The Rose of the Prophet by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

6a00d8345295c269e201bb09f892f4970d-250wiThis is it, y'all. The entire Pornokitsch legacy, resting on one final review. There's no guarantee that I'll ever have a platform like this again. Worse: these last words need to be worthy of the ten years of effort that went into building said platform. These words will represent the entire body of my work: now and forever. Terrifying.

And yet, that's not true, is it?

It is very easy to empathise with that kind of pressure – but it is also utter madness.  Approximately 80% of our traffic already goes directly to ‘old’ articles - and that's soon to be 100%. Most people that encounter Pornokitsch, or me, will never even see this review, much less use it as their means of judging the rest of my work.

Understandably, it is a relief when I acknowledge that this piece doesn’t need to be the ur-blog. I can try something new, experiment with something old, or do what feels right to me without having to second-guess my own legacy. I could even phone it in. This post is not exceptional, and that's liberating: I have permission to fail, and that makes it easier to get on with it.

I don't, however, have permission to wibble endlessly. I promise this does lead somewhere, but let's park this discussion of empowering failure for now.

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Review Round-up: Smoke 'em while you got 'em

Some reviews that are united by being... written. And since this site ain't around for much longer, it is now or never! Featuring Margaret Millar's Fire Will Freeze, Bill Beverly's Dodgers, Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and Lucas Dale's First Watch. Something for everyone and/or no one, I suspect.

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13631744Fire Will Freeze by Margaret Millar (1944)

Utterly bonkers ‘sealed room’ mystery - think of it as punk-Christie, with an emphasis on surreal dialogue, backhanded character development, and a (surprisingly) fair use of the Detection Club rules. A busload of skiiers - of variable ages, backgrounds and levels of outdoor experience - find themselves stranded in rural Canada when their bus-driver, quite literally, runs away. When the squabbling tourists finally go chasing off after him, they instead find a ramshackle mansion, tended to by a pair of (violently) unwelcoming women.

The mystery unfolds through a series of snarky conversations (everyone is barely holding it together) and accidental discoveries (there are a fair number of bodies about). Millar has one primary protagonist, a young busybody with an overactive imagination. The point of view changes frequently and, as with the best mysteries of its type, everyone is a suspect. The weirdness ramps up quickly, not aided by the frequent shifts in perspective, but Fire is well worth the initial effort.

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Stewart, Stewart, Heyer: Touch Not the Cat, Thornyhold and Envious Casca

 Three books by two favourites: Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat and Thornyhold and Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca.

For more on Stewart, check out our Author Appreciation and our convenient 'field guide'. For more on Heyer, er, just read a lot of Heyer? (It is well worth it.)

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TouchNotTheCatTouch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart (1976)

Touch Not has the hallmarks of one of Stewart’s classic romantic suspense novels: a beautiful woman (Bryony Ashley), both supremely confident and utterly alone in the world; a breath-taking location (the collapsing, but beautiful, ruin of Ashley Court); a discreet problem (the Court, and its expensive upkeep - whatever is one to do with this most ridiculous of #firstworldproblems). There are even several handsome men, depicting a variety of swoony characteristics, for Bryony to inevitably choose from. And, naturally some skullduggery: perhaps Ashley’s father’s accidental death wasn’t quite so accidental after all.

In the normal Stewart formula, this would unfold in the traditional way, with a few twists, an inevitable romantic pairing, and the barest modicum of actual threat. Stewart’s novels often unfold with an aristocratic coziness that precludes actual danger: the characters are so warmly ensconced in an upper crust so thick that murder itself couldn't penetrate it. (It is, I daresay, utterly wonderful to read, and her characters' self-confidence makes them better escapism than a thousand-thousand hobbits.)

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Review Round-up: Squadron Supreme, The Bug Wars, Crownbird and Beasts of the Burnished Chain

Four reviews with nothing in common, really. Squadron Supreme, Robert Asprin's The Bug Wars, Kit Thackeray's Crownbird, and Alex Marshall's new novella, Beasts of the Burnished Chain. Featuring: Military science fiction, four-colour superheroes, colonialist espionage action, and some grimdark skullduggery!

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Squadron_supreme_titleSquadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald and Tom DeFalco (1986)

Squadron is really quite spectacular, and every time I read it, I'm more impressed. It is, for those that missed it, a pre-Watchmen (barely) examination of superheroism. Squadron's thematic heft is made all the more weighty by the fact that the Squadron is a group of C-list Marvel heroes that are all thinly veiled versions of DC characters. That makes them expendable and strangely liberated - despite their immediate familiarity, there's no backstory, canon or future. The result is, quite possibly, the most mature, most interesting take on the Justice League that ever existed - all courtesy of Marvel Comics.

The twelve issue series begins with a world that's in bad shape, thanks to a battle between the Squadron and a mind-controlling super-villain. The Squadron steps up and declares itself 'in charge': the team is going to fix the world. From infrastructure to disarmament, they go about their utopian plan - forcing everyone to be better, if necessary. The situation becomes more extreme when the Squadron find themselves with a machine that can 'behaviourally modify' people. Now, as well as sweeping social and infrastructural change, they can now literally make individuals Be Good. The ethical situation doesn't go unchallenged, and the discussion - and fallout - is explored over the course of the series.

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Three Fantasies: The Black Witch, The Empire of the Dead, and The Summer I Became a Nerd

The Black WitchThree reviews - all books with different 'fantasies', or relationships with fantasy, at their heart: The Summer I Became a Nerd, The Black Witch and The Empire of the Dead. One's a romp. One's a long-overdue provocation. One's kind of a mess. Enjoy!

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The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (2017)

A very traditional fantasy with a thought-provoking, revisionist twist.

The Black Witch has a really, really interesting premise: it full-on tackles the fact that many fantasy tropes are inherently racist. That's not only a telling comment on the radical polarisation of real-world politics, but, within the scope of genre, Witch takes a  fascinating approach to fantasy's racial essentialism. All Orcs are evil. All Drasnians are sneaky. All Elves are good. Fantasy is grounded in simple, unchallenged 'genetic' truths, with the exceptions (whaddup, Drizzt) there to prove the rule.

Black Witch has a completely classic fantasy world with a heroic human - basically the unappreciated secretly-hawt princess trope, rampaging hordes of Evil, the true religion, Fate and Destiny, a war against the darkness, and, of course, the chosen ones of light and darkness. But, as is made rapidly clear: every part of this is completely subjective.

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Friday Five: 5 Frosty Favourites for Snowy Weather

As #snowmageddon ravages Britain, we're looking forward to the weekend. We have firm plans to camp out - pressed against the radiator, under a dozen blankets (and two cats), with whisky in hand. Also, books. * 

Here are a few of our cold weather favourites.

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SPFBO2017: The Finalists Reviewed (All of 'em!)

11304423085_ee8df18686_oWe're participating in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. You can learn more about what this means (and how the finalists are doing) here. And follow the various stages of our process here.

I think I'm going to follow up in a week or two with a wibbly 'WHAT I LEARNED' post, and talk about my SPFBO experience(s) a bit more as a whole [UPDATE: Nyah.]. It has been a lot of fun, very enlightening - I've read a lots that covered the whole spectrum of quality - and learned a fair amount about what I think constitutes 'good'. Which is no bad thing. And, unlike previous judging or slush-reading experiences, I can wang about this all I want. So, in the next couple weeks, I might take advantage of that.

But, for now, here are this year's ten finalists, in no particular order, with my - somewhat arbitrary - scores. Thanks again for all the writers, readers, judges and administrator (singular!) for participating, and please check out the other judges for other perspectives!

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