The giveaway for one copy of Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells is now over, and a winner has been randomly selected.

Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells

The winner is:

Dovile

Congratulations! Please send your mailing address to kristen (at) fantasybookcafe (dot) com so the book can be sent to you.

Update: I never heard back from the winner so I drew a new winner from the entries. Congratulations, SueCCCP!

For those of you who didn’t win, you can still sign up to try to win one of three copies of Containment, a new hard science fiction novel!

Courtesy of 47North, I have an excerpt from the new science fiction novel Containment by Christian Cantrell and 3 paperback copies of the book to give away!

Containment by Christian Cantrell

About Containment:

The colony on Venus was not built because the destruction of Earth was possible, but because it was inevitable…

A brilliant young scientist and one of the first humans born on Venus, Arik works tirelessly to perfect the science of artificial photosynthesis, a project crucial to the future of his home, V1. The colony was built on the harsh Venusian surface by the Founders, the first humans to establish a permanent extraterrestrial settlement. Arik’s research becomes critical when he awakens from an unexplained, near-fatal accident and learns that his wife is three months pregnant. Unless Arik’s research uncovers a groundbreaking discovery, V1’s oxygen supply will not be able to support the increase in population that his baby represents.

As Arik works against time, he begins to untangle the threads of his accident, which seem inextricably linked to what lies outside the protective walls of V1—a world where the caustic atmosphere and extreme heat make all forms of known life impossible. For its entire existence, Arik’s generation has been expected to help solve the problems of colonization. But as Arik digs deeper and deeper, he discovers alarming truths about the planet that the Founders have kept hidden. With growing urgency and increasing peril, Arik finds himself on a journey that will push him to the limits of his intelligence and take him beyond the unimaginable.

The excerpt is below, and information on the giveaway follows that. Happy reading!

Easter Egg

Although Arik was home from the Doc Pod, he still had to go in several times a week for physical therapy. He was only going into the Life Pod a few days a week now, partially because of headaches, partially because of Cadie. When they were both at work at the same time, they kept the polymeth wall between their offices opaque, and they made it a point to check to see if the other one was in the dome before going in themselves. If Arik was there during lunch, he usually brought Cadie a boxed meal, but after she thanked him, he carried his own back to his office and ate alone.

Arik swallowed two pain pills then dimmed the wall lights in his home office to ease the stress on his eyes. He brought his workspace up on the wall and immediately noticed the string of characters in the lower right-hand corner of the polymeth:

2519658000000 922.76 40.002 DELTA

His initial thought was that nothing was going to boot because of an unrecoverable error in the shell program, but when his workspace appeared just as he’d left it the night before, he assumed Fai’s team was just doing some debugging on the live system. V1CC (the V1 Computing Cloud) was usually capable of debugging itself either proactively by using idle CPU cycles to look for potential errors in byte code, or in real time by verifying processor instructions as they were being executed. But sometimes humans were just smart enough to introduce bugs that even computers couldn’t catch, which meant they had be tracked down manually.

Most software engineers resented having to manually debug code. It was considered a waste of their time, a task that was beneath senior engineers and architects, which meant that it was usually delegated to those with less seniority. But Arik actually enjoyed debugging. He found the process stimulating, even rewarding. Most errors were predictable and relatively easy to fix, but occasionally an anomaly was so complex and subtle and elegant that tracking it down and holding it all in your head at once actually pushed you to the edges of your comprehension. Sometimes fully and completely grasping both a problem and its solution simultaneously felt like stopping time.

To Arik, these moments were euphoric.

The message remained in the corner of his workspace for the next several hours, and Arik became increasingly curious. It wasn’t uncommon to see diagnostic output for a few seconds or maybe even a few minutes while someone tried to track down a problem with the live system, but he’d never seen something like this remain visible for an entire day. He was thinking of contacting someone in the Code Pod when he got a video message from his father asking him if he had time to look into what he called the “anomalous string” that was appearing in the corner of everyone’s workspace. Darien seemed to be in a hurry, and sent off the message without any additional information or details. Arik looked at the time and realized that Cadie would be home from work within the hour. He knew that they would have to discuss the baby very soon, but now that he had a new problem that needed solving, it wouldn’t have to be tonight.

Arik wondered why the request to debug the problem had come from his father. Darien was a chemical and structural engineer. He headed up the Wet Pod and had designed several of the buildings in V1. Like all engineers, he knew computers well, but he didn’t have any obvious stake in bugs in the shell program. He was good friends with Fai, however, which suggested to Arik that Fai had probably asked Darien for his son’s help. Fai would have been too proud to ask Arik for help directly, and Arik imagined that the circuitous request through his father was still presented more as the Technology Department simply not having the time or resources to be distracted by such a trivial issue. But if the request did in fact originate from Fai, that meant the message was not simply diagnostic output, but probably a series of error codes that were unusual enough that nobody in the Code Pod had any idea what they meant.

Arik stood up in front of the polymeth wall and stretched while bringing up the source code for the shell program. He had been taking pain medication all day, and he needed to stand and move around the room in order to clear his head and stay focused.

