Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Prince Lestat by Anne Rice

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
Expected publication: October 28th 2014 by Knopf Publishing Group (Author)

A stunning departure, a surprising and compelling return…From Anne Rice, perennial best seller, single-handed reinventor of the vampire cosmology-a new, exhilarating novel, a deepening of her vampire mythology, and a chillingly hypnotic mystery-thriller.

"What can we do but reach for the embrace that must now contain both heaven and hell: our doom again and again and again…" -from The Vampire Lestat

Rice once again summons up the irresistible spirit-world of the oldest and most powerful forces of the night, invisible beings unleashed on an unsuspecting world able to take blood from humans, in a long-awaited return to the extraordinary world of the Vampire Chronicles and the uniquely seductive Queen of the Damned ("mesmerizing" -SF Chronicle), a long-awaited novel that picks up where The Vampire Lestat ("brilliant…its undead characters are utterly alive" -New York Times) left off more than a quarter of a century ago to create an extraordinary new world of spirits and forces-the characters, legend, and lore of all the Vampire Chronicles.

The novel opens with the vampire world in crisis…vampires have been proliferating out of control; burnings have commenced all over the world, huge massacres similar to those carried out by Akasha in The Queen of the Damned…Old vampires, roused from slumber in the earth are doing the bidding of a Voice commanding that they indiscriminately burn vampire-mavericks in cities from Paris and Mumbai to Hong Kong, Kyoto, and San Francisco.

As the novel moves from present-day New York and the West Coast to ancient Egypt, fourth century Carthage, 14th-century Rome, the Venice of the Renaissance, the worlds and beings of all the Vampire Chronicles-Louis de Pointe du Lac; the eternally young Armand, whose face is that of a Boticelli angel; Mekare and Maharet, Pandora and Flavius; David Talbot, vampire and ultimate fixer from the secret Talamasca; and Marius, the true Child of the Millennia; along with all the other new seductive, supernatural creatures-come together in this large, luxuriant, fiercely ambitious novel to ultimately rise up and seek out who-or what-the Voice is, and to discover the secret of what it desires and why…

And, at the book's center, the seemingly absent, curiously missing hero-wanderer, the dazzling, dangerous rebel-outlaw-the great hope of the Undead, the dazzling Prince Lestat…

While I didn't particularly care for her Mayfair Witches series, and still can't quite wrap my head around her strange dance with the Church, there's no question she is the queen of Gothic fiction, and I'm curious to see if she can recapture the magic of her earliest works. This does sound truly epic, bloody, and not at all sparkly. :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Counterspy by Matthew Dunn

Chapter 1 Counterspy by Matthew Dunn

Being drowned was not part of the deal, but the victim put up with it because so much was at stake.

And even though drowning sucked, the victim had survived it before, when he was five years old and couldn’t stay afloat in the deep end of his parents’ ornate swim- ming pool in their palatial Rajasthan residence. Then his distraught mother had yanked him out of the pool and summoned a kind Sikh doctor, who’d held him upside down to get the water out of his lungs.

Now, age twenty-two, the diminutive Indian was being pinned down by four CIA men who were the antithesis of the Sikh doctor. They were in a bare cell in a top-secret U.S. military base in Afghanistan, and the CIA men were using a towel and a bucket to put water in his lungs and make his body convulse in agony. They called it waterboarding.

It sounded like a kind of sport the Indian’s rich friends played on the shores of Goa.

But there was nothing sporting about this. It was torture of the very worst kind—just one splash of water onto the towel convinced you you were going to die. Most people broke at this point, and that’s why the Agency used the technique. But today the CIA officers were cursing, shouting, and red faced with impatience because the victim was being drowned for the fourth time and showed no signs of breaking.

Their anger was exacerbated by the fact that the Indian hadn’t uttered a word to his captors in the two days since they’d grabbed him in a remote farm in Kapisa province, put a hood over his head and shackles on his sinewy arms and legs, thrown him into the back of a jeep, and driven fast over ground that had been rough enough to toss the man’s body up and down. Since that agoniz- ing journey, the victim had been kept in isolation on the base, stripped naked, blasted with a power hose, slapped around the face, struck in the gut with socks filled with wet sand, and forced into agonizing stress positions.

