Friday, 24 July 2015

Review - The Liar's Key by Mark Lawrence

The Red Queen has set her players on the board...

Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the longed-for luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave. For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hell to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door.

As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key to the underworld -- so that his dead subjects can rise and rule. 

I was late to the Mark Lawrence party. 

Shameful, I know. 

In fact, I didn't actually read The Broken Empire trilogy until late last year.

I can actually hear your boos and cries of disdain over the clicking of my keyboard.

In my defence, Lawrence and his books quickly found themselves taking pride of place on my shelves once I had actually read them. The Broken Empire was dark, revolutionary, and addictive. Fantasy crack that I just couldn't get enough of. Jorg not only captured my imagination but proceeded to kick it to the ground and stomp on it as his destiny unfolded before me. I literally couldn't get enough of that trilogy.

So when I say this, I don't say it lightly...

The Liar's Key is even better. 

Kicking off from ending in Prince of Fools we once again return to Trond, where Jalan and his companions have spent the winter following their journey and subsequent events at the Black Fort. As the ice recedes Snorri, now in possession of Loki's Key (a magical key that can open lock, even the one of death's door), decides to head out on his personal mission to resurrect his slain wife and children. However, other forces and agents are lurking in the shadows. And Loki's Key, an incredibly powerful item, is a very tempting prize. 

From this opening The Liar's Key drives forward and never lets up. I loved so many things about this book, from its insanely riveting world building through to its brilliant turn of phrase and storytelling. However, what makes The Liar's Key (and all other Lawrence books) special is its memorable characters. Jalan and Snorri, joined by other companions such as Kara and Hennan (a witch and orphan boy), form an enthralling group that is both fresh and incredibly intriguing. Each member brings something different to the table, and each has their own reasons for staying in the party. I adored the growth and evolution of both Snorri and Jalan throughout this book, and their bond and relationship remains the beating heart of this tale. Snorri, weighed down by the responsibility and guilt over the death of his wife and children, becomes more withdrawn and less certain as the plot unfolds. Jalan, on the other hand, comes into his own. As a self described coward, liar, and cheat, Jalan has to constantly fight against his better nature in order to maintain this description as the group travels South. It was wonderful reading to actually see him transform at times, and his internal monologue is yet again both hilarious and filled with wit. What really fleshed out Jalan for me however was his magical and blood fuelled flashbacks. These flashbacks, used by Lawrence before as a literary device in previous books, revealed much of Jalan's backstory and soul. They also gave the reader an insight into the Red Queen (and how she became known as this) and the Silent Sisters. This really added a depth to Jalan and the world that he comes from that was lacking in Prince of Fools. Prior to this book I had always considered Jalan to be the poor man's version of Jorg. Not anymore. 

The action is also exciting and heart pounding with every turn of the page. Lawrence goes to great lengths to up the tempo and stakes of each and every clash, and I adored how a seemingly mundane encounter could turn deadly in an instant. The Dead King's minions are a constant threat, and necromancers, undead, and various other abominations and creatures plague the group at every step. I often found myself going back to the start of chapters just so I could reread what happens again, and to soak up the atmosphere that Lawrence so cleverly creates. There are amazing sacrifices, mayhem, death, and plenty of destruction as the story builds rapidly from the start to a cliffhanger that literally left my mouth opening and closing like a fish trying to breathe out of water. 

The world of the Broken Empire is finally fleshed out more in this book in all of its gritty and epic glory. One of the deepest pleasures I had with Mark's original trilogy was deciphering the clues about the setting and the catastrophic events the led to its forging. This continues in the Liar's Key, with the reader seeing a much greater breadth of the world through Jalan's eyes. There are modern references littered through the text (CERN anyone?), and the world is depicted and described in a richer and fuller way then ever before. It is a dark and dangerous place, but damn it is addictive! 

All in all The Liar's Key is simply amazing. Lawrence continues to grow as a writer (which in itself is fucking incredible seeing as his debut was mind blowing) and storyteller with this release. I adored every single page of this book, and I can't wait to find the time to reread it in full again. If fantasy was a drug then The Liar's Key would be the most pure and addictive form of heroin known to humanity!

An absolute must read for anyone with a functioning brain and a heartbeat. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

A review copy was provided. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Review - A City Called Smoke by Justin Woolley

The battle was only the beginning; the real danger is beyond the fence ...

The Diggers have been destroyed, a horde of ghouls is moving inland and the High Priestess has seized control of the Central Territory. Together with Nim, a Nomad boy seeking vengeance against the ghouls, Squid and Lynn begin their long journey toward the city of Big Smoke, a city that may not even exist.

Pursued by forces that wish to see them fail, facing threats on all sides and conflict from within, Squid, Lynn and Nim search for a weapon against the ghouls. It is a search that will lead them into forbidden lands where long-held beliefs about their world are tested and Squid may finally unravel the truth of his identity.

But even if they survive their journey, the teenagers on whom the fate of the Territory now rests have no idea what dangers await them beyond the fence.

I want to be honest from the start... I love post apocalyptic stories. I would even go as far to say that they are my bread and butter alongside fantasy when it comes to my reading passion. There has always been something about the genre that I have found incredibly intriguing, whether it's seeing humanity stripped back to its barest of bones after some unforeseen global event, or the horrors that have been spawned by the collapse of society and its associated infrastructure. Post apocalyptic and dystopian stories have always drawn me in and refused to let go. In saying that though there has been, in my opinion, a noticeable drop off in the quality of the genre as of late (I have a theory about this but that's for another time and place). Stories have started to resemble each other, and the genre has run out of some of its puff for the most part. 

So when I say that a new post apocalyptic dystopian story blew me away and surprised me, I don't say it lightly. 

A City Called Smoke did both. 

I loved so many things about this book, from its insanely awesome action sequences through to its enthralling and incredibly detailed world building that literally gave me head spins of joy (sky pirates... fucking sky pirates!!!). What made this book however, and makes the series so incredible overall so far, is its characters. Squid, Lynn, Nim, Stix and Stownes are all different yet equally fascinating individuals who drive the story along at a rapid rate. I adored how Woolley took their relationships with each other to another level in this book, whilst also using their journey to examine a variety of social issues such as sexism, the divide between the haves and have nots, and the power of religion and belief. This one was of the real strengths of A City Called Smoke, and it gave the story a real deep and layered thoughtfulness that I found incredibly alluring and enthralling. I also loved how Woolley slowly peeled back more and more of the layers surrounding the mystery of Squid and the greater world around the group as everything unfolded. We learn a lot more about the Church and how the Ghouls came to be in this novel, and just how far the Sisters and their power can reach across the desolate landscape. Some of my questions were still left unanswered by the end, but hey, who doesn't like a good mystery? The cliffhanger came out of nowhere and left me reeling (and cursing you Justin, you bad, bad man). I wanted to immediately jump into the next book. That is the sign of a great story. 

Woolley is a relative newcomer to the writing game, but he has made an incredible impact so far in my opinion. A City Called Smoke is a riveting and razor sharp tale that breaks out of the mould of your typical post apocalyptic dystopian stories and claws at your soul for attention. I can't wait to see what Woolley does next in this incredible world he has created. 

Highly Recommended!

4 out of 5 stars!

A review copy was provided. 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Interview - Aliette de Bodard

Hello Everyone! 

I am delighted to bring you another interview from our ongoing series here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to chat with the wonderful Aliette de Bodard as she took time out of her busy schedule to talk about writing, her upcoming book, and diversity and the fantasy genre. 


Aliette, welcome to Smash Dragons!

First up, tell me a bit about yourself and your upcoming title The House of Shattered Wings.

I'm a writer of fantasy and science fiction infused with history/mythology, winner of two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. The House of Shattered Wings is a Gothic fantasy set in a Paris devastated by a war between arcane faction--featuring Fallen angels, Vietnamese ex-immortals, witches, alchemists and entirely too many dead bodies! It's coming out August 20th from Gollancz in the UK/Commonwealth, and August 18th from Roc in the US. 

Why did you start writing? Was there one exact moment that led to you becoming a writer or was it a slower evolution?

I've always been a voracious reader (the library was my favourite haunt as a kid), and I dabbled in writing as a child, though you will offer thanks that my first novel, about the Emperor of Cat People, was lost in one of the numerous family relocations (it was an illustrated book. Let's just say I'm not cut out to be an illustrator, and at the time wasn't a very good writer either!)

What was the inspiration behind The House of Shattered Wings? What were the biggest challenges you faced whilst writing it?

The House of Shattered Wings started as a urban fantasy about dynasties of magicians at war--except that I could never make the worldbuilding click for me; and after a while I realised that I needed to do something a little more drastic to the setting in order to be happy. Accordingly, I thoroughly nuked the city in the wake of a magical war--I made it so that the familiar monuments and streets were ruins covered in spell residues, the Seine river ran black with ashes and lashed out impredictably at people who got too close; and magical factions, the Great Houses, fought each other for every scrap of power.

The biggest challenge I faced while writing it actually has nothing to do with the novel: it's that I became pregnant while writing it, and by the time I was done with it was parenting my very own personal tornado (aka the snakelet, my son whom I dearly love--as long as he's not eating my manuscripts or sending nonsensical emails to people by fiddling with my keyboard!). It meant, first, that there was a 6-month hiatus while writing the novel, which killed a lot of the momentum I had going and made it really hard to pick it up again (I was about a third of the way in when I stopped writing, and starting up again meant I had to reread everything, get under the characters' skin, understand the reasons for the worldbuilding, etc., all while being perpetually tired and zombie-like); and second, that I had to get organised to start writing again, to find some brain-space around work and childcare.

A post apocalyptic Paris is the setting for this novel. I’m curious, what was it about Paris that was so appealing to build a fantasy novel around?

I've lived in Paris roughly all my life, so it was a natural setting for me to use--there's a lot of history and a lot of interesting tidbits to mine for story stuff. Also, post-apocalyptic narratives in English tend, not surprisingly, to be centred around Anglophone countries; I thought it would be a nice change to set a story in France! 

Did you undertake much research for this particular novel?

Certainly more research than I thought at the outset: I had this naive idea that setting this in the city where I live would involve very little to research. In reality, there was a lot of things I had to find out about the geography: the plot revolves around Ile de la Cité, so I ended up doing a lot of looking into its history, its famous places and how my alternate Paris would have changed this--it's one thing to nuke Notre-Dame, but what happens to the nearby Hôtel-Dieu hospital, the Préfecture, etc.? 

The society I depict in the novel is a mix of Belle Epoque and post-apocalyptic mores: the class system based on wealth and birth has given way to a class system based on who has safety and who hasn't (aka who is affiliated with a Great House and who isn't), and who can offer it and who can't, so there are slightly skewed dynamics, but still a recognisable system. I dug a lot into 19th Century novels (Hugo, Dumas, Maurice Leblanc etc.) to get the period feel, which given the nature of the novel felt to me more important than getting it historically accurate, and also researched a lot on the aristocracy and the servant system. 

And finally, since a significant strand of the story involves Indochina (the old French colony that covered Vietnam and Cambodia) and a Vietnamese magical system, I had to research a bit of colonial history as well, in addition to re-immersing myself in the folk tales my grandmother used to tell me when I was a child. 

Your characters in The House of Shattered Wings are a richly depicted mix of Fallen, Humans, and other powerful beings. Did you have a particular favourite to write? Why?

I have a particular fondness for Selene, the head of House Silverspires: from a writerly point of view she's a fascinating character to watch, because there is a great disconnect between how she perceives herself and how others see her. Selene thinks herself unworthy of being head of the House and fights crippling self-doubt, but never actually lets it show, so you essentially get two very different versions of her character, depending on whose head we're sharing at the moment. People think she is arrogant and cool-headed, but meanwhile she always agonises about whether she's doing the right thing. She also has quite a good eye for fashion, which allowed me to go wild with the description of people's clothes :) 

How would you describe your writing style? Are you a ‘planner’ or ‘pantser’?

I am a total planner. I need to know where the plot is going and why I'm doing things. I can't improvise, especially at the scale of a novel, because then I feel totally lost, and I hate the feeling I've produced a first draft which I will then need to either throw away or substantially revisse. On a typical project I spend maybe 30% of the time planning, and 70% writing, sometimes less? I write those extensive outlines, and rewrite them in the middle of first drafting if I deviate a lot from them. I think a lot of it is my engineer background, which is that I'm lazy, and it's easier to modify an outline rather than impact dozens of scenes? 

What it is about the fantasy fiction that you love? Do you think the genre as a whole is improving in terms of its diversity or not?

I love fantasy fiction because anything goes; and because you can get this sense of awe and wonder from fantastical things and events: I love that thrill that runs down my spine when getting the first glimpse of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere in London, or the Grass King's Palace in Kari Sperring Grass King's Concubine, or during a particularly emotionally charged moment like the ending of Adrian Tchaikovsky's Guns of the Dawn. Fantasy allows me to visit wildly different places with wildly different rules; with actual magic and the presence of supernatural entities--but in the end it remains a powerful way to look at people who remain human with all their foibles (or superhuman with a different set of foibles :) ). 

I think the genre as a whole is definitely improving in terms of diversity, yes--there's a marked difference compared to when I started out in 2006. Witness the success of people like NK Jemisin, Ken Liu, Charlie Jane Anders... It's, however, a slow and sometimes frustrating process, and I think sometimes we're a little too eager as a group to say that we've got there and have got true diversity; where the truth is that being more diverse and more inclusive is something that happens slowly, like any values shift--and that, like any shifts, we have to keep working at it. Right now I and a few other people are making a concerted effort to include more people beyond the Western Anglophone world in SFF, whether it's people from Western countries but outside the Anglophone world, or people from non-western places like Singapore, the Philippines--I think it's a much needed infusion of new things and new visions into genre. 

Hypothetical question… if you could travel back in time to spend the day with one historical author who would it be? Why?

Hmm it's a really, really tough one. It's a tie, but I think I'd want to spend it with Ho Xuan Huong--she's arguably the most famous Vietnamese poetess, and she wore very irreverent stanzas: she was very clever and chafing at the constraints imposed on women at the time, and I think we would have lots to discuss (of course I'd need to get over the language barrier as my Vietnamese is atrocious, but I'm assuming that would be magically provided). The other person in the tie was Alexandre Dumas, because Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo are the best books ever written and I reread them every once in a while. Especially Monte Cristo. 

What would be your Fallen name if you fell from the heavens into post-apocalyptic Paris?

Well, Fallen mostly pick the name they want--I kind of favor Morningstar's approach of picking them from books and old historical events, except I think picking it from a fantasy book would be totally legitimate *grin* I'm going for Tenaka, the hero of King beyond the Gate, because I've always had a fondness for him--there are obvious sympathy elements (he's half-Nadir half-Drenai, and as someone who's half and half herself I've got a lot of sympathy with his experiences growing up, though mine were nowhere as drastic!), and obviously he gets to the head of his very own empire! (it's a man's name, but I figure no one would bat an eyelid)

The House of Shattered Wings is not your first published work. You have previously written a number of award winning short stories and the Obsidian and Blood trilogy. I’m curious, how do you feel you have grown as a writer over this period of time?

Immeasurably I feel! I've found that I grow in fits and starts as a writer (as we do in many things): I hit a plateau for a while, and then abruptly level up after months or years of struggling and collecting rejections and frustrating "this doesn't work" critiques. Between writing the first book of Obsidian and Blood in 2010, I hit at least two plateaux that I'm aware of. The first was handling more complex novels: Servant of the Underworld was written in a tight first person point of view with few characters, because I was afraid I couldn't handle a complex plot with many points of view and complex worldbuilding; The House of Shattered Wings had three point-of-view characters, a host of minor characters and a lot going on in the background that I hint at. 

The second is that I became much, much better at world building: I became more comfortable with handling complex exposition (which is necessary when you're writing complex things that don't necessarily conform to readers' expectations: the Vietnamese elements in my work require a lot more exposition than the "classic" ones), and more willing to take risks with story structure and worldbuilding that melded disparate elements. My Xuya series, for instance, merges science and technology with mythical undertones, and I don't think I'd have been able to pull it off if I hadn't leveled up as a writer. 

Who is your favourite fantasy writer at the moment? Why?

This is a bit like choosing a favorite child, isn't it? :p I have lots of favorite writers that I admire for different skills and different ways of blowing me away (Sir Terry Pratchett, Elizabeth Bear, Kari Sperring, Sergey and Marina Dyachenko...). If I can plug just one at the moment it would be Zen Cho--she's Chinese Malaysian living in London, writing fiction that is both funny, heartbreaking and incisive. Her short story collection Spirits Abroad won the Crawford, and her book Sorcerer to the Crown is coming out in September--it's Regency England with magic, fairies, characters in over their heads, and laugh-out loud moments. (disclaimer: Zen is a friend, so obviously I'm a bit biased. But I'm not the only one who thought her book was great). 

And finally, can we expect to see you at any conventions or events in the near future?

I will be in London August 6th for Fantasy in the Court at Goldsboro Books, and at Worldcon in August 2015 for the release of the book, and in October I'll also be attending a few events in Europe  (Italy, the Netherlands and France). 

Aliette de Bodard, thanks for chatting to Smash Dragons!

You're welcome! Thank you for having me here!

The House of Shattered Wings is out on August 18th-20th (check you local online retailers and shops for more details.) I have provided some links below. 

I implore you all to check this book out. I recently finished it, and it is truly stunning!

Until next time everyone, be nice to each other and keep on reading!


Thursday, 2 July 2015

Interview - Trent Jamieson

Hello Everyone!

I am delighted to be able to bring you yet another instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. I had the amazing privilege this week to chat with one of Australia's most talented kleptomani.. err.. writers.. in Trent Jamieson. Trent kindly took time out of his busy schedule to chat (and measure my throne of skulls to see if it would fit in his loungeroom) with me here in the lair. 


Trent Jamieson, welcome to Smash Dragons!

Thank you. I like the furniture, particularly the throne made out of skulls, and that obsidian hatstand.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Trent Jamieson?

I'm a bookseller at Avid Reader in West End (and I have worked as a bookseller for about twenty years), I am in charge of the returns in the store - that is the books that we don't sell within a certain period and can send back to suppliers - so I am writer of books who is well aware of the limited window that books have to find readers. I have also taught creative writing at Clarion South and QUT, something I always find very satisfying. I was born in Gunnedah in North West NSW, but I live in Brisbane, and Brisbane is where I will probably live until the day I die - I adore this city. 

Why did you start writing? Is it something you always wanted to pursue? 

I started writing as soon as I could put words together. And it was always spec fic. Firstly Doctor Who fan fiction (this was in the seventies, so it would have been Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker) and then my year three primary school teacher, Mr Hill, told me I could actually write my OWN stories. I haven't stopped. 

Also, I was kid that lived in the school library, and loved our family's bi-weekly town library visits.  I read everything I could get my hands on.

Everything from the Muddle-Headed Wombat to the Hobbit and the Wizard of Earthsea, and Asimov's Foundation series, and Star Wars put a fire in my pre-teen belly.

You have recently released a new book entitled Day Boy. Tell me, where did the inspiration for this book come from? What challenges did you face whilst writing it? 

The inspiration came from a very strong initial image of two boys in a crypt flicking cigarettes at the sleeping body of their Master. 

I knew he was a Vampire, but the boys were so cocky flicking their ciggies, that I wanted to explore what they were like.  

Most of my challenges are self-doubt. Then, obviously, like everyone else, finding the space and time in my life to write another world, while this one always pushes in. Pretty common writerly impediments, I reckon.

Self doubt seems to be a common emotion that is experienced by writers. How did you manage to stay on top of it?

By trying to avoid dwelling on it. Trying to make the process as much a game as possible. And by forcing yourself to just sit down and write. You can write yourself out of most doubt - as long as it's coming from the writing rather than something outside the writing.

Day Boy seems to turn the vampire trope on its head by focusing instead on the guardians (day boys) of the vampires when they are at their weakest. What was it about this idea that attracted you in the first place?

Vampires get written about all the time but their servants not so often.   Interesting stories come at the juncture of power and powerlessness. The Vampires are pure power, the boys are pure bluster. My Day Boy's rule through piss and wind and ruthlessness, but also by keeping to the courtesies of the town in which they live. 

I could see so many stories coming out of the idea. One of the challenges was reining them all in.

Why do you think people find the vampire myth so alluring and fascinating?

Vampires like zombies are open to so many interpretations. They are the ultimate monster. They are us, and they are not. They are power and weakness. My vampires are scary, monstrous and weirdly honorable - but it is a twisted honour.

Who was your favourite character to write in Day Boy? Why? 

Mark. His voice pulled me through the story. He tries so hard, and he is so oblivious. He's the kind of character that with the best of intentions can destroy a town. He was the gift that my subconscious mind threw me, and I went with it. And his central choice: man or monster? That's up to the reader to decide what he becomes.

Day Boy is not your first book. You have also published five others (Death Works and Nightbound Land novels). Can you tell us a little bit about them? 

Death Works is a series about Australia's Regional Incarnation of Death and the organisation that the world's Deaths are a party to. It's a comedy, a romance, and a Lovecraftian romp. I have two more stories to write (well, one is mostly written, and the other is a bit of monster) and that one will be put to bed.

The Nightbound Land is a secondary world Steampunk Series about a monster-filled darkness consuming a world. It's a bit bleak, but filled with rage and defiance and living airships, and, hopefully, adventure. It's about as close as I am ever going to get at having a stab at Tolkienesque Fantasy.

I’m curious, how do you feel you have grown as a writer from your first novel up until now? 

I think I've gotten a better control of narrative than I had before. I am also more confident in myself and my editors. I trust that relationship much more. Give me a good editor and I will rise to the challenge (I hope). I've learnt that I need to be pushed and I delight in that.

What is your best writing skill? Worst? 

I'm not sure that I have a best or worst. What can be a strength in one novel may be a weakness in another. I am often so filled with self-doubt that every thing seems to be my worst. Also, I am terrible with commas.

You mentioned teaching at Clarion South and QUT. I'm curious, what did you learn about your own craft whilst you were teaching? 

I think initially it can make you feel self-conscious. You're teaching it so you have to be producing it at a high quality, and I think going into a story demanding that it must be good kills it at the vine. But then you learn to let go of that. Writing needs to be as much a source of comfort to the writer as a challenge.

Also, every writer approaches their writing differently. All of my students have taught me things not just in what they get wrong, but what they do right. Enthusiasm is infectious.

Hypothetical question. If there is an afterlife, and you were only allowed to take one book with you when dying, what would you pick? Why? 

Little Big by John Crowley. Because it is full of multitudes. And it's the sort of book that might just let you cheat death a little.

You have dabbled in a variety of subgenres as a writer (urban fantasy, steampunk, fantasy). Do you have a favourite? 

No, I love them all. I love the way you can squeeze them and push them up against each other. Most of my books have more than one thing going on, which is a strength and weakness, I guess.

If you could spend the day with one other author to pick their brain who would it be and why? 

Ursula K. Le Guin. She is still the best of us. I don't even know if I would want to talk writing, because, honestly, most advice falls away when you're at the keyboard. But, of the fantasists that define my approach: Tolkien, Mirrlees, Lewis, Peake, Leiber and Le Guin, she's the last one alive and, perhaps the most lyrical and assured. I'd just like to share a tea or a coffee with her and let her talk. She is a treasure.

Complete the following statements:

The best thing about being a vampire would be…

Defined sleeping time. 

If I had to hunt vampires for a living my weapon of choice would be… 

Thermonuclear weapons, then a stake, though I wouldn't last a minute in the presence of a vampire.

The best thing about working in a bookshop is… 

Talking about books, and books in general. But the staff and customers are utterly wonderful too (particularly at Avid Reader).

I'm curious, what has been the most ridiculous book order you've ever had to place at Avid Reader? 

I can't think of something off the top of my head. But I know the most ridiculous thing I have ever wrapped for someone. A customer came in and bought a book then asked me to wrap this weird chopping board and knife set. It was a nightmare of angles. I felt like I was wrapping something out an HP Lovecraft story.

What is your take on the state of speculative fiction here in Australia in comparison to the rest of the world? Are there any local writers who may have slipped under the radar that we should check out?

We have a vibrant and wonderful writing community, it is fluid and mixes wonderfully with the mainstream lit community - well, the writers do at any rate.  I actually know so many wonderful Australian writers on the up that I am scared of missing any of them - we are a vengeful people.

I have read that you were working on a sword and sorcery novel. Is that still in the pipeline? 

Shh! Yes it is: it is in the queue. I started it ages ago wrote a draft and then so many wonderful S&S writers appeared that I got a bit gun shy - particularly when Richard Morgan started writing. My projects always take a while to build momentum, but this one is definitely sitting there, and its big and ridiculous and bloody - very, very bloody. And it has one of my favourite female characters, so for that alone, I do need to get along and finish it. 

At your recent book launch your friend Gary Kemble sent you a haunted doll from Scotland. I’m curious, at his next book launch what will you send in return? 

I don't want to spoil the surprise; but it will be damned. Also, Gary's new book is excellent! Whatever evil haunted thing I could muster would do nothing to destroy the potential juggernaut that is that book - I would be so surprised if his novel Skin Deep didn't become some sort of awesome mini-series.

What’s next now that Day Boy has been released? 

A very personal fantasy story that features me and my wife Diana as characters. I'm still working out what voice works best, but it's starting to take shape.

Standard clichéd question… best writing tip?

Honestly, be patient, work hard, and see writing as just part of your life. Friends and family are why we are here, as much as if not more than the impulse to put words on the page.

Finally, can we expect to see you at any events or conventions in the near future? 

Yes, but I am not allowed to say what they are - how mysterious!

Trent Jamieson, thank you for chatting with Smash Dragons!

Thank you for the wonderful questions, can I take this skull throne home?

Err... I kinda need it to sit on! Hey! Come back here with the throne!

You can find Day Boy at all good book retailers around Australia, and online at places like Booktopia and Amazon. And if you happen to find Trent in your travels... get my damn throne back!!! (or you could just check out his wonderful website for more details on Day Boy and his other published work)

Thanks to Paul Brandon too for the creepy photo of Trent with his haunted doll... just looking at it gives me chills (Trent, not the doll). 

Until next time, be nice to each other and keep on reading!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Review - Inquisitor by Mitchell Hogan

To Inquisitor Angel Xia, it was just another corporate killing on a backwater planet. But as the bodies begin to pile up and she finds herself a target, she realizes she’s stepped on one toe too many. 

Barely escaping attempts on her life by powerful agents with seemingly limitless reach and influence, Angel senses even her co-Inquisitors can’t be trusted. But as the web tightens, she receives a cryptic message from a computer program claiming to be a little girl in desperate need of her help. She insists she’s being held prisoner by a major corporation, but is this just a trap to silence Angel…permanently? 

Now a fugitive with her life inextricably linked to the girl in the program, Angel is taken to extremes she never knew she was capable of, and to forgotten places at the edges of known space that hold the darkest secrets of humanity, and the greatest threat to its future.

Now I know what you are all thinking... Mitchell Hogan, author of the award winning Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, has released a science fiction book?!? Huh? Shouldn't he be working on book three?!? Wait a minute... are you serious???

Yep... I am serious... Mitchell Hogan has released a standalone science fiction book. And damn.. it is pretty awesome!

Now before I get into the nitty gritty of why I loved this book, I want to point out something.

I don't usually read a lot of science fiction.

Please don't burn me at the stake before I explain.

I don't usually read a lot of science fiction, but that doesn't mean that I don't love the genre (I do). I just find what I would call 'hard' science fiction incredibly tedious at times. As such, I am very selective about what I read. So when Inquisitor first appeared on my radar my initial thought was one of reluctance. I, like many of Mitch's fans, wondered why he wasn't busy working on the next book in his fantasy series (for the record, he was.) And then I read an early description of this book:

Inquisitor detectives.. a world filled with meddling corporations and genetically altered mutants... and artificial intelligence that could possible reveal the deepest and darkest secrets of humanity... 

My next thought, after reading this, was: Sold! Take my money!

And damn, I am glad I made that decision.

Inquisitor is a fast paced and action packed tale that hooked its tendrils into me from the first page and steadfastly refused to let go. And wow, it is relentless.

From the opening scene, where Xia and her partner take on a Genevolve discard, through to the sprawling space battles and conflict towards the end, readers are taken on a roller coaster ride of action laced adventure and intrigue. This book punched me in my frontal lobe and continued to smash me over and over again with a story that became more absorbing the further I read.

I adored how Hogan structured this particular story. Inquisitor started as a crime novel, evolved into a spy and techno thriller, and finished as a space opera that posed philosophical questions like what does it means to be human?

And you know what... it worked magnificently.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about Inquisitor was how light it felt to read. It never once slowed down and became bogged by factual dumps or scientific explanation (one of the pitfalls of hard SF). This doesn't mean that it was shallow either. Quite the opposite in fact! Hogan has masterfully weaved an intricate tale of murder, espionage, and secrecy into this book whilst also exploring issues such as technological abuse and consciousness.

The world building in Inquisitor is also well done. It features a galaxy filled with cybernetics, space travel, interactive programs and different levels of artificial intelligence that are both fascinating and enthralling. Hogan offers enough description of this world to keep most fans of the genre happy. He does not go to great lengths to explain how something works, or why it exists (such as Xia's implants) in Inquisitor, it just does. This was enough to keep me involved and interested, and I enjoyed how he coupled this level of description with the frantic pace of the novel (not an easy feat).

The characters in Inquisitor are also brilliantly described and portrayed. One of Hogan's real strengths from his Sorcery Ascendant Sequence is his characterisation, and this is no different in Inquisitor. Angel Xia, the main protagonist, is an incredibly layered and fascinating character whose evolution provided the perfect foil to the often chaotic and childish program Charlotte-Rose. I adored how both of these characters grew over time, and how their agency changed as the story unfolded. Their relationship lies at the centre of Inquisitor, and it is handled wonderfully by Hogan amidst the often chaotic events occurring around them. I also loved the other characters in this book, from Xia's partner Victor through to Summer and the mysterious (and ominous) Genevolve's. In fact, I don't think any of the minor characters in Inquisitor were poorly depicted. All of them merely enhanced what was already an awesome story.

And the ending... powerful, evocative, and incredibly well written. I had to put my eReader down for awhile to just think after finishing this story.

All in all Inquisitor is a fast paced and explosive story filled with action and substance. It features a unique and fascinating world with powerful yet sympathetic characters that will grab a hold of you and refuse to let go. Fans of Hogan's previous work will love this book, as will most science fiction fans looking for a cracking and action packed story with body. Highly recommended and, for a few bucks on Amazon, it is an absolute steal!

You would be crazy not to buy it!

4 out of 5 stars.