Before he even had a chance to begin his debugging ritual, he recognized the first number in the error code, 2519658000000, as a date. Since computers weren’t inherently able to distinguish one absolute date from another, they used relative dates expressed as some unit of time since a known epoch. V1CC inherited the ancient convention of expressing moments in time as the number of milliseconds since midnight on January 1, 1970. Since numbers like 2.5 quadrillion didn’t come up very often in day-to-day computing tasks, when they did, it was usually safe to assume that they were machine-readable dates. And since the last six digits were all zeros, Arik could even tell that the number probably pointed either to exactly noon, or exactly midnight.

The date was most likely what programmers referred to as a “time stamp.” Error codes almost always came with time stamps so whoever was debugging the problem could figure out exactly how long ago it happened, or could try to recreate the conditions that led to the problem. But when Arik did the math of subtracting the error code’s time stamp from a time stamp representing the current time, he was surprised to find that the result was a negative number. The computer wasn’t reporting a problem that occurred in the past; it was predicting an error 2.75 days in the future.

Although computer models were used to predict the probability of errors and failures all the time, as far as Arik knew, V1CC was not programmed to perform predictive diagnostics on itself. It was far more likely that the computer’s clock had wandered prior to printing out the message, or was even wandering now. As powerful as computers were, left to their own devices, they were astonishingly lousy timekeepers. In order to keep their internal clocks accurate, they needed frequent calibration. Every ninety minutes, V1CC received a signal from a satellite that passed overhead which contained one of the most accurate clocks ever built. The clock used twelve lasers to monitor the optical light emitted by the electrons in a single atom of ytterbium. Counting the tiny pulses of light allowed the clock to break a second down into almost a quadrillion parts. By the time the sun burned through most of its hydrogen gas and expanded to the point that all life in the solar system was destroyed, the ytterbium clock would have likely strayed less than one second. Of course, for V1CC to benefit from the accuracy of their micro-gravitational optical atomic clock, it would have to successfully receive the time calibration signal.

Arik instinctively checked his watch, which consisted of two separate dials: a digital module that calibrated with V1CC, and an analog mechanical movement that used a steel spring, rotor, gear train, escapement, and about two hundred additional parts to keep time to within about a second a day without relying on any external power source or time calibration signal whatsoever. Although mechanical watch movements were mostly favored by obsessive and anachronistic hobbyists, several of the computer scientists in V1 found them useful for keeping tabs on V1CC. There was no way a mechanical watch could detect a fraction of a second drift in V1CC’s timekeeping, but it could detect a loss or gain of time adding up to a couple of minutes or more. When things like the life-support system relied on the computer maintaining almost perfect time, and the computer relied on an atomic clock orbiting twelve thousand kilometers above the surface of the planet, it seemed like a good idea to have some kind of an isolated analog backup.

But both times on Arik’s watch agreed to within a few seconds, and a quick review of the logs showed that V1CC had only missed a handful of time calibrations in Arik’s entire lifetime, the last one being over four and a half years ago. Whatever the time stamp meant, it was probably accurate.

Arik ran the shell program inside of another program that could trace the rendering of each pixel back to the exact line of code that initiated the drawing instruction. He drew a rectangular debug region around the message in the lower right-hand corner of his workspace, and restarted the shell. He found that the message was being rendered by a little over a hundred lines of code interspersed throughout the shell’s source, nestled in among other similar lines of rendering code with such apparent randomness that it had to have been done intentionally. Each component of the message was calculated using a long and complex equation. Some of the variables in the equations were even random numbers, yet each formula was orchestrated in such a way as to somehow compensate, always yielding the exact same result.

Now that Arik was sure that the message was intentionally injected into the shell program, he believed it had to be an attempt to communicate with someone inside of V1—very possibly him. He looked at the second and third numbers again, and now that he had a fresh perspective, he recognized them instantly. They were radio frequencies. The first frequency, 922.76 MHz, was what the Earth Radio Pod used to communicate with the satellites that relayed signals to and from Earth, and 40.002 MHz was the frequency that V1 used to communicate with the ERP. The ERP was isolated from V1 so that in the event of a catastrophic accident, it might still remain functional. It was a small structure only large enough for one or two people, and it was located a full kilometer south of V1 where it was well out of range of fires or shrapnel should the unthinkable occur. It had its own computer system, power supply, and miniature life-support system based on tanks of compressed air. The only connection between V1 and the ERP was the 40.002 MHz radio link.

Two radio frequencies and a date three days in the future suggested to Arik that the message wasn’t so much a message in and of itself as it was instructions on where and when to find the real message. The problem was that Arik wasn’t able to listen in on either of those two frequencies. All communications to and from Earth were highly secured using encryption algorithms that Arik would be hard-pressed to break anytime in the next decade, even with a multi-core electron computer. That, Arik believed, was what explained the word “DELTA.” In the context of radio communication, “delta” was usually used in place of the letter “D,” however an alternative interpretation—the variation of a variable or function, or the difference between two values—seemed to make much more sense. The difference between the two encrypted frequencies was 882.758 MHz—a frequency which, as far as Arik knew, wasn’t being used for anything, and which he should be able to easily tune in to using the V1 frequency scanner.

