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Saturday, October 31, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Thriller Review of Trust No One by Paul Cleave

Horror Review of The Weight of Chains by Lesley Conner

Horror Review of The Wells Of Hell by Graham Masterton

Ghosts and Genre guest post by Gail Z. Martin

Journeying into the Infernal guest post by Stephen Zimmer

Horror Review of The Best Horror of the Year 7 by Ellen Datlow


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

Purchased:

Annabel Horton, Lost Witch of Salem by Vera Jane Cook
The Halloween Orgy Massacre by Jeff O'Brien
The Undead Chronicles by Steve Warren

Grabbed some Halloween themed Kindle freebies this week, which are sure to show up in a future WTF Friday review.

  

For Review:

Chains of the Heretic by Jeff Salyards
While I already nabbed an e-ARC of this earlier in the month, the mammoth paperback ARC landed on my doorstep earlier this week . . . and it looks awesome.

The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
A compelling and hilarious adventure featuring a sixteenth-century relic hunter and his best friend, Albrecht Dürer, who conspire to forge the Shroud of Turin.

Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein
Who are Transformations Incorporated, and what will they use this technology to gain? What ill effects might going back in time have on the present day? Is it really as harmless as TI says?


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

On the physical front, I'm wrapping up The Lightning Stones by Jack Du Brul and I'm halfway through The King's Justice by Stephen R. Donaldson. On the digital front, my current read with an eye towards a release date review is This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Thriller Review: Trust No One by Paul Cleave

If you want to get the maximum enjoyment out of Trust No One, then put it down immediately after you read about the WMD (Wedding of Mass Destruction). Let it sit unfinished and unresolved in your imagination, allow the big questions to go unanswered, and enjoy the lingering mystery forevermore. That's not to say there's anything wrong with how Paul Cleave resolves things, it's just that the not knowing is the best part of the book.

Seriously, this is a story that's at its best when the reader is at their most confused and disoriented . . . much like Jerry Grey himself.

As the cover blurb reveals, Jerry Grey is a thriller writer who publishes under the pseudonym of Henry Cutter. He's a good guy - a faithful husband and a loving father - who is very much aware of how fortunate he's been in his life and his career. Not yet fifty, he's shocked when the doctor diagnoses him with early onset (and rapidly progressing) Alzheimer's disease, casting all the little mistakes and moments from the past year in a new light. It's a situation that's both heartbreaking and terrifying, with Cleave doing a masterful job of making us live the confusion of advancing dementia.

Half of the story is told in the past, revealing Jerry's attempts to cope with the diagnosis at home, while the other half is told in the present, revealing his attempts to cope with the dementia in a long term care facility. In between, we have a ton of questions, with each new revelation and confession only adding more. Adding to the confusion, we have not just one, but three unreliable narrators telling the story. There's the Jerry that narrates the story to the reader; the past Jerry who writes to future Jerry through his Madness Journals; and the voice of Henry Cutter, who also writes to Jerry through those same Madness Journals. Three different voices, all from the same man, existing in different stages of his dementia, and none of them with any consistent answers.

I devoured the first 200 pages in a single sitting, and I think that is how it's best enjoyed. Don't think about it, don't question the medical science, and don't try to deconstruct the narrative. Just settle in and enjoy the wild ride - let the questions pile up, and appreciate skill with which Cleave navigates through the confusion.

Are Jerry's stories true? Is he really a murderer? Was he always a murderer? Will he become a murderer? Does he really know if he's a murderer?

As the title suggest, Trust No One in this tale. Don't trust Jerry and don't trust his Madness Journals. Don't trust his wife, his daughter, his friends, or his neighbors. Don't trust the doctors, the nurses, or the police. There are so many layers here, so many questionable confessions, so many red herrings, and so many answers that just don't last. It's a deliberately bewildering story (well-told, with an entertaining narrator, and some self-depreciating humor to balance the sorrow), and that is where the enjoyment lies.


Hardcover, 342 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by Atria Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Horror Review: The Weight of Chains by Lesley Conner

Predating Elizabeth Báthory by more than a century, Gilles de Rais is one of history's most infamous serial killers.
Interesting Halloween themed note, Cradle of Filth has recorded an album about each, dedicating Cruelty and the Beast to Bathory, and Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder to de Rais. Not really relevant here,but 'tis the spooky season!
Here is a man who fought alongside Joan of Arc, but who is remembered not for his heroism or his valor, but instead for the hundreds of children he tortured to death out of lust and greed. Apparently, Joan's morality didn't really rub off.

In real life, his experiments at summoning a demon failed miserably, and he was executed a poor man . . . but with The Weight of Chains, Lesley Conner takes his story to an even darker place, envisioning a history where demons could indeed be summoned with the blood of innocents, and where Gilles de Rais gets just what he deserves.

This is an relentlessly dark and depressing tale, full of terror, tragedy, and even a touch of titillation. Conner does a remarkable job of driving home the reality of life in 15th century France, with landowners selling peasant families to one another, young women being sold into loveless marriages, and young men finding themselves little more than expendable resources for their lords. There's a very real sense of sorrow and horror to the world she presents, so much so that the torture of children and acts of human sacrifice are somewhat dulled in comparison.

Gilles de Rais, his sadomasochistic assistant Poitou, and his surprisingly successful wizard Prelati are despicable, deplorable men, but they are characters with real depth. They're almost tragic in their methods and their motives, with Poitou a man you hate yourself for sometimes feeling a little sympathy towards him, but they're genuine in their flaws. Jeanetta is perhaps the most tragic (and most heroic) character in the novel, a young woman force to grow up far too quickly, and it's her sincerity and compassion that keep the story from descending too deep into depravity.

This is not a shock-and-terror sort of horror novel, but one of dread and disgust. It's also a rather elegant story, slowly paced, with a lot of banalities surrounding medieval peasant life. Rather than picking her moments to grasp the reader by the throat, Conner gets her fingers around us early on . . . and then just continues to squeeze tighter and tighter. The Weight of Chains is not for everyone, and will probably compel more than a few readers to abandon it - not because of Conner's talent as a storyteller, but because of the horrifying reality of the story she has chosen to tell. Yes, she embellishes some aspects, and she takes a few liberties with the characters, but facts are facts, and the fact here is that Gilles de Rais (and men like him) is a monster.


Kindle Edition, 324 pages
Published September 19th 2015 by Sinister Grin Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Horror Review: The Wells Of Hell by Graham Masterton

First published in 1981, The Wells Of Hell just feels like an 80s horror novel. It has that sense of immediacy to it, where everything that happens is part of moving the plot forward, without long arcs of scene setting or character building to unnecessarily pad the page count. Soviet conspiracies are still the first to be blamed when things go weird, but the horror itself is subterranean, drawing on the supernatural rather than the psychological, and touching on both Satan and Cthulhu.

Yes, this is a Graham Masterton classic, given new life by the gang at Telos Publishing. It's decidedly dated at parts, and certainly lacks the storytelling polish of his more recent work, but it still stands the test of time as a true horror novel.

If there's one flaw in the book it's there is no real suspense. Everything is just a bit too obvious, and plot developments are telegraphed for the reader early on. The characters are generic old-school horror protagonists, which is fine because they're really just there to find, feed, and flee the horrors below. The monsters (and the transformations) themselves are deceptively simple, but what Masterton does with/in water here is where the true horror lies. The story itself does get bogged down in the middle, but it races towards a chilling conclusion once the gang goes underground.

Even if The Wells Of Hell isn't his best, with its awkward balance between grins and grimaces, it's still a Graham Masterton horror novel and worth the read.


Kindle Edition, 227 pages
Published September 16th 2015 by Telos Publishing

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ghosts and Genre by Gail Z. Martin (guest post)

Ghosts and Genre
by Gail Z. Martin

If you think a ghost is just a ghost, think again. Ghosts in genre fiction vary depending on the sub-genre, in order to fit readers’ expectations and the narrative of the story. It’s something to keep in mind as an author, and something fun to watch for as a reader.