Throughout his brief but excruciating period of incar- ceration, the only people he’d seen were the four men. He didn’t know their names; all they’d told him about them- selves was that they answered to no one aside from the head of the CIA, the president of the United States, and God. The Indian thought that the introduction had been somewhat presumptuous, because when he was ten his Muslim father had given him a copy of the Bible and told him to read it cover to cover so that he could understand that Christianity wasn’t a bad religion. As far as he could recall, there was no reference in the Bible to CIA officers being authorized agents of God.

And right now he wasn’t sure his father was right, be- cause the four men didn’t seem like good people. On the contrary, they looked like the bad guys he’d seen in the old Hollywood movies his wealthy father had projected onto a huge screen so that the poor kids in their local village could get ninety minutes of escapism. Wearing matching white shirts, sleeves rolled up, suit trousers, and smart wingtips, the CIA men could have been gang- sters, corrupt detectives, or contract killers.

When the men had raced into his home while he’d been kneeling toward Mecca and asking Allah for for- giveness, they’d smashed his face against his prayer mat. He’d had no doubt that it wouldn’t be the last act of vio- lence inflicted on him by the officers. But he’d known that he had to stay strong if he was to survive, so he’d tried to pretend the bad things that had been happening to him had not been real, and instead he was in a 1950s movie that would end very soon.

To help him perpetuate the mind trick, he’d secretly ascribed each CIA officer a name.

Jack Palance, Lee Marvin, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum.

Their eyes held hate, and they swaggered with the physicality of men whose bodies were naturally chiseled and tough and didn’t need to spend one minute in a gym. They were bruisers who could tear someone twice their size into pieces.

And yet the Indian was half their size but physically and mentally far superior to the CIA officers. They were huffing and puffing, and all the while they didn’t know that they were in a movie of the victim’s choosing and that he was waiting for the moment when he could say something of vital importance. A moment when they thought he was a broken and truthful man.

That would happen after the fifth drowning, the victim had decided at the commencement of the water- boarding.

At that point, the four heavies would believe anything that came out of his waterlogged mouth.

Palance grabbed the Indian’s hair, pulled his head to within inches of his V-shaped jaw, and used the same menacing tone. “We hate you.”

Mitchum toweled the sweat off his arms and face and shoved the stinking rag back over the victim’s face.

Fonda leaned in close, his piercing blue eyes identi- cal to those of the psychopathic gunman in Once Upon a Time in the West. “We know you understand English because of all the English books we found at your home. So listen to me carefully. We’ll keep waterboarding you until you die.”

Marvin nodded at his colleagues, took a swig from a liter bottle of mineral water whose label proclaimed Water Gives Life, spat the mouthful onto the Indian’s face, and poured the remaining contents onto the rag. Marvin’s spit and the water went the wrong way down the victim’s gullet and made him think he was back in his family’s swimming pool; head throbbing, limbs thrash- ing, lungs in agony.

Mitchum let out a loud belch and laughed before asking, “Who are you?”

When the rag was removed and the Indian stopped

gagging, he decided that Mitchum’s question was the only reasonable one he’d heard since being imprisoned.

Because he wasn’t a victim at all. He was a man whose base of operations in Kapisa had guns, bomb-making equipment, and numerous cell phones containing the numbers of known terrorists. After someone had tipped off the Agency, he’d been caught red-handed with the equipment by men who knew what he was but didn’t know his name.

Mitchum waved the dripping rag in front of the Indi- an’s face. He no longer looked angry and held an expres- sion that momentarily perplexed the Indian. Mitchum sighed, glanced at his colleagues, and returned his atten- tion to the captive. “This is your choice, not ours. Best we get this over with.”

Of course—Mitchum’s expression was one that some men have when they realize that every other option had been fruitlessly pursued and all that was left was death.

