Thursday, December 18, 2014

Trying to define myself as a writer (and figure out where this whole writing thing is going).

It's been a while since I've posted on here. Sorry about that. I finally managed to get a job, so the blog kind of fell on the wayside. I've still been writing and hanging around AW. Most recently, I started work on a project I mentioned a while back. It's an epic fantasy in which the first book is tentatively titled The Watersong. It's going pretty well. I wrote about 3,000 words today.

Today, I also did some work on my Martin Mason upper MG fantasy series. I wrote about 4,500 words in this one today. I actually found that doing two projects at the same time wasn't all that hard. Because the projects are quite different, I find I can switch between them when I get tired on one, and I still have the creative energy to work on the other. Now I'll have to see if this keeps up.

This brings me to my existential writerly questions. I have a wide range of interests as far as writing goes. Pretty much, I want to write fantasy and science fiction (and maybe horror). Now, that probably doesn't sound like that much, but when you factor in that I want to write for MG, YA, and adult audiences, things get a bit messier.

The issue is figuring out which one should be my jumping off point. Will I hurt my chances of establishing a career in one age group or genre by writing the other? Yes, I know I should just ignore that and write the stories I want to write, and that's what I'm trying to do right now. I'm trying to take away some of the publishing pressure I put myself under.

Make no mistake. Publishing is still a huge motivation for me, but if I'm not having fun writing, why am I doing it at all? There are countless other things that I could do and not have fun (but make a lot more money in the process). So that's where I'm trying to go as a writer: toward a place where I can write again for the fun of it.

I've also opened my mind a bit to the idea of self-publishing (if trade publishing doesn't work out for me). I've learned that cover artists are not nearly as cost-prohibitive as I once thought. It wouldn't be my ideal situation, but if I can't get anyone to bite on my books, I don't want them to languish on a hard drive, where no one will ever read them.

I'm still in the querying process for Sunweaver. I believe in that book, as I believe in all my stories. It's just the question of whether agents and publishers will believe in them the same way I do. I guess I have the issue where what I like isn't necessarily what they're looking for.

They want dark, gritty fantasy. I write fantasy that sits more middle-of-the-road between the optimistic fantasy of decades past and the grimdark of today. I'd like to think there's a place for it. Authors like Brandon Sanderson are doing quite well. But will I struggle because that market is already filled by established authors like Sanderson?

Once again, maybe I should just not worry about this stuff and write the best books and query letters I can. It's just so hard to ignore the business side of writing. And that won't get any easier if I do end up self-publishing, because then I'll have to handle the business side myself.

Oh well. I'm just kind of musing aloud here. It's probably not the most coherent blog post.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Crutch Words (part 2)

Sorry, I know it's been a while since the first post on crutch words. Sometimes I get caught up in other things and neglect my poor little blog.

This post will include crutch words and phrases of a different sort. These are those placeholders that a lot of authors end up putting in to avoid dialogue tags. Things like:

He smiled.

She frowned.

They shook their heads.

He shrugged.

She nodded.

He chuckled.

She grinned.

There are other words that fall into this category. Now, are these words and phrases all forbidden? No. But you need to be careful about how you use them, and how frequently. A little bit goes a long way. However, if you have your characters nodding and shaking their heads to everything, they're going to look a little ridiculous.

In most cases, these phrases aren't necessary, especially when you're using them instead of  a dialogue tag. You can often infer disagreement from the dialogue itself. On the other hand, if you want to emphasize an odd reaction, have a character's body language not match their words. That's a great way to add tension and mystery to a scene. In most cases, though, that's not how writers use these words. They're placeholders more than anything. I include them in the first draft, then cut quite a few of them as I revise.

Another place to use them: silent communication. Sometimes a character simply nods to indicate agreement. That's okay, and you should show that. But don't do this:

He nodded. "I agree."

You're telling us the same thing twice. It's not the strongest writing. If you can't find a suitable action to tag the dialogue, it's okay to use a dialogue tag. It's true that most readers barely notice the word said. Usually, they notice it only if you have a lot of them in a row, with nothing to spice up the writing. Note: nodding and shaking heads generally don't spice up the writing. They're boring.

A few other phrases to watch for: he looked, he glanced, and of course any filtering words (but that's a matter for another post).

Hope this helps others in their editing process.

Fantasy Reading List: Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick

I just finished the sequel to this one, so I thought I'd add it to the Fantasy Reading List. Among Thieves is one of the many good thief novels to appear in fantasy recently. I found it was action-packed and gritty (but without overdoing the grittiness). It took me a while to warm to the main character Drothe, but once I did, it was a great reading experience.

It's also worth reading for the simple fact that it's written in first person. You don't see much secondary world fantasy written in first person. I found Hulick did it very well, and it helped me grow to like a character I might not have liked otherwise. As far as antiheroes go in fantasy, Drothe is one of my favorite I've read.

I also found this to be one of the more convincing depictions of the criminal underworld in fantasy. It probably got some thing "wrong," but it worked for me. The book also gave a lot of hints of a complex world. There's an interesting reincarnation thing going on with the emperor. The order of Degans is very interesting, and you're just scratching the surface in this book (book 2 gets into them a whole lot more). Drothe's sidekick from that order, whom he simply calls Degan, is also a great character.

In general, I found this book struck most of the right chords for fans of this type of book. Gritty, but not too gritty. Fun and funny at times, but not lighthearted. Lots of action, but still some time for character development. A setting that's interesting with more to come. My only real complaint is that it took me a while to warm to it, but that's not unusual for me.

I also thought the second book was all kinds of awesome.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Malice by John Gwynne

I just finished this book recently. I was excited going in because I saw generally good reviews. However, I was disappointed, especially with the first half of the book. I ended up liking it overall, but the first half was very slow, and there was nothing particularly interesting about it.

We have scheming kings, bandits, a boy destined for great things, a prince who thinks he's going to be some kind of great savior, a looming war. It's all something I've seen before in fantasy. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the early part of this book lacked other elements that could make up for the lack of originality. I'm okay with unoriginal ideas if I love the characters or the writing. The characters grew on me eventually, but getting through the first half of the book was a chore.

As for the writing, it's not the best I've seen in the fantasy genre. Most of the time, it was competent, but there were a few places where I found myself shaking my head and wondering how some things had made it past a professional editor. Things like shrugging and grinning as dialogue tags. That might just be something I noticed as a writer myself, but it bothered me.

Despite all this, I wouldn't say it's a bad book. The end of the book made up for the struggle I had earlier on. Toward the end, there were some great action sequences, and the story really got rolling with revelations and other interesting plot developments. It just took too long to get there. If I'd written this book, I would have condensed a lot of the earlier scenes, or eliminated them altogether.

Still, this book was good enough that I'll read the next in the series.

