***** (5 Stars) And well deserving
The thirteenth book of the Spook’s series finally concludes the first story. The author says he planned a trilogy, but it took on a life of its own.
The trouble with endings of long stories is they rarely live up to the hype. This is a good book, it is one scene short of being a great book, but I understand why that scene was omitted, even if I don’t agree with the reasoning. I would bet money it was in the first draft before the editor persuaded the author to remove it.
The Wardstone Chronicles started by presenting us with an uncompromisingly description of good and evil, if you used magic )always Dark you would eventually become a servant of the Dark and it was a Spook’s job to take those so afflicted and imprison or kill them (sometimes both, though not in that order.) But Delaney subverted that view almost from the start by showing that not all those using dark powers used them for evil. Everybody is compromised as the story progresses, even the Spook turns out to have fallen in love with one of those he fights against.
Delaney created a relationship between a practitioner of the dark arts (Alice) and Tom (our hero). This relationship soon blossoms into the beginnings of a love story. The age range the book is targeted at preventing it from going any further.
What has bound me to these stories is that relationship between Tom and Alice, its strengths and its weaknesses, as our characters discover that for the world to escape the rule of evil, Tom must sacrifice Alice and she must be willing to die. Tom is hopelessly fallible (and to be honest, not all that bright) while Alice has a resolve that burns so intensely it sometimes hurts to see it on the page.
I’m not going to say what happens in this book, but that story is not resolved unless you carefully put together all the clues the author left scattered around. For those of you who have read the book, look carefully at the prophesy made by Mab about what would happen to Tom and then Alice’s last words to him.
Buy this book, it’s well worth reading.
Some of you may have noticed I have published two Jalia novels in the last two weeks or so, so now seems like a good time to talk about her and them.
Jalia is my favourite character and I have written an enormous amount about her. She and Daniel are destined for great things.
Daniel is the last of the Magician Kings, something he doesn’t believe in the current books. He’s still a teenager, brought up on a farm until his parents died and then dragged around the Golden Triangle (a trade route) by his older half-brother. At this point in his life, he couldn’t be a king if he wanted to. What he does want to do is follow Jalia wherever she wants to go. He knows he is in love with her, even as he knows that she isn’t yet capable of love.
Jalia is the daughter of a Master Trader and was brought up in luxury among the rich and royalty of Bagdor. She is very intelligent and incredibly lucky (you’ll find out why, eventually.) Her mother was a mystery, blonde and blue-eyed in a country where no one like that exists. She claimed to come from a village far to the west, but that was a lie.
Jalia is a sociopath with nothing remotely like a conscience. She puts herself, first, second and last. Ruthless does not begin to describe her. However, she has some rules she chooses to live by, one of which is that her word is her bond. She is drawn towards Daniel, but he is still largely a travelling companion. Because she wants to keep on travelling with him, she often considers what Daniel would want her to do to avoid annoying him.
These books are about the two of them growing up. They are on a sightseeing tour around their world because Jalia wants to see things, and because many of the places they’ve been have a price on Jalia’s head. She can’t keep out of trouble as it’s in her nature. Daniel wanted a quiet life, but by the end of Jalia and the Slavers, he knows he can’t have that and Jalia.
There is an epic story rumbling away in the background as hints to their future are dropped here and there, but these books are a series of adventures caused by Jalia’s irrepressible nature. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Let me tell you about Carlotta… No wait, if I do that I’ll spoil the book for you. Let me tell you about what I’ve been doing while you are all waiting for Wizards IV.
I started writing the next wizards book in November, but then my life got complicated and I stopped. I didn’t think I was doing the book justice and my mind was all over the place.
After Christmas I decided to edit a book then called ‘The Unknown’. The reason for the title was that I didn’t have a clue what the book was going to be about. All I knew was I wanted to write a ‘film noir’ book. Detectives in raincoats and hats, mobsters and steam coming out of vents, sexy women and convoluted plots – that sort of thing.