The Indian could not and would not let that happen. He shook his head, hoping he looked petrified even though in truth he felt calm and very much in control.

It was the same feeling he’d always had as a teenager when amazing his fellow students and teachers by per- forming acts of escapology on the stage at his boarding school. Padlocked metal boxes, water tanks, chains and ropes lashed around him—he’d escaped them all and had never once felt fear or doubt that he would succeed. Now was no different, although he had to look and sound like a wretched and terrified victim in order to be convincing. “Please . . . please, I beg you to stop.”

“Begging’s of no use to you.” Fonda pointed at him. “All it does is prove to us that you’re weak scum.”

The Indian wished he could tell the American that his observation was wholly inaccurate, because after the swimming pool accident he’d spent the rest of his life honing his physical and mental skills so that he would never be weak again. “I . . . I will tell you anything you need to know. But please, please, no more water.”

Palance yanked the Indian’s arm to sit him upright. “That’s more like it. Talking’s good. We need your name, who you work for, and details of your targets.”

The Indian lowered his head.
“Head up!”
He did as he was told, looking at the other men before

returning his attention to Palance. This was the moment he’d been waiting for, the time for the words that he’d been reciting in his head ever since he’d been imprisoned. “I’m an Indian intelligence officer, code name Trapper. My role in Afghanistan has been to operate deep cover to infiltrate terrorist cells.”

All of the men frowned.

“Indian intelligence?” Mitchum looked unsettled. “Research and Analysis Wing?”

The R&AW was India’s primary external intelligence agency.

Trapper nodded. “My cover’s been intact for three years since I’ve been in the country. Now I’m not so sure. Who sold me out to you?”

Fonda answered, “We got ourselves a source. Says you’re a bomber, among other things.”

“A source?”

“Yeah, but you ain’t getting his name.” Mitchum looked at the rag he was holding. “If what you’re saying is true, it sounds like your cover’s still intact. People still think you’re a terrorist. But I’m thinking you could be spinning us a crock of bullshit. We’re going to need to check you out with R&AW.”

Trapper had anticipated this and responded care- fully. “Only R&AW senior management is cleared to know my code name and what I’m doing here. They’re going to be very pissed you grabbed me. You could call them. But if I were you, I’d send someone in person to smooth waters.”

Marvin leaned closer to Trapper’s face. “That could take hours to arrange, maybe days.”

“I’m prepared to wait; I urge you to do the same.”

The room was silent. The four men were clearly think- ing through options.

Fonda broke the silence. “Alright.” He pointed at the bottle of water. “No more of this stuff while we get your story checked out.” He said to his colleagues, “Put him back in his cell.”

When the Indian was on his feet, he said in an implor- ing tone, “Would whoever you send to R&AW headquar- ters please be kind enough to relay to my bosses that I didn’t break cover until the fifth waterboarding?”

Fonda nodded. “I’ve not seen anyone hold out this long. I respect that. We’ll make sure your management knows you kept your mouth shut longer than we thought possible.”

“Thank you.”

By the time his captors had received confirmation from R&AW that Trapper’s claim was a complete lie, Trapper would have escaped his cell and vanished.

“There’s one more thing.” Trapper looked directly at Fonda, deciding that he was the highest-ranking officer in the room. “I know from one of my terrorist affiliates that a senior CIA officer is being targeted for assassi- nation. It’s revenge for the officer’s assassination of a high-ranking Taliban leader. I was about to relay that to R&AW so that they could pass on the intelligence to you guys, but then,” he shrugged, “you guys stormed my house and brought me here.”

Fonda, Palance, Mitchum, and Marvin stared at him. Fonda asked, “Does the CIA officer have a name?” Trapper rubbed water off his face, hair, and chest

while wondering if the Agency torturers would grab him for doing so without their permission. Instead, they were motionless and expectant. Just as he’d imagined they would be when, weeks ago, he’d constructed his plan to get to this moment, had made an anonymous call to the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, and had given the secret location of an Indian Muslim terrorist who was hiding in Afghanistan and who happened to be him. Nearly everything the Agency operatives in the room thought was real was in fact an almighty sleight of hand. But two things were not false: the very real threat to the CIA officer and his name.

