Irons in the Fire by Antonio Urias

26240720Talis is one hell of a city. It is both a bustling metropolis and the edge of the civilisation, home to millions of humans and faerie, and the centre of trade and magic. Ruled by a benevolent, but firmly entrenched, duke, Talis has a history dating back thousands of years, including centuries under the oppression of Witches.

Talis is also packed with stories. The Witches were overthrown by a human/faerie alliance - an alliance that has since dissolved. The faeries are second-class citizens in the city. They live packed into a ghetto, the population of which increases daily with refugees from the surrounding wilderness. Others have assimilated into human society, trying to fit in as merchants, artists or political power-brokers. On the human 'side', the Duke has no heir, and the city's many aristocrats and nouveau riche jockey for position - while the Emperor looks on, impassively, from afar. The city guard is rife with corruption and intrigue, but still stands as the last line between the city and total anarchy. Talis is the proverbial powder keg, with strangers, politicians, rebels, wizards, and detectives all running around with matches.

Appropriately enough, Irons in the Fire begins with an explosion.

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Dead Letter by Benjamin Descovich

30295885I'm a sucker for many, many things: wizard schools, arranged marriages where they learn to love one another, business thrillers, the list goes on. Another? High fantasy worlds where the magic isn't important. 

I have a lot of respect for authors that take the complete freedom of an imaginary world - where the very physics and cosmology can be arranged at their very whim - ... and then write stories that really have nothing to do with any of that. Books that clearly have elaborate, intricate world-building, but doesn't make that the 'point' of the book.

In the case of Dead Letter, Descovich ticks this box and then some. It begins in a fairly conventional way: Kettna is a novice in the school of wizardry. She's clearly talented - but it becomes rapidly clear that she's doing a lot with a little; her raw power is unimpressive, but her intellect and study have taken her far. She's also got a past - her parents are both powerful wizards: her mother is the Archmagus. Plus, her boyfriend has been expelled, a result of a magical scandal that may or may not be Kettna's fault in the first place...

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Under Witch Moon by Maria Schneider

9494168Adriel is a witch. 

That's not her real name, by the way. She's not an idiot. Far from it - Adriel's one of New Mexico's best. She's a magical trouble-shooter who can scare off a werewolf, de-curse your home, or rescue a straying husband from the ill-effects of a love potion. Moreover, she's got a heart. She'll keep your secret, say 'no' to vampires and even slip the cops a tip or two, if they're in a bind. All of which - as you might expect - makes a perfect platform for an urban fantasy.

Adriel's not a conventional hero. She's got a network of contacts, skills at interviewing and clue-spotting, a savvy minion or two and, of course, magic. Over the course of Under Witch Moon, Adriel is forced to draw on all these resources - and more - as she battles to protect Santa Fe's human and supernatural community from a menacing new presence.

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Small Press Shakedown: Michael Curran of Tangerine Press

Tangerine Press
The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints, and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication, we've asked a number of editors to share what they're working on - and what they're looking for. This week our featured publisher is Tangerine Press.

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Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you're doing?

My name is Michael Curran and I founded Tangerine Press in 2006. The original plan was to publish limited edition, handbound books of poetry and prose by authors I admired, whether they be known or unknown, dead or alive. I was quite happy doing this for 7 years – binding books in the evenings after work and at weekends – until January 26th 2013.

That date is burned into my memory because for the first time in my life I called an ambulance: for myself. Following a serious back injury and subsequently losing feeling in my left leg from the knee down, then the whole leg, I had to reconsider my future. There was plenty of time for that: I was laid up for 3 months, in and out of hospital, etc. Dropping six Tramadol every morning just to make the day bearable. Going back to The Building Game – I was a self-employed carpenter for 16 years – wasn’t an option.

So the future suddenly had to be Tangerine.

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Simplified Fantasy Cover Art

It is Friday afternoon, and I'm playing with simplify.thatsh.it - a website that creates 'random modern art by simplifying images to their core elements'. Basically, we're one step from Skynet, people.

Anyway, I've taken the liberty of simplifying some of my favourite SF/F covers. They're pretty remarkable.

Have a play - tag us in your experiments on Twitter at @pornokitsch!

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SPFBO2017: The First 26 Reviews!

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I'm participating in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition - all the background, details and updates are here.

The first step is to filter through the buffet of 301 books that have been sent my way. Although I'll bring some fancy-shmancy grading criteria in later in the process, at this stage I'm being unabashedly subjective: do I want to keep reading it?

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Otared, Graustark and The Winning of Barbara Worth

OtaredOne very modern book and five very old ones. Are there common themes? Is there a pattern?! Not really, no.

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Mohammed Rabie's Otared (2016) is a harrowing existential thriller, set in a near-future Cairo. The city has been occupied by a mercenary army - a sort of quasi-Masonic organisation that swept through in a sudden coup with distinctly Cruaderish underpinnings. Cairo persists - everyday life plods along, despite the foreign invaders and the ominous ring of battleships.

Otared is a former policeman who, infuriated by the way the government rolled over, has joined the rebellion. His job is distasteful: assassin, freedom fighter, terrorist - everything in-between. Otared repeatedly asks the same question - how far would you go? - with different nuances and inflections each time. The voiceless people of Cairo are choosing between two - if not 'evils - brutalities. Otared decides what he will do, how far he will go, in the name of a city that he never particularly liked and certainly never liked him. It is particularly telling that the resistence is led neither by civilians nor military, but policemen - who Otared describes less as a public service and more like a necessary evil. 

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Hamish Steel's Pantheon - 'Because gods are people too…'

Pantheon

…terrible, terrible people.

The great civilizations of the past are most often portrayed with a great deal of dignity and respect, be they the martial-and-marble Romans, the philosopher Greeks, or the austere, death-obsessed Egyptians.  As well as being terribly inaccurate, this approach is highly reductive, preventing us from seeing these as cultures made up of real people; every bit as varied and three-dimensional as we are today.

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"This slum of literature"

TheJobI've been reading some of the 'best books', which has been surprisingly fun. Perhaps slightly less educational than I had assumed it would be, but there's a virtuous buzz that comes from reading anything with <10 downloads on Gutenberg. 

Although not one of Sinclair Lewis' best works, The Job has a lot going for it. This is a sort of Babbitt for the working woman, and Lewis tries to balance warm-hearted (and progressive) feminist thinking with a thinly-veiled disgust for, well, everyone, including its own protagonist.

It is a tricky line to walk, and the book occasionally stumbles a little too far into one camp or another: either with full-on preaching monologues or vast swathes of parenthetical scorn. 

Still, mean is funny. And this lengthy, abusive aside about the 'literary itch' was particularly entertaining:

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