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Underground Reading: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

This is part of a series of reviews - my attempt to cover all nine finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Award before the winner is announced at the end of October. I'll be approaching these books in a slightly templated fashion: plot summary, good stuff, not so good stuff, conclusion.


King-of-ThornsWhat is it?

King of Thorns (2012) is the second book in Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire series. His debut, Prince of Thorns, was one of 2011's most interesting and controversial books due to its lead character: Jorg Ancrath, a vicious teenager who takes his adolescent angst to near-apocalyptic levels. To some, Prince was grimdarkness to the point of farce. To others, it was an original and fascinating interpretation of the genre. 

[This review contains major spoilers for both Prince of Thorns and King of Thrones.]

Jorg has now become king of his own tiny portion of the Broken Empire, but he's got his eye on bigger and better things - the Imperial throne. To some degree, Jorg sees his ascension as inevitable, he's got the unmatched combination of cunning and ambition, after all. Unfortunately, not everyone else agrees. The first problem that poses itself is Prince Orrin of Arrow, as close as this land will ever get to a 'knight of legend'. He's ostensibly everything good and right, and the other micro-countries are all flocking to his banner. Jorg, however, has no such intention.

Jorg's war with Orrin (and his brother Egan) is the central plot of the book, but by no means the only one. Following the complex structure that he began in Prince, Mr. Lawrence divides the book into several narratives. In one, Jorg is defending his land from Prince Orrin's invasion. In another, Jorg has a magic memory box - every time he opens it, he finds something new from some point in his past (generally, but not exclusively, four years previous). In yet another, Jorg's gallivanting around the world with his Brothers (his ex-bandit friends) around that same, four years previous, time. And, finally, Katherine, Jorg's "love interest" (we'll get to that) narrates snippets of her own story through journal entries.

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On Amelia B. Edwards...

Amelia_B_EdwardThe Book of the Dead is dedicated to Amelia Blanford Edwards. Previously, the dedications of Jurassic anthologies have been more or less... cryptic (and/or very personal and/or completely obscure... take your pick!).

Choosing the dedication is one of the trickiest things to do, as it adds that last, intimate touch to the book - proof, as it were, that books are works of craft, created by humans for humans.

So, with that slightly melodramatic introduction... who is Amelia Edwards, and why is she the first name that the reader sees upon opening The Book of the Dead?

Amelia Edwards was born in 1831 in London. Her father was an officer in the British Army and her mother was a descendant of the Walpole family. Ms. Edwards was educated at home, and started writing at a young age. Her first published work was a poem, "The Knights of Old", printed in a weekly journal when she was 7. (The New York Times says that she published "a long historical novel" at age 12, but I've not actually found any more evidence of this.)

In 1855, she published her first novel, My Brother's Wife. This was followed by many others, perhaps the most successful being Barbara's History (1864). Nor did Ms. Edwards shy from the supernatural, with ghost stories such as "The Phantom Coach" (1864)", "The 4.15 Express" (1867), "An Engineer's Story" (1866) and several others.

Her life changed, however, in 1873, when, already fond of travel, Ms. Edwards made her first visit to Egypt. She travelled up the Nile as far as the second cataract and explored the region far as Damascus and Constantinople. From there, the course of her life was set...

Continue reading "On Amelia B. Edwards..." »

The Book of the Dead - Reserve your limited edition now

We're proud to announce that the newest Jurassic London anthology, The Book of the Dead, is now on sale. Well, kinda. The limited edition is - well... for pre-orders.

Book of the Dead - Escape From The Mummys TombThe Book of the Dead is published in partnership with the Egypt Exploration Society, the UK's oldest independent funder of archaeological fieldwork and research in Egypt, dedicated to the promotion and understanding of ancient Egyptian history and culture.

The anthology features ninetween new stories about the most fascinating of the undead: the mummy.

Contributors include Gail Carriger, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jesse Bullington, Paul Cornell, Molly Tanzer, Will Hill, Jonathan Green, Louis Greenberg, David Bryher, Maurice Broaddus, Roger Luckhurst, Glen Mehn, Jenni Hill, Lou Morgan, Sarah Newton, David Thomas Moore, Den Patrick, Michael West and Adam Roberts. It is introduced by John J. Johnston, Vice-Chair of the Egypt Exploration Society and illustrated by Garen Ewing.