By this time, Arik was simultaneously disturbed and intrigued by the fact that he was almost positive the message was intended for him. He was also fairly certain that it was either a trick being played on him by a friend of his in the Code Pod, or possibly a test arranged by Dr. Nguyen or Priyanka to make sure Arik was still up to the task of solving AP. He checked the source control system’s logs to see who was responsible for the changes to the shell program, and was astounded to find that all of the revisions had been attributed to him.

This was almost certainly not a joke. Embedding “Easter eggs” in code for fun and covering your tracks was one thing, but attributing changes to another user was much more difficult, and in the case of Arik’s account, very nearly impossible for anyone except maybe Fai himself. Not only did Arik use the standard DNA identification protocol, but he was probably the only one in V1 who combined biometric identification with gesture identification. Gesture identification required that unique shapes or patterns be drawn in order to verify someone’s identity. Even if someone had figured out how to spoof his biometric signature, his gesture ID was complex enough that it couldn’t be guessed, and since he almost always used his BCI to draw it, it was unlikely that someone could have covertly recorded it, or deduced it from marks or prints left on a piece of polymeth. The likelihood that Arik’s account had been compromised was extremely low.

It was far more likely that Arik’s memory of hiding the Easter egg had been destroyed either by the accident, or in the surgery afterwards, and that the message was an attempt to pass along information to himself in the future. The theory made perfect sense except for one thing: it implied that he had somehow been able to predict the accident.

Conception

Arik felt like his hearing had become more sensitive since the accident. Even from outside the bedroom, he could tell that Cadie had just closed her workstation. Conductive polymeth was supposed to be completely silent, but Arik’s ears could pick up the infinitesimal vibrations of the excited molecules entombed deep in the thick plastic. It resonated throughout the pod just above the threshold of perception, and he usually wasn’t even aware that he was hearing it until it suddenly stopped. Perhaps his hearing had somehow improved, or perhaps Arik was so intent on avoiding Cadie now that he’d simply become much more attuned to her actions. Cadie turned the wall lights out and slid down in bed, and now Arik could hear her trying to find a comfortable position for her unfamiliar body.

He got up and stood in the doorway. Cadie was hugging a long latex foam pillow that went under her swollen belly and between her legs. She sensed him watching her and rolled over.

“What’s wrong?”

“Before you came home tonight, I was working on something.”

“What?”

“I’m not sure. But I think it was something important.”

“The error codes?”

“They weren’t error codes,” Arik said. “I think it’s a message.”

“From who?”

Arik paused before he answered. He was still trying to make sense of it himself. “From me.”

“From you? What do you mean?”

“I think I sent myself a message before the accident.”

“What does it mean?”

“I don’t know yet.” He paused in a way that indicated that he wasn’t finished, but didn’t quite know how to go on. “But I think once I figure it out, everything is going to change. I think we need to talk about the baby.”

Cadie watched Arik for a moment in the dark, then pulled herself up and leaned against the headboard. She drew her legs up to make room on the bed, and Arik sat down. Neither of them reached for the light.

They each waited for the other to start. Arik had constructed this conversation in his mind dozens of times since he’d returned home from the hospital, and he knew that there was no way to avoid asking Cadie one simple and direct question:

“It isn’t mine, is it?”

“It’s complicated.”

“It isn’t complicated. We both know it isn’t mine.”

Arik’s eyes were adjusting to the dark, and he could see Cadie watching him carefully.

“We need to talk about more than just the baby.”

“It’s Cam’s, isn’t it?”

“I need you to listen to me. I need to tell you something, and I need to start from the beginning.”

Arik could see that Cadie had rehearsed this. He understood his wife well enough to know that she would have to do this in her own way.

“OK.”

She took a moment to prepare herself. She looked down and watched her hands while she spoke.

“We all thought you were going to die,” she said. “Your father contacted me at the Life Pod and told me to meet him here. When I got here, he said you’d been involved in a very serious accident, and that without surgical assistance from Earth, they didn’t think you’d live.”

Arik had never even seen Cadie cry before—at least not as an adult. The way her features changed, and the way she moved her head to the side and her straight black hair fell beside her cheeks, made her look like an entirely different person. It suddenly occurred to Arik what an incredibly sheltered life they had all lived up until now. They had never lost a family member or a friend, and until Arik’s accident, nobody they knew had ever been seriously injured. There weren’t even any pets in V1 to run away, or to get old and die. Living in such a carefully controlled environment had a tempering effect designed to keep emotions as well balanced as the atmosphere.

“The next day, Priyanka came to see me. He said there wasn’t a lot of time, and that if we were going to save any part of you, we were going to have to act quickly. He said I had a responsibility to V1.”

“A responsibility to do what?”

Cadie looked up. “To replace you.”

“Why would I need to be replaced?”

“You have no idea who and what you really are, do you?”

“What are you talking about, Cadie?”

“I’m talking about your purpose,” she said. “You were born to solve problems that no other human being can solve. All of us were.”

“Who’s all of us?”