What I ended up writing about was Carlotta, and even she didn’t know who she was as the story starts. The name was incongruous and we would soon find out that it both was her name and wasn’t. When she changes to vampire form, we discover she is something special. Her need for sexual release at the drop of a hat tells us much more about her.
She’s something special is Carlotta. I often write about strong women, but this girl’s arrogance and willingness to risk her life is something different. Of course, my noir detective story had become a fantasy, but then, it was me writing it, so no surprises folks.
Pretty soon, Carlotta is on a mission to save the world from someone who makes the mob look kind and cuddly. His mission is to remake the world in his image and he knows how to get the power to do it. Carlotta and a few hangers-on are out to stop him, if they can.
This is epic fantasy largely confined to a hotel with a few field trips.
Carlotta and the Krius Scepter is out on Kindle from the 1st of January. If you liked Wizards you’ll love this one.
(Now back to writing the next Wizards book.)
Artemis Fowl has been one of the most entertaining series in children literature over the last ten years. This is a worthy edition to the cannon though not up to some of the earlier books.
This is a claustrophobic novel, taking place over less than a day in the life of Artemis. There are so many characters to fit in to the story that Mr Colfer uses the clever trick of making many of them fill two roles at the same time. The pacing is good, but I felt I was in a tunnel most of the time. There were only a few occasions when Artemis has his head up and is scheming. I would have loved the final book to have played to the genius part, but it was not to be.
On the good side Mulch plays a major role in the plot and when he is in action this story flies (quite literally in places). The scatological jokes are flung without regard for innocent bystanders and it was a joy to behold (from a safe distance.)
I shall miss Artemis Fowl. The journey has been a great one.
Go buy this book because you wont regret it. It's still head and shoulders above most of the pack.
Just a word to those of you fond of my Wizards and Tom & Laura books.
The months May, June and July were very productive for me.
May/June I wrote Wizards III in which we find out what Jake promised the Wizards of Valhalla to get the power he needed to defeat Bronwyn. Naturally, his new wives are not amused and they decided (well, Esmeralda decided) that he should be forbidden any sex with them.
When we join the story, he has been celibate for nearly a month. This will have severe repercussions, but his main problem is that Jenny wants to come home and he doesn’t have any money in Wales. No sooner does he come up with a solution to that than he finds he is Public Enemy Number 1 across the whole multiverse, and everybody is out for his blood.
From then on, it all gets worse and much more complicated.
In June and July, I wrote Tom & Laura III and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out. I conceived Tom & Laura as an adult series, but I started the series while they were still thinking a little bit like kids (well, Tom was.)
This time they have grown up and are adults. Nearly a year has passed since the last story and Laura has been imprisoned by the army for refusing to kill people, Sir Ernest Trelawney has been fired from his post as Director of MM3 and is about to get married to his secretary, while Tom is in the army and has been posted to America as a Healer.
Wizards III has been through a second edit and should come out in the next few months. Tom & Laura III is a longer book and I haven’t decided whether to edit it now or write another book. Time is limited because I also have to work at something other than writing to live and I have recently received a couple of contracts.
But you will see them both before year end, I’m sure.
What can one say about Garth Nix? Bestselling and award winning children’s and YA author who is highly prolific and amazingly inventive. Worse than that, he has the temerity to be younger that me! I ought to hate him, but as a matter of fact I’m a big fan.
He has stepped into SF once before with Shade’s Children, but for me, this is his first major foray into the world of SF and what an excellent one it is too. I have always found the difference between ‘older YA’ and ‘adult’ confusing and if this isn’t adult SF I don’t know what is, though its protagonist is young.
A Confusion of Princes takes us through the three deaths of Khemri, a prince just entering adulthood, where being a prince is nothing like you expect. Khemri has been born (and partially constructed) into an Empire spanning a big chunk of the galaxy. Though we meet some aliens, this Empire is about humans who originated on Earth and have spread. It is run by a mysterious overmind and an emperor who is never seen.
