Noor A. Jahangir's Blog
December 19, 2014
One of the most accomplished assassin’s in the world presents himself to the Queen of the Jashamari with an offer she can not refuse; his services to kill the enemy of her people, the King of the Cotti.
Queen Mina-Sattu has inherited her mother’s throne and the Endless War that stretches so far back in time that no one remembers why it was started. But Mina-Sattu wants to bring an end to the war. But to do that she must keep her own counsel as even her advisers and lords are against the idea of peace. Then Blade, an assassin of great renown, presents himself to her and with a solution that will sow the seeds of peace for the future.
It is strange that Blade, the main protagonist, isn’t introduced until a few chapters into the story, so initially I thought the Mina-Sattu was going to be the key protagonist. She is young and beautiful but does not take advantage of these two qualities, relying instead on her intelligence, planning and will-power. There is plenty of fuel here for a love-triangle, but this is only hinted at and never really pushed as a central story arc. Blade is also an unusual character and protagonist. For one, he is a eunuch and can pass himself off as a disturbingly attractive woman, and though in peak condition, isn’t really a fighter or a brawler. Instead he uses his mastery of disguise and stealth to carry out his assassinations. As a person, he is cold and aloof, emotionally scarred and believes himself incapable of feeling love or kindness. And yet his actions often betray his humanity to those who have got to know him better.
The world created by T C Southwell resonates a little with Pullman’s His Dark Materials, in that the most people have an animal familiar, usually reflecting the person characteristics too. The Jashimari seem to be a blend of Far-Eastern and European cultures, and the Cotti Middle-Eastern and European. There no fantastical creatures, or demons, but the priests seem to have some mastery over esoteric practices.
The writing is solid for most part, but an odd turn of phrase now and then does draw attention to itself. The plot isn’t overly complicated and at times can be a little transparent, but that is just nitpicking as otherwise it flows well and is a fairly satisfying read. The pacing could be better, as the book seems longer than such a simple plot requires.
The current trend for writers is to write long series (what’s wrong with trilogies?), thanks perhaps to long running series like the Game of Thrones, the Wheel of Time, etc. This isn’t an insurmountable issue when each book can be treated as a standalone novel too, but more often than not, books feel more serialized and the Queen’s Blade seems to have fallen pray to this too. There is no major resolution to the first book and it ends on a huge cliffhanger (like a mid-season finale for a popular tv show) and left me somewhat dissatisfied and at loose ends.
T C is a good writer and there’s lots of commendable things in this book, but a stronger finish and better pacing would have made this a great read.
December 8, 2014
Guest Post by Raven Oak, author of Amaskan’s Blood
Ooooo! It’s a Siri dialogue!
Go ahead, read it. Heck, you probably did before you even took a glance at my words. If not, you’ve more self-control than most people, so go ahead and give it a read.
Welcome back! What’s the main thing that pops out at you about the dialogue with Siri?
Is it the stilted style–the way both sides feel like talking robots rather than humans? The lack of “tags” like he said, she said? Maybe it’s the fact that as a reader, we have no idea who is talking with Siri? Better yet, maybe it’s that two people (or are they computers? objects?) are talking, while doing little else. Are they standing? Did one of them pick his nose while touching Siri? And while he picked his nose, where is he? Is he in public doing this or sitting behind three computer screens while he wiki-crawls?
Dialogue does more than just show characters talking.
sets our scene (setting)
gives us sensory details about our characters and their actions
gives us backstory
gives us information on our characters’ motivations
pushes the plot forward to carry us through action.
One of the marks of a newbie writer is his or her tendency to tell instead of show (which is another article on its own). This tendency often happens because the writer doesn’t understand how to create good and believable dialogue. Here’s an example of telling:
Sonya was a girl like any other girl, except her pigtails stuck out too far, as did her teeth. Her red hair was redder than a crayon, and when she stuck out her tongue, it was red, too. Sonya liked the color red. She felt it brought out the color of her eyes–blue. Or green if she wore certain colors. She thought her eyes were her best feature.