Trapper was motionless in the center of the room, water still dripping off his thin but strong body. Heimagined his captors’ surprise when they realized he’d escaped from his cell using a penknife he’d stolen from Mitchum’s pocket while the agent had been pouring water down his throat. “His name is Will Cochrane.”


About the Author

As an MI6 field officer, Matthew Dunn coordinated special operations, and acted in deep-cover roles throughout the world. He was trained in all aspects of intelligence collection, deep-cover deployments, small-arms, explosives, military unarmed combat, surveillance, and infiltration. During his time in MI6, Dunn conducted approximately seventy missions—all of them successful. He lives in England. He is currently at work on his fifth Spycatcher novel.

Connect with the Author


About the Book

Title: Counterspy (Spycatcher Series)

Author: Matthew Dunn

Genre: Spy/Thriller

Publish Date: August 26, 2014

Publisher: William Morrow Impulse an imprint of HarperCollins

~ Synopsis ~
MI6 agent Will Cochrane, now living in Washington, D.C. with his fiancée, has decided to leave the spy game for good. But when a dangerous terrorist, codenamed Cipher, escapes from a top secret CIA military base, Will learns that his former enemy has been nursing a deadly vendetta against him. T hen Will receives a letter from Cipher detailing everyone he plans to kill—and the names of Will’s friends and family are on it.

Now Will’s only hope is to uncover Cipher’s true identity, hunt him down and neutralize the threat or risk losing everyone he’s ever cared about.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Public Expectations and Private Dark Sides by Bob Freeman

How do you sever yourself from expectations of friends, family,
or polite society and really press the limits of your dark side?

Carl Jung said, "Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people."

I'm sure that most of us who write occult and horror fiction have experienced those looks of derision and disgust from relatives or friends; faced those inevitable questions as to how you could possibly write about such horrible things.

They think there must be something terribly wrong with you.

That you're wired differently than other people.

That there's a darkness in you.

Well, they're right. As storytellers it is our job to explore that darkness, to drag it kicking and screaming into the light, where it can be examined and dissected. Horror is nasty business. But it's also a reality. Some people can stomach it. Some can't.

Those of us that string words together to spin spine-tingling yarns filled with beasties or esoteric forces or the ever popular cosmic dread do so not because we're unafraid of staring into the abyss, but because we're undaunted by it looking back at us.

We welcome it.

Through that darkness we explore the human condition. We look within and without ourselves and we evolve.

If you find yourself worrying over what Aunt Cathy might think, or what Granny might say, then you're in the wrong line of work.

You want to be a successful writer, and I'm not talking about money here, I mean success in the sense of personal fulfillment and creative rectitude? You have to bleed on the page. You have to embrace the light and the darkness. And you have to write from a place of freedom.

You cannot be shackled by what others might say or think about your work.

These are your words. Own them. Believe in them. Have something to say and say it with passion... with bloody fervor.

There's a reason you write the stories you do, an itch that must be scratched. Well scratch that itch and damn anyone who thinks you shouldn't or thinks there's something wrong with you for doing so.
How do you sever yourself? The better question is, how do you not?

— Bob Freeman


About the Author

Bob Freeman doesn’t just write and draw occult detectives, he’s also a card carrying paranormal adventurer who founded Nightstalkers of Indiana in 1983.

A lifelong student of witchcraft, magic, and religion, Bob’s studies are reflected in his art, both as an author and illustrator.

Bob lives in rural Indiana with his wife Kim and son Connor.

He can be found online at, on Facebook, or on Twitter.


About the Book

Shadows Over Somerset by Bob Freeman
Published June 25th 2014 by Seventh Star Press, LLC

Michael Somers is brought to Cairnwood, an isolated manor in rural Indiana, to sit at the deathbed of a grandfather he never knew existed. He soon finds himself drawn into a strange and esoteric world filled with werewolves, vampires, witches… and a family curse that dates back to fourteenth century Scotland.