Rating: 7/10

Fantasy Reading List: The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

It's been a while since I've written a post. I got busy doing other things, and the blog ended up being forgotten (as usual). Right now, I'm reading Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold, so I thought I'd give a brief review of his First Law trilogy.

Abercrombie is an absolute favorite of many fantasy readers, especially those who prefer their fantasy more on the grimdark side. I'm not as much into the grimdark, but I can still appreciate an author who does that style of fantasy well. And Abercrombie does it very well.

This trilogy is a must-read if you're looking for antiheroes. You could argue that every viewpoint character in the thing fits as an antihero. I found that I liked some of the characters more than others: Logen Ninefingers, for example. Glokta, on the other hand, didn't do it for me. I know a lot of people love the character, but I didn't. In fact, Logen was the only character I really connected with throughout the series. The others had their moments, but they weren't my favorites.

However, if you're more into antiheroes, you'll probably find yourself liking more of the characters than I did. I still liked the story in spite of my dislike for some of the characters. I should note, however, that I didn't care as much for the first book as I did for books two and three. The first book felt like it was there to setup the rest of the story, rather than being a complete story on its own merits.

I know I'm pointing out a lot of negatives here, but it is a good series, just not one that's always suited to my tastes. There's plenty of action, which Abercrombie describes very well. He's one of the best I've seen at depicting battles, both large and small. He's also the best I've seen in fantasy at incorporating character voice in a third-person narrative. His characterization is superb in general (even if I didn't like some of them). He also has a way of cleverly subverting many of the most common fantasy tropes.

In general, if you're a fan of darker, grittier fantasy in a brutal world filled with antiheroes, this will be a great read for you. If you're tired of seeing farmboys chasing dark lords across generic fantasy landscapes, this might be the series you're looking for.

Personally, I liked it, but I wasn't blown away because it's not to my tastes.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book Review: Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

A while back, I read Anthony Ryan's Blood Song, and I thought it was one of the best new fantasies I'd read in a long time. For my review of it, click here.

So I went into Tower Lord with some reservations. I wondered how it could possibly measure up to the first book. I've had disappointments before with second books. Peter V. Brett's The Desert Spear, Scott Lynch's Red Seas under Red Skies, and Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear come to mind. None of these were bad books. In fact, they were still quite good. But they didn't measure up to the mammoth expectations I had after an amazing first book.

I was also worried about the new POV structure. Before I began, I'd heard that Anthony Ryan added new viewpoint characters to the novel. Part of what made the first so good was the focus on Vaelin. It was such a strong character-driven book. I worried that this book would lose that.

On the one hand, my worries were correct. On the other, they weren't. Did this book measure up to Blood Song? No, not quite. But it was still a great book in its own right. Did the additional POV characters cause me problems? Yes, they did. But they also brought more depth and breadth to the world and story. It took me a while to adjust to them, but once I did, I started enjoying Tower Lord every bit as much as I enjoyed Blood Song.

The key thing is this: don't go in expecting more of the same. If you do, you're going to be disappointed. In the first book, Ryan used a less traditional fantasy narrative structure. In this one, he's gone more toward the standard multi-POV structure in epic fantasy. This is not a bad thing. It's just different. In some places, you'll feel like you're reading the first book in a series again, as you have to get used to new POV characters, but you have to trust the author. He makes it work.

Thankfully, two of the new viewpoint characters are people we've already met: Princess Lyrna and Brother Frentis. The third new POV character was the toughest adjustment, especially since she starts out the book hating Vaelin. But give it time. Ryan can develop these three additional characters just as well as he developed one character in the first book. And he does it in a similar number of pages because this story covers a much shorter span of time.

Here's how I look at it. Blood Song was a highly entertaining introduction to Vaelin, but it wasn't the real story. It was a prelude of sorts. The real story starts here, and I found it just as entertaining, especially toward the end. However, the start was a bit of a struggle for me, so I can't rate this book quite as highly as the first.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I sent out my first query today for Sunweaver.

So I took the plunge. After months of editing and revision, I've sent out my first query for Sunweaver. It's both exhilarating and terrifying. I spent a lot of time on that query, suffering through the trials of Query Letter Hell. I'm glad that I got started on the query as soon as I finished the first draft. That gave me the chance to work on the query during the long revision process.

In the coming days, I intend to send out more queries. It'll still be scary, but hopefully clicking that send button will get easier.

Fantasy Reading List: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Here's another favorite of mine I thought I'd add to the list. I read this a year or two ago. Coming into it, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard so many good reviews about it, but I was worried I might not like Locke Lamora, that he might be too much of an antihero.

As it turns out, my worries were completely unnecessary. I didn't fall in love with Locke right away, but I ended up enjoying the story. In an era of so many dark and depressing stories, it was nice to see some fun alongside the dark and depressing. Yes, it's still a grim world, but Locke and his cohorts inject enough humor and fun into that world that it's not a depressing reading experience.

Still, it can be brutal at times. No doubt about that. Characters die. Things get really messy. Yet I found that Scott Lynch balanced these two sides of the story very well. At the end, the action really picked up, and I remember frantically turning pages because I had to know what was going to happen. There are few books that get me to turn pages like that.

However, the early going was a bit rough, as I didn't identify with the characters right away. Also, the dual timeline structure of the story was a bit strange at first. I adjusted, but it took me some time. Once I adjusted, I fell in love with the characters. They were drawn very well.

Overall, this was a great read promising more to come. Although I was disappointed with Red Seas Under Red Skies, I loved The Republic of Thieves (possibly even more than the first book). If you want to read a thief story that's both fun and gritty, this is a story you should read.

Rating: 9.5/10

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

Here's another one for the list. I read this a couple of years ago, and it has stuck with me. I loved the world Brett created in this, a world where humanity lives in constant fear of corelings (demons that come out of the ground at night). At the time the story begins, most people live in warded cities and towns, hiding from the demons. No one travels at night. Few people travel at all.

This setting creates a tense atmosphere, and that's what drew me to the book. As I read it, I came to appreciate it for the character-driven story it is. Yes, there are plenty of demons and some good battles, especially toward the end. But first and foremost, this story revolves around the character Arlen, who becomes the titular Warded Man. It covers a long stretch of his life and shows how he has changed from an ordinary village boy to someone who might be the world's savior.

Yes, it's an age-old fantasy plot, but Brett does it very well. There's a lot more depth to it than you see in most stories of a similar nature. The characters and setting both feel real and nuanced. I also loved the magic system that you discover over the course of the book. There's a lot to recommend this book.

Now, I was a little disappointed by the sequels. They're still good reads, but they're not as good. However, some feel they do retrain the strength. Still, I strongly recommend this one.

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: The Black Company by Glen Cook

While I'm at it, I think I'll add another military fantasy to the list. For this review, I'll be covering the first three books of Glen Cook's series The Black Company. For military fantasy, this series is one of the most prominent classics. You can see it as inspiration for later (and more complex) military fantasies like Steven Erikson's Malazan books (which I'll get around to reviewing at some point).