“Gen V,” Cadie said. She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. “Our parents were selected. Our genes were selected. We were taught math and biology and physics and computers and every other science practically since the day we were born. We knew the scientific method before we could even feed ourselves. Everything from the formula we were given to the amount and types of stimulation we got to the games we played were all designed to make us the best problem solvers the world had ever seen.”

“We were raised by engineers and scientists,” Arik said. “Of course we were taught to solve problems. I doubt we were raised any differently from kids on Earth with parents like ours. In fact, kids on Earth have access to a lot more resources than we do. Their education is probably much better than ours.”

“Arik, think about it. V1 is an entirely isolated and controlled environment. Food, oxygen, stimulation, genetics, even lighting. Everything here is controlled. There are no distractions, and there are no options. Our housing is taken care of for us. Our meals are taken care of for us. Our careers were assigned to us. Even our marriages were practically arranged. Whether we like it or not, our lives are entirely dedicated to nothing but scientific advancement.”

Arik knew everything Cadie was saying was true, but he had never thought of his upbringing as being in any way malicious or exploitive. It was no secret that they were being groomed to inherit V1—to help improve and expand the colony—but Arik had always thought of this expectation as a privilege.

“What do they want us to do?”

“Expand, of course,” Cadie said. “Colonize the rest of Venus, then the rest of the solar system, then other solar systems, and eventually other galaxies.”

“That’s not even possible,” Arik blurted out. “You’re not making any sense.”

“It all makes perfect sense. The human race has already learned how dangerous it is have our entire population on a single planet. It’s far too vulnerable. If we don’t destroy ourselves, we’ll eventually be destroyed by a comet or an asteroid, or some sort of solar prominence, or a nearby gamma ray burst, or a pandemic. There are an infinite number of scenarios that could lead to human extinction. Everyone agrees it’s not a question of if—it’s a question of when. The GSA has one single directive: preserve the human race by promoting self-sustaining colonies throughout the solar system, galaxy, and the universe. And they can’t do that without us.”

“Cadie, you’re talking about technology that’s hundreds or even thousands of years away, if it’s even possible at all. It’s completely unrealistic. We’ve barely left Earth, and we’re already struggling.”

“It’s not technology that limits us. We’re the limitation. Our technology is an expression of our intelligence and creativity, so the limitations of our technology are a reflection of our own limitations. We can’t fundamentally advance technology until we fundamentally advance ourselves. That’s what Gen V is all about.”

“But the whole point of technology is to push us beyond our own limitations and capabilities. That’s why we have computers that can perform calculations quadrillions of times faster than the human brain.”

“Arik, you know as well as anyone that computers are capable of far more than even the most complex tasks we give them. Computers aren’t limited by hardware. They’re limited by the software that humans write. That’s why you’re so important. I don’t think you realize this, but you’re already considered one of the best computer scientists in history. At your age, you’re already far beyond Fai, and nobody here or on Earth can use a BCI like you. You have the potential to solve problems that nobody else has even dreamed of solving—that nobody else can even conceptualize. V1 needs you more than you realize. The GSA needs you. When Kelley talks about the Pinnacle of Human Achievement, he’s mostly talking about you, Arik.”

Arik watched her for a moment in the dark. “Priyanka told you all this?”

Cadie nodded. Arik looked down at the bed. He could feel his reality shifting as he began to grasp what Cadie was telling him. Everything she said made sense. In fact, on some level, he felt like he already knew most of it. If the Founders had tried to conceal their plans for Gen V, they had concealed them in plain sight. To see them, you only had to look at the big picture, to broaden your perspective, to stop looking at time in terms of weeks, months, or years, and to start thinking in terms of generations. To really understand your own place in history, you needed to be able to see yourself in the past tense.

Arik felt like he should be angry, but the clarity he was starting to experience felt positive and somehow empowering. He was starting to feel focused, and to realize a new and tangible sense of purpose. But there was also the sense that he was considered nothing more than a resource—that he would only be allowed to reach his full potential in areas that happened to align with V1′s best interests. Arik knew there was more in what Cadie was telling him—more for them to discuss and explore—but all of that would have to wait.

“Tell me about the baby.”

Cadie took a deep breath and continued. “Priyanka brought me a DNA sample. He said if we could recover some part of you, nothing would have been lost but time.”

“Priyanka?” Arik interjected. He recalled his discussion with Priyanka before he’d been allowed to leave the hospital, and specifically the way he’d brought up the baby.

“Arik, you have to understand that I didn’t do it for him, or for V1, or for the GSA. I did it for me. You’re all I have. If you died, I’d be completely alone for the rest of my life. Can you understand that?”

“But what did you do, Cadie?”

“I created our baby.”

Arik stared at her across the bed. He was shaking his head. “What are you saying?”

“I used an infection,” Cadie said. “A virus. I used your DNA to create our baby.”

“How?”