In the sleepy little town of Somerset, an ancient evil awakens, hungering for blood and vengeance… and if Michael is to survive he must face his inner demons and embrace his family’s dark past.
Shadows Over Somerset is the first Cairnwood Manor Novel.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Two new arrivals this week - the first a December sci-fi release, and the second a long-awaited indie follow-up.

The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
Expected publication: December 2nd 2014 by Pyr

The Democracy is at war with the alien Traanskei Coalition. War hero Colonel Nathan Pretorius has a record of success on dangerous behind-enemy-lines missions, missions that usually leave him in the hospital. Now he's recruited for a near-impossible assignment that may well leave him dead.

At the cost of many lives, the Democracy has managed to clone and train General Michkag, one of the Traanskei's master strategists. Colonel Pretorius and a hand-picked team must kidnap the real Michkag if they can, assassinate him if they can't, but no matter which, put the clone in his place, where he will misdirect the enemy's forces and funnel vital information to the Democracy.

Against the odds, Pretorius, along with Cyborg Felix Ortega, computer expert Toni Levi, convict and contortionist Sally "Snake" Kowalski, the near-human empath Marlowe, the alien Gzychurlyx, and Madam Methuselah - the Dead Enders - must infiltrate the Fortress in Orion, accomplish their mission, and escape with their lives.

Spawn of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg
Published July 28th 2014 by IGNIS Publishing LLC

Sharon died serving the undead. Will you take her place?

Dyscrasia Fiction™ explores the choices humans and their gods make as a disease corrupts their souls, shared blood, and creative energies.

Spawn of Dyscrasia follows Helen’s abrupt promotion from neophyte curer to Lord Echo’s personal healer, replacing her friend who died mysteriously. She struggles to keep Echo alive as contagious phantoms corrupt his soul. While Lord Lysis fights a sudden invasion from a grotesque army, Helen’s humanity is tested to its limits: she contacts the original source of dyscrasia, and emerges transformed…


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With a bit of a breather between scheduled release date reviews, thanks in large part to my vacation, I've been dabbling in several titles. I suspect a DNF shelf update will be coming soon, especially given my ghost tour commitments over the new 2 months, but there are the 2 that have hooked me:

The Valhalla Prophecy: A Novel by Andy McDermott
I've been curious about the archaeological adventures of Nina Wilde & Eddie Chase, and so far I'm thoroughly enjoying my first literary encounter.

It Waits Below by Eric Red
A sunken 19th centure treasure ship, a salvage operation, an alien lifeform, and modern day pirates - sounds like fun!

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cliffhangers – It’s All About the Foreplay (Guest Post)

The China Dogs photo ChinaDog_zps25183abf.jpg

Cliffhangers – it’s all about the foreplay

I hate it when chapters just fizzle out on you. When they’re so tired of running through the story that they just give up and fall sagging to a full stop, lie breathless on a patch of clean type space and await the big number of a new chapter that heralds a fresh go at keeping your attention.

But what I hate more than a damp squib ending, a busted bridge into the next part of the adventure, are really weak opening lines of a story. Oh man, it’s such a disappointment.  You look at the glossy cover, the great title, the snazzy graphics that enticed you in, and there, right at the start of Chapter One is the crappiest intro you’ve ever read.  But the back cover blurb was smart and hooked you, so you persevere, you plod on, plough through the verbiage and you selflessly search for something gripping and scintillating.

As readers, we’ve been trained to give books a chance, to let authors warm up a little.  How amazingly generous of us! It’s not something we do for chefs, is it?  We don’t forgive a really poor starter and an insipid main course in the hope that the dessert will be a real humdinger, do we?


Nor should we do the same with books.

Authors owe it to readers to excite right from the start. Okay, not full on, flat out, total drama that can’t be maintained or beaten for the next few hundred pages, but a mesmerizing, tantalizing level of excitement that promises even greater thrills.


Every opening paragraph to every new chapter is a form of mental foreplay between the writer and reader. It’s the author’s job, to find the G-spot of that particular genre being read and worship it.

