King of the Crags hits the charts (28/4/2010)

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Book chart

OK, so it’s the local Waterstones best-seller charts, not the New York Times. Allow me to revel in pretend glory nonetheless. I even had to wait while someone decided not to buy my book before taking this…

Prince Jehal Interviews the Night Watchman (27/4/2010)

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The regular author of this site is still railing and ranting about geology so I, Prince Jehal, continue my questioning of characters from The Adamantine Palace and King of the Crags. After the unexpectedly prickly Queen Zafir last week, I have with me today the doubtless equally prickly commander of the Adamantine Men, Night Watchman of the realms, Vale Tassan.

Jehal: Um, you don’t really appear in The Adamantine Palace at all, so our readers aren’t going to have a clue who you are. Could you begin by explaining who you are and the purpose of the Adamantine Men?

Vale: The first Adamantine Men followed Narammed the Magnificent during his travels across the realms. They were holy soldiers ready to fight and die in the name of the Order of the Dragon at a moment’s notice. When Narammed became the first Speaker of the Realms, he took these men to become the nucleus of his holy guard – the Adamantine Men – who would serve and guard the office of speaker. Over the years that followed, the legions of the Adamantine Men have grown. We began as the hundred and one. There are twenty legions of us now. Over time, our purpose has changed. We are no longer the Speaker’s bodyguard, but the defenders of the realms against any danger.

Jehal (raising an eyebrow): Including dragons?

Vale: Yes.

Jehal: Is that how you get your other name, the Scorpion King?

Vale (with slightly wistful air): We have over a thousand scorpions with which to defend the City of Dragons. Almost half of them can be placed on the walls of the Adamantine Palace itself. It is said in Prince Lai’s Principles that the legions of the Adamantine Guard could face more than two hundred dragons. Given the way things are going, perhaps we shall find out. Although doubtless we will have another book of your tedious posturing to endure before we finally reach the real meat of the matter, in which man faces dragon and the snakes shall be sorted from the lions.

Jehal: I beg your pardon!

Vale: My pardon is not yours to beg. I am a servant, Prince Jehal. I will serve the Speaker of the Realms, whatever she commands and her alone.

Jehal: No, no, I just meant there were far too many animals in that last metaphor for me to follow. Are we starting another menagerie? We had one of those once, up at the banqueting house and then in the city. Didn’t Speaker Ayzalmir feed all the Taiytakei he rounded up to the snappers and the desert cats?

Vale: I am called what I am called for a reason, Prince. When night comes it falls to the Adamantine Men to keep watch over the nine realms. Those were Narammed’s words and I trust you will not deny that the times are dangerously dark.

Jehal: Dark? My fine fellow, they are positively luminous. We have a new speaker, one with strength and vigour and powerful allies, while all those who opposed her have been scattered. Dark? What’s dark about that? Or have you been reading ahead? “…the tension that made The Adamantine Palace so addictive runs throughout this sequel…” does make it sound exciting; but secretly, Alice and I both know it was me that made TAP so addictive. So tell me, Vale, what exactly do you bring to this little tale of ours?

Vale: I watch as you strut and smile and slowly poison us all. Do not think you fool me, Jehal. I have faced dragons. To me, you are nothing, any of you. You will not beguile me and I doubt I am alone. There will be a war and I will have my time. You must see this too. Ancestors!

Jehal: Hmm. “The dragon war that rages through out the final stages of the book is simply superb.” Should have seen that one coming really. Hmmm. Epic fantasy with dragons in – chances that they won’t be allowed to show their teeth before the end?

Vale: (sotto voce) Also, it is thus far sorely missing a significant character with any manner of moral backbone. It is a void I will eagerly fill.

Jehal: Oh but that must make you so immensely dull. Ah well. Speaking of voids eagerly filled, I had an interesting conversation with Queen Zafir about the role of women in epic fantasy last week. Any views you’d care to share, as Night Watchman of the Adamantine Men.

Vale: The Adamantine Men are swords who sate themselves in flesh. That is our purpose. There is no place for the softness of women within our ranks. Otherwise I have no opinion to offer. A speaker may be a king or a queen, but to me, they are simply the Speaker.