Overall, The Black Company was a good read. It's far from my favorite, but it provided an interesting world. I also liked Croaker as the narrator. He was the character with whom I identified most easily. A lot of the author characters were perhaps a little too dark and violent for my tastes, but I saw more decency and humanity in Croaker.

While this is military fantasy, you shouldn't expect constant battles. That was a bit of an adjustment at first. I came in expecting battles, and instead I saw a whole lot of life as a soldier. Once I adjusted to this, I came to appreciate the series more. I also felt it improved as I went along. Book three was my favorite of the Cook's first trilogy.

I should note that the writing style can take some adjustment. Croaker's first-person narrative is very direct, even choppy at times. If you're used to lyrical, flowing prose, you'll find this a bit jarring at first. Just a warning. I still think the series is worth reading, especially when you consider its influence on the darker, grittier side of the fantasy genre.

Rating: 7/10

Fantasy Reading List: Legend by David Gemmell

David Gemmell's books have been around for a long time, but I just finally got around to reading one of them recently. I chose Legend, as that's the one most people recommend you start with. It was an interesting story, and not quite what I expected when I picked it up. I was thinking the whole thing would be a big battle, and, yes, there was a nice big battle at the end, but there was more to it than that.

I also wasn't expecting for Druss to be an old warrior well past his prime. It was an interesting take on that kind of character, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. In fact, I ended up liking most of the characters (though I did think the romance between two of the main characters happened way too quickly).

This book isn't a complex read by any means, but it's fun, with some good action sequences (both smaller scale skirmishes and large-scale confrontations). I liked it enough that I'll check out more from Gemmell at some point.

My biggest complaint about the book was the author's handling of point of view. I'm guessing he chose to use an omniscient narrator, but it came off more as head-hopping than omniscient. The point of view would change from one character to another with no warning. Sometimes it would even switch locations. This took a bit of an adjustment and detracted from the book for me.

Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

For my review of The Black Prism, click here.
For my review of The Blinding Knife, click here.

And for my review of the book I just finished. I enjoyed the first two books in the series, but this one blew them away. The plot developments just kept on coming. Weeks sprinkled his characteristic action throughout, and then as usual things exploded at the end.

Too often, I've made the mistake of comparing this series to his Night Angel trilogy. But I need to let it stand on its own. It's not the same kind of story, and it's great in its own right. That has actually led me to reevaluate my feelings on the first two books.

As I've said before, the magic system is really great (even if it was a bit cumbersome in the first book). This book also reduces the amount of magical training time, which is a good thing.

Once again, you see more development out of Kip. This book also focuses a lot on Teia, including the introduction of the organization that gives the book its name. There's a lot of tension in this storyline, and in all the others. I also loved the sections from Gavin's point of view. His plot is probably the least interesting, but his character is just so interesting to read about. I also must say that Andross Guile makes one of the most compelling antagonists I've ever read

There were a lot of great developments toward the end of this book that have me looking forward to the next one. Too bad it won't be out until 2016. I'm not sure I can wait that long.

Rating: 9.5/10

Book Review: The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

For my review of The Black Prism, click here.

I just finished The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (the third in his Lightbringer trilogy), so I thought I'd review the second. This won't be too in-depth because it's been a while since I read it. I've forgotten many of the specifics.

Overall, this is a very good book and a worthy followup to The Black Prism. We get to see how the characters grow and develop from what they were in the first book. Most noticeable are the changes in Kip. He becomes a much stronger character (and loses some weight). However, his storyline did drag a bit for me. There was a lot of training in magic and battles, which got tedious after a while.

The end of the book saved it, though. Even those training parts weren't bad. They just weren't as action-packed as I expected from Weeks. At the end, there was a massive battle. It was great, and the developments at the end definitely leave you wanting to read more. They're not quite cliffhangers, but they're pretty close (just so you're warned).

Overall, I really liked this book, especially the second half of it.

Rating: 9/10

You can find my review of The Broken Eye (book 3) here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham

This is a series I read a while back, but I think it's worth mentioning. Abraham is one of the more talented writers in the fantasy field today. Although his stories aren't normally my preferred type of fantasy, I enjoy them because he writes them so skillfully. His characters are living, breathing people. His settings come to life.

In this series, his setting is especially vibrant. It has a sort of Asian feel to it, and the magic system is very interesting. It can be a bit hard to adjust to at first, though. In this world, poets bind creatures called andats, which are actually physical manifestations of an idea. It took me until about book three to fully grasp what was going on with this, and I'll admit the first book was a bit of a struggle.

After that, though, the series kept getting better. It's interesting, too, in that it is not one continuous story over a short period of time. Rather, it consists of separate stories following some of the same characters at different stages in their lives. There is some connection plot-wise, but a lot of what ties these stories together comes from the characters, who really drive these stories.

A note on Abraham's characters. Many authors have their characters start at some point on the good/evil spectrum. Abraham, however, tends to have everyone start out pretty neutral. Then they develop over the course of the story. That's part of what's interesting here: watching the characters grown and change.

Another plus: these stories can be epic in scope, but they're not terribly long like a lot of epic fantasy. If you're a fan of political and economic fantasy, you'll probably enjoy these even more than I did.

However, as I mentioned, the first book was a bit of a struggle, mainly because the setting and magic system are a big adjustment. Also, there are some slow spots in the plot. Overall, this series is a good read and definitely worth looking into. Abraham's other series, The Dagger and the Coin, is pretty good too (though it's more of a traditional fantasy).

Rating: 8/10

Friday, September 26, 2014

Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

For my review of The Thousand Names, click here.

I read this one in August, and it was a great read. I liked The Thousand Names, but I loved this one. It must be noted, however, that it is not the same kind of book. The first in the series was a military fantasy, and while the second has some of those elements toward the end, it is not a military fantasy.

Instead, it focuses on matters closer to home. Away from the front lines, revolution is simmering. It's different, and that might actually be what makes it better.

We stick with Marcus and Winter, but we also add the POV of Princess Raesinia, who's a pretty awesome character with some interesting stuff going on magically. In addition, we finally meet the much-talked-about Jane. It's interesting to watch how Winter's relationship with her develops in this book.

While we leave behind some of the stuff from the first book, the new stuff Wexler brings in more than makes up for it. And I trust that we'll see some of the first book's plot lines come back into play in the third.

Overall, this is a great read. Even without as much of the military action, there's still plenty of action and generally fast pacing. I highly recommend it, even if you weren't sure about the first book.

Rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

For my review of Promise of Blood, click here.

The Crimson Campaign is the second book in Brian McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy. It starts where its predecessor left off. I won't give away any spoilers, but things were not resolved as neatly as they appeared to be at the end of book 1. If anything, they've gotten even worse.

