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Friday Reads: Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie

While the King of the Union lies on his deathbead, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No-one believes that the shadow of war is falling across the very heart of the Union. The First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, as he always does. But there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, after all, than to break the First Law…

Warning: contains spoilers! Read more

Seduce me

No, not like that – eww! I mean with your book, dammit…

Well, hellooo…
Well, hellooo…

Since I’m working on a new project at the moment, that’s got me 1) reading a lot more, because for once I actually have time to spare to find out what my peers have been up to, and 2) thinking about what I enjoy in a fantasy novel. About why I love some books and hate (or at least feel ‘meh’ about) others. Why I prefer books with male protagonists. And it all comes down to one thing: falling in love.

I want a protagonist who’s witty and charming (Locke Lamora). Or snarky and clever (Sand dan Glokta). Or who defies prejudice despite the horrible consequences (Ringil Eskiath). Give me that, and I’ll put up with most other flaws or bugbears* in a novel. Because I’m there to spend time with the hero. Read more

The Prince of Lies: finished cover

Yesterday one of my favourite genre websites, Fantasy Faction, did an exclusive cover reveal for the final book in my Night’s Masque trilogy. However I can’t resist posting it on my blog as well, as I’m so pleased with it!

As with The Merchant of Dreams, I briefed my editor Marc on what I wanted to see on the cover and he passed it along to Larry Rostant, who interpreted our instructions beautifully. The lightning bolts weren’t in my original brief but I have to admit they give it an extra pizazz that leaves you in no doubt that some serious magic is going on here!

To go with the cover I have an updated description as well:

Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn has everything he ever wanted—his twin brother Sandy restored to health, his family estate reclaimed and a son to inherit it—but his work is far from over. The renegade skraylings, the guisers, are still plotting; their leader Jathekkil has reincarnated as the young Henry Tudor. But with the prince still a child, Mal has a slim chance of destroying his enemies while they are at their weakest.

With Sandy’s help Mal learns to harness his own magic in the fight against the guisers, but it may be too late to save England. Schemes set in motion decades ago are at last coming to fruition, and the barrier between the dreamlands and the waking world is wearing thin…

I’m really looking forward to unleashing the book on the world come October – the fact that I shall be waving goodbye to Mal, Coby, Ned and friends hasn’t really sunk in yet…

What next?

The Prince of Lies is revised and handed in, which means it’s all over for Night’s Masque apart from final tweaks and copyedits. Yes, sorry, fans of Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel – their adventures are over, at least for now. I have no immediate plans for any more books in that universe, though if I were to get a great idea for a story, it’s certainly possible.

So what next, you might ask? Well, I’ve been jotting down notes in-between drafts of The Prince of Lies so that I could hit the ground running once that book was complete. However I couldn’t really allow myself to commit to it until now because I don’t have time in my busy schedule for distractions and side projects. Now I can, I’m sooo excited to be launching into something new! Read more

The Prince of Lies final draft – done!

I know – I didn’t post here at all after the first week, but I was so focused on the draft itself, I didn’t have the time or energy. Usually I give myself two months for initial revisions (and that’s what’s specified in my contract) but this book was already running late and I didn’t have that luxury.

It was a gruelling process, trying to revise a substantial novel in a month, but I got it done, finally handing in the draft to my editor Marc on Tuesday 7th May. He may still want a few tweaks before it goes to the copyeditor, but it’s basically complete as far as I’m concerned. If I got hit by a bus next week, the book could still go out and I’d be happy at the result. Well, not the being dead or incapacitated part, but you know what I mean.

At first I was so relieved to have hit my deadline—and so mentally drained—that I was just glad to have it done and out the door. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I started to feel a bit sad that I won’t be writing about Mal, Coby and friends again, at least not any time soon. Their story has come to (for me at least) a satisfying conclusion and I’m ready to move on to new things. In any case it’s not over yet; there’s copyedits to check and the book release itself to look forward to, and even sooner than that—the cover reveal! Watch my main blog for more news on that, very soon 🙂

Friday Reads: Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Having left Camorre after the deaths of their fellow Gentleman Bastards at the hands of the Bondsmagi, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are running a new scam in the Sinspire, a high-class casino in the city of Tal Verrar. Unfortunately the Bondsmagi haven’t finished with Locke yet, and he and Jean find themselves working—decidedly unwillingly—for a Verrari warlord with an ambition to rule the city outright. Temporarily abandoning the scam they take up their new mission, starting with a crash course in seamanship and a new cover identity as the dread pirate Orrin Ravelle…

Warning: here be spoilers! Because it’s otherwise hard to say what I liked (and didn’t like) about the book. And hell, it’s six years old, so I reckon many of my visitors will have read it already anyway. Read more

Epic fantasy? What does that even mean?

Yesterday I finished the final draft of The Prince of Lies – yay! – which inevitably left me feeling more than a little punch-drunk, like I’d been hit round the head with a 135,000-word manuscript…So I goofed around on Twitter a bit, and whilst chatting about book lengths and genre I realised that fantasy really needs a new name for a rather common sub-genre.

Cover art for “Shadow’s Master” by Jon Sprunk
Cover art for “Shadow’s Master” by Jon Sprunk

OK, before we get going, yes I know that sub-genres are artificial and that you shouldn’t try to shoehorn your work into one of them, but once you have a book – or three – written, and you start to look at what market you’re going to be aiming at, it can be helpful to have a label so that everyone knows what you’re talking about. Except – are they really talking about the same thing?

The discussion that sparked this was about the ideal length for a debut epic fantasy, which varies from agent to agent, but certainly somewhere in the 100-150k ballpark as a rule. For other kinds of fantasy, as well as SF, the suggested length is more like 90-120k.

The thing is, what do agents mean by “epic fantasy”? I suspect that for some in the business it’s a synonym for secondary world fantasy, or indeed anything that isn’t very clearly either steampunk or urban fantasy. Because it’s like Tolkien and George R R Martin, right?  And in one respect they’re right – all non-contemporary fantasy has broadly the same audience, and it’s distinct from (though it may sometimes overlap with) urban fantasy/paranormal romance.

The thing is, a lot of the secondary-world fantasy that I read isn’t what I’d call epic. There are no continent-spanning wars or treks through sweeping landscapes, no wide-eyed young heroes venturing out of their comfy hobbit-holes and being swept along on An Adventure. Typically they’re based in one city (just like urban fantasy), with a cast of characters who are far from innocent: thieves, spies, assassins and the like. You know, those Hooded Men who’ve been gracing the covers of our favourite books for the past decade…

(As an aside, if you google “hooded man” images, the cover art for The Alchemist of Souls comes up quite high in the results. Which is ironic, since there’s not a hood in sight!)

This sub-genre used to be known as swords’n’sorcery, and it was typified by Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories. Lots of swashbuckling swordplay, but also lots of monsters and evil wizards and the like. The thing is, modern-day S&S is typically quite low in magic and often the characters are all human, so the label doesn’t really fit any more. Nor does the newer label “grimdark” really help, as it’s a tone, not a subgenre as such. Both GRRM and Joe Abercrombie have been described as writing grimdark, but their books are also epic fantasy.

I raised this on Twitter, suggesting “cloak’n’dagger” as an alternative. I got some great (not always serious) alternative suggestions:

  • The Streets of Darkness
  • Hooded Figure Fantasy
  • Poignards’n’privies (very apt in my case!)
  • Mock-Tudorpunk
  • Grime’n’punishment
  • Alchemical romance (by analogy with Wells’ “scientific romance”)

What do you think? Do we need a new label for non-epic, non-contemporary fantasy?