Jehal: Well thanks, Vale. Do you think you could be even more terse about covers?

Vale: Covers?

Jehal: Book covers. You know, awesome-looking dragons flapping about the place. Hooded men. Wizards clutching balls of glowing light and looking like they’re have a really bad attack of constipation. Backlit women with swords that they probably couldn’t actually lift and certainly couldn’t pull out of a scabbard without a lot of huffing and jiggling. You know, the picture that goes on the front.

Vale: Ah. You mean like the façade you wear to cover your frail and shallow cowardice?

Jehal (through gritted teeth): If you must put it that way.

Vale: They are as nothing to me. A pretty picture is a pretty picture. I will admire it for a time and then it is forgotten. The deeds of men are what matter. The deeds of men and dragons.

Jehal (checking his hourglass and miming being sick when Vale isn’t looking). Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for Vale you-are-all-as-nothing-to-me Tassan, Night Watchman.

Diamond Cascade: Magic Mushrooms

Posted in DC

Hammer 10: It’s amazing, sometimes, how life turns out. Take the psychotic dwarf, for example. He’s battled his way through the tunnels of the under-dark from the Mountains of Wherever to the Inn of Gnomish Mishaps to deliver his warning (apparently circumnavigating the entire gnomish kingdom in so doing, which, in hindsight, would explain his latterly apparent navigation and map-reading skills). He has followed his priest, joined with a band of strangely random sell-swords and misfits, travelled across the surface that he hates and has still, eventually, delivered his warning to the gnomish people. He has then followed his priest on a mission of almost certain death to deliver a crippling blow to the leadership of his enemies. He has watched his priest fall to goblin swords, and yet he has persevered. He has led a band of utter lunatics, stupid enough to follow him, yet querulous, argumentative and mocking. He has led them through tunnels he knows that are now riven with creatures he calls his mortal enemies (although in the case of this dwarf, ‘mortal enemy’ does sometimes seem to be a broad church that encompasses anything that breathes). He has faced dark dwarves, goblins, orcs, ogres and dark elves and he has spilt their blood upon the blade of his axe.  And then, almost within sight of his destiny, close enough to touch it, a bear sits on him.

Is there a lesson to this? Apart from not standing in the way of a bear that’s going toe-to-toe with a mushroom with tentacles? Yes. Life is futile, random and ghastly. Take what you can and get what you can get. Before the bear sits on you.

Bizarre, but the one person who seems to care about this (beyond the horrible realisation that none of the rest of us have the first clue how to get back out of here) is Shifty. Or maybe he was just looting the body in particularly dramatic style.

I hate this place.


King of the Crags – more reviews (22/4/2010)

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More reviews trickle in, so far all to my liking. The Locus review is interesting (Locus really liked the first book), insofar as it goes out of its way not to express a good/bad opinion (something which more reviewers could usefully do in my opinion), but manages to convey something of a sense of awe, almost of fear(!) “I can only hope Deas returns to his world, not with rosy visions of restoration, but to give his humans some reason not to pack it all in…”

The Booksmugglers, who were in the more-depth-less-speed camp last time around seem to be converted. “Questions aside, I finished reading The Adamantine Palace only just about interested about reading this sequel. I closed The King of the Crags knowing for a fact that I will be picking up the final instalment in the trilogy come rain or come shine.”

And then finally one from a site I’ve missed up until now, with a pertinent comment at the end.

“Overall, a very strong sequel and one of the best second entries in a trilogy I’ve had the chance to read. In the final paragraph of my Adamantine Palace review I said that The Adamantine Palace was not top notch…well…forget that. It might have been on its own but with The King of the Crags as its sequel it now certainly falls into that category.” LEC Book Reviews

See that bit about The Adamantine Palace? Thank-you LEC – a series should be more than the sum of its parts.

So Crags is better than The Adamantine Palace? That seems to be the consensus so far, but not everyone agrees.

“An impressive sequel that boasts the same flare and excitement of its predecessor.” Total SciFi. But then they did rather like the first one.