In this book, McClellan continues to do well all the things he did well in the first book. The pacing is great. The characters are likeable and interesting. The magic system remains fascinating. This one has much more of a military angle to it, though. In the first one, there was some of that with Tamas and Taniel, but their stories are now mostly based around the military action.

That gives McClellan the perfect opportunity to show off his fantastic magic system in action. In addition to action, there are many twists and turns to the plot. I mentioned that I took a while to connect with the characters in the first book, but I started this book connected with them. And that connection only grew deeper.

McClellan is rapidly turning into one of my favorite epic fantasy authors. I love the alternative setting. It recalls a lot of the great things about epic fantasy, but it feels new and fresh. Great read.

Rating: 9.5/10

Crutch Words (Part 1)

Here's a writing advice post for today. It involves what I like to call crutch words. These are those words that you use too often, words that generally weaken your writing. Since I'm in the middle of editing on Sunweaver (I'm getting closer and closer to querying), I've been paying special attention to these words.

What are some of the biggest culprits:

Adverbs: This isn't going to be an "adverbs are evil" kind of post. Adverbs, like any other part of writing, can be a useful tool in the writer's toolbox. What I'm referring to here is the unnecessary use of adverbs. Let's show a quick example of what I'm talking about (from Sunweaver).

Deril hit his head softly against the floor.

Here, I'm using this as the final part of him praying. In revisions, I decided this wasn't what I intended. What did I mean by having him hit his head softly? I knew I needed more precision, so I changed it to this:

Deril touched his head to the floor.

Not only did this eliminate the adverb. It was a more accurate description. I don't want my reader to think Deril hits his head against the floor like some kind of masochist. Yes, that would be an interesting character, but that's not what I'm going for.

Just, Only, Simply, Really, Very (special cases of adverbs): I decided to put these adverbs in their own special post because they're particularly troublesome. It's okay to use them in dialogue, but in narration, you need to carefully evaluate every instance. Ask yourself if the word is adding anything?

I singled these out because I found they were especially prevalent in my writing. Not so much for very, but the others were there in abundance. Sometimes they validated their existence, but not always. A good test is to delete the word and read the sentence. If you don't lose any meaning, you don't need the adverb.

Another one to keep a special eye on is probably. It has its places, especially if you want to indicate doubt for your POV character, but in other places, it can weaken the writing. Part of the writer's job is precision. You need to use the right words to express what you intend in the shortest space possible.

Even, Still, Again: These are more words I struggle with. Once again, there's nothing bad about these words, but they often are not necessary. You don't need to mention all the time that someone's doing something again, or that they're still doing that thing. In fact, that might be a sign that you're getting repetitive in your writing.

Even is another one that often is not necessary. It's great for occasional emphasis, but if you're seeing it show up four or five times a page, you might want to reconsider how often you're using it.

This post is getting kind of long, so I'll save the rest for another post. Feel free to respond to this post with your crutch words and how you've handled them during the editing process.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

I just finished this one, so I thought I'd do a short review on it. As a writer who writes primarily epic fantasy, I've long admired Tad Williams's ability to build interesting worlds with characters I want to root for. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and Shadowmarch are both series I've loved. In science fiction, he wrote the Otherland series, another one of my favorites. I also enjoyed his standalone The War of the Flowers.

This one, however, is an urban fantasy. I wasn't sure what to expect going in. I'm always a little worried with urban fantasy because I (unfairly) compare everything to Jim Butcher. Did Tad Williams measure up to Butcher? No. Was it still a great story? Yes.

In this book, Williams present us with an urban fantasy world where Heaven and Hell exist. Our main character, Bobby Dollar (or the angel Doloriel), is an advocate for departed souls. That is, he argues their case to get into Heaven. Of course, he also ends up being drawn into a vast conspiracy involving some of the major players from both Heaven and Hell.

One thing I noticed here was that Williams didn't take as long to get going as I'm accustomed to. While I love Williams's series as a whole, the first books are often a chore to get through. Not this time, though. This one wasn't all setup for another story (though it's clear there's more to come). It featured a plot that moved pretty quickly, though there were still a few slow sections. There was also some good action, and we got to it more quickly than usual with Williams.

Overall, I'm very interested in the world Williams created (as I always am). It actually felt like something I haven't seen before, and eventually I was able to abandon my urge to compare every urban fantasy to Jim Butcher.

Now, I really liked this book, but I see that it's gotten mixed reviews.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

I read this book either late last year or early this year. I've since read the sequel. This is another gunpowder fantasy, but you'll find it's not much like McClellan's Promise of Blood. Wexler crafted his own story, focusing primarily on a military plot. In it, he gives us well-drawn characters and some good action, especially toward the end. At times, the plot bogs down a bit, but there's always some interesting mystery hanging in the background, as well as the promise of action.

This is a good read for fans of military fantasy, and for people who want to see some non-medieval fantasy. Overall, I liked it. It's not at the top of my list, but it's a good read, and you should read it.

I found I liked the sequel much better. Not that I didn't like The Thousand Names. It just took me a while. I might have a review of The Shadow Throne up soon.

Rating: 8/10

For my review of the second book, The Shadow Throne, click here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher.

Most fantasy readers are familiar with Jim Butcher because of The Dresden Files. That's one of my favorite series in its own right, but I also love the Codex Alera series, his epic fantasy.

One of the most interesting things about the series is the history behind it. At one point, Butcher challenged someone to give him the two stupidest ideas he could think of, and then Butcher would write an epic fantasy combining those ideas. The ideas were the lost Roman legion and Pokemon.

So Butcher came up with the land of Alera, a Rome-inspired nation where the magic system revolves around furies (his adaptation of the Pokemon idea). While the furies are elemental in nature, Butcher's version of elemental magic felt fresh and exciting. The most refreshing part of it is that the main hero, Tavi, lacks the ability to use this magic when everyone around him can.

I won't go into too much detail here, but I will say this is a strong contender for my favorite epic fantasy series ever. I loved rooting for the characters. There was a ton of action, as you'd expect from Butcher. Some people think the pacing was a bit off in the first book (too fast at times), but I didn't mind it. I have no issue with frenetic pacing. It keeps me reading.

The stakes are always high in this, and it's just plain fun to read. Maybe it's not the deepest fantasy out there, but if you're looking for some fun fantasy with a lot of battles, magic, and military action, this is a great read.

Rating: 10/10 (Yes, I loved the series that much.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke

Glenda Larke's The Last Stormlord is a book that I feel has been vastly underrated. It's not as well-known as the other books I've reviewed here, but it's still a great book.

One of the things that stands out most is the setting. It's in a desert. There's no medieval Europe here. Larke gave us a well-crafted setting and a great magic system that goes hand-in-hand with that setting. In fact, her marriage of setting and magic was partially my inspiration for Sunweaver. I created an entirely different kind of setting, but I used similar principles. That is, I crafted a setting that is harsh, where only the magic keeps the people alive.