(The illustration for Jesse Bullington's "Escape from the Mummy's Tomb" is shown here.)

The Book of the Dead is released as a paperback and an ebook on 29 October. Plus, there's a launch party - so you should come along.

Right now, we're taking orders for copies of the limited edition. This is an edition of 100 hand-numbered hardcover copies - with gold-embossed titles, midnight blue buckram covers and dark cream endpapers. Sultry, eh? Plus, The Book of the Dead is bound in cloth... literally. We then seal each copy in wax and impress it with the cartouche of the Egypt Exploration Society. Because of its unique construction, purchasers of the limited edition will also receive a copy of the ebook for free. (That way they can leave it sealed... forever.)

(However, entombed within this edition is an exclusive illustration by Garen Ewing that will not appear in any other edition or format...)

Interested in a copy? They're on sale exclusively through If you're keen on getting one though, I suggest moving quickly...

Full table of contents and a bit more fluffery below the jump.

Continue reading "The Book of the Dead - Reserve your limited edition now" »

On coffee...

1903 recipes for my favourite life-sustaining beverage. Stumbled upon while doing research for Pandemonium stuff:


To make Coffee. 

Oftentimes the coffee leaves its flavor in the kitchen by too long a cooking. There are now many reliable coffee cookers that can be used on the table. Coffee made in this  way is preferable, as it s served as soon as made. The coffee pot should be kept scrupulously clean and aired. Great care should be taken to have the spout free from grains. Coffee will go  much farther if finely ground, and should always be freshly made.


The white of one egg is sufficient to clear one cup of ground coffee. Use one level tablespoonful of coffee for every cup.  Mix the coffee in a bowl with the white of egg and a very little cold water (onefourth cup to a cup of ground coffee), put into the scalded pot and pour on the boiling water; let boil three minutes. Remove to the back of the stove, add two tablespoonfuls of cold water, let settle for ten minutes, pour the coffee from the grounds and send to the table. If stronger coffee is required, increase the proportion of coffee. 


Use one rounding tablespoonful of coffee to a cup, put tlie coffee in a flannel bag, lay on tlie strainer and pour the boiling water over it.  Have the pot hot to begin with and stand in a pan of hot water while dripping.


This is to be mixed the night before.  Mix six tablespoonfuls of coffee with the white of an egg (or smaller quantity if you like) . Put into a small covered earthen dish, pour over it two cups of cold water, cover tightly, a preserve jar would do, and the next morning put into the coffee pot, pour the boiling water over it, using a cup to every tablespoonful, let it boil up just once, pour into it half a cup of cold water, let settle a few minutes before serving. This can be  made for after-dinner coffee by preparing in the morning.


Have the coffee very finely ground, using a tablespoonful to a cup, put in a pot, add cold water. When it touches the boiling point it is ready to serve. The Turk does not use cream or sugar.


Is made by any of the above receipts, using about double the proportion of coffee.

[Caroline Trask Norton's The Rocky Mountain Cook Book (1903)]

Joey Hi-Fi's Weirdness Rodeo

Welcome to the Weirdness Rodeo - wonder and strangeness, courtesy of Joey Hi-Fi. 
You can follow Joey on Twitter at @JoeyHiFi and admire his work here.

The music video for Arcade Fire's new single "Reflektor", directed by Anton Corbijn. 

The Shining Girls Charity Art Show raised R95,000 for Rape Crisis! (

"Good Will Batman" trailer. Ben Affleck Batman and Good Will Hunting mashup. (YouTube)

I think I just peed a little. First person view "Mirror's Edge" parkour run. (YouTube)

Did you know R2-D2 has a cameo in Star Trek Into.. the wrath of.. I mean.. Darkness? (io9)

The Fiction Desk is looking for more short stories by women - pass it on (Fiction Desk)

"A Modern Trailer for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Fantastic! Despite the wayward kerning on the actors names. (Neatorama)

Boy would I love to be in Chicago this October to see "The Art of Daniel Clowes" at the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Wall Street International)

Yes please. Full-album stream of Mark Lanegan's new album "Imitations". (AV Club)

Kumail Nanjiani playing 'Great Artist or Terrible Person?'on the Jeselnik Offensive. (YouTube)

For Tim Burton's 55th birthday, Cakenweenie collaborated with 100 culinary artists to create Burton themed Cakes. (Cakenweenie)

Professor Duncan (John Oliver) is finally coming back to Community! (AV Club)

3 ex-offenders read from prison chapters in the award-winning book Zoo City (Mail & Guardian)

AMC is moving forward with a Saul Goodman Breaking Bad spin-off! It is expected to be a prequel. (Geekosystem)

One of the world's first true robots has sold for $27,660 at auction (io9)

NASA's Voyager becomes the first spacecraft to exit our solar system. Until it returns as V'Ger of course. (NASA)

What a headline: "Butterflies are Monsters Who Drink the Tears of Turtles". Seriously though - they do. (Geekosystem)

In 1979 Kenner released this Alien glow-in-the-dark Xenomorph 18" figure - for kids. Amazing! (io9)

...and a hilarious parody ad: My Little Brony toy commercial. Best thing I've seen this week. (Cheezburger)

[Editor's note: Joey also spoke on The Money Show about the business of cover design - you can listen to it here.]

Competition - The Book of the Dead - Win a Signed Story!

It occurs to me that we didn't do one of our fiendishly hard competitions before launching The Lowest Heaven, and I wanted to make sure we properly tortured everyone before The Book of the Dead comes out. 

Here's how it works - I've got a series of 10 questions. The winner (the person who gets the most right) wins a the grand prize. If there's a tie at the top, I'll choose randomly.

The prize? I've got a copy of Maria Dahvana Headley's never-before-read "Bit-U-Men". This is an unbound copy of the story, signed by the author herself. And it is pretty. I'll also chuck in a nice A4 print of the accompanying illustration by Garen Ewing. Which I am not revealing here (yet), 'cause I'm mean like that.

I also reserve the right to hand out prizes of books, ebooks and other fun stuff to people that do well and answers that make me laugh.

The competition is open to people all over the world. It ends on 28 October, noon, UK time.

Click here to get started! - and good luck!

(Oh, and this might help!)

Friday Five: 5 Superhero Movies I'd Like to See

As long as we're making superhero films, I'd like to put in some requests. Here are five more to put on the list:


Did anyone else read Nexus? Another one of those weird First Comics titles (like Badger, which no one read) that bounced around between a few different publishers. Nexus was an interstellar superhero with "fusion" powers ("fusion" was the "power cosmic" of this universe, it just did... whatever...). He was tasked by a mysterious alien overlord to hunt down serial killers and kill them. If he refused, he would have terrible headaches, nightmares, etc. If he didn't refuse, he'd go further down a path of madness... Nexus was definitely killing the bad guys, but the bad guys had families, stable governments, loving children, etc. etc. It was dark.

Also, he was a historian, which is kind of cute.

Squadron Supreme

Seriously, find this book - it was as grimdark as superheroes got in the 1980s got before Watchmen slapped the whole industry upside its head. Squadron Supreme were like, DC-analogues, but they were Marvel characters, in a parallel universe from mainstream Marvel stuff. Does that make sense? Basically they were a way to dick around with Batman and Superman, but in the Marvel universe. Whatever. Anyway, they went through their own bizarre dystopian streak which involved the Green Arrow analogue going crazy and brainwashing the Black Canary analogue into loving him and then everyone deciding that brainwashing the whole universe was a really good idea. So Batman analogue joined up with a lot of villain analogues and fought back. In a way, a bit like Civil War, but back when stories could be told in a finite number of issues.

Continue reading "Friday Five: 5 Superhero Movies I'd Like to See" »

Review Round-Up: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Warships

Leckie_AncillaryJusticeAnn Leckie's Ancillary Justice (2013) is the sort of book that the Clarke Award wishes it had last year. It is a big ol' bastard of a space opera, with Banksian AI warships and space battles and intergalactic colonisation and such. It has that "sense of wonder" that (apparently) defines SF. But, good lord, Ms. Leckie's also snuck in a character or two! It seems that one of those AI warships has - somehow - been trapped in the body of a human being (a sort of thawed human robo-zombie thing). How'd it get there? What is it doing? What the hell is going on?

These (and other) questions are answered through the course of Ancillary Justice, which combines the aforementioned big ol' bastard space operatics with sterling character development (you'll never feel quite so attached to an empathy-free, personality-free computer program ever again!), political chicanery, a good ol' fashioned whoddunit and - as if that weren't enough - some cunningly progressive gender politics. When you're seeing the world through the eyes of a billion tons of space-faring metal, the intricacies of gender - how we define it, what it means and all the culturally-imposed baggage thereof - tend to be forgotten. 

Of all of this, only the sprawling galactic empire 'stuff' left me a bit unimpressed - but without that familiar backdrop, we wouldn't see exactly how clever, contemporary and utterly impressive Ancillary Justice is.

This is a book that will please the traditional SF crowd with the drama and impress the faux-literary types with the socially-savvy undercurrents: be prepared to see Ancillary Justice bandied around a lot come awards season. (As it should be.) 

(Ok, lest that come across as too slavishly fanboy - the title really bugs me. I'm not wild about the Wings of Fury style cover either. That said, I think both are nods to the book's hard SF themes, and I'm more on the faux-literary side. I'll live.)

Meanwhile, sixty years ago...

Continue reading "Review Round-Up: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Warships" »

Underground Reading: Malice by John Gwynne

This is part of a series of reviews - my attempt to cover all nine finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Award before the winner is announced at the end of October. I'll be approaching these books in a slightly templated fashion: plot summary, good stuff, not so good stuff, conclusion.


MaliceSo what's it about?

John Gwynne's Malice (2012) is a fast-paced (although still over-sized) epic fantasy that combines a lot of familiar plot elements: a coming of age story, a quasi Western European setting, a Chosen One, the rise of an (evil) empire, gods that have abandoned the world only to communicate with it through dreams and omens, and a search for lost magic.

The primary point of view character is the young Corban, growing up surrounded by his friends, family and a mysterious mentor figure. Corban's main goal in life is to go through warrior training and become a proper badass, like his pa. There are bullies and challenges, of course, but they're more like character-building roadbumps. And, as Corban soon learns, there are far larger problems afoot. 

There are a few other characters, but, for the most part, their experiences mirror Corban's: a pick n' mix of second-sons and unwanted cousins, all coming of age in various places around the world. They're tempted, they're challenged, they're likeable underdogs going through tough times.

Behind all of this: THE DARK SUN IS RISING. Dramatic, right? In the most epic of all epic prophesies, there will be a Bright Sun and a Dark Sun and they will go kablooie for the fate of the world. Angels and demons alike are all lining up for the great cosmic smackdown. Everyone agrees - the end times are a-comin', and Corban and his ilk are all caught up in the middle of things.

(There are omens and dreams and such. Hint: The Chosen One is Chosen and the Bad Guy is Bad.)

What's to like about Malice?

Quite a bit, actually. The pace is good, the lessons are solid and, you know, stuff happens. The chapters are all cliff-hangers and Mr. Gwynne does a nice job of juggling his (virtually interchangeable) point of view characters.  

I hasten to add that there's absolutely nothing new about Malice, but with that familiarity comes a certain sort of squashy comfort. Malice is the heir to David Eddings: a fantasy cozy where good always triumphs - after a carefully measured dose of adversity, that is. Lessons are learned, hearts are warmed, let's all go home for cocoa and carolling.

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Losing It, Judy Blume and John Fowles

Losing ItA few new books in this week:

Judy Blume's Wifey. Weirdly, I don't actually remember reading any Judy Blume as a kid. I'm sure I did - and certainly her presence as a cultural juggernaut hasn't escaped me. But, I can't distinguish if I have memories of "reading Judy Blume" or memories of "hearing about Judy Blume so much that it feels like I read them myself". Anyway, Wifey showed up on this Flavorwire list of "40 Trashy Novels You Must Read Before You Die" and it sounded, well... fun.

Irving Wallace's The Second Lady. Another find from the same list. A thriller from 1980 about Soviet plot to replace the First Lady with an identical Russian agent. I honestly can't think of any concept that's a) more ridiculous or b) more immediately appealing. This should be awesome.

Edward S. Aarons' Assignment Carlotta Cortez. A Sam Durrell mystery - these are... ok. They're no Chester Drum (Stephen Marlowe), but they'll do in a pinch. Nice to find in hardcover, even if the paperback covers are better. Interesting the 'dame's' hair colour seems to have changed for this edition. I'm curious if there are multiple women involved, or if the publisher of this edition decided that gentlemen prefer blondes. (Is 'blondewashing' a word?) (Also, how cool is this cover? I'm jealous.)

Continue reading "Losing It, Judy Blume and John Fowles" »