One quite contented author.

Prince Jehal Interviews Queen Zafir (20/4/2010)

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STOP (word)PRESS: Gollancz Signing Event: Forbidden Planet London, May 13th. John Meaney, Sarah Pinsborough, MD Lachlan, Stephen Deas, possibly others.

Despite the volcanic ash-cloud, the regular author of this site, in a transparent sulk / attempt to avoid any bad reviews has gone off for a few weeks, apparently to write some inconsequential story that has nothing to do with me at all. During this time, therefore, I, Prince Jehal, having found a taste for interviews, will be questioning a few of the other regular characters from The Adamantine Palace and King of the Crags. This week I thought I’d start with someone easy in more ways than one: My dear friend Queen Zafir. But before we start, a word to our dear friends in Sci Fi Now. Now my absent author is perfectly happy with your Must Read Now four star review, but let me offer you a deal of my own. You get the title of the book right and I’ll share my deepest darkest secrets. Deal? Good. Now, on. Zafir.

Jehal: So, lover, what’s it like sleeping your way to the top?

Zafir (languidly): You’re the last person who should need that explained.

Jehal: Well I do try my best, but I suspect, if push came to thrust and grunt came to groan, I might find myself conceding that, in this one thing, I am in the presence of a greater master. Or mistress.

Zafir (with a shrug): We all have our advantages, do we not? I’m no expert with poisons, for example, so I make do with what I have.

Jehal: Anyway. I was going to talk about cover art, but since neither of us got to be on the cover to The Adamantine Palace for any edition (Hey! Poles! Hello! Does it have to be a dragon all the time? How about the people who ride them for a change?), I thought we’d talk about something else. Since you’re here, let’s talk about women in fantasy. Some people seem to view you as a thoroughly two-dimensional cardboard cut-out. My shag-puppet, basically. Discuss.

Zafir: You mean because you get more page-time than me, I have to be your shag-puppet rather than you being mine? Typical. Yes, let’s all just jump to that conclusion. You do remember how The Adamantine Palace ends right? (shaking her head). What do you think?

Jehal: Well…

Zafir: Consider your answer carefully, my sweet. We have two more books to go yet. I would hate for us to have a falling out.

Jehal: Of course. A partnership of equals. Do women have to work harder than men, do you think, to get anywhere in our world? It seems you have many natural disadvantages.

Zafir: Pardon?

Jehal: Well no offence, but on the whole we’re stronger and faster. And then there’s the whole matter of babies. It’s pretty inconvenient, don’t you think, to be basically laid out for nine months unable to do anything, and then after that there’s the whole looking after the brats after they’ve been born. I mean come on, that alone pretty much rules women out of doing anything all that significant doesn’t it?

Zafir (icily): If we lived in some barbarous world where strength of arm was all that mattered then perhaps. But we do not. I am a dragon-queen, Jehal. I will carry a sword and use it if I have to, but let me ask, how exactly have you charted your rise to power? Do we see a trail of your enemies slaughtered in single combat? No, we don’t. I dare say that neither you nor I would care to take on the Night Watchmen in single combat, and yet here we are, a prince and a queen, chasing our ambitions with words and strategies. I see no reason why I should consider myself at any disadvantage in such matters at all. Indeed, I consider that I have one considerable advantage, as men, even you my sweet, are so easily manipulated. In war we ride on the backs of dragons, and where will a strong arm help you there? An old man too weak to walk or Vishmir himself, it makes no difference who you are on the back of one of our monsters. I’ve heard it said that women bond better with the beasts, and I will say that that, too, is false. Dragons simply do not care. So where, Jehal, is your advantage? The only distinction between us is that men are somewhat more prone to forget to think with their heads and use an entirely different organ, and even in that they are not unique. Jehal, let me put a question to you instead: do you consider yourself somehow superior for being a man?

Jehal: Well I ah… I suppose I could have a thousand sons if I wanted. I don’t know how many children you think you could bear, but not quite so many, I suspect.