With the setting being a desert, Larke wisely chose to craft her magic system around water. Naturally, those who are water sensitives are the prosperous in society, especially if they're Rainlords or Stormlords. Conversely, the Waterless suffer, relying entirely on water sensitives for their survival. This dynamic creates a harsh, highly stratified society, and that's great for conflict.

As for the characters, there are some common tropes. In Shale and Terrelle, we have two characters who start out as the poorest of the poor, with no hint of their powers. As any avid fantasy reader knows, they're going to go on to great things. For some, this might be a flaw, but I've always been a sucker for underdog stories. I also think these characters have more depth and personality than many others who adhere to this trope. They were characters I couldn't help but root for.

I thought the plot was good, especially toward the end when things really got rolling. However, it does get slow at times. That's where your enjoyment will depend on how well you've connected with the characters. Because I connected with them, I didn't mind some slower sections. This book is, I think, more character-driven than many of the others on my list. The plot is important, no doubt, but a lot of the book is seeing how the characters grow and how they react to difficult situations.

Part of the reason I thought this was a great book was because it actually had me in tears at the end. There aren't many books that do that, and those that do usually make it into my favorites list. I won't give away anything, though.

One more note: I thought the character Taquar was a great antagonist.

Rating: 9/10

Fantasy Reading List: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Currently, I'm reading The Broken Eye, the third book in Brent Weeks's Lightbringer series, so I thought it would be a good time to write a quick review of The Black Prism, the first book in the series. It's been a while since I read it, so this review won't include too many details.

I originally discovered Brent Weeks back in 2012  when I read The Way of Shadows. It became one of my favorite fantasy reads, and I devoured the rest of that series. I also decided to give his newer Lightbringer series a chance, and I'm glad I did. While I won't say The Black Prism is as good as his Night Angel trilogy, it's still a very good book and definitely worth reading. Some readers actually prefer this series, and I'll admit his writing is better. I'm not quite as invested in the story, though.

Weeks's greatest strength is his pacing. He writes epic fantasy like it's a thriller. This was especially the case in Night Angel, which I will also review at some point. In The Black Prism, you begin with the same action-packed, quick pacing, but then it slows down as Weeks develops the characters and the world. This is a thing a lot of fantasy fans like, but it surprised me a bit after Night Angel.

However, it gives Weeks the opportunity to show his growth as a writer. Night Angel was great fun, but it's really pretty simple stuff when you look at it more closely. The characters didn't get a ton of development, and the world was left a bit bare at times. In The Black Prism, you get a very different approach as Weeks moves more toward Brandon Sanderson in his style of storytelling. That is, you get more nuanced characters and a deeper world with an intricate magic system.

In this book, I got the feeling that Weeks was still feeling his way through this change in style, and that's why I didn't find it amazing, just very good. The interesting characters and intricate magic system kept me reading, and Weeks delivered with his trademark action scenes in the end.

Overall, this is a very good read and a promising start to a series.

Rating 9/10 (I've revised the rating because I really think it's worth a 9. I was comparing it too much to Night Angel, and it's a different story, great in its own right.)

For my review of The Blinding Knife, click here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fantasy Reading List: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

This is another one of my favorite recent epic fantasy reads. There are so many things that make it great. First and foremost is the way McClellan integrates gunpowder and magic into a magic system you've never seen before. On top of that, there's a ton of action and generally fast pacing. It took me a while to become attached to the characters, but once I did, I was all in.

Promise of Blood is set in a world with an 18th or 19th century feel. There has just been a French Revolution style conflict, with Field Marshal Tamas killing the corrupt king. At the beginning of the novel, we're dealing with the aftermath of this coup, which is a nice change of pace in fantasy. So often you see the revolution itself, and then the author acts like everything will be just fine, and everybody lives happily ever after. That is not the case here.

Throw in some conflict between nations and gods and you've got the recipe for a great story. McClellan manages it all very well. It's not a perfect book, but it's a great read.

Rating: 9/10

You can find my review of the second book in the series, The Crimson Campaign, here.

Fantasy Reading List: The Emperor's Blades by Brian Stavely

This is a book I read earlier this year. I wanted to write a review at the time but never got around to it. Overall, I'd say this was a very strong debut for Stavely. The plot had good bits of action and mystery. The characters were likeable. Stavely only scratched the surface of his world, but I saw a lot of potential there. While I can't point to any one thing that was phenomenal in this book, the sum total of all its elements was a very enjoyable read.

This book is primarily from the perspectives of the children of an assassinated emperor. We have Valyn, who is training with an elite group of soldiers. His plot features some good action and a lot of mystery. We also have Kaden, who is the heir to the throne. He is training with a group of monks in a remote location. I won't spoil the reasons for his training, though. That's a revelation in the book. His plot is a bit slower at first, but it's also got a good amount of action and mystery.

Of the three children, Adare, the daughter, gets the least page time. However, her story is very interesting in its own right, and I'd expect we'll see more of her in the coming books. Don't take this lack of focus on her to mean there aren't good female characters in this book. There are actually quite a few, especially in Valyn's plot line. They just aren't POV characters.

Now, the Goodreads description of the book says it's for fans of George RR Martin and Douglas Hulick, which seems an odd suggestion because I wouldn't compare this book to either of them. It's difficult for me to pin down to whom exactly it does compare. Sure, there are some echoes of Martin's influence, but it's really nothing like A Game of Thrones. A closer comparison might be Daniel Abraham (though The Emperor's Blades is faster-paced than much of Abraham's work). The biggest reason I can't compare it to Martin is the characters. Stavely's characters are more along the lines of Brandon Sanderson characters. Your heroes are generally good people.

Who knows? Maybe I should just stop trying to compare it. This book stands well on its own. It uses a lot of familiar fantasy elements, but the combination of them feels entirely original.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

First-person POV: Advantages and Disadvantages

This is the first in a series of posts on point of view.

Point of view is one of the writer's greatest tools, yet it is also one of the most abused. I can't count the number of times sloppy point of view has hindered my enjoyment of an otherwise good book. Now you're probably saying, "Come on. I know what point of view is. I learned all about first and third person in school."

Unfortunately, school doesn't prepare you for the realities of fiction writing. There's so much more to point of view than first and third person, and it's not something you just pick randomly. Every type of point of view has its advantages and disadvantages.

Let's take a deeper look.


On the surface, first-person is simple. You're writing it as if you're the character. This allows you to place the reader firmly in the head of that character. It also keeps you from engaging in one of the worst writing sins: headhopping.