“Listen,” Cadie said. Arik could see that she was changing roles and starting to talk to him now as a biologist rather than his wife. She leaned toward him. “Most people think of viruses as parasites, but they aren’t parasites at all. An organism has to be considered alive to be classified as a parasite. Viruses don’t do any of things living organisms do. They don’t grow, they can’t move on their own, and they don’t metabolize. They don’t even have cells. But the one thing a virus is very good at is reproducing. When it finds a suitable host cell, it attaches itself and injects its DNA through the cell’s plasma wall. The virus’s genes are transcribed into the host cell’s DNA, and the host cell’s genetic code is rewritten. Whatever its job was before, its new job is to do nothing but produce copies of the original virus, usually until it’s created so many that the cell bursts open and spreads the infection.”

“What does this have to do with the baby?”

“Everything,” Cadie said. “Because the thing about viruses is that they’re easily manipulated. The DNA they inject doesn’t have to be destructive. It can be replaced with almost any kind of DNA you want, and it can be programmed to only replace certain parts of the host’s genetic code. In other words, viruses are perfect vectors for genetic engineering.”

Arik could see where she was going. “But you’d have to have an embryo first, wouldn’t you?”

“Not an embryo,” Cadie said. “By that time, it’s too late. You need a zygote. A zygote gets half of its genetic material from the mother and the other half from the father. Before the zygote becomes an embryo, you have a short window of time in which you can make genetic modifications. And the best way to make those modifications is to let a genetically engineered virus make them for you. Do you understand?”

Arik nodded. He was following what Cadie was telling him, but still not entirely comprehending the implications.

“Arik,” Cadie said, “the baby started out as Cam’s, but it’s as much yours now as if we conceived it ourselves.”

She waited for Arik’s reaction, but he was completely still. He didn’t know what to feel. It occurred to him that human emotion had not evolved quickly enough to keep up with what mankind’s scientific capabilities demanded of it. Sometimes the tiny components that made up an experience just didn’t fit in to existing emotional receptors, and the result was simply numbness.

“Arik,” Cadie said, “the baby is yours. It’s ours.”

“Did you test the DNA Priyanka gave you?”

“No, because I didn’t use it,” Cadie said. “I used your DNA from ODSTAR instead. It was the only way I could be sure it was yours. I had to destroy the project, but it worked. She’s a perfectly healthy baby girl. She’s our baby girl.”

Cadie’s tearful smile was all Arik needed to tell him how to feel. For the first time, he reached out and touched his child. Cadie took his fingers away, pulled up her gown, and held his hand firmly against her flesh.

Arik looked up from Cadie’s belly. “She’s going to have that image of Earth inside her forever. Blue Marble. Like a genetic tattoo.”

“I know,” Cadie said. “I think it’s beautiful. Wherever she ends up, whatever ends up happening to her, she’ll always have something inside of her that no one can take away.”

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Containment Giveaway.” One entry per person. Three winners will be randomly selected. This giveaway is open to those in the US and Canada (sorry to everyone not in those countries). The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, August 31. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winners. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Note: Now that the giveaway is over, the contact form has been removed.

Thieftaker is the first book in the Thieftaker Chronicles, a new historical fantasy series by D. B. Jackson (also known as epic fantasy author David B. Coe). The second book in this series, Thieves’ Quarry, will be released in 2013.

Thieftaker combines fantasy and mystery with historical fiction set in Boston, Massachusetts in 1765. While there is magic, it almost seems as though the events in this novel could have happened due to both the inclusion of real events and the fact that those who practiced magic were tried for witchcraft. The novel is set during the beginning of the unrest and political turmoil leading up to the American Revolution. Both the Stamp Act riots and the division between those who believed they should adhere to England’s rule and those who did not add to the believable setting. There are some liberties taken with the time period as the author mentions in the historical note at the end, but many of the occurrences aid in making it seem authentic despite the spells.

The main protagonist, Ethan Kaille, is a thieftaker and a conjurer. His ability with magic aids him in capturing thieves and returning stolen goods to their rightful owners. This allows him to manage to take some more minor jobs while trying to stay out of the way of Sephira Pryce, the primary thieftaker in Boston and a very powerful woman. After successfully completing a job for a merchant, Ethan is paid enough that he doesn’t need to take another job for awhile. Yet his plans quickly change when he is approached about recovering a brooch – and finding the murderer of the girl who was wearing it. At first, Ethan is reluctant to take the job since he goes after thieves, not murderers, but when he suspects conjuring may be involved, he realizes he may be the only one with the experience to stop him or her. The deeper he gets into the mystery, the more dangerous it gets: not only does there seem to be more at stake than bringing a killer to justice, but Sephira Pryce is not happy with Ethan’s involvement with this particular wealthy client.

When an unsolicited copy of Thieftaker showed up in my mailbox, I was very intrigued by the setting and the general premise. I loved the idea of fantasy set during the time of the American Revolution with a main character who went after thieves. However, this novel didn’t entirely work for me even though it’s not at all what I would call a bad book. The word I keep thinking of to describe Thieftaker is “adequate.” While it blends historical fiction and fantasy very well, it’s average in terms of storytelling, characters, and dialogue. I felt it was a decent enough book but was missing that special spark that moves a book from merely readable to memorable.

