s ability to convey so much in so few words is impressive, as is her ability with storytelling, characterization, and thematic elements. I now see why she is such a lauded author in the fantasy genre, and I’m glad to have so many other books written by her left to discover.

My Rating: 8/10

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

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. 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.

I didn’t buy anything this week, but a few books showed up in the mail.

For reviews, I really hoping to get one up last week, but I seem to have a case of reviewer’s block. A couple of nights I came home from work and tried to work on reviews, but it just wasn’t working – even if I knew what I wanted to say, I just couldn’t get it written out. Unfortunately, sometimes that just happens, especially if I don’t have time to write much over the weekend and try to write after work when I’m usually pretty exhausted. I’ll try again this week – both the books I have up to review next are ones I loved so I am excited to talk about them!

On to this week’s books.

Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin

Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin

This is one of several of George R. R. Martin’s older books that were recently re-released as trade paperbacks (I’d imagine due to the success of A Song of Ice and Fire). This space opera, written in the late 1970s, was a Hugo nominee.

Dying of the Light can also be found in ebook and audiobook, and an excerpt from the novel is available. I’m really excited to read this one, both because it sounds really intriguing and because it will be interesting to read science fiction by George R. R. Martin (I’ve not read any of his work not related to A Song of Ice and Fire).

In this unforgettable space opera, #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin presents a chilling vision of eternal night—a volatile world where cultures clash, codes of honor do not exist, and the hunter and the hunted are often interchangeable.
 
A whisperjewel has summoned Dirk t’Larien to Worlorn, and a love he thinks he lost. But Worlorn isn’t the world Dirk imagined, and Gwen Delvano is no longer the woman he once knew. She is bound to another man, and to a dying planet that is trapped in twilight. Gwen needs Dirk’s protection, and he will do anything to keep her safe, even if it means challenging the barbaric man who has claimed her. But an impenetrable veil of secrecy surrounds them all, and it’s becoming impossible for Dirk to distinguish between his allies and his enemies. In this dangerous triangle, one is hurtling toward escape, another toward revenge, and the last toward a brutal, untimely demise.

Windhaven by George R. R. Martin

Windhaven by George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle

This is another one of the recently re-released trade paperback editions of George R. R. Martin’s older titles (co-written with Lisa Tuttle). Windhaven is also available in ebook and audiobook, and an excerpt can be read online.

I’d heard of this one before but wasn’t really familiar with what it was about. Even if the theme of a struggle against an unfair system is common, it’s one I rather like and I’m curious about this one now.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and acclaimed author Lisa Tuttle comes a timeless tale that brilliantly renders the struggle between the ironbound world of tradition and a rebellious soul seeking to prove the power of a dream.
 
Among the scattered islands that make up the water world of Windhaven, no one holds more prestige than the silver-winged flyers, romantic figures who cross treacherous oceans, braving shifting winds and sudden storms, to bring news, gossip, songs, and stories to a waiting populace. Maris of Amberly, a fisherman’s daughter, wants nothing more than to soar on the currents high above Windhaven. So she challenges tradition, demanding that flyers be chosen by merit rather than inheritance. But even after winning that bitter battle, Maris finds that her troubles are only beginning. Now a revolution threatens to destroy the world she fought so hard to join—and force her to make the ultimate sacrifice.

The Armageddon Rag by George R. R. Martin

The Armageddon Rag by George R. R. Martin

You guessed it – yet another novel recently released in trade paperback! The Armageddon Rag is also available in ebook format and an excerpt can be read online.

The Armageddon Rag sounds like fun and is another one I’m rather excited to read.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin comes the ultimate novel of revolution, rock ’n’ roll, and apocalyptic murder—a stunning work of fiction that portrays not just the end of an era, but the end of the world as we know it.
 
Onetime underground journalist Sandy Blair has come a long way from his radical roots in the ’60s—until something unexpectedly draws him back: the bizarre and brutal murder of a rock promoter who made millions with a band called the Nazgûl. Now, as Sandy sets out to investigate the crime, he finds himself drawn back into his own past—a magical mystery tour of the pent-up passions of his generation. For a new messiah has resurrected the Nazgûl and the mad new rhythm may be more than anyone bargained for—a requiem of demonism, mind control, and death, whose apocalyptic tune only Sandy may be able to change in time . . . before everyone follows the beat.

Dreamsongs: Volume I by George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs: Volume I by George R. R. Martin

This collection of shorter fiction by George R. R. Martin was recently released in trade paperback. You may also be able to find it in hardcover in some stores, and it is also available as an ebook and audiobook. An excerpt from Dreamsongs: Volume I is available.