However, first-person has its drawbacks. While you can write multiple first-person narrators in one book, it is not the most common of techniques, and it is very easy to get wrong. Those of you who've read Veronica Roth's Allegiant know what I mean. In the third book of the series, Roth moved from an effective one-narrator story to a two-narrator story. Unfortunately, I found that I had trouble telling the narrator's voices apart (even though they were of different genders). This detracted from the book.

This can be done well. For another YA example, you have The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Here, you have two separate first-person narrators, but it works. I had no trouble telling them apart.

So what's the moral here? Character voice is everything in first-person (whether you're doing one narrator or multiple).

In the case of one narrator, you want to make that narrator come to life through the way s/he narrates the story. The narrative itself is a huge part of characterization.

As an example of this, look at Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Part of the appeal of those stories is Harry Dresden as the narrator. You get a sense of him as a character through the way he relates the story. If Butcher had written the series in third person, I'm not sure it would have found the success it has. People like the occasional sarcastic remark from Dresden.

For a similar style of narration, but with some differences, you might look at Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles. He has a character and story that, in many ways, remind you of Dresden. However, when I read each series, I find the narration is different enough that I get a sense of distinct characters telling their story in the way they know best.

Now, character voice does play a role in third-person POV, especially in deep third (which I'll get to in another post). But it's not the same as first-person at least for me. There's a closeness in first that you just don't get in third (in most cases). This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

Let's take a look at some secondary-world fantasy examples:

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. In this, I found the first-person narration was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I really didn't want to be in Jorg's head. It's a scary place. On the other, getting into his head and hearing the words in his voice helps many readers identify with a character they would normally find despicable. Jorg also has a bit of an intellectual side, so he occasionally gets into some poetic language. It seems fitting, though.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. The majority of this story is in first-person POV from Kvothe's perspective. It's also a very different voice from Jorg's above. Kvothe is a much kinder, gentler narrator. While I loved the story, I never quite felt like it was really Kvothe telling it. It felt more like Rothfuss writing it from Kvothe's point of view. Maybe that's Kvothe's voice. It's just not a voice that really stood out to me.

And that's okay.

Too many people think the narrator's voice has to be intrusive, especially in first person. But an understated voice can be just as effective. The key is making sure it's the right voice for your character and the story you want to tell.

In short, first-person POV has a number of advantages. It helps keep you disciplined as a writer, sticking to one POV per scene.. It also allows for the narration itself to further characterization.

However, it can be difficult to get the narrator's voice right, especially if you're writing multiple narrators. And since I usually write with multiple POV characters, I prefer to stick with third person. If I ever come up with a story with just one narrator, though, don't be surprised if I choose first person. As I've said, there are distinct advantages.

Here's some other first-person secondary-world fantasy you might check out (not an exhaustive list):

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
The Magic of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
The Black Company by Glen Cook
Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover (it's partially in first, partially in third)

As you can probably gather from this list, first-person POV is not all that common in secondary-world fantasy. This is due, in part, to the epic nature of many secondary-world fantasies. The authors saw the potential pitfalls of multiple first-person narrators and chose the safer option of third person. That's not saying you can't write more POV characters in first person. It's just a risk as an author, and that's a choice you ultimately have to make.

Fantasy Reading List: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

As I mentioned in my blog post yesterday, Elantris was the first Brandon Sanderson book I ever read. Since then, he has established himself as one of my favorite authors.

Why was I attracted to Elantris?

1. It was a standalone (and not terribly long).
2. The concept was really cool. I mean, who doesn't want to read about a fantasy city that draws on the legend of Atlantis, but does it in a completely novel way in a secondary world?

This novel is probably the least polished of Sanderson's efforts. You can tell this was early in his professional writing career. But it's a great book nonetheless. I was sucked in immediately by the first line of the prologue.

Elantris was beautiful, once.

This captured my attention because of the final word, separated skillfully by a comma to emphasize it. As I read, I immediately wanted to know why it wasn't beautiful anymore. This is an author doing his job. There's a mystery here, and that's one great way of showing tension.

When I got to the first chapter, I was immediately sucked into Raoden's story. Why? Because of this opening line:

Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.

This line, although it might be seen as a break in POV, truly grabbed my attention. I didn't even know who this prince was, but I already felt for him. Being damned for all eternity sucks. A lot. Anyone can feel empathy for a character in that situation. Not to mention, it adds mystery and gets the plot rolling. Working through mysteries is one of Sanderson's strengths as a writer.

Now, to the rest of the book:

It has been more than two years since I've read the book, so I won't go into incredible detail here. However, I will mention what Sanderson did well (and what he didn't).

The good:

1. Sanderson created likeable characters. Note that I said likeable. For many readers, Raoden and Sarene are not perhaps the most interesting characters. But I know I liked them, and I wanted to root for them.

2. The main antagonist, Hrathen. He is not perhaps as likeable as the other two main characters, but he makes up for it by being one of the best villains I've ever read. I won't give away too much of the plot, but I'd describe him as a great example of an anti-villain.

3. The setting. The city of Elantris is one of the most interesting settings I've ever read in fantasy, and it has really stuck with me. It's a city where people, taken by a mysterious transformation, are doomed to live out eternity looking hideously disfigured. Not only that, but for every injury they suffer, their pain remains, building until they go insane. It's a city without order, where gangs rule the day. It's this chaos that Raoden seeks to correct once he is exiled there.

4. The magic. As you'd expect from Brandon Sanderson, the magic system is intricate, interesting, and integral to the plot (how's that for alliteration and consonance!). I've forgotten some of the details, but I remember the magic, which you discover later in the book, as a great mystery to unravel. Just like the city of Elantris itself.

5. The mystery. As I mentioned above, mysteries abound in this one. The city of Elantris is a mystery. The magic is a mystery. The character of Hrathen is a mystery. Sanderson achieves a well-developed balance of mystery, intrigue, and action that keeps you reading despite occasional rough patches in the writing itself.

6. The action. Through much of the book, you don't see big battles, but there is one at the end, and it's awesome. That's one of Sanderson's strenghts.

The bad:

1. The writing isn't as clean as Sanderson's later work.

2. The pacing is, at times, a little slow (but not terribly so).

3. The "interesting factor" for two of the MCs, as mentioned above.

As you can see, I can't find much bad to say about this. Elantris is one of those books that has really stuck with me. I loved it when I read it, and I still love it now. It's not perfect, but it's a highly entertaining read that every fantasy reader should at least give a chance.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why writers should read. A lot.

I have a confession to make. When I first started writing, I wasn't much of a reader. I had read and loved Harry Potter. Beyond that, though, I hadn't done much reading. I had fallen prey to the myth so many schools feed our children: reading is boring. Not a deliberate myth, but a persistent one. I read all these books I was supposed to like, and I found them mind-numbingly boring.