There are millions of princes and they control the Empire on the Emperor’s/Overmind’s behalf. Every twenty years a new emperor is chosen from a thousand princes.
Khemri is arrogant and has been fed a bunch of lies from birth. Now, as he reaches adulthood he discovers that the other princes will try to either kill him or make him their allies.
I was particularly impressed by the use of science. This is a well thought out universe where biological, electronic and psionic technologies are used to enhance and control humanity. In fact, unenhanced humans are cannon fodder to be used at will as concubines and other forms of mind controlled slaves.
To tell any more would be to deprive the reader of lots of fun, so I will leave the story there and let you find out for yourself.
This book is dedicated to two groups of people, the game design industry because the universe described is also a game, and the SF writers Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton. The fascinating thing for me is that this novel is a blend of those two writers. The struggle for survival and humanity is pure Heinlein and this book could have easily been another of his novels. The use of technology and the biotech is pure Norton, as is the subtlety. By accident or design this book takes the best of both writers, while remaining very much a Garth Nix novel.
The only negative I have is that the book is a little bit too much like a game in places. I salute Mr Nix for his attempt to reel in the gaming generation to books. I do hope they come because this is very much a book worth reading. I’m hoping for a sequel.
I bought Department 19 on holiday a couple of weeks ago from one of those shops selling hardbacks cheap. I have just published a book, London Gothic, on the subject of spies, vampires, secret organisations and as this book covers those same elements I wondered how they might compare.
Mr Hill’s book was published in 2011 and there are two sequels out now. I expect he wrote the book after I wrote London Gothic, which dates back to January 2009 in first draft, so there is no way we could have influenced each other.
I enjoyed this book tremendously despite some gaping holes in character motivation and plotting (though these might be resolved in the sequels). In essence, 16 year old boy (Jamie Carpenter) discovers that his father fought vampires and died a traitor when he is flung into the James Bond style world of Department 19, dedicated to protecting the world against the supernatural. Great stuff.
Mr Hill borrows from Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley to populate his story. Using the characters from Stoker’s Dracula and the Monster from the Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein. Each to his own and those books are well out of copyright so I have no problem with this. I think it’s a great shame he didn’t use Shelley’s Monster, but I suppose the idea of using other people’s characters is that they are in the public consciousness and it is the Monster more or less in his most famous characterisation on film (complete with neck bolt) that Mr Hill uses.
One thing Mr Hill does brilliantly is write historical drama. The sections set in the past, while being backstory, positively sing. He captures the 1890’s brilliantly. Much Kudo to him for this.
Jamie is a little too wish-fulfilment for me. In the Horrowitz mould of boy agent, Jamie is just too good, too fast. I would have preferred him a little less capable and a little luckier, but the story zips along very enjoyably.
In London Gothic, Peter Craig (18) has been trained as a spy his whole life by similarly clandestine branch of the UK secret service. However, they aren’t the slightest bit supernatural inclined, economic espionage and agent provocateurs is their style. Peter isn’t quite human and he is the culmination of centuries of evolution that make him a natural at all forms of deception. But he isn’t as good as he thinks he is and I bring the whole thing down on him like a pack of cards at the end.
What Peter and Jamie do share is a supernatural girlfriend and for me, Department 19’s Larissa is the highlight of Hill’s book. Tough, sassy and a little bit malevolent, Larissa is the best character, gets all the best lines and makes the book come alive. She is the vampire with a heart, though why she is motivated the way she is, is never properly explained.
In London Gothic, Sal Dark plays the same sort of role, though she is also comic relief (and sexual relief) for the story. She isn’t a vampire though and, like everyone else in the book, most of what she tells people is a lie.