Let’s start with the traditional ghost story. Oops, do you mean gothic horror or modern horror? Both are ‘traditional’ ghost stories, but they approach the ghostly interactions very differently. A gothic story tends to be heavy on atmosphere, usually in the past or very influenced by the past. The emphasis is on mood and emotion—the horrific elements might never be shown. Think of Rose Red or The Woman in Black. Modern horror may explain the cause of the haunting through past events, but the action and focus is on the horrific elements (blood, gore, visual shock). Ghosts in a gothic horror story tend to act more indirectly (luring someone to their death) than directly (think of Paranormal Activity or The Ring).

Ghosts in epic fantasy often have a Shakespearean feel to them. They might be the shades of long-ago kings or warriors, wronged lovers or murdered princes. These ghosts usually have a strong sense of purpose that is, well, epic. They’re usually not haunting a castle just for the hell of it. They have a message of great importance to share, or they have a secret that could imperil the kingdom. Think of the ghost army Aragorn raised in Lord of the Rings—damned to wander as spirits because they did not fulfil their oaths, and released because they obeyed the will of their wronged king’s descendant.

Weird West and Steampunk ghosts tend to feel more modern, at least to me. They may or may not be from the 1800s, but they’re usually not the ancient dead, nor are they the spirits of old kings or knights. You’re much more likely to encounter the ghosts of folks who were down-and-out in life, who lived on the margins: gamblers and shady ladies, gunslingers and hapless settlers, prospectors and cowboys—or for Steampunk, vagrants and chimney sweeps, indentured servants and suicides. For Weird West, and for Steampunk the setting can be as spooky as the ghosts, and there is a sense of tension between modern science (or changing times) and magic/ghosts. The pull of old ways vs. new ways is as much a part of the tension as the ghosts. For Weird West, the landscape’s lonely strangeness is an essential part of the ghost vibe, where for Steampunk, the supernatural tugs against gadgets and inventions. It’s interesting to note that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein could be considered Steampunk as much as it is considered horror.

Paranormal mystery ghosts aren’t generally scary or even spooky. They’re almost always in a modern-day setting, linked to a murder (it’s a mystery, after all), and usually the spirit of no one important until the circumstances of their death made them interesting. I find more of a tragic air to these ghosts, a wistfulness for a life cut short or chances not taken. They’re relatable, they add to the mysterious feel, but there’s almost a pact with the reader that nothing truly frightening is going to occur.

And then there’s urban fantasy. Modern day setting, usually with ghosts who are relatively recent dead (give or take a hundred years or so), and both the ghostly aspects and the supernatural elements really straddle the line between fantasy and horror. Blood and some gore is part of the scene-setting. Ghosts are often empowered and actively dangerous. Forget about these ghosts luring you to your death—they’ll push you off the bridge. The fact that ghosts in urban fantasy often take a more active role in the story I think reflects readers’ ambiguous feelings about modern society, real cities, crime, and the shadow world of gangs, human trafficking, and people who aren’t what they seem.

I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy, Weird West and Steampunk—and use ghostly/supernatural elements in all of those genres. To me, the way ghosts are portrayed in a sub-genre really does depend upon the zeitgeist—the ‘spirit’ of the age.

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www.AscendantKingdoms.com


Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! Grab your
envelope of book swag awesomeness from me & 10 authors before 11/1!

set in my Deadly Curiosities world (Launches Dec. 29)


More cool treats with an excerpt from my friend
Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver On The Road

Trick or Treat! Read an excerpt from Grave Voices,
our new Storm & Fury Steampunk novella set in the world of Iron & Blood

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About the Author

Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame (March, 2016 Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner, debuts from Solaris books in June, 2016.

Other books include The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books.

Gail writes four series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures, The King’s Convicts series, and together with Larry N. Martin, The Storm and Fury Adventures. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Realms of Imagination, Heroes, With Great Power, and (co-authored with Larry N. Martin) Space, Contact Light, The Weird Wild West, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Alien Artifacts, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Journeying into the Infernal ... by Stephen Zimmer (guest post & giveaway)

Journeying into the Infernal
& Expanding My Writing Horizons
by Stephen Zimmer

Hellscapes, Volume II has arrived just in time for the week of Halloween, and many thoughts go through my mind with the release of this one, my eleventh book overall.   On some levels, I feel I need to put a warning label on these books for many of my readers who are used to my epic fantasy (Fires in Eden series) or cross-genre novels (The Rising Dawn Saga), simply due to the fact that the Hellscapes tales are very different in nature, imagery and intensity.   They are, quite simply, full-throttle horror stories with no holds barred.

Yet at the same time I feel as strongly about these books and tales as a writer as I do about any of my others.  The Hellscapes series represents a wonderful added dimension for me on my path as a writer, giving me more room to express and explore writing in ways that are not as readily available when writing in other genres.

I’ve commented before about how the Hellscapes tales finally have given me a chance to show the areas where I have been influenced by writers like Clive Barker, one of my biggest inspirations as a writer growing up.  I’ve always resonated with Clive’s very visual, cinematic style, and the way he fused that style so smoothly with macabre, visceral elements.  So, from a stylistic, craft standpoint, the Hellscapes tales offer me a chance to to really immerse in creating powerful imagery that carries a real hard-hitting edge to it.  There is a definite art to that.

The kinds of tales in Hellscapes have no boundaries when it comes to the macabre or visceral.  When your story settings are the realms of Hell, there are really no perimeters when it comes to how dark, bizarre, or menacing elements can be within a given story.  As a writer, that gives me a lot of room to play in, or a very broad pallet to paint the canvas with, so to speak.

At the same time, I’ve never been about “torture porn” films or anything of that nature, so there’s an added layer, or one might say challenge, to this in terms of making sure that the atmospheres, events, and situations within the story have a purpose and are not just there for shock value or a gross-out factor.   Each story centers upon a particular character and comes to reveal why they find themselves in Hell.  The environment they find themselves within, the other characters and creatures they encounter, the torments they suffer, all tend to revolve around the kind of evil the character did in their lives.

As such, a scene or overall story may be very bloody or violent, but there is always a purpose that underscores the ultimate moral to each tale.  Often the things that happen or the sufferings endured are very important and intrinsic to the purpose, as the evil being explored is not always as straightforward as one person murdering another, for example.  In many instances, the evil being depicted is what kinds of indirect destruction are caused in others’ lives which the primary character’s deeds in life gave rise and power to.

This could hone in on the exercise of power a politician might make, or the consequences of the business aims of a person of great wealth.  Those things often carry staggering human cost, engender suffering and misery in the lives of countless thousands, but are so often glossed over where it is easy to identify the thief, the liar, or the violent killer in a one on one scenario.  Many Hellscapes tales explore these more complicated visions of evil and those who commit those kinds of evils.  The powerful who pass from the world surrounded by wealth, comfort, and ease are held firmly to account within the infernal realms.

The truly limitless scope of imagery and beings that can be used in this style of story and writing really gives me numerous options in how to symbolize or depict these more complex types of evils.  That, as much as anything else, inspires me to write these kinds of stories, as a part of my broader kaleidoscope of work.  A wealth of symbolism and metaphor is at my hands when engaging in this particular kind of writing.  

These dynamics also demonstrate the true literary value of the horror genre and the ways in which shocking or gruesome imagery can be completely relevant to the themes and message contained within a tale.  True, this type of book and these types of tales are not suited for every reader, but they do have their place in the world of readers and writers alike.

I certainly hope that new readers give these tales a try.  You will find very powerful imagery in them, but they are not absent of substance.  Exploring the infernal in all of its dark wonder has definitely allowed me to grow as a writer and expand my horizons.

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About the Author

Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based in Lexington Kentucky.  His work includes the cross-genre Rising Dawn Saga, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, the sword and sorcery Dark Sun Sawn Trilogy, featuring Rayden Valkyrie, the Harvey and Solomon Steampunk tales and the Hellscapes and Chronicles of Ave short story collections.