That, in part, was why I wanted to write. I wanted to do for other kids what J.K. Rowling did for me. That is, I wanted to write something exciting for kids to read instead of the boring stuff they had to read for school. Beyond Rowling, I had also read The Hobbit. So, with this limited amount of reading, I set out to write my first novel. It was pretty much a mish-mash of The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and Super Nintendo RPGs. Not only that, but the writing was bad. Really bad. This is something I've since reworked numerous times, finally arriving at something I can feel proud of.

For years, I continued as a writer. I improved, but not as much as I would have liked. My second project was a middle grade fantasy in which the Harry Potter influence was very apparent. I do plan to rework this, as there's a great story in there, but it still needs a lot of work.

Why were these stories not as good as I would have liked? Why was my writing not as smooth and polished as I would have liked? Because I wasn't reading enough. Too frequently, I sought my entertainment in video games. There's nothing wrong with that, even as a writer, but I should have found the time to read. Then, of course, I was so busy being a straight-A student through high school and college. I did a ton of reading for my classes. I didn't want to do more during my free time.

It wasn't until my senior year of college, after a failed attempt at querying one of my novels, that I realized I needed to change something. Looking back, I shudder to think that I queried something at that stage. It was no wonder I got nothing but no responses and form rejections. It simply wasn't ready. When I realized this, I set myself a task. I was going to read a lot. A difficult task, I thought at first, realizing how much I'd hated most of what I read for school.

There were few exceptions to this. The Hobbit. 1984. Brave New World. Most of the books I read for my science fiction class first-semester my senior year of college. That class, in part, gave me the belief that I did enjoy reading. I just had to choose carefully what I read. All my writing ideas fell within science fiction and fantasy (mostly fantasy), so I decided that was what I would read.

In my college library, I found authors like Terry Brooks and Jim Butcher. They were my real introductions to epic and urban fantasy, respectively. It was then that I realized how much I loved these stories, especially the epic fantasy. Soon I moved on to Robert Jordan and Tad Williams--stories that were similar to Brooks, but deeper and more complex. Then I found Brandon Sanderson. When I read Elantris, my love of fantasy was official.

Once I graduated and joined the ranks of unemployed college grads, I dedicated myself even more to reading. The authors I've discovered since then are so numerous there's no point mentioning them all (that would be a very long post). Through all this reading (I usually read well over 100 books a year), I've noticed another great thing. My writing has improved so much. The flow. The dialogue. The description. And especially the ideas. By reading so much more within the fantasy genre, I discovered the wide variety of stories out there, and I had a much greater well to draw from for my own ideas.

One of the key things I've discovered about reading is this. Don't get stuck reading too much of any one author at once. When I did this, I found too often that their writing styles were influencing my own. I've since made it a point to have multiple books going at once so that I never allow myself to be influenced too much by any one author. Through this, I've simply developed a feel for good writing, and my style has evolved. I'm sure there's still something of my original style in there, but it's much cleaner, much easier to read.

Today, I also realized an unexpected benefit of reading, which is what inspired this post.

I'm getting close to the querying stage for Lightweaver (though I might change its title to Sunweaver). I started researching agents today, and I realized something great when I was looking through their clients. I'm familiar with many of the books they represent. This gives me the ability to personalize my query, stating why my book fits in well with what they represent. Before I read widely, I had no idea who any of these authors were. I was completely unprepared to enter the publishing arena.

Yet another reason I shudder when I look back at the project I queried a few years ago.

Through this all, I've discovered that I really enjoy reading. In fact, if I were forced to give up either reading or writing, I would give up writing in a heartbeat. I wouldn't like it, but I could deal with it. However, there are simply too many great books out there to read.

Now, you might be asking what you should do if you don't find you love reading this much. You might find you're like me--that you only like a few types of books (fantasy, science fiction, and horror in my case). Maybe you just haven't discovered those books yet.

And don't be alarmed if you don't like some of the "great" stuff in whatever genre you read. You don't have to like it. You just have to find what you like within your genre, and that might even be the cheesy pulp you're not supposed to like. Don't feel ashamed if you like that kind of stuff. Everyone has different tastes. For example, I still like Terry Brooks. I know he isn't regarded all that highly in many fantasy circles, but I think his books are fun reads. On the other hand, I've found authors like George RR Martin, Steven Erikson, and Joe Abercrombie are more of a struggle for me. In the end, I like their books, but they're not my go-to fantasy. And that's okay.

This has probably rambled on long enough. In short, reading is the single most important thing you can do as an author. If you don't read a lot, you won't develop that feel for good prose, and you won't have as many ideas to draw from. Also, you won't know what's already been done to death in your genre. And, finally, you'll feel a lot better about things come querying time.

Good luck out there, fellow writers. Now get reading.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New project (tentatively titled The Watersong)

So today I started some of the pre-writing for another project. It's an epic fantasy I've called The Watersong (for the moment at least). It's named for one of the types of magic in the world, and the one that will feature most prominently in the story.

There are actually three types of magic. I'm not entirely clear on what they do just yet, but I'm in the process of figuring these things out.

This epic fantasy will feature lots of magic, action, and (eventually, or perhaps not-so-eventually, world-ending stakes). You know, basically what you've come to expect from epic fantasy. This idea has been sitting around in my head for a while. That's usually how I work with ideas. I allow them to simmer for a while.

I already know who my three point-of-view characters will be. I already know the three main nations that feature in the book's conflict. I even have some of the religious background worked out, as religion will play a large role in the story, with gods actually making appearances.

I think I'm most excited with the setting for the first book (yes, I intend it to be a series. Don't I always?). Most of the book will take place in a sub-tropical island empire consisting of many small islands. I have no problem with faux medieval Europe, but there's so much more you can do with fantasy.

Other parts of the book (and series) will take place in a more traditional fantasy setting and in a country consisting mostly of desert.

I can't tell you much about the plot, as I'm still in the process of figuring it out. However, I do hope that writing about this story will help me in sticking with it. We'll see.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Checking in.

So it's been a while since I've posted here. I really need to get better about that. Since the last time I posted, I finished my epic fantasy Lightweaver. Well, by finished, I mean I got through the first draft. I've been doing revisions on it, but there's still a lot more to go.

I've also been doing editing and revision work on my other epic fantasy, Empire of Chains. It's still a monster of a book at approximately 160,000 words. In terms of epic fantasy, that's not all that long, but it is a tough sell as a debut writer. Thankfully, Lightweaver is only about 105,000 words. It might see some additions, but I'll stay safely under 120,000 (I hope).

For the moment, I think I'm going to postpone work on my upper MG fantasy The Battle Stone. In fact, I'm all but certain that I'll be abandoning that book and going back to my original first Martin Mason book, The Man in the Crystal Prison. However, at this time, I don't feel in the right place to do work on that. In truth, I'm not certain MG is where I want to start. I love MG and YA fantasy, but I'm not sure I want to focus on it to begin my writing career.