Zafir (archly): At least I would be sure they were mine. But of course, that’s why you try to have us locked away where no one else can get to us. While you’re all out sowing your seed on a whim, eh? The more this conversation goes on, the more I understand why that niggling thorn Jaslyn is the way she is. Perhaps I should make her my friend, if it’s not too late for that.

Jehal: Er… have I touched a nerve?

Zafir: You put us into gilded cages wherever you can. Your own queen, Jehal, we both know exactly what you wanted from her before you ever even met her. To sit in some pretty little tower making heirs. Perhaps you chose well and she’ll oblige you. Try that with me and I’ll cut your throat while you sleep. Or take you to war so you can see just why our differences come to nothing on the back of a dragon. Yes, perhaps there is no place for women in the Adamantine Guard. Yes, perhaps that is a place for men. After all, the guard serve. (With a smile) why, I might even think you’re afraid of us. Is that why you can’t keep your clothes on? Does it threaten you when someone says no?

Jehal (waggling his tongue): It makes me think I’m losing my touch.

Zafir (dismissive): A talented tongue is a very pleasant thing to have around, but it doesn’t make you god, Jehal. You’ll have to do better than that. Of course, if you were a woman, and I were a man, then that tongue of yours would more than likely be enough…

Jehal: Fascinating, fascinating theory you have there and you know, however bizarre, I’d love to discuss it more…

Zafir: You can be a right dick sometimes.

Jehal (rising): You destroy me, my love, you truly do…

Zafir (under her breath): Yes, well I’ve read book two and you haven’t…

Jehal: …but I do believe I sense a plot thickening somewhere nearby and if I don’t stir it swiftly, I fear it may go all lumpy. Care to join me?

Zafir (also rising): Don’t think this is over, my sweet.

Diamond Cascade: The Enemy of My Enemy

Posted in DC

Hammer 10: One thing Diamond Cascade won’t do in the epic tales of his exploits will be to blunder into yet another cave full of dwarves, get ambushed by them, get into a huge fight, kick their arses only to have a vast gang of mutant goblins, half of them with too many heads or too many hands or too many wings, mouths, tails, you name it, too many of anything, show up along with some flying dark elf wizard. There’s absolutely no way that Diamond Cascade and his noble mateys made some sort of deal with ANY DARK ELF WIZARD AT ALL, even one who’s lit up with magic like a candelabra in a Gammersbridge brothel. There’s no way at all that any of this happened, and no one was promised the magical-loot of the dark elf priestess if we happened to murder her. No bargain of any sort was made. In fact, no such wizard existed.

And if he did, he wasn’t called Ilkius Venaar.

Ah, crap, it’s not like we weren’t going to go and do exactly the same thing anyway.


A Brief Interview with Prince Jehal (13/4/2010)

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With the King of the Crags about to hit the shops (first reviews accumulating here) and the last significant rewrite of the final installment finished, today we interview the man who thinks he is the star of The Adamantine Palace, Prince Jehal.

So, Jehal, let’s start with something simple. You’re the crown-prince of Furymouth, one of the richest cities in the dragon-realms. Tell us a little about your home.

Jehal: Ah, Furymouth. The finest, riches city in all the nine realms. It’s hard to know where to start, but we have the possibly the finest palace in the realms, we have…

Finer than The Adamantine Palace?

Jehal: Well that’s a point we could debate if you like. The Adamantine Palace is, perhaps, better known and I suppose it’s bigger and has it’s Dragon Gate and yes, the Tower of Air is taller than any of the towers of the Veid Palace, but let’s not forget, my home is Vishmir’s home, the greatest dragon-king and speaker the world has ever known and the Veid palace was built by him. The Adamantine Palace has, what, half a dozen great towers? Eight maybe? Our towers may be smaller, but we have hundreds…

I’m not sure that size and number of towers is particularly a measure of anything…

Jehal: It’s a measure of wealth! I think you can assume that, for all the gaudy immensity of The Adamantine Palace, the Veid palace is far more refined and cultured. The art, the sculptures, the hangings, everything about my home is exquisite. You should come and visit; and if you did, let’s not forget the Field of Gorgutinnin outside, the chariot races, the most famous in all the realms. And the great Bronze Dragon of Furymouth, Vishmir’s Column…

Fine, fine. So where does all this wealth come from?