While a pretty little bit of story, we aren’t really in Sonya’s point of view. We’re basically getting description of her and who she is as a character by the narrator telling us these things. One of the ways an author can avoid this is by trickling out these character details through dialogue and action. Let’s visit Sonya again:
Sonya glared at Pete. He stood not one foot from her, his bare feet kicking up dust clouds in the dirt road. When her cheeks flushed to match her red hair, she swore.
“What’s wrong, Pipi?” Pete asked.
She hated that name. His grubby hand reached out and tugged her pigtails. Pigtails that stuck out too far. Just like her teeth. Just like everything. Too big. Too red. Too poor.
“Shut it, Pete.”
Sonya stuck out her tongue, and he pointed an equally grubby finger at it. “Yer tongue’s red, too!”
She should’ve bit his finger, but the blood-stained dirt beneath his nails didn’t warrant the risk. “Nothin’ wrong with the color red, you idgit. Besides, it brings out the color of my eyes.”
His laughter stopped mid-guffaw. He leaned in closer until his button nose near touched her own. “What color are they anyway? If I turn this way,” he said, tilting his head to the right, “they’re green, but iffin I go the other way, they’re blue. Howdja do that anyhow?”
Sonya hid a grin behind her hand. Her eyes were her best feature, or so her mama said, and here was Pete Thomas payin’ her a compliment. Pete Thomas standing in her front yard. Imagine.
Notice that the difference? We have description of our characters and setting (though we could possibly use a little more setting here). We know Sonya probably likes Pete, despite his teasing. We know Sonya doesn’t like her appearance (big red hair, big teeth, etc.), but she likes that her eyes that change color. We also know that Pete possibly likes Sonya in return, and she’s surprised by this fact. The mix of dialogue and action carries our story along at a nice pace, too.
One of the best ways to learn to write dialogue is to go somewhere public, like a coffee shop or restaurant, and listen to people talk. Listen to the cadence. Listen to their word choice, their slang, their accents. (People don’t speak with perfect grammar.) As you listen, see if you can predict what the person will say next. People tend to speak in a predictable pattern once you learn it. Another thing you can do is watch movies. Study how characters speak and interact with each other. Notice that in our “show” example, Sonya and Pete don’t just stand still. They move. They interact with the setting and with each other. They aren’t static computers like Siri. You can also study dialogue in your favorite books and stories. Study what worked and didn’t work. See if you can decipher why it worked and why it didn’t.
(Examples written on the fly by the author. They aren’t representative of polished text, but are learning examples.)
Find out more about Raven Oak and her upcoming book at http://www.ravenoak.net/
November 26, 2014
In a backwater town, a man with a hidden past spends his days running a well-kept inn. But then a traveller known as The Chronicler comes upon him one night and recognises him for who he really is; Kvothe, the Kingkiller.
The book (and the series) opens with Kvothe passing himself off as a humble innkeeper who takes great pride in the appearance of his establishment and the quality of his food and drink. But his idyllic life is soon interrupted when one of the local men stumbles in from the night wounded and distraught, claiming to have been attacked by a giant spider-like creature with razor sharp legs. Kvothe however recognises the creature for what it is and sets out under the cover of dark to kill the rest of its hive, only to come upon the Chronicler, stumbling through the woods looking for a story. The Chronicler sees past Kvothe’s guise and recognises him for what he is, and then convinces him to tell his story and have the truth of his astonishing life recorded for posterity. Kvothe agrees reluctantly but asks the Chronicler to allow him three days to tell the story properly. Kvothe begins his tale from when he was on the cusp of adulthood, travelling with his parents in a troupe of performers, of how he met an arcanist from the University, who trained him in the various sciences and sympathy magic. Then tragedy strikes and Kvothe’s story turns darker as he is forced to live the life of a street rat, until he is reminded one day of what he has lost and sets out to fulfill his ambition of becoming an arcanist.
The world in which Kvothe resides is fleshed out by him in his own words, including the flora and fauna, the wildlife, the land and cities he visits, the organisation of knowledge and an interesting magical system that relies just as much on science, math and art, as it does on symbols and language. One of the key points of interest is the University, with its different faculties, student accommodation and culture. I won’t lie, it did put me in mind of Hogwarts, with its Dumbledore like headmaster and Snape like antagonistic teacher who has it in for Kvothe. There is even the rich kid who takes a dislike to Kvothe on the first day of school too. But that’s as far as the similarity goes. Rothfuss’s research stands out in how he has broken down the various sciences behind the different faculties and this more than anything sets the world of Kvothe apart from that of Harry Potter.