While it is a blend of genres, I’d say that Thieftaker is first and foremost a mystery story and that may be where a large part of my inability to get excited about it is coming from. I do like a good mystery, but it has to be a really compelling mystery to hold my interest if it doesn’t have some good characterization or dialogue to go with it. This murder mystery about a girl we never saw or had reason to care about didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat or constantly guessing. It mostly consisted of Ethan interrogating people who knew the girl or who may have had knowledge of what happened to her. Throughout his investigation, he occasionally butts heads with Sephira Pryce, who must make sure he is aware of his place and her own as Boston’s primary thieftaker. Of course, asking questions and looking for clues is how one solves a mystery, but there was no real sense of urgency or engagement with this storyline for me. The scenes with Sephira provided some of that action and urgency, but at the same time, I just didn’t care enough about Ethan to be anxious about what would happen to him.

As a character, Ethan is likable enough, but I felt he lacked the sort of flaws, struggles, and internal conflict that makes a character vibrant and engaging. This may be due to the fact that he is no longer a young man and a lot of his trials are referenced as being in his distant past. Years ago, he was involved in a mutiny and lost the woman he loved, but he seems to have come to terms with his conjuring ability (which played a role in both these events). On the one hand, I liked that Ethan seemed to be a mature character who knew how he should behave and had principles. On the other hand, I felt like every decision he made was too predictable because he always did the good and decent thing – for instance, he looks out for his friend, learns from his mistakes in his past relationship, tells thieves to leave town when his employer would prefer he kill them, and commits to solving a murder when he has no experience with these types of crimes. There is one point where he had a tough choice to make, but at the same time, it was not such a difficult choice that I felt he could have done any differently than he did. Toward the end, Ethan did show himself to be intelligent and able to think on his feet. I liked Ethan. I admired Ethan. Yet his steady character kept him from being a memorable character, especially since he didn’t have any personality traits that really stood out to me other than being very honorable.

Though lacking in internal conflict, there is plenty of external tension for Ethan in the form of Sephira Pryce and the danger involved in solving a murder mystery. It also exists as a result of his conjuring ability since conjurers are considered witches, yet I didn’t find that entirely believable or intense. It seemed as though it was pretty well-known that Ethan was supposed to be a conjurer. Some might view him with disapproval because of this, but no one really cared deeply enough to do more than talk about it. Perhaps they were just level-headed and not giving in to rumors or they truly feared a conjurer’s power, but I don’t really expect people from this era to be rational when it comes to rumors concerning witchcraft. This is perhaps not entirely fair of me since it is fantasy fiction despite being set in the real world. However, one of the pitfalls of using realistic settings in fantasy is that readers will have certain expectations about that time that may not mesh with the reimagined setting. The lack of major consequences for someone known to be a conjurer was the one thing that seemed out of place to me in what was otherwise a very well-done blend of history and fantasy.

The actual magic and its rules were intriguing, but it was told through a lot of infodumps. Ethan utters Latin phrases when he casts spells, but every single time he spoke a phrase it was translated into English even though there was usually enough context to figure it out. There is a lot of telling instead of showing, which doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, but I did feel this book told a lot more than it needed to. It made the entire magic system, which had some tradeoffs and interesting rules, seem very systematic.

Thieftaker had some different elements I can appreciate, such as melding fantasy with the American Revolution, a main character who is not the usual young person, and a powerful female for the protagonist’s rival. However, it seemed like a rather bland melding of all these elements that was lacking in heart and any truly distinctive feature. Thieftaker was readable, but it lacked compelling characters, excitement, fast-paced plotting, great dialogue, or anything that would set it apart from the other books available to read. I can see some enjoying it as a fun mystery with some historical and fantasy elements, but it needed more to have an impact on me.

My Rating: 6/10

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

Read Chapters 1 – 3

Read the related short story “A Spell of Vengeance”

Other Reviews of Thieftaker:

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.

This week one finished copy and two ARCs showed up in the mail. One of these is the finished copy of a book I already discussed when I got an ARC so I’m not going to include it again. If you are interested in reading more about this book, Black Bottle by Anthony Huso, you can do so here. (I have updated this post to include the excerpt now that it’s close enough to the book’s release date that there is one available.)

The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman

The Rise of Ransom City (Half-Made World #2) by Felix Gilman

This sequel to The Half-Made World will be released in hardcover and ebook in November. There doesn’t seem to be an excerpt from this upcoming novel yet, which isn’t surprising since it won’t be released for a little while. If you are new to these books, you can read an excerpt from The Half-Made World on Tor.com, though.

I have not yet read The Half-Made World, but seeing this reminded me that I have a copy of it and that maybe I should read it. It’s supposed to be excellent, and I have been wanting to read one of Felix Gilman’s books for awhile now since I’ve also heard good things about Thunderer by him.

This is the story Harry Ransom. If you know his name it’s most likely as the inventor of the Ransom Process, a stroke of genius that changed the world.

Or you may have read about how he lost the battle of Jasper City, or won it, depending on where you stand in matters of politics.

Friends called him Hal or Harry, or by one of a half-dozen aliases, of which he had more than any honest man should. He often went by Professor Harry Ransom, and though he never had anything you might call a formal education, he definitely earned it.