Twitter: @sgzimmer

Instagram: @stephenzimmer7

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About the Book

Hellscapes, Volume II
by Stephen Zimmer

Return to the nightmarish, shadowy realms of Hell in the latest installment of the Hellscapes series by Stephen Zimmer. Six brand new, macabre tales of the infernal await you … but be that you only visit these realms, you do not want to share the fates of the inhabitants you will encounter!

Included in the pages of Hellscapes, Volume II:

In “The Cavern”, a man finds his way into a nightmare, subterranean world that leads to an even greater, and more devastating, revelation.

A police officer takes pleasure in violently executing his duties and it appears to be open season in “The Riot” when he is part of an operation sent to crack down on a gathering of people protesting an economic summit nearby.  But this is an operation that is going to take a very different kind of turn, one that opens his eyes to a new reality.

A woman finds herself stranded on a high, rocky ledge, along with many other men and women, surrounded by a frothing sea in “Above as Below”.  Shadows glide beneath the surface and soon she will discover what lurks within the depths.

Spots Do Not Change” tells the story of a man who has never had any qualms lying, cheating, or deceiving the women in his life.  A reckoning day looms as he comes to understand that his actions have harmed the lives of many others, actions that in the realms of Hell take on forms of their own.

Having spun webs of intrigue and personal destruction at the heights of national politics throughout his life, a man finds webs of another sort to present grave danger when he finds himself lost within a strange wilderness in “Weaving Webs”.

Many are drawn to “The Club” in the heart of the decaying, shadow-filled city of Malizia, hoping for some entertainment and release, or even safety from the monstrous dangers lurking in the darkness.  One man struggling against amnesia finds his way to the seemingly popular establishment and its confines give him momentary hope; until he discovers the nature of this night club and those who run it.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway




10/26 Anasazi Dreams Review
10/26 
Beauty in Ruins Guest Post
10/26 
Shells Interviews Guest Post
10/26 
Sinister Scribblings Guest Post
10/26 
Kentucky Geek Girl Author Interview
10/27 
Pulp Reports Review
10/28 Creatives Help Board. How may I direct your call? Guest Post
10/29 
Bee's Knees Reviews Review
10/29 
Sheila's Blog Guest Post
10/30 
L. Andrew Cooper's Horrific Scribblings Review
10/31 SwillBlog Review/Interview
11/1 
I Smell Sheep Review
11/1 Sapphyria's Book Reviews Top-Tens List
11/1 
Armand Rosamilia, Horror Author Guest Post

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Horror Review: The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven by Ellen Datlow

Ellen Datlow is probably one of the hardest working editors in speculative fiction. She was responsible for a whopping 21 volumes of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (from 1988 through 2008), and when that series came to end she launched The Best Horror of the Year, which hit bookshelves this year with Volume Seven.

Even if you only dabble in the stories, her Summation of the year is always required reading. She recaps the genre awards, and offers her exhaustive thoughts on the most notable novels, anthologies, collections, magazine,webzines, and other odds-and-ends from throughout the year. If you're ever stuck for good horror to rear, that Summation is where you begin.

Of the 22 stories she has selected, ranging in length from 2,500 to 10,000 words, there are 5 that I feel compelled to call out as required reading.

The Culvert by Dale Bailey is a short novel, taking place long after the horrific event in question. It's a tale of diverging paths, of twin souls and bodies, that leaves you with the unsettling question of where one went and just which one survived.

the worms crawl in by Laird Barron starts out as your typical tale of a cuckolded husband plotting revenge, segues into the predictable double-cross, and then gets really interesting when he claws his way out of the grave. It's a story of monsters born and monsters made, that makes you wonder where the true evil begins.

Persistence of Vision by Orrin Grey is one of the two Canadian entries in the collection, with a self-aware sort of narrative structure that immediately draws you in. From one of the most intriguing openings I've ever come across, to one of the saddest closings, it's a melancholy tale of a ghostly apocalypse.

Departures by Carole Johnstone immediately distinguishes itself with the unusual setting of an airport departure lounge, teases us with the promise of terror within a pair of feet, and then just gets creepier and more unsettling from there.

Nigredo by Cody Goodfellow is the story of a 'exit counselor', the kind of man who helps families rescue their loved ones from cults, and the militant bibliomancy cult, Ex Libris. Perhaps the smartest, more cerebral thriller in the bunch, it's written to draw readers in.

Most of the stories contained within Volume Seven are what I would call post-modern horror, dealing more with thoughts and emotions than blood and guts, so there are bound to be some readers who question the makeup here. As much as I still prefer the brutal, bloody, blasphemous books with which I grew up, there were still enough solid scares here to make it worth reading.


Paperback, 369 pages
Published August 18th 2015 by Night Shade Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

A busy week in the Ruins with some fantastic guests . . . and a spooktacular week ahead!


Fantasy Review of Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

Interview with Michael Foy (author of Ghosts of Forgotten Empires)

Waiting on Wednesday with The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

The Empire Strikes Back guest post by Kameron Hurley

An Apprentice to Elves by Bear & Monette excerpt & giveaway

My Top Ten Books guest post by Chele Cooke


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

Purchased:

Insylum by Z. Rider
A.J. and Nate decide to have one last hurrah before A.J. ships out Afghanistan — at Insylum, the extreme traveling funhouse from which they may never come back.

For Review:

Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper by David Barnett
The latest in David Barnett's riproaring steampunk adventures about a Britain that never was (but should have been) . . . and a city suffering the reign of terror by a serial killer known only as Jack the Ripper.


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

On the physical front, I'm still enjoying The Lightning Stones by Jack Du Brul and I'm halfway through The King's Justice by Stephen R. Donaldson. On the digital front, This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda is next up for a read.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fantasy Review: Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

This review originally appeared on The Speculative Herald.

Larry Correia is an author best known for his guns-and-monsters, no-holds barred, testosterone-soaked urban fantasy sagas, Monster Hunter International and the Grimnoir Chronicles. For those who were curious as to how he'd make the transition from guns to swords, Son of the Black Sword is pretty much everything you'd expect, with his macho sense of almost superhuman bravado slipping well into a pulpy heroic fantasy world.

It's not great literature, and lacks a certain polish in the narrative, but it's an engaging bit of fantasy fiction.

The world building and mythology encompass a very South Asian flavored world, which is a nice change of pace from mostly European fantasy, but there's an important twist - instead of the seas providing prosperity and purpose, they are something to be feared, dotting the coasts and the beaches with the cobbled together hovels of the lowest of non-people. You see, due to an age old supernatural pact, man commands the land, demons command the seas . . . and the Law states that any who trespass must die. Lok is a bland, bureaucratic world, full of rigid caste systems, where faith and superstition are forbidden. It's so deliberately constructed that if you don't see the threat of rebellion coming in the first few chapters, and don't anticipate the rise of a prophesied hero, then you're clearly not aware of the genre's central tropes.

As part of the mythology, ancestor blades are a relic of the days before that pact. Only one of these rare blades can pierce a demon's hide, and they carry within them the skills and instincts of those who wielded the blades before. Whereas authors like Moorcock and Sanderson have done some really fascinating things with such weapons, using them to elevate the narrative to another level, here they just come across as another fantasy trope. Not bad in and of themselves, but certainly a bit of a cheat in justifying that almost superhuman bravado. On that note, Ashok is a serviceable hero with at least the beginnings of a significant character development arc, but he lacks the kind of personality that makes for a truly engaging protagonist.

Ultimately, Son of the Black Sword was an interesting read with enough top-notch action scenes to keep me engaged through to the end, but it's just a little too serious and straightforward. I didn't find any sense of wonder or awe in the magic or the monsters, no personality in the protagonist, no real appreciation for the plot twists, and no humor (ironic, self-depreciating, or otherwise) to distinguish the narrative. I don't see myself continuing with the series, but I'm certainly willing to give his other series a shot.