Kvothe is properly a multi-faceted character. Our first impression of him is a world-weary man who has settled into a mundane life out of choice. Then we see a spark of something darker as he sets out to slay the demon-spider creatures, that and the fact that he has a named sword which he hangs over the bar. But through his storytelling, we learn of a younger, more impressionable Kvothe, and see him as a skinny little kid who misses his parents and gets bullied a lot. We also see him as a hopeless romantic who has fallen for the wrong girl, but at the same time an ambitious and super-intelligent young man who wants to rise to the top as well as avenge his family.
But it wasn’t the character, plot or the setting that hooked me into this 600+ paged book. It was the writing. My first thought was, that damn, this guy can write. His descriptions and world-play is some of the best I’ve come across in a long time. This is especially evident when Rothfuss is writing in third person. For some reason though this isn’t as apparent when he is writing in the first person, perhaps because he is telling that part of the story in Kvothe’s voice rather than in an omniscient voice. The plot is interesting and the writing is beautiful. Kvothe is definitely a memorable character and am sure will show more sides of himself in the sequels, and that in itself is a feat and a reason to come back. However, the Name of the Wind didn’t conclude in a satisfactory way for me, but rather is anti-climatic and lacks a hook other than the character himself. Still, I do want to know what happens next . . . .
November 21, 2014
Watch legendary author, Ursula Le Guin, say it how it is at the National Book Awards, regarding genre fiction as literature, agency pricing, corporate fatwas and authors accepting the ill-treatment.
November 15, 2014
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
Sienna Nealon has spent most of her childhood and her teen years a prisoner in her own home. The only person in her life is her mother. A mother who doesn’t show her affection, who rarely talks to her except to teach her something, trains her every day in martial arts and locks her in a metal box in the cellar if Sienna breaks any of the rules; always be fully dressed, never look outside and never leave the house. Then one day, Sienna wakes ups to find two armed men in her house.
This is where the first book starts. Sienna’s mother has been gone for a week, with no phone call or message to explain her absence. Sienna realises that she is going to have to break all of her mother’s rules. Escaping the house, Sienna finds herself entering a world that anyone of us would find strange. A world in which metahumans exist, living in the shadows, wielding powers both terrifying and amazing. Sienna quickly learns that there she is being hunted by more than just those two men. Three powerful factions are interested in Sienna, because of who she is and . . . because of what she is.
Over the course of the first two books in the series, Alone and Untouched, Sienna discovers that she has superhuman strength and agility, a healing factor akin to Wolverine’s, and the power to suck the life-force out of her victims (like Rogue). Over the course of the box set, the reader witnesses Sienna’s growth from being an abused, naïve and fragile girl, into a sassy, powerful metahuman. It’s hard not to sympathise with her. The author puts her through physical and emotional hell, having her bashed and torn by monsters like Wolfe, Sabretooth’s bigger and badder twin and Full Metal Jackass, the Juggernauts less psychotic cousin. It’s almost as if Sienna likes getting beat-up, as half-way through the first book she develops a seriously suicidal conscience that makes her decide to put herself in harm’s way. In the second book, Crane gives her a ride along buddy in her head, the monster formerly known as Wolfe, like her personal homicidal inner-voice, possibly the most interesting thing to happen in the series. Strangely, the author decides to suppress this awesome concept through drugs and as a result, Wolfe is noticeably absent from Sienna’s head in the third book. Sienna herself has lost some of her softer edges and is well on the way to being a bad-ass herself, but she begins to make questionable decisions. Like Rogue, Sienna is unable to touch anyone with her bare skin without draining their life energy, so having a boyfriend is difficult work. However, it doesn’t explain why she jumps on the first guy she can touch without killing.