If you’re reading this in the future, Ransom City must be a great and glittering metropolis by now, with a big bronze statue of Harry Ransom in a park somewhere. You might be standing on its sidewalk and not wonder in the least of how it grew to its current glory. Well, here is its story, full of adventure and intrigue. And it all starts with the day that old Harry Ransom crossed paths with Liv Alverhyusen and John Creedmoor, two fugitives running from the Line, amidst a war with no end.

Tomorrow the Killing by Daniel Polansky

Tomorrow the Killing (Low Town #2) by Daniel Polansky

Tomorrow the Killing is the sequel to Daniel Polansky’s debut, titled Low Town in the US and The Straight Razor Cure in the UK. The book I received is an ARC of the UK edition of this upcoming book, and I can’t find a US release date for it. It will be released in the UK in hardcover and ebook on October 11. It seems to be too early for an excerpt, but you can read one from Low Town or The Straight Razor Cure. (I have no idea if they are actually different or not but figured I’d link to both the US and UK excerpts.)

This week’s post seems to have a theme of sequels to books I’ve been meaning to read since Low Town is another one I’ve been meaning to pick up and haven’t yet.

Once he was a hero of the Great War, and then a member of the dreaded Black House. Now he is the criminal linchpin of Low Town.

His name is Warden.

He thought he had left the war behind him, but a summons from up above brings the past sharply, uncomfortably, back into focus. General Montgomery’s daughter is missing somewhere in Low Town, searching for clues about her brother’s murder. The General wants her found, before the stinking streets can lay claim to her, too.

Dark, violent, and shot through with corruption, TOMORROW, THE KILLING is a fantastic successor to one of the most heralded fantasy debuts of recent times.

Rowena Cory Daniells, author of the best selling King Rolen’s Kin trilogy, lets us see what goes on inside writers’ heads.

Outcast Chronicles Banner

I’ll let you into a secret…

What really goes on in writers’ heads

I saw a TedTalk recently about introverts. The speaker, Susan Cain, admitted to being shy which was funny, because there she was talking to an audience, being filmed for distribution. But what she had to say was important to her and it struck a chord with me.

Around one in three people are introverts to some degree or another. The quiet ones make the talkative types uneasy. Extroverts are always urging introverts to speak up, join in and go to parties as if their reticence is something that needs to be cured. Susan Cain made a good case for quiet contemplation.

Someone has to stand back and observe, then hold a mirror to the world through the medium of books, film, art etc so that we can see ourselves more clearly. And writers, who by their very nature, love being shut away in a room with a keyboard and the world of their imagination, would have to be some of the most introverted of introverts.

Yet, writers are supposed to promote their books. ‘Off you go,’ the publisher says, ‘be scintillating and entertaining’. No wonder writers struggle.

‘You want me to talk about my book? But that’s why I wrote the book, so I could talk about things via my characters and my world.’ Writers would much rather let the book speak for itself.

Writers would much rather be in the background listening to readers talk about their books.

I like to sit on trains and listen in to conversations. Not in a weird way. People talk and I happen to hear. The other week two teenage boys were doing the conversational equivalent of strutting. One was still in school and was boasting about a fight he’d been involved in. The other one had dropped out of school and was making X dollars a week and very proud of himself. His job? Chasing chickens. Did you know you can hold four chickens in each hand, hanging them upside down by their legs? His friend was impressed.

It’s all part of observing the world and trying to make sense of it. This is what writers are doing and all the while, their stories are simmering away in the background.

You might see us mowing the yard or peeling the potatoes — it’s not like I get to take long walks on the beach, my life is pretty ordinary — but what goes on in my head is not. Because while I’m pushing the mower back and forth across the yard I might be battling aliens on a space station, or down a dark alley dicing with vampires or galloping across a misty moor looking for dragon eggs.

Often I’ll be angsting over a character’s dilemma as I sift through a plot problem.

That’s why writers need quiet time. If you charge straight at a plot hole, it’ll trip you. You need to come at it side-ways and then the solution will percolate up from your subconscious. All this goes on and before you know it, when the time is right, you’ll feel the urge to write.

That’s when the relatives will visit, or the kids will come down with the ‘flu.

That’s when I think fondly of monasteries, where they take a vow of silence and food is slipped under the door twice a day. To be left alone to write, what a luxury.

It’s the dissonance between the empty page and the full head. There’s a story trying to get out. I just have to find the best way to tackle it. Sometimes I’ll write thirty pages, before I hit my stride. I’ve been writing The Outcast Chronicles for ten years now. The characters feel like old friends. Old friends who I put into terrible situations to see how they react. Did it make for an engrossing story? This is what A Fantastical Librarian had to say: ‘In Besieged Daniells has created a rich and complex world and used it as the stage for an engrossing story. So engrossing in fact, that at one point I found myself emerging from the story only to find that I’d lost several hours.’ (review)

We couldn’t write like that if the world and characters weren’t vividly real to us. So that’s what goes on in writers’ heads when it looks like they are staring off into space. That’s why writers are the most introverted of introverts.

And here is what goes on in other people’s heads. Photographer, Simon Hogsberg, went around stopping people on the street and asking them what they were thinking about the moment before he stopped them. He recorded what they said and took their photograph. It’s fascinating. (See here).