I'd kind of like to follow the Brandon Sanderson model for a career. He started out with epic fantasy, then branched out into YA and MG. He's also one of my favorite writers and someone I'd love to emulate in my career. I love the way he takes some of fantasy's tired tropes and makes them seem fresh again, and he does it without all the Grimdark that's so prevalent these days.

I have no issue with the grittier side of fantasy. I just like to find the happy medium between optimitic and pessimistic. Believe me, I"ll throw horrible thing after horrible thing at my characters, but I like to give the reader some hope at the same time. Also, I'm not big on the move toward incredibly dishonorable protagonists. Flawed characters are great. Moral ambiguity is great. In fact, I'd argue these things are almost necessary. But some recent authors have taken this to an extreme, crafting main characters who are absolutely despicable, and I can only take so much of that at once.

Okay, so this post is rambling all over the place. I suppose I should also mention that I'm considering adding another page to this site, listing what I believe are some of the best fantasy books out there (and telling you why). That might actually work better than my sporadic reviews, though I could, of course, still do them. I need to post something after all.

I'd like to see this blog become something more than what it is right now. I'd like to see it become a good introduction to me and my work, as well as an informative place. Perhaps I'll write posts on various aspects of the writing process, especially as they pertain to fantasy.

Whatever I do, I'll try to be more active.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book Review: Blood Song

Well, it's been a while since I've posted, and even longer since I've done a book review. However, I recently finished a book that I thought was quite excellent: Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan.

Blood Song is an epic fantasy in the tradition of The Name of the Wind. The setup is a bit different, but there are certainly some similarities. In this, we start with a first-person, present day account by a historian who has met Vaelin Al'Sorna (our main character), who is about to face a battle to the death, which is intended as an execution because he killed the next-in-line to the throne of a country.

Once we're introduced to this timeline, we switch to a third-person narrative following Vaelin, from the moment he was dropped off at an Order of religious fighters to the moment the book begins. In between, we see all the things that have shaped Vaelin and get a taste of the interesting future set in store for him.

Much like Kvothe in The Name of the Wind, Vaelin is a larger-than-life character. The book follows his exploits, and a lot of interesting things happen during his time growing up with the Order. It's a strongly character-driven narrative with a sympathetic and compelling main character. There is also a fair amount of action, including some large-scale battles later on.

While this story didn't do anything particularly groundbreaking, something about it drew me in just like the narrative in The Name of the Wind. I think people looking for a similar story will find a lot to like here. There's enough about this one that separates it, though, making it a truly excellent book.

Blood Song was originally self-published, but it has since been picked up by major publishers. With good reason. It's a great story with a compelling main character and a world layered with mystery. It also stands alone for the most part. There's obviously more to come, but I came away from this book feeling like I read a satisfying story. Not to mention, the interesting stuff here actually happens in book 1. As much as I loved The Name of the Wind (and The Wise Man's Fear to a lesser extent), I found Rothfuss was teasing us by mentioning exploits that wouldn't happen until the third book.

There is none of that here. You get the complete story up to the point of the frame story, which I really enjoyed. That's also why I think I actually liked this more than The Name of the Wind. If you're looking for a good fantasy read, you should check this one out.

Rating: 9.5/10

For my review of Tower Lord (the followup to Blood Song), click here

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The importance of doubt

In fantasy, we've recently seen a rise in the popularity of the antihero. Although I don't mind the occasional antihero, I often find myself yearning for the days when heroes were, you know, heroic. Unfortunately, many of these stories have heroes that are too good at what they do, too certain of their goals. These heroes trend into Mary Sue territory and suck all the conflict out of a story.

Yes, there might still be external conflict: the quest, the mission, the mystery they're trying to solve. But heroes who never doubt what they're doing result in very little internal conflict, and internal conflict is what gives your story depth. That's one of the advantages of the written medium. You can get into a character's head and see all their doubts and insecurities.

When I first wrote my epic fantasy series, it was pretty bad. No doubt about it. My characters did all kinds of cool things on their quest, but they weren't fully developed people. They were always sure about what they were doing. They rarely faced those pesky doubts and insecurities that make a person human.

In my recent rewrite, I've worked hard on addressing this aspect of my story's conflict. My three primary heroes--Nadia, Markis, and Berig--all face their inner battles in addition to their outer battles. Nadia has spent years preparing to kill the emperor who ordered her mother's execution, but she frequently doubts that she's doing the right thing, or that she has the ability to do what she plans.

Likewise, Markis faces his own insecurities. Deep down, he only wants to escape the empire that no one has ever escaped (supposedly). When he realizes this isn't a possibility, he ends up as part of Nadia's quest, but he never can get behind it quite like she can. His doubts are always there, and he wonders if he should simply go into hiding instead, to avoid his future as an Imperial Guard.

Berig faces the most severe doubts of any of them. He's lived a rough life, starving on the streets, getting beaten by Imperial Guards, barely surviving the nightly attacks on the city by a monster. He blames himself for everything that goes wrong around him, refusing to take credit for those things that do go right.

I could go on and on about all the things they doubt, but that would give away a lot of the story. The point is I believe these doubts make these characters more human. Yes, they're still heroes, as they are all good people at heart, but they're not without their issues. These issues make them human.

And I think that's why the recent trend toward antiheroes has gained so much momentum. Authors, by giving their characters, some less heroic traits, make them more human. But that's not the only way to do so. You can still write a hero and make that hero an interesting, engaging character.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Checking in (yes, I still exist)

It has been about six months since I last posted. I hope that doesn't continue to be the case. I'd like to see this blog grow, as I believe I'm getting closer to the point where my writing just might be publishable.

Over the last few months, I've done a lot of soul-searching as a writer (and in general, but that's a story for another day). I've toyed with the idea of different genres and age groups, and I've finally determined that I'm going to write upper MG, YA and adult stories in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and maybe horror. Yes, it's a rather wide spectrum, but those are the genres and age categories I love to read. I might require a pen name to separate my work, but I'll worry about that when the time comes.

Today, I finished the first book (or at least the first draft) of my epic fantasy series: Empire of Chains. At the moment, it's rather long (207,000 words). I certainly have some cutting to do, and I hope I can get it down to a more publishable length. If not, though, I have other projects to write.

My upper MG fantasy, The Battle Stone, is also written, and it is much closer to the final draft stage. At this point, I still need to get it to some beta readers and see what I can fix before beginning the querying process.

Another idea, the first book of my Lightweaver series, is sitting there waiting to be written. I'm not sure where it's going yet, but I love the concept. It's the kind of story that should appeal to fans of Brandon Sanderson, though it was actually inspired by Glenda Larke's Stormlords trilogy (of which I've read the first two books).

So that's the general update. I expect to do more regular updates on the blog in the near future. I have some writing-related things to talk about and a ton of books I can review (enough probably to fill most of a year with reviews, though I doubt I'll do that).