You may have picked up that I’ve made a number of references to characters appearing in X-Men. That’s because there seems a strong Marvel influence running through the character roster in this series. As well as the characters named above, there is chap that is reminiscent of Blob and another like the Human Torch. What is different is how Crane has classed the different mutant/meta abilities using references to the Greek pantheon, e.g. a healer is referred to a Persephone type, a meta with command over water is a Poseidon type, etc; though Crane stops well short of offering up a full classification of the meta abilities on offer. The other overarching conflict in Sienna’s world is the different factions. The first we are introduced to is the Directorate, a mixture of humans and metas that operate as pseudo-governmental agency that try to recruit metas and lock up or put down the one’s they believe are dangerous. The opposition is Omega, a group of metas who are also recruiting metas, the more powerful the better. There is a third group that we don’t hear much about at all until the third novel, who take a less extreme approach to swelling their ranks. I suppose the underlying narrative is “there’s a war coming. Are you sure you’re on the right side?”
The writing is only a little annoying at times, but forgivably so. The author does a good job of piquing the interest from the very first page and a fast paced plot with regular action ensures that you keep coming back to the story. The first two books follow a similar formula, introducing a villain early on in the book and then having Sienna clash with him/her a number of times before finally defeating them. Clearly, this isn’t War and Peace, but that said that simple plot works really well as there’s plenty to go on with Sienna’s internal struggles. Crane changes things up in the third novel, though there are still a number of powerful enemies after Sienna, her internal struggle is downgraded to simple relationship stuff (if not being able to touch your partner is simple). Crane also finally uncovers some of the grand narrative, which kind of feels a little late in the day. Some stronger foreshadowing in the first two books would have helped set up some of the reveals that occur in the third novel. Inevitably, there are going to be more books in the series (in fact there is one out already), and the question is whether you feel invested enough to reach into your digital wallet to keep reading on.
As individual books, they are short and for most part punchy, but only as a collection (to me) do they feel worthwhile to put an effort in. My readers know that I’m a fan of the superhero/metahuman novels that have graced the digital shelves of Kindle, Nook and Kobo. This isn’t quite as good as Jade Kerrion’s fantastic Double Helix series, nor as edgy as Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, but it is still a fairly sturdy entry and will no doubt gather a fan base over the coming years.
October 20, 2014
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Fair Folk have walked straight out of the pages of fiction into the real world. Now they are struggling to survive in the modern world, under threat from immigration officers, each other and would be authors trying to capture them on film.
Beauty has just escape the Dark, the place Fair Folk go to when captured by an author’s camera. Now she is being pursued through the streets by another would be author. The only place she can go, the only place she knows will be safe, is the Tale’s End, a bookshop come coffee shop, run by Titania, one of the sisters Le Fay. She is rescued in the alley by the shop by Maeve, a former enemy and now friend, who has a penchant for red apples. Safe for now, Beauty must do a job for Titania before she is allowed to take her old job, barrista, and her old room back. She must steal Morgana Le Fay’s book of magic; a quest that could potentially blow the cover of all Fair Folk and start another battle between the Le Fay sisters. To make things worse for Beauty, the Dark isn’t finished with her, and there is a small matter of a ghostly author haunting her every step.
Beauty is the main character and is literally the archetype princess. She was Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. She is portrayed as being a sassy and mercurial lady, the only Folk who seems to be constantly changing and adapting to her situation. Everyone else around her seem to be stuck with their original personality. Take for example, Charlie, a.k.a Prince Charming, who is still looking to find his perfect partner in Beauty, despite centuries of marriages and divorces with her. Or Lancelot, who still holds a grudge against Arthur and Mordred and is looking for a damsel in distress to rescue or a dragon to slay, whilst serving as the Tale End’s chef.
The story is set in modern day New York, and mostly in the Tale’s End. The world-building is simple but effective enough, and puts me in the mind of the episodic videogame, The Wolf Amongst Us, and the tv show, Lost Girl.
What makes this story standout though is the excellent writing. Schneider has a talent for turning a sentence and finding words that just fit together so well. In some ways, the writing itself carries what is otherwise a simple enough story, making the characters more engaging and the settings believable. Give it a try and I’m sure you’ll find yourself turning the last page and wondering what comes next.
September 26, 2014
Drothe is the eyes and ears (known as a Nose) of a criminal organisation and also deals in stolen artifacts on the side. But when an unusual book lands in his lap, everyone, including his own boss, is after him and the book.