Here’s the opener to The China Dogs, my new thriller, in the vein (I hope!) of James Herbert, Stephen King, Randy Wayne White and James Grippando:

Gobi Desert, Northeastern China
The silver buses drive across the land of endless sand. Onboard are prisoners from China’s notorious Death Row. Rapists, serial murderers and child abusers.  Twenty men about to be given an extraordinary chance to live. To wipe the slate clean.

Hopefully, in that couple of hundred words, I’ve set the geographical and political scene, and a sense of the drama abut to unfold. Once main characters are introduced, openers can contain the same anticipation of drama, in much shorter form.  Here’s the start of Chapter Six

Zoe wonders how her day got so shit so quickly.

I went for a sharp shocking one liner because Zoe Speed is the kind of no-nonsense heroine who uses the word shit a lot, hence its inclusion.  She’s at the opposite end of the cultural spectrum to the refined detective she’s about to cross paths with. Lieutenant ‘Ghost’ Walton and Miami, the city he adores, demand a much gentler opener: -

Walton parks his old Sweptwing Dodge at the corner of Twelfth and Third, closes her up and looks back with pride. It’s not a car; it’s automotive art. Just as Miami is not a city, it’s a life installation.

And then, it’s back to high tension, as I introduce Zoe’s brother Danny, a character who shares his sister’s feisty and slightly unscrupulous DNA: -

New York
There’s no alternative but to run.

Run until his lungs are on fire and he can’t breathe.

Then run some more.

Danny Speed has got jammed up. It’s down to a weasel called Jason Bennett who works the Internet café Bean and Bite. He just knows it is.

And then we get to the bad guys. The really bad guys: -

The leader of the largest army in the world showers in the luxuriously marbled bathroom that adjoins his spacious office.

He scrubs hard to rid himself of the smell of the women.
Of their sex. And their blood. And their crying.

The intention is that in a very short intro, before you even read his name, you get a sense of this guy’s hypocrisy and you decide right away that you don’t like him.  It also does the job of any good intro, it gives you location, action and expectation in the shortest number of words possible.

Everyone writes differently (thank goodness) and that’s what makes reading so pleasurable, I just find that I tend to go for those authors who have cliffhanger intros as well as endings.

If you’re writing your first book, you can do a whole lot worse than pick up your favourite novels, check out how all those new chapters start and finish, then decide for yourself what your own style is.


About the Author

SAM MASTERS is a pseudonym for an author who has written seven books, including a bestseller that has sold in more than 30 countries. This is his first novel for Witness.


About the Book

Title: The China Dogs
Author: Sam Masters
Genre: Thriller
Publish Date: August 19, 2014
Publisher: Witness Impulse an imprint of HarperCollins

~ Synopsis ~
Man’s best friend is about to become America’s worst enemy...

When a sudden rash of deadly canine attacks hits the greater Miami area, Lieutenant “Ghost” Walton, Special Ops, takes little notice. Blame it on the heat, a rare disease, or the fact that people just don’t know how to take care of their pets.

But when the body count rises, and the perimeter of blood and carnage spreads wider and wider, into the farthest reaches of Miami-Dade county, Ghost has no choice but to pay attention. Doggedly, he tries to uncover the link between these lethal incidents, but he doesn’t count on falling for a sassy out-of-towner with a dark past, nor does he expect to stumble onto a plot that threatens national security.

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Chapter 1

Gobi Desert, Northeastern China

The silver buses drive across the land of endless sand. Onboard are prisoners from China’s notorious Death Row. Rapists, serial murderers, and child abusers.

Twenty men about to be given an extraordinary chance to live.

To wipe the slate clean.

The long vehicles that carry them are equipped with lethal electrocution equipment, state-of-the-art technology designed to deliver on-the-spot executions. The inmates can choose to stay on board and be quickly put to death; their organs harvested there and then and sold to those needing donations.

Or—when the doors swing open—they can run for their lives. Run into one of the largest deserts in the world and take their chances with what lies out there.