Hardcover, 432 pages
Expected publication: October 27th 2015 by Baen

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Interview with Michael Foy (author of Ghosts of Forgotten Empires)

Wandering into the Ruins today is Michael Foy, here to talk about Ghosts of Forgotten Empires, the first book in his sci-fi/urban fantasy saga featuring Cord Devlin.


Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Michael. For those who haven't yet had a chance to give Ghosts of Forgotten Empires (or your trio of science fiction tales) a read, please tell us a little about yourself and give us an idea of what we can expect.

A: It’s a pleasure to be here. To answer your first question, I’m a high functioning immature adult male. Or at least I’d like to think I’m high functioning. ;-)

As a lifelong Sci-Fi fan I’ve gravitated (like that word?) to the abstract concepts that one can only find in this genre. I do have particular tastes, however. The stories have to make sense to me and they should have an impactful payoff at the end. Star Trek delivers that and I hope my stories do too.
As for what a reader of my work can expect it would be helpful to know that I’m fascinated by the concept of parallel realities. For instance what if in another reality there was a prehistoric star spanning empire based on earth? And what if only one man guesses at its existence and how it’s still influencing our history. The hero of Ghosts of Forgotten Empires is ideally suited to deal with such a reality since he lives a life guided by principles he learned from Star Trek. This philosophy helps him deal with something otherworldly in his profession of intelligence freelancer.

Q: Ghosts of Forgotten Empires is definitely a mash-up of genres, with elements of everything from hard science fiction, to a cold war thriller, to urban fantasy. What was the idea or concept that triggered you heading down this strange, dark road?

A: I guess it started with the Bourne series of books. I loved that character and I thought what if I put a Bourne like character into one of my weird Science Fiction scenarios. So Jamie McCord was born and appeared in my first book Future Perfect. He had amnesia but started remembering things like cell phones and planes. What was weird about that? He was in Arizona circa 1870. Cord Devlin in Ghosts… is his nephew. And he, in present times, has to deal with what his uncle eventually remembers.

Q: Mark Chadbourn, James Lovegrove and Chuck Wendig have all played with the concept of lost/ancient religions returning to have an influence in our world, but you’ve got a unique angle with the aspect of a cold war reborn. Did you have any influences or inspirations in mind?

A: There was a short story I read years ago that I count as one of my favourite reading experiences. In a future where mankind’s colonies revolt, Earth is about to be crushed. The hero sneaks behind enemy lines to a planet where palaeontologists discover the existence of an ancient race that ruled a thousand suns with a vastly superior technology. The hero hopes to find something that’ll help the home world but he’s discovered. Desperate, he puts on a helmet and throws a switch. Now his brain houses two minds. One is his and the other is the cunning persona of an alien which had been stored digitally. The alien has to be tricked to use its superior knowledge to help Earth in an existential war with its colonies.

Q: Cord Devlin’s “deep and abiding love for all things Star Trek” is a driving force in the novel. How much of that obsession comes from you, and how does it help shape the story?

A: Okay, you got me. I do love Star Trek in most of its incarnations. And I do catch myself thinking ‘how would Captain Picard handle this’ when I’m up against a problem that requires some diplomacy. But Even Kirk, who was my favourite Captain, would usually think before he reacted in spite of his swashbuckling ways.


Q: We all know, of course, the old adage that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you’ve got men with the power of gods, how hard is it to restrain them and prevent that kind of corruption?

A: I’ve got to think it’s awfully hard. It’s part of the tension in my book. But it seems to me that if one has some lofty societal goal that’s more important to them than personal gain it should temper their abuse of power… in theory anyway.

Q: In the two years since it’s been out, what are some of the strangest or weirdest reactions you’ve had to Ghosts of Forgotten Empires?

A: Some people thought that the ancient Earth based interstellar empire was real. Or at least that some evidence of its existence had actually been discovered.

Q: If we can turn the clock back for a moment, your debut (Future Perfect) was a bit of a genre mash-up as well, bringing together science fiction and the western genres. What is it that drives you to blend genres and combine seemingly disparate settings into a novel?

A: I think because it’s the kind of thing that I’d look for as a reader. Something that takes the ordinary story, whether it’s a Western or Thriller, and injects something weird. Then the fun is solving the mystery of what’s going on. Why is there 21st century technology in the Old West? Why is JFK in painters’ overalls and eating at McDonalds during the Cuban Missile Crisis? How can a man from our time seek the help of a real Sherlock Holmes in the late 19th century?

Q: Looking forward, I know volume 2 of Cord Devlin’s tale is already available, but what’s next for you?

A: I’m (slowly) putting together a new Cord Devlin adventure where he has to try and stop breaches between universes from admitting people from other realities into ours. The intruders that are most recognizable come from realities where fictional creations in our universe actually exist in theirs. For a clue/preview see what I said about Sherlock Holmes in that last answer.

Sounds great. Thanks again for stopping by!

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About the Author

Michael J. Foy was born to Irish immigrants in upstate New York and lived in London for a year on two different occasions as a child. He graduated Northeastern University in 1979 with an engineering degree. In 1993 he changed careers to become a recruiter servicing the publishing industry. In essence, his literary career has spanned two other careers but has always been his first love.
In 1991 he sold an option for his first novel, False Gods, as a screenplay to Timothy Bogart the nephew of Peter Guber, Producer of Batman. Michael has since published Future Perfect, a Science Fiction novel and local bestseller, and The Kennedy Effect which weaves the story of JFK with parallel reality themes.

He was also an early pioneer in publishing short stories over the internet including the Solar Winds of Change, The Adventure of the Moonstone and A Land to Call Our Own. He lives in Massachusetts where he enjoys kayaking, bicycling and exploring a wide array of literary subjects.


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About the Book

Ghosts of Forgotten Empires, Volume I
by Michael Foy

Ancient artifacts like nothing ever discovered before are uncovered in Egypt. They are manufactured by a technique unknown to man and defy all attempts at analysis. Two top intelligence operatives from Russia and the United States acquire these artifacts and are instantly endowed with god-like abilities. But as everyone knows absolute power corrupts absolutely and even with strong national loyalties how will these men react?

Thus a new cold war is born with men and weapons that make a nuclear deterrent look quaint. The one thing that gives American intelligence freelancer, Cord Devlin an edge is also the thing that makes him immature in Paul’s eyes. Cord’s deep and abiding love of all things Star Trek and the lessons it inspired will also help him deal with an otherworldly threat whose sole purpose is to indefinitely continue the conflict.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

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

The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
Expected publication: March 15th 2016 by Tor Books

The trilogy that began with The Emperor's Blades and continued in The Providence of Fire reaches its epic conclusion, as war engulfs the Annurian Empire in Brian Staveley's The Last Mortal Bond

The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all--Valyn, Adare, and Kaden--come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.


Brian announced on Facebook last week that "It is finished," and those are 3 of the sweetest words I have heard in a good long while. We're looking at a March release, as opposed to January (as was the case with the first two books), so I suspect there won't be an early ARC landing for xmas . . . but one can always hope.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Empire Strikes Back by Kameron Hurley (Guest Post)

The Empire Strikes Back: Writing that Tricky Second Book
by Kameron Hurley

Second books in series get a bad rap. I understand why, of course: if you look at a trilogy as one work split into three parts, the second book is the gluttonous middle, the gooey stuff that you built up to in the beginning and that you must climb over to get to the end. If it’s not done right it can feel like you come into it swinging and get left hanging for a year or more until book three just to get some kind of resolution to the story.

But I wanted to write a second book that was more like the middle installment of the original Star War trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back. For many, this was the best of the three films, and for good reason. You had happy go lucky characters get darker. You had some big reveals. Huge betrayals. Romance. And we got to see a whole lot more of the universe, too. Best of all, to me, was that the story did a great job of showing progress in the eventual character arcs that each hero would take. Luke starts to go darker, and gets the news that will eventually lead to us wondering if he’ll really choose the light over the dark. Han’s allegiance to the rebels over his own interest only grows as his burgeoning romance with Leia plays out. Leia herself gets a wrench thrown in her mission, as caring about Han only complicates things. When we leave that movie, we have the feeling that we have been through a lot of shit, and we feel some relief that it’s over, but we’re also at the edge of our seats, waiting for the next reversal. Knowing that all is lost, we turn our faces toward the third installment, waiting for the light.