Drothe is chasing up an Imperial artifact that was stolen from him, only to find that it had been traded for a different artifact; a book that contains imperial secrets and an ancient, forbidden magic. The problem is that its last keeper turns up dead and just happens to be one of Drothe’s ears in a really rough area, and all the clues point to Drothe as the murderer. If that was his only problem, he could have taken care it. But rumors of treachery is something that the Kin do not take kindly too. Then there is the matter of the book. Everyone from the imperial elite guard to the Dark Princes of the criminal world are after what is locked away in its pages.
Hulick has created a wonderfully dark and rich world, full of interesting characters and mishmash of cultures, that blends the historic cities of Western Europe with the cultural highlights of the Middle East. This is made richer by the hierarchies and structures of the Kin, and the inclusion of real world criminal ‘patter’ to give it authenticity and a flavor all its own.
The lead character is an appropriately dashing rogue, but Hulick strikes a fine balance between making him ruthless and every bit a criminal and at the same time human and willing to go out of his way for the good of his fellow, and just the right amount squeamish in killing in cold blood.
My initial impression was that it was a blend of The Lies of Locke Lamora and Gangs of New York, an impression that remained with me for quite a way into the novel. Hulick’s mastery of the craft is evident in the way he has spun plot, dialogue, characterization and world building together, and should definitely be considered among authors such as Lynch, Barclay, Abercrombie and Weeks.
Without stringing together any more cliches, go out and get this book. You will not be disappointed.
September 22, 2014
A massacre at a small native american village leads to the survivors invoking a dark spirit, who turns them into zombies so that they may seek vengeance against the white men that slaughtered their families.
The story opens with Little Bear, the village shaman’s grandson and heir, out on a romantic walk with his fiancee, Summer Rain. But when they return, they find their village under attack by white men. Little Bear and Summer Rain barely escape with their lives. Little Bear is then called on to summon the spirits to aid them. A capricious spirit responds to his cry for help by turning him into a flesh-eating zombie. Things quickly get out of hand as the curse spreads beyond Little Bear’s control with the introduction of a new member to their group, Charity Banks, a power-hungry socialite with designs on becoming the queen of a land of the dead.
The story is told from various perspectives, with Sheriff Connor Maclane as the main protagonist, supported by a number of other characters, including Charity Banks herself, Summer Rain, Jeremiah (an outlaw) and his brothers, and a number of other soon to be victims, that give the book a kind of Walking Dead vibe.
The story is set in the railroad days of the wild west, mostly in and around the town of Lonesome Ridge. The setting provides a welcome relief from the now standard zombie apocalypse. Warren also introduces a number of intelligent zombies, such as Little Bear, Summer Rain and Charity Banks, creating the opening for a power struggle for control of the shuffling horde.
Warren doesn’t shy away from the gruesome, and handles dialogue and characterisation well, even if the characters are a little two-dimensional, but sets a decent pace for the action and story-telling. This could have been a very different book if Little Bear and Summer Rain had been the central protagonists, but Warren chooses a more well-worn approach by casting Sheriff Maclane as the leading man. A little more character depth would have gone a long way to making the Sheriff more likable, perhaps some back-story for him, with vignettes about his early years growing up with his sister Cora, and details of how his wife died, would have fleshed this out. Instead, Warren chose to focus on the back story of Charity Banks, which is understandable as she is a far more interesting prospect than the Sheriff.
Overall, this is an interesting entry to the zombie horror sub-genre, and will hold your interest for its length, with the inevitable loose-ends that suggest a sequel is in development.
September 6, 2014
(AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)
I don’t know how long I’ll have internet, or power, or…
Before things go dark, in case anyone out there is still reading the internet for more than information about the nearest shelter, I just wanted to say it’s been awesome.
And really, as Jo always said, go big or go home, right?
We’re “safe” in a shelter. Though I think safe is a relative term. When a super volcano starts erupting, from what I’ve read, you’re not really safe anywhere on the continent. Though Yellowstone park is a long way away they say the ash will reach us within the hour, and who knows what will happen then.
We should have known, really. I mean, when your roads start melting and ‘turning the asphalt to soup‘ that’s probably a pretty good hint that it’s a good time to get out of dodge, but we didn’t listen. Because of course we didn’t. We just closed those roads and figured we’d deal with repairing them once things cooled down a bit.