Jehal: From the fine stewardship of our realm by my fore-fathers, of course. From Vishmir onwards, we have been at he helm of the nine realms, even if we were never Speaker…

And the Taiytakei?

Jehal (smirking): It does help that we are the only sea-port in the realms and thus the only point of access for the Taiytakei traders, yes.

Some would argue that The Pinnacles were the heart of the realms, but let’s put that aside for a moment. Tell me about…

Jehal: Some would argue, but only because of history. The Pinnacles, home to my dear friend Queen Zafir, were perhaps the heart of the realms a hundred years ago, but times change. The War of Thorns brought their dominance to an end. By all rights, Furymouth should be the capital of the nine realms now. The Veid Palace should be the new Speaker’s Palace.

Something you seem to be working quite hard to achieve. Why exactly is that?

Jehal: Well as I’ve said, Furymouth is the richest and most significant city in the realms in these times, and yet since Vishmir, there hasn’t been a single Speaker from my family. Vishmir conquered the world, let’s not forget. No, the other realms are jealous of our wealth, that’s what it is. We may not have the raw dragon power of, say, the Queen of Sand or the King of the Crags, but we are the ones driving the realms forwards. Every innovation starts in our city. The realms would be better off guided by our enlightened progressive thinking, and the only thing that stands in the way is this cartel of the northern lords who think they can juggle the throne of the Speaker from one to another to the exclusion of those of us in south. Why? Because we are rich, that’s why! Because the only means they have to wealth is to suck the riches of the City of Dragons away into their deserts. Because they envy and fear us, that’s why! My father should have been speaker, and his father before them. I see no reason why I should meekly tolerate their conspiracies without hatching a few of my own. (With a wink): It seems only fair.

Conspiracies that involve murdering your fellow kings and queens?

Jehal: Oh please, does it always come back to that? I only ever murdered the one, after all. It’s not like I burned down town after town of little people, which is what routinely happens when dragon-lords fight. Isn’t it fairer that we keep our disputes amongst ourselves? Why force everyone to suffer just so that we can claim to have fought with ‘honour’? Is it ‘honourable’ to burn thousands of hard-working men, women and children just so that we can say we never slew another lord outside of some farcical idea of ‘noble combat?’ I may be alone, but I think not.

You, uh, claim to care a jot about the ‘little people’ as you call them?

Whatever I think of them has little bearing on whether they deserve to have some dragon burn their lives to nothing in a blink, or do you disagree?

But still. You start your quest for power by seducing a dragon-queen and then throwing her off her own dragon. Was that necessary? Wasn’t there some other way?

Jehal: No, to be blunt. The northern kings and queens act together. We in the south must do the same. Zafir and I see things in the same way. Her mother, I’m afraid, did not. Regrettable, but necessary. And as you will see, I have no objection to sharing power. I’m not in it for myself. I’m after a fair representation, that’s all.

As well as murdering Queen Aliphera, what about your own father…?

Jehal (angry): Oh I see. You think I’m poisoning him. Everyone else assumes that I must be. Does it not occur to you that sometimes people simply fall ill?

Convenient, though, for you.

Jehal: Because it makes me crown prince of the most powerful of the nine realms? Yes, I suppose it must seem that way. Given the choice, though, you know, I think I’d rather have back my father and my brother and my sister and my mother. Given the choice. Can you do that for me? No, I rather thought not.

Well, right or wrong, you seem to be well on your way towards getting what you want. What do you put that down to?

Jehal: Being smarter than the rest of them. Planning. A bit of luck. The usual things that make a man great. Look at Vishmir, look at Narramed, look at Prince Lai. And then look where they all came from.

Narramed came from The Pinnacles, and you could look at the first Valmeyan while you’re at it. But I take your point. What do you say to your critics?

Jehal: I have critics? Should I murder them? Apparently that’s what I do, after all.

People have looked at your rise and called you many things. Shallow. “Personality-free,” in particular sticks in my mind.