Dreamsongs is so massive it’s split into two massive volumes (approximately 700 pages each in the trade paperback versions). The first volume starts with an introduction by Gardner Dozois, who often edits anthologies with Martin. The book is split into sections that are introduced with some commentary by Martin. This includes stories such as “A Song for Lya,” for which Martin won his first Hugo Award, and “Sandkings,” a story that won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards.

Even before A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin had already established himself as a giant in the field of fantasy literature. The first of two stunning collections, Dreamsongs: Volume I is a rare treat for readers, offering fascinating insight into his journey from young writer to award-winning master.
 
Gathered here in Dreamsongs: Volume I are the very best of George R. R. Martin’s early works, including his Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker award–winning stories, cool fan pieces, and the original novella The Ice Dragon, from which Martin’s New York Times bestselling children’s book of the same title originated. A dazzling array of subjects and styles that features extensive author commentary, Dreamsongs, Volume I is the perfect collection for both Martin devotees and a new generation of fans.

Dreamsongs: Volume II by George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs: Volume II by George R. R. Martin

This second half of Dreamsongs was also recently released in trade paperback. Some stores may have it in hardcover, and it is also available in ebook and audiobook formats. An excerpt is available.

This volume includes a couple of screenplays, The Hedge Knight (the first of the novellas set in the same world as A Song of Ice and Fire), and the World Fantasy Award winning story “The Skin Trade.” Like the first volume, it includes commentary by the author.

Even before the enormous success of A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin had secured his reputation as one of the most exciting storytellers of our time. The second of two thrilling collections, Dreamsongs: Volume II continues the story of his amazing journey from a young writer to a #1 New York Times bestselling force of nature.
 
Whether writing about werewolves, wizards, or outer space, George R. R. Martin is renowned for his versatility and expansive talent, as demonstrated in this dazzling collection. Dreamsongs: Volume II contains acclaimed stories such as the World Fantasy Award winner “The Skin Trade,” as well as the first novella in the Ice and Fire universe, The Hedge Knight—plus two early screenplays. Featuring extensive author commentary, Dreamsongs: Volume II is an invaluable chronicle of a writer at the height of his creativity—and an unforgettable reading experience for fans old and new.

Guardians of Stone by Anita Clenney

Guardians of Stone (The Relic Seekers #1) by Anita Clenney

This paranormal romance will be released in paperback, ebook, and audiobook on December 4. It’s supposedly “Indiana Jones ~meets~ Stephanie Plum.” An excerpt can be found on the Mysteries and Margaritas blog.

There is currently a giveaway on Goodreads for a copy of Guardians of Stone. It’s open to those in the US, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain through November 17.

Kendall Morgan is a human bloodhound. Spending her childhood hunting relics with her ambitious archeologist father, she knew the two of them shared a sixth sense for the history and location of objects—sometimes even people. What she didn’t know was that their paranormal gift could ultimately be their undoing.

After the tragic plane crash that killed her father as well as her childhood best friend, Kendall dedicated her life to finding and protecting relics. When mysterious, sexy billionaire Nathan Larraby hires her for his latest expedition—the search for four powerful relics —she’s thrown into a world of high-octane danger. He sends brooding mercenary Jake Stone to watch Kendall’s back, but he may have created danger of a different kind.

As the team chases down clues, a man called the Reaper makes a play for the artifacts and will stop at nothing to put them to his own sinister use. What’s worse is that Nathan hasn’t told the whole story, and the dark secrets he’s keeping could cost them the mission…and their lives.

Slated by Teri Terry

Slated (Slated #1) by Teri Terry

This young adult dystopia will be released in hardcover and ebook in the US and Canada in January 2013. The first two chapters can be read here.

It’s the first book in a trilogy. The second book, Fractured, will be available in May 2013 in the UK and Australia, and it should also be out later in 2013 in the US and Canada. For more information, here’s an interview with the author that discusses the series and release dates.

Kyla’s memory has been erased,
her personality wiped blank,
her memories lost for ever.

She’s been Slated.

The government claims she was a terrorist, and that they are giving her a second chance – as long as she plays by their rules. But echoes of the past whisper in Kyla’s mind. Someone is lying to her, and nothing is as it seems. Who can she trust in her search for the truth?