Department 19 is a straightforward good guys against the bad guys, though Hill does introduce some contrary elements that make his vampires far more than one dimensional. London Gothic is about some slightly bad guys against some other bad guys, and some other bad guys etc. Peter’s self created role is to prevent genocide and get everybody around the table to talk. In this, virtually everyone opposes him.
I liked Department 19 enough to buy the first sequel. If you like violent Vampire stories with a superb female companion helping the hapless hero, you’ll like it too.
If, on the other hand, you like violence and sex with much darker heroes and a convoluted plot, you might prefer London Gothic. I would recommend you buy both :-)
My books often contain characters who might be defined as strong women. In fact, I like a balance of the sexes in my novels, so there are very few of my novels that lack that element. I was trying to work out where my influences were the other day and was struck by how few of them came from the novels I read as a child.
The first strong female character that features in my consciousness was Cathy Gale, the original television female Avenger. I remember Honour Blackman (who played the part) giving an interview where she explained that she complained to her husband that it was the usual screaming female part and he suggested she played it as if she was a man. She went on to say that once the writers got it, her storylines became much stronger. When she left the series, Emma Peel was created in the same mould and a legend was born.
In children’s books there was ‘George’ from the Famous Five and Darrell Rivers from the Mallory Towers books, both written by Enid Blyton. After those I’m damned if many others come to mind, perhaps Monica Edwards’ books about Tamsin and Rissa. There were more such characters in children’s books published after I grew up. Phillip Pullman, for example, has made a hobby of it.
There were strong female characters in comic books and adult fiction. Wonder Woman specialised in making men look stupid as opposed to looking at her breasts. Patricia Holm in the early Saint books and the incomparable Modesty Blaise come to mind in adult novels. I have a deep suspicion that Modesty Blaise was the core model for Buffy, who essentially created the mould for all future television fantasy females. Yes, Joss Whedon, it’s your fault.
The essence of a strong woman in fiction is that she must never be a man in disguise. She acts with her heart as much as her head and is emotionally intuitive. She is more into vengeance than men, but is equally more forgiving when the crime isn’t against herself.
My writing career started in verse and it was there that I created Jalia al’Dare. Adrift in a sword and sorcery world she is perfectly adapted for it. She started killing people in her early teens and never has a moments regret about it. If someone attacks her, she will kill them without a second thought, even if the one attacking her is a child. I teamed her with Daniel, a young man always willing to give someone a second chance, but brutal when he has no choice. With time, they rub off on each other and Jalia uses the mantra ‘What would Daniel do?’ to curb her instincts. Daniel becomes inured to making terrible life and death decisions because he knows he will always be more merciful than his other half.
Women, and especially girls, need to be empowered in western society. Our stories should not portray them as weak, because if that is what they are told they are, then that’s what they will become. And it is a man’s world they live in, make no mistake. Girls are emotionally vulnerable and some men love to exploit them before they get old enough to know better. Unlike boys, they do not seek to form gangs that offer them some protection from exploitation.
So I like to create strong role models in my stories. I don’t claim it’s easy to be strong and many of my female characters have been damaged or abused in childhood. That is often the motivator that makes them strong, able to be tough because they have suffered from being vulnerable.
It seems to me that this issue is ongoing. We are all responsible for changing the society we live in. Some years ago, my eldest daughter was attacked by a handbag snatcher outside a railway station. She looked pretty weak and vulnerable as she was dressed for an interview at the time. She responded by kicking him in the back of the leg, leaving him writhing in agony on the ground while she used her phone to call for the police. They arrived promptly, and when they stopped laughing, arrested the guy. But that’s one thief who will never look at a woman as a victim again.
My kind of hero.
Mariah Mundi and the Ghost Diamonds
GP Taylor is an interesting writer. I read his first book Shadowmancer and its sequel some years ago and admired his impeccable use of language, while at the same time finding the bleakness of his vision somewhat off-putting. Taylor writes meanest of spirit and darkness of soul better than any writer I know.