Heh. Cooled down. Do you see what I did there?
Oh yeah, this is what it’s come to. Me making stupid jokes while I huddle in a school gymnasium wondering how long we’ll have power, or food, or water, or order… or sunlight.
Blogging helps. Even though I know there isn’t really anyone out there reading this, it still helps. It helps me to pretend that things haven’t changed. That the world isn’t ending… or at least, that it’s not being buried in a cloud of volcanic ash.
It really drives me a bit bonkers that we knew. We knew that Yellowstone was a super volcano that was overdue for an eruption. We knew, and all we did was making movies about super eruptions and talk about how *if* it happened it would threaten the whole world. If. Powerful word that.
And now, here we are.
They’ve got these websites about what to do to give ourselves the best chance of surviving, but c’mon. Really, I think that’s just about prolonging the process, putting off the inevitable. I prefer to think I’m going out like the dinosaurs — an extinction level event.
Because c’mon. If you gotta go…
Ahh… the lights are starting to dim, and I don’t know how long the battery on my laptop is going to last, so I’m going to press the ‘Publish’ button, send this out into the ether and cuddle up with Jo and Dani in our little corner of the shelter. At least we have each other… and for as long as the light lasts, I have a really good book to read too:
A is for Apocalypse
Available now at:
In case it’s not obvious, the volcano in Yellowstone isn’t actually erupting, I’m not actually in a shelter waiting for the world to end… but I do have a really good book to read in A is for Apocalypse — that part is true enough!
Q: How imminent is an eruption of the Yellowstone Volcano?
A: There is no evidence that a catastrophic eruption at Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is imminent. Current geologic activity at Yellowstone has remained relatively constant since earth scientists first started monitoring some 30 years ago. Though another caldera-forming eruption is theoretically possible, it is very unlikely to occur in the next thousand or even 10,000 years.
The most likely activity would be lava flows such as those that occurred after the last major eruption. Such a lava flow would ooze slowly over months and years, allowing plenty of time for park managers to evaluate the situation and protect people. No scientific evidence indicates such a lava flow will occur soon.
July 23, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“This will be my last final broadcast. I know I said that yesterday, and the day before, and all the days before that after climbing this salt ridge and lifting my whiskers to the star. But this must be, truly, the last. There is no more time. I am dying.”
These opening lines of the story immediately set the tone of events to come. The protagonist is an Arabian anthropologist that was once tormented by the cold stars and the vast emptiness between them, and found himself driven to join Starmind. After years of training, Ansible 15716 , as he is designated is sent to a bleak and remote world covered in saline deserts. There he is robbed of voice and language, unable to communicate with the natives and unable to locate the other members of his team. There he roams the world looking for unknowable answers, tormented once more by his helplessness in the face of the stars, unable even to control the urge to mate with his alien bride. Slowly, he is driven to madness as his body yearns for expression, his heart for companionship, his mind for language and his soul for God.
The term Ansible was coined by Ursula Le Guin in 1966 and soon became a canon of science-fiction, borrowed by the likes of Orson Scott Card and other sf legends. The Ansible is supposed to be a device that allows for instant inter-planetary communication, despite the mind-boggling distances between worlds. Litore has turned the term into a calling and created a series of short stories that explore the outer regions of space and alien culture.
The story is written and narrated masterfully, engaging the reader’s senses in exploring the alien existence through a person imprisoned in the body of an alien, making him immediately familiar and yet other at the same time. By robbing him of the power of language, something that the Ansibles are trained for, the protagonist and the reader are forced to explore the world and the culture as outsiders. Yet these aren’t the only elements of the story. There is an overarching sense of mystical exploration too, with the protagonist engaged in an inner-dialogue with God. I have a suspicion that this relationship is central to the reason that the Arab man first went to Starmind, in the hopes that the work would bring him closer to God. This is best captured in the experience of the man’s intelligence transferring into the body of the alien, as he describes it as an “annihilatory experience”, the ultimate expression of Sufism, the annihilation of the self into the greater awareness of God.
This is true, breathtaking science fiction that will leave the reader as unsettled as it did the author. For that, despite its length, this is a 4 star experience.