Air brakes hiss, sand sprays, and the five buses come to a syn- chronized stop in the blistering heat.

Three army copters hover in the sweltering air. Military bosses watch like circling vultures.

On cue, automated locks clunk and the big doors of the ve- hicles slide open.

Clouds of hot sand rise as the bare feet of desperate men jump and run from the vehicles.

No one remains.

Six miles away—six miles north, south, east, and west—the doors of four armored personnel carriers also open .

General Fu Zhang peers down like God. Watches life and death play out. People reduced to black dots, scattered like dung beetles. He can’t help but think it would be better for the men if they’d stayed on the buses.

Their deaths would be less painful.

The leader of China’s armed forces follows each and every fa- tality on his video monitor.

Nonchalantly, he waves a hand to the pilot to return to base.

He is pleased.

Seldom has he seen such efficient slaughter. Such economic carnage.

Project Nian is nearing completion.



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Fantasy Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Although definitely steeped in elements of epic fantasy, and wholly dependent upon a complex mythology, City of Stairs is really an urban fantasy, one set in alternate universe that's on the cusp of an industrial revolution. Robert Jackson Bennett actually dabbles in a lot of different genres here, including those of mystery and the political thriller, but he successfully ties it all together in a surprisingly cohesive whole.

The story opens rather simply, with Shara Thivani arriving in Bulikov to investigate the death of Efrem Pangyui, a renowned Saypuri historian. There's a lot more going on here than just a simple murder, however, and it's all tied to a history of conquest, occupation, and the wholesale destruction of an entire culture. It's a conquest that extends so far as to have murdered the gods that once watched over the land of Bulikov, and to have reshaped the entire landscape through the chaos of the Blink - a catastrophic, anti-miraculous sort of event that coincided with the death of gods and the destruction of their works.

Set against that wondrously complex backdrop, we have a woman who is far more than who she initially appears. Shara is a spy, a young woman banished from home due to her overzealous nature, and who has a past romantic connection to an influential figure in the burgeoning rebellion. As we later discover, however, she actually has an even deeper, even older connection to Bulikov, with a heritage that has the potential to mark her as the darkest of villains should it be revealed. At her side is Sigrud, the strange, largely silent giant from the North who accompanies everywhere. There are a lot of hints and suggestions as to his back story scattered throughout the tale, but the true depth of his history is quite impressive once it's revealed - and he, ultimately, plays a larger role as hero than even Shara. In fact, his call to arms in the final act is the highlight of the entire novel.

As much as this is a tale of people and politics, it's also one of gods and magic. In that sense, the world building here is absolutely astounding. Bennett builds a complex pantheon of gods and goddesses, with diverse cultural practices that evolved from their worship. I love what he did with the idea of edicts and rites, of rules and commandments, particularly later in the tale when he begins to explore just how much we shape the gods, and how much they shape us. Although presumed long dead, there's still a question as to the fate of the gods, with miraculous items and rites still having power, despite being suppressed and hidden away in a mysterious warehouse that puts Area 51 to shame. That warehouse plays a key role in the tale, but to say more would be to spoil the adventure.

What's perhaps most impressive is the fact that Bennett successfully manages to reveal the true fate of the divinities, drawing them into the story as both a driving force and a dividing question of doubt, creating a climax that surprises, amazes, and entertains. Considering how magical the entire novel is, with an entire continent completely conquered and brutally reshaped by the Blink, it's actually a relief to discover that it wasn't all merely window dressing. Bennett pulls together all the myths, all the cultures, and all the social/political conflicts in a resolution that may be a bit too tidy for some, but which works beautifully.

All-in-all, City of Stairs is a remarkable book, a multi-genre crossover success that is sure to appeal to a wide range of audiences. It's impressive in both scope and range, with strong characters, an even stronger mythology, and some inventive conflicts and action sequences. As philosophical as it is entertaining, it's a book that I suspect will be making a lot of year-end best-of lists.

Paperback, 464 pages
Expected publication: September 9th 2014 by Broadway Books