I might have left it at that except that I came across the first of the Mariah Mundi books in a discount bookstore a couple of months ago and enjoyed it greatly. As a writer of young adult fiction, I have trod within the same territory; Victorian steampunk adventures in which magic vies with gothic technology to take centre stage. I was captivated by the relationship Mariah (who is a boy btw) forms with the girl, Sacha, and wanted to read more.
Mariah Mundi and the Ghost Diamonds is the second story in the trilogy and is a worthy read. Taylor doesn’t disappoint in either language or storyline. This is a truly exciting adventure. You should buy and read it.
I was a little disappointed by the way Sacha is little more than a cipher in this novel. She was stronger in the first book and I love strong female characters. (I’ve been accused of creating a lot of them.) But that aside, this is an excellent read and well worth your time.
There are currently three novels in the Magic Series that cover the lives and times of the children of James and Ezekiel Howard as they struggle with their legacy of guarding the Source.
The Source is the hidden main character in all the books. I never describe it directly and its nature is both enigmatic and far from human. It provides the threats and the means to overcome them. It is the core of the universe I created for the books.
There are many things I have yet to discover about the Source, in part, that’s what makes the books interesting to write, because only by writing them will I come to know and understand its nature. This is what we have discovered so far.
Sometime around 4000 years ago, the brothers James and Ezekiel carried the Source out of Mesopotamia and over many decades brought it to the British Isles where it has remained ever since. The brothers were princes and had made the choice to serve the Source for the rest of their existence. The prize was immortality, but the penalty was that they could never sire children. They traded their humanity for a noble cause.
The Source imbues precious metal and stones that stay close enough to it with magical power. This takes a long time, decades, centuries or millennia in some cases. The magical energy fades slowly with time and use when removed from its influence.
Since the brothers took the task of guarding the Source it has required them to sell the magical things it creates. Such powerful objects command high prices and this is how the brothers were able to make a living. Over generations James and Ezekiel created a network of trustworthy people to dispose of their magical product.
In the hands of a human, the magic trinkets confer a single ability linked to that person’s heart’s desire. But the brothers had spent so much time with the Source they were no longer human and were magical in their own right. Magic objects in their hands became sources of energy or, if the object was specially designed, they could be used for one specific purpose, such as stopping time.
In 1920, James and Ezekiel moved the Source to a suburb of London in a house designed for them. James used his magic to create six ‘house protectors’. They were supposed to be simple creatures with just enough intelligence to carryout their assigned tasks. But James let the heartache inside him for children drive their creation. When the Source saw that James did not have enough power to complete the task, it gave him the power to finish the job. Thus were born the Dees, and in particular the last created Dees known as Glass. She was much more than the Dees were supposed to be and the Source became fascinated with the promise she suggested.
The Source does not tell anybody what to do and seems uninterested in the evil that its magic does in the world when it gets into some people’s hands. But it does offer choices and sometimes indicates it is pleased with the choices made.
James leaves the house to follow his desire to regain the humanity he has lost and Ezekiel becomes a virtual recluse, though both continue to sell magic objects out into the world.
It seems the Source was interested in what the children of its guardians would be like. Circumstances conspired to give them children, though Ezekiel would never know of the existence of his son. In both their cases, magical power in the hands of human women who desired children would overcome the changes the Source’s magic had wrought in them. Their children would inherit the magical gifts of their parents, though because they had never been near the Source they would need magic objects to use them.
And this is not to forget the Dees, who were in every way the children of James, created from his blood.
When the story starts in The House of Silver Magic, the Source has allowed choices to happen that result in the deaths of James and Ezekiel. The old making way for the new as enemies gather at the door.
This is the World of The Magic Series.
Book #1 House of Silver Magic – In which the children of James discover their destiny.
Book #2 Sapphire Magic: Breaking Glass – In which the most human of the Dees is given a terrible choice
Book #3 Gold Magic: Terror in Mind – In which Ezekiel’s child must save London or die trying.