Rise by Andrea Cremer

Rise (Nightshade Prequel #2) by Andrea Cremer

This second book in the prequel series to the Nightshade series is a direct sequel to Rift. It will be released in hardcover and ebook on January 8. The first two chapters from Rise can be read here.

The sequel to Rift and the prequel to the New York Times bestselling novel Nightshade.

Everything Conatus stands for is at risk. Hoping to gather enough resistance to save their order, Ember and Barrow attempt a desperate escape. But fate offers little mercy. When their mission is exposed, the  couple face relentless pursuit by the supernatural horrors that act on the commands of Eira’s ally: the mysterious Bosque Mar. A shocking revelation forces Ember out of hiding, sending her back into the heart of dark magic at Tearmunn keep, where she must convince her old friend Alistair of her love or face dire consequences. Ember’s deception offers the only chance for the resistance to succeed, but what she discovers in the shadows beneath the keep will shatter her world and bring about the Witches’ War.

Richly sensual and full of magic, action and danger, Andrea Cremer’s fifth book set in the Nightshade world is an edge-of-your-seat page turner.

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. 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.

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

The Hydrogen Sonata (A Culture Novel) by Iain M. Banks

The tenth Culture novel was released in the US in hardcover and ebook on October 9, and it can also be found as an audiobook. It was released in the UK just a few days before that. The first chapter from The Hydrogen Sonata can be read on io9.

As of right now, I’ve read two Culture novels.  I LOVED The Player of Games and I also enjoyed Use of Weapons and have been meaning to read more of these books since then. The Hydrogen Sonata sounds especially interesting to me since it sounds like it will be delving more into the founding of the Culture.

The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization.

An ancient people, organized on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture ten thousand years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they’ve made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations; they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.

Amid preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted – dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command. She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago. It seems that the final days of the Gzilt civilization are likely to prove its most perilous.

Bloodfire Quest by Terry Brooks

Bloodfire Quest (The Dark Legacy of Shannara #2) by Terry Brooks

This is the sequel to Wards of Faerie, the recently-released first book in this new trilogy. Each book in this series is going to be released six months apart with Bloodfire Quest on sale in March 2013. It will be released in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. I can’t find a book description online for this one yet.

Hitman: Damnation by Raymond Benson

Hitman: Damnation by Raymond Benson

The prequel novel to the new game Hitman: Absolution will be released in mass market paperback and ebook on October 30. It’s written by Raymond Benson, who has written quite a few thrillers and was one of the authors of the official James Bond novels. The first 50 pages from Hitman: Damnation can be read online.

THE OFFICIAL, ALL-ORIGINAL, ALL-OUT THRILLING PREQUEL TO THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED NEW GAME HITMAN: ABSOLUTION
 
Since the devastating conclusion of Hitman: Blood Money, Agent 47 has been MIA. Now fans awaiting the return of the blockbuster videogame and film phenomenon can pinpoint the location of the world’s most brutal and effective killer-for-hire before he reemerges in Hitman: Absolution. When the Agency lures him back with a mission that will require every last ounce of his stealth, strength, and undercover tactics, they grossly underestimate the silent assassin’s own agenda. Because this time, Agent 47 isn’t just going to bite the hand that feeds him. He’s going tear it off and annihilate anyone who stands in his way.

The City’s Son by Tom Pollock is the first book in The Skyscraper Throne. The next book in this new young adult urban fantasy series, The Glass Republic, will be released in the UK in August 2013. (While The City’s Son was recently released in both the UK and the US, I was unable to find a release date for the second book in the US.)

Years ago, the Goddess of the Streets left London and her son Filius behind. She also left behind her rivalry with Reach, the Crane God of urban sickness, which now falls to Filius. When rumors of the return of the Goddess begin, Reach becomes more aggressive in his attacks. Gutterglass, the Goddess’ seneschal who raised Filius, advises Filius that it is time for him to raise an army against Reach before he can take the skyscraper throne, but Filius fears he is no match for his mother’s old foe. Filius is considering running away from his problems until he meets Beth Bradley, who persuades him to go up against Reach with her help.

When she meets Filius, Beth has just been expelled from her school and betrayed by her best friend. She is terrified that Social Services will realize that she’s basically been taking care of herself since her father has been too wrapped up in grief over her mother’s sudden death a few years ago to pay much attention to her. Without her father or her closest friend, Beth feels utterly alone and forms a connection with Filius, who doesn’t have his mother to help him stand against Reach. With him, she learns all about the hidden side of London that has talking statues, dancing streetlights, and railwraiths while the two of them gather forces and prepare to fight Reach.