You don’t get the great catharsis of the light without first going dark. That’s a rule.

This was the feeling I wanted people to have after reading Empire Ascendant, the second book in my Worldbreaker Saga. If the first book is about saying, “Hey, here are some good people with terrible problems,” then the second should be, “These good people have been utterly destroyed by these terrible problems… but there’s a glimmer of hope.” It’s the glimmer of hope that you need to keep burning, of course, and I ensured I had that hopeful spark there at the end, when one of my protagonists, who’s been relentlessly beaten and broken throughout the course of the novel, declares that the fight isn’t over.

This isn’t a defeat, even if it seems like one. This is a regrouping.

And if you think that’s a spoiler, well, I’ll point out that the title of the book is, after all, Empire Ascendant. Yanno: Empire Ascendant, Empire Strikes Back… Hey, right? It’s like I do this for a living or something.  

At any rate, just because this is what I aimed to do with this second book doesn’t mean it works for every second book. The second book in my God’s War Trilogy, Infidel, had its own self-contained story. Though it could be said those books have an overarching plot in the background that tells the story of the last fifteen or so years of what was a centuries-long war as it ground to a halt, each novel had its own plot and individual character arcs. It makes it possible to pick those up and read them out of order in a way that’s nearly impossible with the Worldbreaker Saga.

On the surface, that may look like the way to go, but I’ve found that there are a lot of readers who get annoyed at reading books out of order. I’d love to see the numbers difference between linked standalone novels and dependent series books, but I don’t have the data right now.

Until then, I’ll continue to experiment with writing different types of second books. On deck next is a book with no second book, which will be a nice change of pace for me. The Stars are Legion is a standalone space opera. I suppose my approach for tackling that one will be the same as how I tackle any other book. At the end of the day, you just sit down and write the best book you can in the time you’ve been given, and hope that people dig it as much as you do.

What I know for sure is that, as with any novel, things in it will get a whole lot worse before they get better. What’s the joy in winning, after all, if no one ever doubted you’d make it?

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About the Author

Kameron Hurley is the author of The Worldbreaker Saga and the God’s War Trilogy. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer; she has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, the Gemmell Morningstar Award and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, Year’s Best SF, The Lowest Heaven, and Meeting Infinity. Her nonfiction has been featured in The Atlantic, Locus Magazine, and the upcoming collection The Geek Feminist Revolution.

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About the Books

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

"What Kameron Hurley has crafted here in the first book of The Worldbreaker Saga is definitely different, even challenging in places (I found myself fighting to catch up and find my place more than once in the narrative), but what I took away most is the feeling of being completely awed by the depth of her imagination. This is an epic fantasy in the truest sense of the term, with some really stunning ideas on gender, roles, and relationships; all set within a naturally hostile, almost post-apocalyptic environment; and framed by an intricate theory of mirror worlds and alternate realities."



Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

"Although this is a second (or middle) book, things actually happen here. With the world, the scenario, and the characters already established, Hurley is free to focus on the action – and she delivers that in spades. This is a fast-paced tale that carries a sense of urgency from page one. You can feel the tension oozing off the page as the characters clash, cultures collide, and worlds approach an end. The plot develops as much, if not more so, than in the first book – and not always in ways you’d expect."


Monday, October 19, 2015

An Apprentice to Elves by Bear & Monette (excerpt & giveaway)

Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

Chapter 1 Excerpt

Even as a grown woman of fifteen, Alfgyfa never stopped thinking about the wolves she had encountered as a child. Sometimes she tried to speak to them, stretching out into the pack-sense as far as she could.
Once she thought she caught a whisper of mice-under-snow sometimes she was sure she caught the trailing edge of the wild konigenwolf’s thoughts. But if they heard her, they never answered.
And even as a grown woman of fifteen, Alfgyfa did not give over her visits to the trellwarrens. At first, Tin’s warnings and the almost-fate of the dog wolf had cowed her for a while. But Alfgyfa was not much-cowable by nature. And once discovered, the lure of those tunnels and their slick, shaped, twisted stone like the boles of ancient trees was beyond her power to resist.
She’d seen stone worked like this before, though it hadn’t had this twisting sense of otherness, of being a little dislocated in space between what her eyes told her and what her hands—or feet—felt. The aettrynalfar did something similar, in their caverns near Franangford, and Alfgyfa, who had treated Aettrynheim as every bit as much her home as the wolfheall, had frequently been permitted to watch the stonesmiths at work.
It had fascinated her then and it fascinated her now. She had watched the master stonesmith teaching her journeymen how to coax the stone to malleability, how to mold it as if it were soft clay, how to tease it into doing things clay could not. She had watched them spin a bridge one summer, delicate lacework that could support the weight of an entire troupe of cave bears.
Trellwork was different. The stone was twisted, gouged; she could see that it was worked with just as much care as the aettrynalfar stonesmiths used, and she came to recognize, if not to appreciate, the trellish aesthetics in the almost level floors, in the passageways that curved so subtly they looked straight, in the way that no corner was ever true.
She learned the corridors, the oddly shaped and angled rooms, and she tried to work backward from what was around her to what the working must have been like. The aettrynalfar had been disowned and exiled by their kin for shaping stone, and it was trellwork those long-ago svartalfar had feared.
Alfgyfa wanted to know why.
And not the reasons that the svartalfar gave her—and each other—about abomination and monstrosity and unthinkable perversion. That wasn’t how svartalfar curiosity worked.
It would make more sense, she thought, if the aettrynalfar had been exiled for their renunciation of weapons and war. Although that was another of their crimes, it wasn’t why the svartalfar had driven them out. They’d driven them out for smithing stone.
But Aettrynheim was nothing like the trellwarrens. There was nothing skew, nothing that deceived or betrayed. Nothing to make a person misjudge a doorway and bang into the wall, or fall flat, tricked by a new, undetectable angle in the slant of the floor. Alfgyfa always had excuses for bruises, being the only human—clumsy, awkward, too tall and yet with her arms stupidly short—among the svartalfar, but Master Tin and the other smiths would have been surprised to learn just how few of Alfgyfa’s bruises were gained in Nidavellir.
Sometimes she swore she could feel the trellwarrens twisting around her.
They frustrated her as much as they fascinated her, for there was only so much she could learn from observation alone, and there was no one she could ask questions of. Even if she’d been fool enough to try, no one knew the answers.
One of Alfgyfa’s earliest memories was tracing the trellscars on her father’s face. She did not want the trellwarrens inhabited again.
She just wanted to know.
If there was one thing Fargrimr Fastarrson hated more than another, it was waiting. Unfortunately for Fargrimr, lord-in-exile of Siglufjordhur, the Rhean invaders excelled at it, and so Fargrimr had spent all too much time since the fall of Siglufjordhur fourteen—nearly fifteen—years ago skulking through copses and behind bushes that by right of blood and birth were his.
His weeks were divided. Half his time belonged to those patient, infuriating Rheans: on the one hand, watching, and on the other hand, politicking to ensure that the men of the Northlands would not forget the Rheans, as time wore on, nor forget that their foothold at Siglufjordhur was just that—a foothold. The first step onto a foreign beach. Their waiting and garrisoning, Fargrimr was certain, was only a prelude to wider war.
He wished he knew why they waited.
His imagination supplied horrors aplenty: legions of soldiers; war engines; fell magics from beyond the sea. Strange weapons from places Fargrimr had never imagined, let alone visited. Ogres or giants in the Rheans’ horse-maned helmets.
It was a great comfort to him that the konungur, Gunnarr Sturluson, and Erik, godheofodman of Hergilsberg, took the danger seriously. It was a comfort, too, that they had sent south a complement of trellwolves and wolfcarls to form the threat of a new wolfheall (named to honor Freya), under the young konigenwolf, gray Signy—Viradechtisdaughter Vigdisdaughter—and her wolfsprechend, Hreithulfr.
The keep Fargrimr had raised in exile shared walls with the wolfheall, as no jarl’s keep had done before. Together, they commanded a riverine pass between two wooded fells, and protected a narrow but rich valley below, where his hastily relocated farmers managed to scratch fields and plant crops.
The other half of his time was thus devoted to the far more satisfying duties of a jarl with folk to house and cattle to feed: though the fortress and town at Siglufjordhur had fallen, and the farmlands and crofts sustaining it, the wildlands beyond were but patrolled by the Rheans—nervously, and in force. Fargrimr and his surviving thanes and carls knew those wildlands like the smell of their wives’ hair.
The first winter, they lost half a dozen people and a third of the livestock. Mostly the youngest and the eldest, always the most susceptible, but still more than a well-run keep should lose—more than Siglufjordhur-in-exile could afford to. The second winter, though they were all still scarred by grief, only two old men died, and a wolf in his thirty-first molting. They slaughtered meat and smoked it, and with the exception of a ewe lost to a gods-knew-what ailment peculiar to sheep, every other animal spared the autumn culling survived to spring.
In addition to Signy, the Freyasthreat also boasted another she-wolf, tawny Ingrun, wolf-sister to Fargrimr’s brother Randulfr. Ingrun was no konigenwolf, just a bitch of the ranks, and smaller than some of the big males—but she was still a wolf-bitch, still strength for a new pack. And though Fargrimr would never admit it, it comforted him to have his brother near
Fargrimr hated waiting, but he was good at husbandry. Well, the one sort of husbandry. For the other—being a sworn-son, he’d need help getting an heir. Which was another reason it pleased him to have Randulfr nearby, for Randulfr was equipped for heir-getting in ways Fargrimr was not.
The new heall and keep were a half day’s travel from the old. Fargrimr imagined the damned Rheans, safe inside his stone walls, and it made him itch and fuss and nag Randulfr about getting a few heirs. Randulfr—being a wolfcarl—couldn’t marry, but he could certainly beget, and Fargrimr lost no opportunity to suggest that he would be more than happy to adopt and foster his brother’s children as his own. Randulfr made excuses about not having found the right woman yet; Fargrimr offered to introduce him to a few. Randulfr made excuses about it being a bad time to bring children into the world; Fargrimr offered to eat his dagger in small bites if there had ever been a good one.
The bickering was an echo of childhood that comforted and amused them both. Fargrimr knew that Randulfr hated—as he had always hated—to do what tradition and custom expected of him, and that was a good half of how he’d ended up a wolfcarl and not a tattooed seacoast lord. But he had no more intention than Fargrimr did of leaving Siglufjordhur without an heir. He just needed to make his independence clear. Fargrimr might be Jarl of Siglufjordhur, but he was still Randulfr’s younger brother, and Randulfr would not dance to his piping.
Fargrimr, fair and lean and stubborn just as Randulfr was, fully understood, and knew better than to push when Randulfr was not ready for pushing. Randulfr would come around.
And meanwhile, Fargrimr knew the Rheans inhabiting his keep could hear the trellwolves howling on a cold, clear night. He hoped it kept those usurping bastards up till dawn.

Fargrimr and Randulfr ran through the woods as they had when they were children and they had shadowed their father’s carls on patrol—except this time, they both had different names than the ones their father had given them. That was not the only change. Now a buff-colored wolf-bitch with a gray nape paced Randulfr, and Fargrimr was a sworn-man rather than a girl with kilted skirts. Also, it was a stomping-in-unison Rhean patrol that they shadowed now, both men silent and light-footed as the ljosalfar of stories in these beloved woods. And the penalty for being caught was not embarrassment and being sent home to their mother.
They might be returned to Siglufjordhur. The Rheans did take prisoners, as the wolfjarl Skjaldwulf, called Snow-Soft, could attest. But it wouldn’t be a homecoming such as either of them would wish. There were still cells there, carved into the rock below the keep, and Fargrimr had no desire to spend the rest of his life rotting in one of them.
The Rhean patrol was ten men, and Fargrimr knew there were twenty more within a shout, ten before and ten behind. The Rheans had learned to their grief how to protect themselves in these woods. They stayed to the stone roads they had hewed and paved—Fargrimr mourned every healthy tree—and marched a neat circuit of the farmsteads they claimed as their own. They expected—and Fargrimr knew, bitterly, that they were right—that Fargrimr would not burn out his own people.
Could not burn out his own people. Could not make them pay for his family’s failing. It was his responsibility to drive the Rheans out again, not theirs.
He was glad that Randulfr and Ingrun ran with him, separated by enough distance that he identified the man only by the occasional rustling footfall, and the wolf only by knowing that she existed. That knowledge became even more comforting when the patrol did something unexpected.
Unexpected things were bad. Especially when it came to Rheans—those most regimented, predictable, and disciplined of soldiers. Their armies came in multiples of ten. Those decades ran in lockstep, and each man in them wore the same tunic, the same armor, even the same sandals—stuffed with the same straw during the bitter Northern winters.
Their patrols always followed the same routes, too. Where one of Fargrimr’s thanes might take his men any which way, and—dependent on treaties—come back with information or plunder or both, the Rheans ran along their roads and kept a schedule. This meant that if one of their patrols went missing, they noticed very quickly, but it did make it easier for Fargrimr and his brother and his brother’s wolf-sister to follow them through the woods undetected, avoiding the notice of any other patrols.
So when the ten men veered south to leave the paved road and run back toward the headlands of the fjord, Fargrimr felt a heavy gnawing worm of worry behind his breastbone. Nothing good ever came of Rhean innovations.
Apparently, Randulfr agreed with Fargrimr, because his occasional shadowy steps grew closer as Fargrimr turned to follow the Rheans. Fargrimr caught a glimpse of Ingrun through the ferns ahead, her laughing amber eyes turned back to him. She ducked into the shadows and was gone again just as the soft pad of Randulfr’s feet drew up behind Fargrimr.
Fargrimr stopped. He reached out one bare arm, swirled with muddy blue-green spirals of tattoos, and quickly clasped Randulfr’s unmarked wrist. The brothers shared a wordless glance, then slipped, silent and slightly separated, toward the thinning shade of the edgewood.
The Rheans were moving far more slowly now—their lockstep trot was not well-suited to travel through the Northern forests. They would break out into the clear meadows along the top of the fjord soon, though, and become harder to follow. Fargrimr supposed it was too much to hope that a Rhean or two might stumble on a loose rock at the cliff top and plunge to his death far below.
As he reached the tree line, he crouched into the ferns and brush. There was more undergrowth here, where the light reached. It sheltered him, and the ink under his skin made dappled patterns that helped to hide him in the shade.
Randulfr dropped down beside him, silent as a fawn in its bower. “What are they doing all the way out here?” he asked, beard whisking Fargrimr’s ear.
“Going down the old sea-road, it looks like,” Fargrimr said.
“What would they want there that they can’t get at Siglufjordhur?”
And that was an excellent question. The sea-road Fargrimr had noted ran along the cliff top of Sigluf’s Fjord, the fjord for which the surrounding country was named. A half mile farther on, it dipped down through a convenient break in the palisade and descended the precipitous wall at an angle impossible for carts, treacherous for horses, nerve-racking for men, and well within the capabilities of most well-trained asses. Fargrimr knew from childhood experience that at the bottom of the trail was a fine sandy strand a quarter mile long. He also knew from childhood experience that it was forbidden to the children of the keep for good reason: it sloped appealingly under the green glass of the fjord’s salt waters, but on the seaward edge, where the ocean currents wore at it, there was a precipitous drop-off to water so deep even the oyster divers didn’t brave it to the bottom. It would be easy for a child to wander or be washed the wrong way and be drowned—and in truth, more than one had so died.
“Maybe their commander sent them for a bath,” Fargrimr muttered. “They probably need one.”
The Rheans had assembled themselves in the clear now. Trotting more slowly—but still in lockstep—they began their two-by-two descent of the sea road. Speaking personally, Fargrimr would have gone down single file. At a walk. Without trying to match paces with his neighbors. But then, he wasn’t a Rhean, either—thank all the gods for the small mercies they offered.
Still in a crouch, he scuttled forward, using his fingertips to steady himself against the ground. Randulfr followed. Ingrun held back, crouched, another shadow in the tree-shade.
Careful not to silhouette himself, Fargrimr inched close enough to the cliff edge that he could hear the leather-creak and footsteps of the Rheans below, descending. The smell of salt and the combing of the waves rose on the warm air. He lay down on his belly, hid his face in the straggle of long grass, and peered cautiously over the edge.
He saw—a ship. Three ships, bobbing with the waves, anchored in the deep water south of the beach. They were not like the familiar boats of Siglufjordhur. They were larger—wider, deeper—and each had three rows of oars rather than the familiar one. Where a proper boat should have a dragon prow and a broad striped sail square-rigged, these had eagles carved into the forecastle and triangular sails, with a slanting yard running from its lowest point at the front, lifting to aft far above the top of the mast.
Fargrimr had seen smaller ships like these busy in and out of the harbor at Siglufjordhur for ten long years. These, he realized, would draw much deeper than any Northern ship, which was probably why they were out here, rather than up at the keep and the port. They seemed able to carry a great deal of cargo, but their drafts would be too deep for a channel built for dragon-boats, which, even fully loaded would draw only a few inches of water.
Randulfr touched Fargrimr on the shoulder, calling his attention to one of the ships. The crew—from this height, like so many beetles scurrying on the deck—were lowering some long, broad, wooden device that had been pivoted over the side and dropped through a gap in the railing. The device looked like a boarding plank, but much broader—or perhaps like an odd outrigger, since it floated on the tossing surface of the sea.
Then Randulfr’s touch grew rough. He squeezed Fargrimr’s arm until Fargrimr winced and tugged away. He might have snapped, if there had not been enemies within earshot, if sound had not carried so well over water.
Rather than simply opening a hatchway, someone had ripped up a third of the planking on the ship’s deck and stuck a ramp up out of the hold. Fargrimr thought with a warming sense of superiority,Now, there’s a very good reason not to bother with decking in the first place.
It didn’t occur to him that it might be nice to sleep out of the rain onboard ship. And before he got around to that thought—which happened two days later—he was entirely distracted by what came out of the hole thus inflicted on the Rhean ship.
It might have been a furry, ambulatory hillock. A hay pile with walrus tusks poked into the front. A great northern bear, three times bigger than such a bear should be, with a pile of shaggy cattle hides heaped on it. Anything at all, in fact, as long as Fargrimr wasn’t expected to have a name for it.
It was taller than a wyvern, though not as long, and it looked considerably more massive. It was colored a kind of reddish-brown with streaks of gray and straw in the topcoat. It had small ears like cabbage leaves on the side of its high domed head, and it walked on legs as big as mature tree trunks. At the front were those tusks—walrus tusks, but far bigger than any walrus ever wore. Longer than two human beings, Fargrimr thought, lying feet to feet upon the ground, and thicker than his thigh. Also at the front end, something protruded like a long tentacle or a prehensile penis—fleshy and firm-soft looking. As it climbed onto the deck, the monster twisted and stretched the appendage, first to one side, then to the other, as if looking to the men around it for reassurance.
It did not like walking out on the boarding bridge at all.
At the first step, the creature hesitated. The boat pitched and the bridge pitched, and neither one pitched exactly the same. And as far as the creature could tell (Fargrimr imagined), it was being led down a wooden trail into the sea, for sudden death and drowning.
It raised the appendage on its face, turning it this way and that as a hare turns its ears to locate a sound. Fargrimr realized with a start that he was looking at the thing’s nose, and that it was scenting its surroundings. It did not wish to proceed.
One of the men stepped forward—the handler, Fargrimr assumed, because the beast dipped a knee as if making a bow. The handler stepped up onto the knee, grabbed a handful of the long red fur, and slung a leg over the thing’s neck so he was riding astride, just behind the ears. These flapped, but apparently this was what the creature had needed for reassurance, because with only a little more fussing, it walked down the bridge into the sea.
It floated and swam surprisingly well. The whole beast submerged beneath the waves except the prehensile appendage, so Fargrimr could see its back only when the troughs between the swells revealed it. The handler floated off his position on its neck and swam along beside, guiding it gently through the waves. He seemed to be suffering more than the monster, because the waves kept ducking him.
There were longboats already in the fjord. They stayed well clear of the gigantic monster—Fargrimr would probably have stayed even farther back, honestly—but seemed to guide it and its handler toward the sandy shoal. A few moments, and the creature’s domed head broke the waves, streaming seawater like a kelp-shagged boulder. It moved forward, walking up the beach, looking even bigger with the waves breaking against its implacable belly and legs.
On the ship, another monster emerged up the ramp from the hold. The sea wind lifted its rusty pelt. It peered about myopically, as if looking for its stablemate.
On the shore, the first beast stamped sand. Its handler took cover behind his arms as it shook like an enormous dog. Fargrimr could hear the laughter from the boats all the way up the cliffside—in fact, he had to bite back his own.
Then the first beast raised its nose and made a sound like Heimdallr winding his horn to mark the world’s end. It rang and resounded, up and between the cliffs of the fjord, rattling small pebbles from the walls. Fargrimr ducked instinctively, flattening himself in the grass, as if the sound could find him out and reveal him to the enemies below. He felt Randulfr flatten beside him.
When they peered at each other through the long grass, Randulfr jerked his head back the way they’d come. Fargrimr nodded.
They crept back to the tree line, where Ingrun crouched, awaiting. Her ears were pricked, her eyes sharp. She’d been guarding their backs.
Conscious of the fact that their voices might carry on the wind, Fargrimr leaned close to his brother’s ear and spoke low. “What are those things?”
Randulfr shrugged. “Some Rhean monster. Does it matter what they’re called?” He took a breath and held it in as if savoring or considering it, let it out, took another.
“Do you think they’re beasts of war?”
Randulfr deflated. “Hard to imagine what else they’d be using them for, isn’t it?” He shook his head. “Somebody needs to tell Franangford about this. That’s one thing for sure.”

Her name had once been Aebbe, though they called her Otter here. She has been born Brythoni and made a Rhean slave, but almost fifteen years past, she had come to save the life of a Northman and he had come to save hers. So she had been made the daughter by oath of Skjaldwulf Marsbrother.
Becoming the daughter of a wolfheofodman of the North, it turned out, was not the easiest thing in the world. “Daughter” meant many things, and it came with complicated gifts.
She was not obliged, Skjaldwulf had said awkwardly when he described the work of the heall that was usually done by wolfcarls’ lovers and kinswomen, but Otter much preferred work to idleness, and there was work in plenty to be done. She had been content at first merely guiding herself—finding a task that needed doing and seeing it through, then finding another task—but there was a gap where the housecarl Sokkolfr was simply spread too thin to cover, and Otter was too good a housewife to bear that sense of the household unraveling at one corner.
She had been surprised almost speechless to find that the wolfcarls would let her tell them what to do.
Because Thorlot—who was what Otter in her childhood would have called the headwoman, being as she was the lover of the Franangford wolfsprechend—was busy with smithing and tinkering—weapons, buckles, pots, pans, hinges, bits, chains, mail, nails (endless nails!), tongs, axes, gates, latches, scissors, pails, candlesticks, pins, needles, chisels, pruning hooks—most of the work of managing and running the household of the heall came to fall to Otter. There was bread to be baked and stalls to be raked and goats to be milked, roofs to be thatched, sick to be nursed (a task Otter particularly loathed), the pantry to be managed and kept in inventory, cloth traded for, candles to be dipped, saddles to be mended, meat to be smoked and salted, fodder and wood and food to be stockpiled against winter and against the threat of war. Of course she did not need to do all these tasks with her own hands; there were thralls and hirelings and women and heallbred children and wolfcarls aplenty. But those persons needed managing, too.
It was worth taking up the responsibilities for what the heall provided in return. Otter never would have believed it until she experienced it, that this was a place where, surrounded by trellwolves who could rip her throat out as soon as look at her, she could live in safety and security, with enough to eat, with work for which she was respected, with no one to care that the double-headed eagle branded on her cheek was a Rhean slaver’s mark.
At least until the Rheans gathered their forces in Siglufjordhur and marched north. Otter did not believe that when that happened, the Northmen could stand against them, wolves or no wolves.
She had seen the Rheans roll over Brython.
They had sent their expeditionary forces north once already—the sortie that had started her toward Franangford. Encountering more resistance than they had expected, they retreated to the coast and retrenched. They settled in, building their fortifications and roads, turning their toehold into a foothold, the captured keep of Siglufjordhur into a Rhean outpost. They were waiting, but it was nonsense to think that they were satisfied. Otter lived in constant fear of the day they decided they were ready. She knew that when the Rheans at long last came to pluck the Iskryne, this time of safety would be nothing but a pleasant dream. They were patient, and they were not inclined to miss a single berry in the bramble, once they made up their minds that the harvest had come due.
But there was nothing she could do about that truth, nothing she could do about the Rheans. She set them aside and, as best she could, did not think about them.
Instead, she enjoyed what she had while she had it. She enjoyed the food, the work, the warmth. She enjoyed the fact that no one raised a hand to her. She enjoyed that wolfcarls flirted rather than forced, and that when she chose not to lie down for them, they backed away and apologized. It was a while before she believed she had this privilege: there were not so many women in the heall that any went unclaimed for long, except by choice.
And she came to enjoy the wolfheofodmenn, as well. Skjaldwulf was a storyteller, a skaldin their tongue, a scop in hers, and she trusted him as she had trusted no man in all her life. She noticed, too, that when she came to sit by the long fire, as often as not his stories had some element of the heroism of women in them—he told tales of Knowing Freydis, of Lagertha Battle-oak, of Ragnvæig Householder, who managed the defense of the keep at Jomsa after the deaths of her husband and her father. He gave her women being brave, when she badly needed soil for her own bravery to take root in and grow. Perhaps, being a true skald, he knew how much it meant to her.
Sokkolfr, the housecarl, treated her as a partner from the beginning, so polite, as he was polite to every woman of the heall, that it was some time before she realized that it was genuine respect he showed her, and even longer before she dared to offer him friendship in return. She was surprised by her grief when his wolf-brother Hroi died—an ancient of a wolf, truly, for he had been old when he had taken Sokkolfr as his brother. And he died softly, in his sleep, in the cold of late winter when the old so often failed.
It is a wolf! she had scolded herself, rubbing angrily at her eyes. Not a man! But she had lived among the wolves and wolfcarls for almost five years at that point, and she had known, even as she told herself she was being foolish, childish, soft, that she would miss Hroi—and she proved it for weeks after his death, as every time she came into the kitchen, she looked, as reflexively as breathing, to find him in that warm, perfectly wolf-shaped spot between the bread oven and the hearth. It hurt, almost as much as it hurt watching Sokkolfr working and bartering and building walls, and yet all the time a man without his shadow, as in an old, old story her mother’s mother had told her when she was a child.
She said nothing, for there was nothing to say. But she took it upon herself to see that Sokkolfr had food to eat that was easy and appetizing and required no thought—even though that took creativity, it being winter. And she listened, when he found it in himself to talk.
When Sokkolfr took a new brother, a gangly wheaten-coated pup of Viradechtis’ whelping—clearly Kjaran’s get by his odd eyes, palest blue and gleaming gold—Otter was surprised by her own delight, by the warmth it gave her to see them together, Sokkolfr and Tryggvi, a man and his shadow, and she found herself smiling more readily at Sokkolfr, even as she laughed at the way Tryggvi leaned into her legs to ask to have his ears rumpled.
Vethulf was a shouter and a stormer. Vethulf-in-the-Fire some of his shieldmates called him, and it suited him, with his blazing red hair and his blazing temper. No one could be more unlike Skjaldwulf or more unlike Isolfr. At first, Otter had been afraid that he would hurt one of them—or that he would take his temper out on the nearest convenient woman, as she was long accustomed to men doing. But no matter how loudly he shouted, or how inventively he cursed, he never raised his hand to his lover or his wolfsprechend … or to Otter herself. Slowly she came to believe that he never would, although she still did not like to have him between her and the door.
Even more slowly, she came to understand that Isolfr did not resent her for her share of Skjaldwulf’s affection. He was hard to read, his face marked—she had been told—by the claws of a trellqueen. And he didn’t talk to her, not as Skjaldwulf did or Sokkolfr did—or even as Vethulf did when he wasn’t yelling.
She had assumed at first that he scorned her—a Brythoni slave woman, why should he not? But some months after Thorlot had made friends in her forthright fashion, she had remarked, “I would not have approached you—many women do not care for the company of a woman smith and I haven’t the time to waste on them—but Isolfr said I should.”
“Isolfr?” Otter had asked, blinking over the bucket in which she scrubbed shirts. She could blame the lye soap, surely, for the sting of her eyes.
Thorlot was a big woman, her eyes very blue in her forge-roughened face, her ginger hair streaked at the temples with enough gray to show that she was older than Isolfr. Isolfr was not much older than Otter, though the scars on both Otter’s face and the wolfsprechend’s hid their youth. Thorlot gave Otter a bright, thoughtful look and said, “Isolfr worries.”
“About me?”
“You are Skjaldwulf’s daughter, and you are far from your home. Of course he worries. And Isolfr knows what it is to be the white raven.”
She met Otter’s eyes steadily, trusting her with this truth—a truth that turned Otter’s understanding of Isolfr upside down. Not resentment, but shyness; not contempt, but concern. And Thorlot the shieldmaiden guarding his back.
Isolfr had worried, and Thorlot had extended kindness. She would have died for them that afternoon. As she thought of what the Rheans would do to them, she that her fear was not for herself: the Rheans couldn’t take this away from her, because she knew it was only a respite. But they could take Isolfr and Thorlot away from each other.
That was a bad day. That was the day Otter realized she had begun again to care.
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About the Authors

SARAH MONETTE is the acclaimed author of Mélusine and The Virtue as well as award-nominated short fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel – written under the pseudonym Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor, won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. You can visit her online at http://www.sarahmonette.com/.

ELIZABETH BEAR was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction, a Sturgeon Award, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. You can visit her online at http://www.elizabethbear.com/.

Together, they are the authors of A Companion to Wolves, The Tempering of Men, and An Apprentice to Elves.

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About the Book

An Apprentice to Elves by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette

Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear return with the third book in their Iskryne trilogy, AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES (A Tor Hardcover, $26.99, On-Sale: October 13, 2015). The third collaboration between renowned fantasy writers Bear and Monette, the trilogy began with A Companion to Wolves, and continued in The Tempering of Men. Separately, Bear and Monette  have been nominated for and won the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and Locus awards –  among others. Together, they have created the world of the Iskryne, a warrior culture with telephathic wolf companions.

AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES picks up the story of Alfgyfa, a young woman who has been raised in the Wolfhall by her father, Isolfr. The warrior culture of Iskryne forbids many things to women-and most especially it forbids them bonding to one of the giant telepathic trellwolves. But as her father was no ordinary boy, Alfgyfa is no ordinary girl. Her father has long planned to send his daughter to Tin, a matriarch among the elves who live nearby, to be both apprentice and ambassador, and now she is of age to go.

Publishers Weekly declares that Bear and Monette "have boldly created a fascinating world that begs further exploration” and RT Book Reviews points out that “Monette and Bear each excel at creating unique worlds... It's no surprise that this joint effort combines their strengths into something extraordinary.” The third book from this stellar team is the perfect place to dive into their fascinating world.

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