Jehal (with a shrug): And yet cunning, addictive (I imagine that one came from one of my legion of lady admirers). Nicely fleshed out (he leers). Everyone has their detractors. I put it down to envy.

And more commonly: villainous, vicious, nasty, ruthless, greedy, treacherous. Your nemesis, Hyram, calls you The Viper, and the name seems to stick. These are hardly the words used to describe the great leader you seem to aspire to be.

Jehal: (after a pause). I am a prince of dragons. My father is sick, my brother murdered my sister and my mother and was tortured to death for his crimes. Do I seem so different to them? Look at the kings and queens of the other realms. The noble Shezira who sells her daughters so she can claw her own way towards power – no one seems to mind that. The mighty Hyram. Take a good look at him and his pot-boys. Am I so different to them? Look around you at the lords who fly upon our mighty beasts and show me one who is clean. Show me one, just one, and I will throw away my palace and my finery and become a monk. Show me just one. But you can’t. Do you know why? It’s because of what we are. Because of the life we lead. Because we are born with dragons around us, because we live our lives among monsters who routinely smash men to a pulp through a careless flick of the tail. Who hurl their handlers through the air with an idle flap of their wings. Who crush men to death simply because they didn’t look where they were going. Who kill not with malice, but with indifference, and those, I remind you, are the tame ones. That is the life that surrounds a dragon-prince. Death comes and calls at random. Picks you up and plucks you out of your life. No, only two kinds of men live among dragons and survive. The brash and the bold and the cautious nervous ones who call them alchemists. If we dragon-lords are ruthless, it is because we have no space for second thoughts. If we are greedy, it is because we know every moment could be our last. If we are vicious, it is because we have learned that indecision is death. If we are villainous, it is because we know our own kind too well, and I am not an alchemist but a dragon-prince.

Diamond Cascade: Lucky Fishing Magic Game

Posted in DC

Hammer 10: …until finally they reached the first scouts of the fiendish ARMY OF DARKNESS, the vicious DARK ELVES. With ruthless strokes, Diamond Cascade and his comrades stalked and slew these foul versions of the fair folk above and crept ever closer to the heart of the enemy.

Look, when you’re a human and you’re a mile under the ground and you can see jack shit, spotting a black-skinned elf wearing black armour, sitting on the back of a black lizard that happens to be hanging from a black ceiling with lots of black darkness in between you, it just doesn’t work, right. I begin to see why dwarves and gnomes live in these holes. Because they can. Because it keeps them away from us and us away from them. So we’re creeping along, bumping into walls and generally getting on each others’ nerves (The Gnome, it seems, has taken particular issue to the stories I sing of Diamond Cascade, back when we were in civilised places. Remember civilisation? Where a good bit of singing gets you a meal for a night instead of getting you attacked by an army of giant spiders and dire bats? I remember civilisation. Even my poet’s soul can’t find words potent enough to express how much I’d rather be there than here. Anyway, I keep telling The Gnome that they’re just stories, they’re not meant to be about us, exactly (well they are, and that’s pretty obvious, but The Gnome is a gnome and dim, right) but she just won’t shut up about it) when we hear the sound of rushing water. Great, a place to throw The Gnome and shut her up, but you know, the sound of rushing water turns out to travel an awful long way in a cave, and by the time we get there, I’ve temporarily forgotten about hefting people into rivers. So there we are, great big chasm, rushing underground river, long rope bridge vanishing into the darkness ahead. And I’m happily lollopping across when this fight breaks out, and all I know of it is there’s shouting all of a sudden from The Gnome and Wolfgirl (who can apparently see in the dark too) about something on the ceiling and then there’s people shooting arrows up at god-knows-what (hint for archers: don’t shoot arrows straight upwards, especially at a lizard you can’t actually see) and then the next thing is The Gnome casting some spell and the next thing after that is this huge lizard thing with a screaming black elf plunging past me and crashing into the river along with assorted bits of cave roof.

Now, you all need to know this: Not everything you’ve heard about dark elves is true. But I don’t know that. All I see is a falling magic shop plunging into the river, and so I’m out with the rope and grapple I keep handy (you would too if you were in these tunnels), trying to reel that sucker in before he vanishes into the inky depths. First throw was a good one too, got him nice and fast. Only trouble is, I guess I didn’t reckon on how strong the current would be and I’m still thinking too hard about how much magic this dark elf must have to let go of the stupid rope, and half a second later, that’s me over the edge and into the water as well. All in my chain shirt and sword and everything. I’m too busy trying not to drown to really listen in on the conversation behind me, but there was way too much talking and not enough throwing rescue ropes for my liking. I guess I could have reeled myself in to the lizard and floated off to gods-knows-where on the back of it, dark-elf treasure and all. The only one who does anything is the mad dwarf. Just as well it was a good throw.


Easter Shenanigans and Shortlists (7/4/2010)

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Eastercon was a blast, as Eastercons are wont to be. First highlight the Swordplay for Writers panel, from which I took copious notes which would have been directly relevant to the sequel to The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice had I not promptly lost them (if anyone who reads this was there, Steve Kilbane gave out his contact address… pretty please?). Second highlight was the JET panel, simply because it told you all you need to know about how to describe credible fusion containment. Last and best highlight was the company. This could be a very long post if I went on about everyone who was there, but star performer award for all-round good company goes to Gollancz author Gavin Smith, whose debut, Veteran, comes out later this year. I’ve read the first chapter, I liked it very much (reminded me of neuromancer, only in Scotland, so more dirty) and I’ll be reading a lot more just as soon as I get my signed ARC back from wherever it ended up…

Other Eastery things: There’s a new issue of SFX out, and might it have the first review of King of the Crags in it? Yes, it might…

When it landed last year amidst considerable fuss, it was hard not to be a little disappointed with Stephen Deas’s debut, The Adamantine Palace.  Here was a novel that promised a tougher, new fantasy style that take on the old fantasy’s stock creatures, dragons.  It largely delivered, but along the way some of the world-building and characterisation were a little wobbly.

This sequel marks a step change.  As sharp as anything by George RR Martin or Joe Abercrombie this is a fast moving, confident offering from a writer who’s clearly found his rhythm and pace and who doesn’t mess about.   Crags picks up almost immediately where its predecessor left off.  By way of a darkly humorous reminder that fire-breathing lizards are dangerous, we’re straight into the the action.  Frankly, you expect the intrigue and hints of revolution in the offing that Deas serves up, but more impressive is the way he re-engineers familiar fantasy elements.  The neo-religious zeal of his red riders for example has clear parallels with our dangerous world.  Prince Jehal the chief villain has evolved from a black hat to a altogether more nuanced character.  Quite why he does what he does may even be a mystery to Jehal at times you suspect, which makes him gloriously unpredictable.  And then there is the white dragon that drives so much of the plot, a creature that has recovered from a chemical castration that keeps its brethren cowed.  Whenever snow – which as names go is like calling a tiger Tiddles – is around, there is a vivid sense of an altogether alien presence.  While the wider world that forms the backdrop here could still be better realised, it appears the new fantasy has another new star.

Hard, really, to find anything to complain about there. If you happen to read the SFX review column, you’ll notice another Gollancz offering that happens to be due out on the same day as King of the Crags: Tome of the Undergates. Tome got itself a pretty good SFX review too, and then someone who might have been me had this to say about it…

“Wildly descriptive slaughter-fest fantasy with a surprising pathos. Monstrous, murderous, psychotic, deranged, possessed and insane – the only question is what our heroes hate more: The demons they’re fighting, each other or themselves. Sam Sykes has invented a whole new genre – Call Of Duty: Demon Warfare.”

Did I like it? Yes. Grew on me after I’d finished, which is always a good sign. You can see the X-Box version as you read (and to me that’s a good thing), and while I have some reservations here and there, I think (I hope) this could be going somewhere special. A fine companion to Crags, they come out on the same day, and if you like surreal, go you can follow @SamSykesSwears on twitter too.

And one other little thing… (of which more later)

TAP - Gemmell