The Outcast Chronicles by Rowena Cory Daniells

Rowena has a copy of Besieged, book one of The Outcast Chronicles, to give-away to one lucky commenter. (Open world-wide).

Give-away question: Do you have a favourite spot where you like to curl up and read, or can you lose yourself in a book anywhere?

Rowena’s Blog

Catch up with Rowena on Twitter: @rcdaniells

Catch up with Rowena on GoodReads

About Besieged:
Sorne, the estranged son of a King on the verge of madness, is being raised as a weapon to wield against the mystical Wyrds. Half a continent away, his father is planning to lay siege to the Celestial City, the home of the T’En, whose wyrd blood the mundane population have come to despise. Within the City, Imoshen, the only mystic to be raised by men, is desperately trying to hold her people together. A generations long feud between the men of the Brotherhoods and the women of the sacred Sisterhoods is about to come to a head.

With war without and war within, can an entire race survive the hatred of a nation?

Rowena Cory Daniells, the creator of the bestselling Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, brings you a stunning new fantasy epic, steeped in magic and forged in war.

Giveaway Deadline
If you are interested in winning a copy of Besieged, leave a comment answering the giveaway question above by the end of the day (EST) on Thursday, August 23. Good luck!

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.

This week two review copies of books coming out later this month showed up.

Blades of Winter by G. T. Almasi

Blades of Winter (Shadowstorm #1) by G. T. Almasi

This is both a debut and the start to a new series. It will be released in paperback and ebook on August 28, and it will be followed by Hammer of Angels next spring. An excerpt from Blades of Winter is available on the publisher’s website.

I’ve seen this one mentioned a few times and was curious about it so I was happy to find it inside the package that showed up in the mail. It sounds like a fast-paced novel and it does start with the action in the very first line:

 

Nothing pisses me off more than being shot at while I’m eating.

It sounds like a lot of fun:

In one of the most exciting debuts in years, G. T. Almasi has fused the intricate cat-and-mouse games of a John le Carré novel with the brash style of comic book superheroes to create a kick-ass alternate history that reimagines the Cold War as a clash of spies with biological, chemical, and technological enhancements.

Nineteen-year-old Alix Nico, a self-described “million-dollar murder machine,” is a rising star in ExOps, a covert-action agency that aggressively shields the United States from its three great enemies: the Soviet Union, Greater Germany, and the Nationalist Republic of China. Rather than risk another all-out war, the four superpowers have poured their resources into creating superspies known as Levels.

Alix is one of the hottest young American Levels. That’s no surprise: Her dad was America’s top Level before he was captured and killed eight years ago. But when an impulsive decision explodes—literally—in her face, Alix uncovers a conspiracy that pushes her to her limits and could upset the global balance of power forever.

Wards of Faerie by Terry Brooks

Wards of Faerie (The Dark Legacy of Shannara #1) by Terry Brooks

This first book in a new Shannara trilogy will be available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook on August 21.  An excerpt from Wards of Faerie is available on the publisher’s website.

The next two books in the trilogy are both scheduled for release next year: The Bloodfire Quest in March and Witch Wraith in August.

There are lots of Shannara books so if you are someone like myself who has no idea where to start you may find the reading order guide on the author’s website useful. This page does state that most of the trilogies can stand alone so the guides are intended to help readers avoid spoiling themselves or get the most they can out of the books.

For information on the Wards of Faerie tour and the locations Terry Brooks will be visiting, visit this page. If he’s not coming to a city near you, there will be signed copies of the book available on The Signed Page. (This is a great site. I keep an eye on it and have gotten signed copies of books from it before. Right now I’m trying not to drool over Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey, which will also be available there.)

Seven years after the conclusion of the High Druid of Shannara trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks at last revisits one of the most popular eras in the legendary epic fantasy series that has spellbound readers for more than three decades.

When the world was young, and its name was Faerie, the power of magic ruled—and the Elfstones warded the race of Elves and their lands, keeping evil at bay. But when an Elven girl fell hopelessly in love with a Darkling boy of the Void, he carried away more than her heart.

Thousands of years later, tumultuous times are upon the world now known as the Four Lands. Users of magic are in conflict with proponents of science. Elves have distanced their society from the other races. The dwindling Druid order and its teachings are threatened with extinction. A sinister politician has used treachery and murder to rise as prime minister of the mighty Federation. Meanwhile, poring through a long-forgotten diary, the young Druid Aphenglow Elessedil has stumbled upon the secret account of an Elven girl’s heartbreak and the shocking truth about the vanished Elfstones. But never has a little knowledge been so very dangerous—as Aphenglow quickly learns when she’s set upon by assassins.

Yet there can be no turning back from the road to which fate has steered her. For whoever captures the Elfstones and their untold powers will surely hold the advantage in the devastating clash to come. But Aphenglow and her allies—Druids, Elves, and humans alike—remember the monstrous history of the Demon War, and they know that the Four Lands will never survive another reign of darkness. But whether they themselves can survive the attempt to stem that tide is another question entirely.