The City’s Son is an exceptionally creative, unique urban fantasy in which the city quite literally comes to life. It has a rather unpredictable ending, and it also manages to avoid some of the common young adult tropes. For instance, there is a romantic relationship but no love triangle. While death of a parent is something both Beth and Filius have in common, part of the story is about Beth’s father becoming more involved in her life instead of being removed from the story. It also deals with issues such as teenage abuse by an adult authority in a way that is sympathetic (and not graphic or tasteless), and free will, faith and belief, and racism are all touched on as well. There is a lot to appreciate about The City’s Son. It’s a book that can be rather dark and takes some risks, and I think it’s a very strong and original debut. However, it was hampered by some pacing issues in the middle that kept me from wholeheartedly loving it despite the admiration I have for it.

The setting is a London in which much of the ordinary is alive. Filius dances with the streetlights, talks to statues, and is tended by a shapeshifting pile of garbage and insects with eggshells for eyes. He fears the cranes that belong to Reach, his mother’s enemy, and he and Beth meet when she happens across one of the railwraiths, ghostly trains with memories of people inside. Much of the book is dedicated to exploring this city, and I think this is where it faltered a bit for me. For awhile, Beth and Filius were just going around gathering an army. This was a good way of introducing both readers and Beth to the peculiarities of the city, but I thought it spent so much time on that that it hindered plot progression. Once the plot did move, it really moved, though. When it got closer to the end, I had difficulty putting the book down, and I was taken completely by surprise by what happened – and then taken by surprise again by a revelation near the conclusion. The ending was memorable but risky because I imagine some may not be happy with what happened. I love endings that are unexpected because I do remember them, though.

While Beth and Filius are the main characters, many character perspectives are seen in this book, including Beth’s best friend Pen and Beth’s father. I think this is another part of what made it seem slow to me. Some of the extra perspectives worked well, especially Pen’s (and I’m glad to see she seems to be the main character in the next book). Others seemed unnecessary as viewpoints, and it did seem a little odd that out of all the perspectives only Filius’ was in first person. The three more important characters were all interesting to read about, though. I thought it was mostly Beth’s story since she’s the one who has the most development. It is largely Beth’s choices that drive the story since her decision to seek out Filius leads to her persuading him to fight instead of running. Later in the book, Beth also has to face a really difficult decision, and the choice she makes is both important to what happens and important to showing just what her priorities are and what type of person she is. Over the course of the book, Beth also had to face issues of free will, starting with her guilt over convincing others to listen to her. In the end, she has to make yet another choice that hinges on whether or not to abide by someone else’s decision concerning their own fate, and I liked how this came up on a couple of occasions.

While there is some romance for Beth, her close friendship with Pen is not neglected. I am always happy to see relationships other than romances treated as important in novels, especially a bond of lifelong friendship like this one. Even though Beth left to find Filius because Pen betrayed her, she doesn’t forget about her best friend or abandon their friendship. I also loved how these two different girls had very different personalities but each had their own type of strength. Beth was more outspoken and likely to speak up and defend herself or Pen, but she also was completely aware that Pen had the strength of endurance:

 

Beth knew there was strength in Pen — she saw it every day — but it was a strength that withstood without ever resisting. Pen could soak up the blows, but she never hit back. [pp. 9 - 10]

(Quote taken from Search Inside This Book feature on Amazon since I have an ARC)

My one problem aside from the plot taking awhile to really pick up was how easily Beth accepted the fantastic part of London and Filius being the son of its Goddess. When Filius gives her a spiel about who he is and his mother the Goddess, Beth’s reaction can basically be summed up as, “Oh cool, you’re the son of a goddess. My life is so much more boring and I wish I could introduce myself as someone that interesting.” Since she has at that point already stumbled across a railwraith on her own and seen Filius face it, I don’t know if it’s quite fair for me to feel that way, though. She’s seen there’s more to the city, and I also got the impression that as a graffiti artist who knew the city so well it didn’t really take her by surprise to learn this.

The City’s Son has a lot of complexity and depth, and I very much appreciate the way it manages to include themes such as racism, choice, and belief in a very creative story. It also has some fantastic plot twists and a truly memorable ending. It is a novel that definitely stands apart as unique, although I found a lot of the middle dull since it spent more time on introducing the world than moving the plot forward. However, I think this is an amazing debut novel aside from that and found it well worth reading for its strengths.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I went to an author signing for a copy of the ARC at Book Expo America.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of The City’s Son: