Guest post by Seth Skorkowsky

Seth Skorkowsky, author of the new book Dämoren (which is very high on my To Read list, I might add), has kindly agreed to drop by and do a guest post regarding said novel, and the origins of the idea.


Dämoren: It Started With a Gun and an Idea

damorenMy novel Dämoren didn’t originate from a story concept or even a brilliant “Ah-hah!” moment. The book was born with the merging of two separate ideas.

The first half of Dämoren came about when I was imagining a new twist to classic folklore monsters. Every culture has their own beasties, and two of the most popular in the Western World are, of course, vampires and werewolves. Modern Folklore (primarily TV and movies) has redefined these creatures as disease carriers. If a werewolf bites you, it infects you with a werewolf germ and now you’re a monster. Killing a werewolf is simply loading your trusty gun with a silver bullet and taking it down (usually after delivering a clever pun).

The idea that I had was, “What if the monster wasn’t a virus, but a demon?” People that become vampires or wendigos aren’t “infected,” they’re “possessed”. Demons, of course, are immune to mortal weapons, so shooting a werewolf with a silver bullet or staking a vampire wouldn’t kill it. It would only kill the host body. The demonic spirit could then hop over to the next victim it had marked through a bite, and go about causing havoc. The only way to kill the demonic spirit would be with a holy weapon.

The second concept that I had was the idea of a magical revolver. This might come as a huge surprise to some, but I play a lot of Roleplaying Games. Magic swords and axes are common in RPGs, and using them against creatures that require a magical weapon to damage them is easy to understand. You physically hit the monster with the magic blade (usually after delivering a clever pun). Ranged weapons are a different matter. The magical weapon never touches the target, but its projectile (arrow, bullet, tomahawk missile, etc.) does. How would firing a normal bullet with a magical gun work? Obviously the gun would need to somehow imbue its enchantment into the bullet.

I decided that a holy pistol would have a blessing inscribed along the inside of barrel. As the bullet flies down the barrel, it gains this blessing. The word “Amen,” is inscribed onto the bullet, and seals the blessing into the slug. I wanted the gun to be old, and made back when most firearms were still hand-crafted by gunsmiths. Since the bullets needed to have a word written on it, I decided that the entire loading process should be ceremonial. Silver bullets cast from a special mold, and set into blessed, graven shells.

A friend of mine suggested the idea that Dämoren should be single-action, where the shooter has to cock the hammer before each shot, and that the shells should be loaded one at a time through a little slot called a Loading Gate. This would make loading and shooting much slower when compared to other firearms.

Finally, I came up with the idea that Dämoren was once a holy sword that was broken in battle. The owner took the shattered pieces to a master gunsmith and had them turned into a revolver (which at the time was cutting-edge technology). Surprisingly, Dämoren’s easily recognizable under-barrel blade wasn’t part of this. The gun received her sinister blade several years after I had come up with all this, just a week or so before I began writing the novel.

The two ideas of “Monsters Are Demons”, and “Super- Sweet Holy Revolver” came about around the same time, but one was a story idea and the other a gaming idea. Eventually, some part of my brain said, “Hey, check it out. Those totally work together.” And that was the beginning. I had a rough concept of a modern world where demons can mark victims’ souls and possess them at will, transforming them into old-world monsters, and an archaic holy revolver that could kill them.

-Seth

sethskorkowskyWhen not writing, Seth loves going on walks to clear his head and daydream. He enjoys traveling. His favorite city is Florence. Table-top role-playing is still an enormous part of his life. He love shooting, going to Renaissance faires, and watching movies with friends. Damoren can be purchased from Amazon.com or Ragnarok Publications. He can also be found on Twitter.

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale

Because how can you go wrong with a title like Princess Academy?

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – December 1, 2008

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king’s priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year’s time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king’s ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.

Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.

Thoughts: I don’t normally review mid-grade novels. YA is usually about as young as I’ll go, since often I find books for audiences much younger than that don’t have plots as deep or complex and can’t often hold my attention as well as books for older audiences.

Shannon Hale’s work, on the other hand, appears to be a pleasant exception.

I’d say that Princess Academy straddles that fine line between mid-grade and young adult, with an easy-to-follow writing style and simple conflicts to resolve, combined with some deceptively in-depth world-building, unexpected plot twists, and it’s certainly a thick enough book to hold some good story inside. It’s a fine read when you’re looking for something light and relaxing, something that doesn’t take too much of your attention, but that still has a decent plot and is something worth reading.

The story centres around Miri, a young girl from a poor mountain village who is chosen, along with every other girl of a certain age in her village, to be part of what they call the princess academy. Fortune tellers have predicted that the kingdom’s prince will find his future bride in that region, and in order to allow each girl to put her best foot forward, they must be trained in politics, history, etiquette, and a dozen other things that none of them have ever had cause to think about before. All so that one of them might impress the prince when he visits and so can marry into the royal family.

You go through the book expecting that, as is typical for such stories, Miri will be the one that the prince chooses. Hale throws readers for a loop by not having that happen. It’s a small thing, but bucks the trend enough to be very noticeable and praise-worthy. Instead, that honour goes to Miri’s friend, who knew the prince when they were children, and Miri instead goes on to change the economy of her village and improves the lives of everyone there. It’s impressive to see a story about a girl who isn’t just some romantic prize, but instead is more concerned with finance and trade and justice, making sure that the people of her village are no longer taken advantage of by traders. It’s not something often seen. Usually you’ll see a female character who is concerned with that kind of justice and is the romantic prize. Kudos to Hale for not setting up the story that way.

It’s also interesting because it shows how a good story can be told from a character that isn’t technically the main focus on the unfolding events. Miri is undeniably part of the whole princess academy deal, but she isn’t particularly interested in the academy’s primary purpose. It’s someone else who goes through that, beginning to end, and is the one chosen by the prince when all is said and done. But Miri’s story is still interesting to follow, probably moreso because it’s atypical for stories but very typical for what the majority of people will actually experience in their lives. We won’t always be the ones to achieve greatness. We won’t always get the guy, or girl, or whoever. We won’t always be the centre of the stories going on around us. Sometimes someone else will have the spotlight shining on them and will get the fairy tale ending. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own stories to star in, and that we can’t do something amazing with the lives we lead. It actually sets realistic expectations for readers, and doesn’t  cave to the pressures of the standard story: girl gets chance to become princess, girl thus marries prince. Here it’s: girl gets chance to become princess, girl uses training to discover her village is being swindled and puts a stop to it.

As I said earlier, Hale’s writing style is clear, smooth, and easy to follow, without making things simplistic or dumbing down the expectations of what the audience can understand. The world-building draws on European-inspired fantasy to provide a very traditional feel to the setting, and it doesn’t break too many molds where that’s concerned. But a lot of the subtler aspects of culture-building are there, from snippets of local songs and jokes and the expressed difference between the mountain girls and the people from the royal capital. It’s familiar enough to draw younger readers is and different enough to make it clear that it’s fantasy, that Miri’s world is not our own at any point through history. It’s the kind of book I curl up with when I don’t want to stretch my brain much, when I was comfortable and familiar fantasy that I can sink into with minimal effort and still come away from having been entertained. As far as mid-grade fantasy goes, Hale has definitely piqued my interest enough for me to want to check out more of what she’d written, to see if her world-building and skill with creating individual and very real characters continues.

Apex magazine issue 59

Buy from Amazon.com or the Apex website

Contents: FICTION
Perfect by Haddayr Copley-Woods
Steel Snowflakes in My Skull by Tom Piccirilli
The Cultist’s Son by Ferrett Steinmetz
Repairing the World by John Chu
Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean (eBook/subscriber exclusive)
The Violent Century (extract) by Lavie Tidhar (eBook/subscriber exclusive)

POETRY
Cogs by Beth Cato
Unlabelled Core c. Zanclean (5.33 Ma) by Michele Bannister
Tell Me the World is a Forest by Chris Lynch
Aristeia by Sonya Taaffe

NONFICTION
Resolute: Notes from the Editor-in-Chief by Sigrid Ellis
Interview with Cover Artist Mehrdad Isvandi by Loraine Sammy
Interview with Ferrett Steinmetz by Maggie Slater
After Our Bodies Fail by Abra Staffin-Wiebe

Cover art by Mehrdad Isvandi

Thoughts: Issue 59 of Apex Magazine is filled with stories that really invite you to stretch your mind, some going a little too high over my head, others hitting me full in the face and rocking me backward. Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Cultist’s Son was deeply disturbing, violent and evoking a very visceral reaction from me in the way where I can’t tell if I liked it or not no matter how good it actually was. Tom Piccirilli’s Steel Snowflakes in my Skull was delightfully ambiguous about the ending, and was one of those stories that left me unsure as to whether I fully understood it or not. Haddayr Copley-Woods’s Perfect, though, was exactly what it says on the box: perfect, and very thought-provoking and insightful.

And Pamela Dean’s Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary made me want to track down more of what she’s written so I can bury myself in her writing style again. I’ve heard her work praised before but hadn’t read anything she’d written, or at least not that I’d been aware of, but now that I have I definitely want to see more. Ditto Lavie Tidhar with the excerpt of The Violent Century; I have read some of his stuff before, but I very much want to read the whole of that book now!

As with the previous issue I reviewed, I don’t feel entirely qualified to comment much on the poetry. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy poetry, or that none of the poems in here spoke to me (in fact, Chris Lynch’s Tell Me the World is a Forest was brilliant, and Beth Cato’s Cogs was one of the pieces that left me blinking and trying to fully wrap my head around what I’d just experienced), but poetry is such a hard thing to deconstruct sometimes, and I have little practice with it, and beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it,” I find I’m pretty lousy with reviewing poetry.

I do want to take a minute to express my love of Abra Staffin-Wiebe’s After Our Bodies Fail, which talks about how medicine has advanced from the days of placing leeches sometimes in a person’s body to now being able to print out mechanical prosthetic hands from 3D printers, and talks about the Spoon Theory of trying to manage one’s health when it’s not optimal. It got me thinking of Sarah Chorn‘s Special Needs in Strange Worlds series on SF Signal, and it made me appreciate how more information about disabilities and health care is getting out there, especially in the genre community. So awesome.

Mehrdad Isvandi’s cover art was, in a word, striking. At first glance it looks like nothing more than an anthropomorphic tiger putting on a suit, a fantastical enough idea on its own. Until you notice the zebra mask on the dresser. To me it seemed like a more poignant version of “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” using less common animals to demonstrate the same idea… until my brain attached another layer of meaning to it in the fact that it almost looks like the tiger’s getting dressed for work, professional clothes needed to set a good impression and thus hide his true nature in order to pass as something else. Now I admit that’s probably my own interpretation getting slapped onto the artwork there, but even so, that idea is something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past, hiding myself in order to pass for ‘normal’ in public, and to see artwork that captures that sentiment so well for me was incredible, and very moving.

After reading this issue, I’m sure that I made a good choice in getting a subscription to Apex Magazine. I may not enjoy every single in the issues, but what I do like outstrips what I don’t, and even what I don’t enjoy still gets me thinking. I’m going to be looking forward to this magazine at the beginning of every month, and I can’t wait to see what will be coming in the future!

 

Apex Magazine issue 58

Buy from Amazon.com or the Apex website

Contents: FICTION
Waking by Cat Hellisen
Undone by Mari Ness
To Increase His Wondrous Greatnesse More by Sunny Moraine
The End of the World in Five Dates by Claire Humphrey
Actaeon by Jacqueline Carey (eBook exclusive)
Maze by J.M. McDermott (eBook exclusive novel excerpt)

NONFICTION
Invisible Bisexuality in Torchwood by K. Tempest Bradford
Author Interview with Claire Humphrey
Artist Interview with Julie Dillon
Resolute: Notes from the Editor-in-Chief by Sigrid Ellis

POETRY
Tempus by J.J. Hunter
The Parable of the Supervillian by Ada Hoffmann

Cover art by Julie Dillon.

Thoughts: This is the first time I’ve reviewed a magazine like this, and I’m finding that it’s actually a fair bit different from reviewing a book. The most similar thing would be a short story collection, but even then, there are differences that make this unlike what I usually do. Still, I’ll give it my best shot, now and from now on because I’ve subscribed to Apex Magazine and I’m enjoying what I’ve seen so far enough to want to talk about it here more often. Maybe I’ll get better at reviewing magazines as time goes on, so bear with me for now.

Julie Dillon’s cover art is something I could look at for ages. The bright red against the background of brown and beige, the way the minotaur looms larger than life… I kind of want a print of this to hang on my wall.

The short stories in here were top-notch, and even the ones that didn’t resonate so well with me were still pretty enjoyable, and I couldn’t deny that their respective authors have a large helping of skill to their names. In particular, though, Cat Hellison’s Waking was a take on angels and family that got my attention pretty quickly, Mari Ness’s Undone was short and sweet and made me hungry for more stories in that world, and holy crap, I can’t give enough praise to Sunny Moraine’s To Increase His Wondrous Greatnesse More! I could probably dedicate an entire post to it, but I’ll leave it to a quote from the story to encapsulate why I loved it so much.

There is a point at which every victim tires of being so. There is a point at which every victim perceives the joys of being the villain.

If that doesn’t at least get you curious about the story, sorry, I can’t help you. :p

I really enjoyed reading K Tempest Bradford’s article, Invisible Bisexuality in Torchwood. Having heard so many good things about how sexuality was presented in Torchwood but having yet to watch it (or anything else related to Dr. Who), it was interesting to see a different perspective. The examples cited made me rather uncomfortable, made me look up some other opinions on the subject; forewarned is forearmed, so when I do finally watch it, I don’t think my expectations are going to be quite as high as they once were. As someone who doesn’t fit into either a heterosexual/homosexual category, it bothers me a lot when I find that other forms of sexuality are downplayed and illegitimized in media, and the sting is doubly harsh when something was once so praised as breaking molds and presenting viewpoints that straddled lines and skirted boundaries.

The interviews in the magazine, sadly, were rather lost on me. It was interesting to see a little bit about the cover artist’s procedures, but interviews with people I haven’t encountered before don’t do much for me. They weren’t bad or inappropriate or anything. Just something that I’m not in much of a position to appreciate fully.

But whether or not I could appreciate certain aspects of the magazine did nothing to lessen my enjoyment of reading it, and I’m glad that I have April’s issue sitting on my Kindle, no delays between moving from one issue to the next, and I can already tell that this is going to be a magazine I’ll be excited about each month. I’ll withhold judgment about whether it was worth the money I paid on my subscription; I strongly suspect it is, but making that judgment after only one recent issue is premature.

(This issue received complimentary from the publisher as part of Operation Fourth Story. I did not pay money for it. Each issue I review after this, though, I did pay for and this disclaimer won’t be seen again.)

Apex Magazine’s “Operation: Fourth Story”

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably read at least one issue of Apex Magazine at some point in your life. A random pickup in the magazine section of a bookstore, borrowed from an SFF-loving friend… And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably also enjoyed what you’ve read in the magazine, too.

Which is why I’m thrilled to be a part of promoting Apex’s “Operation: Fourth Story.” Allow Lesley Conner, the marketing leader for Apex, to talk a little bit about the idea behind it.

Every month we’re gaining new subscribers and our web readership is at record levels. On top of that, we are receiving more submissions now than ever before. With that in mind, we’re getting ready to launch Operation Fourth Story, with the goal of getting enough new subscribers to add a fourth original short story to every issue of Apex Magazine. We want to continue to build our readership and be able to publish more of the amazing stories that are submitted to us every month.

Coming out on the first Tuesday of every month, Apex Magazine strives to bring its readers science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories that blend genre and are full of marrow and passion, stories that are twisted, strange, and beautiful. Each issue contains two or three original short stories, a reprint, a nonfiction article, and an interview with one of our authors. In the past, we have published such authors as Catherynne M. Valente, Kat Howard, Lavie Tidhar, Ken Liu, and Mary Robinette Kowal, plus many more.

During Operation Fourth Story, which will run from April 3rd to April 17th, subscribers will be able to get a 12-month subscription for only $17.95 direct from Apex or through Weightless books. We’ll also be offering a free Apex eBook to anyone who subscribes through Amazon, Weightless, or direct through Apex, and, if we reach our goal of 250 new subscribers, will randomly select one person to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

The regular price for a yearly subscription is $19.95, so a saving of $2 may not seem like a heck of a lot on the surface. But consider that the price per issue, if you bought each issue on its own, is $2.99. The new limited time price means you’re getting each issue for $1.49. So, half price. And the increased subscriptions will mean that Operation: Fourth Story suceeds, and the magazine will provide even more awesome content!

I don’t know about you, but I’m now a subscriber!

So how else am I going to do my part for Operation: Fourth Story? Well, tomorrow I’ll be reviewing March’s issue of Apex Magazine, and on Friday I’ll be reviewing April’s, the most current issue, so that anyone who hasn’t taken a look at it before can get a taste for some of what the magazine has to offer.

So what are you waiting for? Head on down to the Apex Store and subscribe! (Keep in mind, it’ll say that the price is still $19.95, but it changes when you go to check out.)

(And before someone suggests it, I receive no kickbacks or anything of the sort if I get people to subscribe to Apex Magazine. I just think it’s a pretty good deal and I like the idea of Operation: Fourth Story.)

First Impressions: You Only Get One

Ever pick up a book by an author whose work you hear praised to the high hills, only to be disappointed in the end because what you’re reading just doesn’t live up to the hype? Wonder what you’re missing? Wonder what other people are seeing in this that just seems to be going over your head?

And how do you come back from that, anyway?

I’ve been thinking a lot about first impressions lately, since I started reading The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, volume 8, and came across a story by K J Parker, which I loved to death. Just as I did the last short story I read by Parker. Parker’s stuff seems to be awesome!

The disconnect comes for me when I remember that I read The Hammer a few years ago and was rather less than impressed by it.

There could be many reasons for this. Maybe that one book was just a poor introduction to Parker’s writing and their other books are considerably better. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace to enjoy that story at the time; I know my tastes and appreciation have changed as time has gone on. Maybe, as some people have said of Stephen King’s writing, Parker does better short stories than full novels. I honestly don’t know.

Something similar happened when I read Maria V Snyder’s Touch of Power. I haven’t read anything else by Snyder, before nor after, but I’ve heard her praised endlessly for smooth writing and engaging stories, and people who like her books tend to like them a lot. For my part, though, I found that she largely lacked any ability to do decent foreshadowing (characters had 1 of 2 reactions to the MC: they either liked her instantly and were good guys, or were mean to her or told a lie and thus were bad guys, completely without exception), and the writing seemed too simplistic at times to deal the weightier subjects spread throughout the novel. I couldn’t see what the appeal of her writing really was, no matter how highly others spoke of other books.

And that’s the problem, really. You only get one first impression. One chance to either hook a reader or lose them, maybe forever.

It isn’t fair. I know that a poor first impression could well be souring me away from books that I might love to death, if only I could get over the lingering feelings from the first read. Thankfully, where Parker is concerned, those 2 awesome short stories I’ve read have convinced me that it’s worth taking another chance (though when that chance will be taken is entirely unknown, seeing as how I’ve had a copy of Sharps around for who knows how long now…); the same can’t really be said for Snyder.

So even if first impressions are a once-off thing that can have huge and long-lasting effects, maybe they aren’t so eternal. The effects, I mean. A couple of good short stories have turned me around on one authors, so who’s to say the same approach couldn’t work for others. In my review of The Hammer, I mentioned that I didn’t care much for Parker’s writing style, when in the short stories I freaking love it. Maybe I just caught them on a bad book.

I can’t offer advice to writers on this. “Don’t ever write anything that isn’t awesome on all levels” is pretty crap advice, practically. There’s no way to ensure that a reader’s first introduction to your work is going to be a good one, the one that will hook them and have them lining up to buy others in the future. Or advice to readers: “Don’t read anything except what you already know you’re going to like.” (Which would likely result in people reading the way I did in years past, which was to essentially reread old favourites more than I read anything new.) It’s a bit of an intimidating notion, isn’t it, to think that at any point, someone is going to have a first introduction to you and that may affect how they view you from then on.

So, at the risk of rambling further, I’ll draw this down to a question: have you ever had any poor first impressions of an author or their work that has later been turned around? How was your opinion change? Do the lingering impression from that first time still colour your appreciation or lack thereof of anything else they’ve done? Let me know in the comments!

Spam Saturdays

Lately I’ve been getting some fantastic word-salad spam that makes me chuckle when I read it. Honestly, it’s one of the things I start looking forward to. “What awesome spam comments were tried yesterday?” I’ve been sharing choice bits of them on Facebook, but so that people who don’t follow my personal Facebook account can also get a kick out of them, I think I’ll start making it a weekly weekend feature here on the blog. Highlighting the giggle-worthy excerpts from spam comments.

Silly? Absolutely. But come on, we all need a chuckle in our lives now and again, right?

[...]Just wanted to say thanks for the shoes. Received them one day earlier then expected lice [...] Hope to do future business with you appear to beseashore crabs..

Lice and seashore crabs! Considering this seems to be a spam comment trying to direct me to a site to buy cheap knockoff-brand shoes, I don’t think talking about good shipping and unexpected parasites is the best selling point to go with…

Say yes to this remark and we’ll spare an made up critter!

Honestly, I’m considering letting this one through the spam filter because it’s hilarious in its own right!

Eat your rolled oats all day! porridge is one of your program. [...] This is how to rent you. Do not mechanical phenomenon thing on their tender.

…Please do not mechanical thing on my tender. I’ll pay you money to not do that.

You may desire degraded speech, but it reimbursement importantly writer so try meet victimisation classic transport to prevention money on facilitated conveyance, prefer capacity unit business enterprise is untold easier for hackers who predate on those purchases, you should countenance peachy

Honestly, what can you say to this? I think it’s telling me to avoid the bus because people don’t speak good English there, and there are hackers who can steal my groceries… But don’t quote me on that.

 

Lockstep, by Karl Schroeder

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 25, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.

Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millennia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.

Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.

Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep is a grand innovation in hard SF space opera.

Thoughts: Lockstep is a novel that’s hard to describe and thus hard to review. It ranges between exploring some incredible ideas and then drops back to characters revealing deep truths that readers had little to no way to see coming, to being rather blatant with moral messages (though not much time was spent moralizing, and most of that was to explain millenia-past events that set up the far-future universe that the book takes place in). But for its uneven pacing and revelations, I can’t deny that it’s a good novel that’s worth taking a look at.

The story centres around Toby, who, due to a mishap on a fairly routine voyage, ended up in stasis for far longer than intended, and wakes up to find out that not only have 14,000 years passed since he originally went missing, but that an entire civilization has sprung up around him, with him as a central figure in their mythology and religion. Toby is now living in the time of his own myths, and those he makes contact with who learn who he is have to learn to separate the myths from the man as they help him navigate through a drastically different world and time than he’s used to, while dodging Toby’s own family who control the lockstep empire and have no wish to see their lost younger brother bring it all down around their ears.

The very concept of lockstep worlds is fascinating. People on lockstep worlds spend most of their time in stasis, as Toby did when he slept for millenia, waking for short periods of time. As they sleep, robots gather resources and keep things running on a minimal level, and when they wake, people have abundant resources with which to improve their lives. Different worlds run on different schedules, some synching their waking periods with others. This makes interstellar travel much more attainable, since people can spend decades in stasis going from one world to the next, and wake up to find that little to no waking time has passed on either of their respective planets. While 14,000 years have passed in real-time, only about 40 years have passed for the people on worlds where they sleep for 30 years and wake for a month, thus making Toby’s siblings still alive when he is revived from his own sleep. It’s an amazing concept to explore the logistics of, and Schroeder seems to have done so without any logical holes to muck up the works.

What Lockstep works out to be is an exploration of man-made-myth, in both senses of that phrase: a man made into a myth, and the myths than humans make. While it’s hard sci-fi in many ways, for me the true potential shines in the anthropological and sociological elements of the story. Looking at the way myths manipulate people, the traps we fall into as a consequence, and what it all means for the societies that live by them. Lockstep is a novel that can work for people on multiple levels, depending on area of interest.

But as I said earlier, it does have its flaws. Especially toward the end, as Toby comes into greater contact with his family. In conversations, he reveals the motives behind the actions of his brother and sister flawlessly, and honestly, unless you’re sitting and overanalyzing every page, these revelations seem to come out of nowhere, and there was almost no sign of the deeper motivations. Things seem to be one way on the surface, and to all evidence, and then Toby comes along and say, “Ah, but actually that’s just misdirection and it’s all set up this way specifically to make me do the opposite of what you all think I was going to do when I woke up!” Toby seems to straddle the line of normal-but-confused teen and outright ridiculous savant at these times, showing depth and understanding he rarely demonstrates in other scenes, and it comes across as a subtle sort of info-dump, where the author wants the reader to know the finer details but couldn’t find another way to insert them into the story without making the book at least twice as long.

Still, it was an enjoyable read, and I loved the way it made me sit and think about the broader possibilities of the lockstep empire and what it meant for people. Definitely a book to keep on the shelves, and if this is a good sampling of Schroeder’s creativity, I think I need to check out more of what he’s written. Lockstep is full of the kind of meticulous detail and world-building that makes for an enduring story, and a fascinating look at our own far-future.

 (Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L Jensen

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – April 1, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

Thoughts: While I won’t deny that Stolen Songbird was a very entertaining read that takes the troll myth one step further than I originally expected (leading to some fascinating potential future outcomes for the series), I will be honest and say that there are some things in the book that made me quite uncomfortable. I will say that, for the most part, the book doesn’t exactly present these things as particularly positive, so it’s not like it’s a book that talks about how awesome it can be to be kidnapped and married off to some guy who doesn’t like you and be mentally violated. But the mental violation stuff turned out, in the end, to be one of those things that could all too easily be seen as, “I got raped, but then got together with the guy who did it, so it’s okay.” Not exactly how the book presented it, I’ll grant you, but given my discomfort at the forced mind-bonding, and then the way Cecile and Tristan end up falling for each other, in no small part because of said bonding, it came across as a touch squicky for me.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the novel. There were so many political layers developed, especially for a YA novel, where right and wrong weren’t so set in stone and there were a lot of factors to consider beyond, “Let’s free all the trolls” and “half-bloods should be equal to full-bloods.” Complex, like reality, and Jensen’s way of expressing how much things are multi-layered while still making it comprehensible to readers deserves some praise. Ditto her writing of scenes when Tristan, who is defying his father the King and working on behalf of the half-bloods to improve their lives, has to act disdainful of half-bloods and humans and just be a right royal dick about things.

I could write at length about that alone, in honesty. Thanks to the viewpoint of Cecile, who is linked to Tristan and thus senses his emotions, we get to see Tristan acting like a hard-nosed and disdainful person, but we also get glimpses into what he’s thinking and feeling about the things he says. And rarely does Cecile ever mention that he’s obviously lying or that he feels conflicted while he says those things, or some similar thing. In fact, to her it often appears as though he completely means what he says. On the surface, this could appear as a sloppy oversight on the author’s part, ignoring the mental link until it’s convenient to have it appear at a later scene. For my part, Jensen’s writing and having so much between the lines convinced me as the book went on that this was less a case of sloppy writing and more a case of Tristan wrapping himself so well in his role as the spoiled better-than-thou prince that in that person, he almost believed the things he was saying himself. Quite befitting of a prince who has secrets, and fitting well with the rest of the story, in which layers of meaning and misdirection feature heavily.

I may go on at length about this in another post, even. There’s quite a lot worth saying.

Jensen does well at setting up a larger world, of which the reader only sees glimpses. It makes the story feel larger than it is, like there’s a world outside Cecile’s home village and her later home of Trollus under he mountain, and though none of the story takes place in another location, it very much feels like it’s one small part of a complete world, with people and places and cultures that exist but we’re not getting to see. I like it when it’s obvious that the author has done world-building beyond merely what’s shown and explicitly stated, because it makes me want to read more of the series, to explore more of the world. And it’s not often done, at least not so well.

Add that to the strong hints that trolls are not what people think them to be, and you’ve got a story that’s sure to garner interest. I won’t say much on that subject here, because half the fun is in figuring it out for oneself, but let’s just say that it gets pretty obvious by the end, as to what trolls really are (at least a close comparison by our own real-world mythology), and that adds another layer of intrigue that practically has me chomping at the bit to read more and uncover the greater truth!

Overall, in spite of some content that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, I very much enjoyed reading Stolen Songbird and following the events surrounding Cecile and Tristan. The alternating back-and-forth perspective served well to illustrate both sides of the situation, and Jensen’s engaging and fluid writing style pulled me along effortlessly. There was more than enough to make me want to revisit the series again later, and I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series. Very well done, and an excellent addition to the YA shelves!

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

March in Retrospect

Hard to believe that March has slipped by and it’s April already. Of course, to look out my window, I wouldn’t exactly know it. I know that I live in Canada and that snow is to be expected and that winter lasts for longer here than it does in areas south of me, but within the space of a week we’ve been hit with a blizzard, then 2 days of icy rain, which is supposed to be sollowed up with more horrible wet stuff falling from the sky later this week. Add that to the early giant snowstorm we got at the beginning of winter which was very quickly followed by an ice storm that kept snowbanks 3 feet high or more in places for well over a month…

Yeah, I’m tired of winter. I can haz green grass nao?

But enough of that! It’s time to take a look into what happened here this past month! Let’s break it down!

Reviews

Blades of the Old Empire, by Anna Kashina
The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare, by M G Buehrlen
The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch
John Golden: Freelance Debugger, by Django Wexler
Giant Thief, by David Tallerman
Sunrise, by Mike Mullin
Last God Standing, by Michael Boatman
Expiration Day, by William Campbell Powell

Guest posts

M G Buehrlen dropped by to talk about where and when she’d time travel, given the option.

Other Stuff

Like the month before, I held a giveaway for one of my handmade bookmarks, which seemed to generate a fair bit of interest. (They are available to purchase on the Riality Studios Etsy store, too.)
I took a look at some of the books that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on in my On The Watchlist post.
I got to spread the word about the release of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morri’s’s Dawn’s Early Light, the latest book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.
I talked a bit about gateway books into SFF, the book or books that got you hooked on the genre and eager for more, and talked about what my gateway book was.

Upcoming

As usual, I’m planning for 8 book reviews this month. I’m also fortunate to be able to review 2 issues of Apex Magazine, which I’m not counting toward the book reviews because magazines are a different thing altogether. There will be at least 1 guest post, and another bookmark giveaway. I will probably also talk again about upcoming books that I’m lusting after. That’s all I have scheduled so far, so no doubt there’ll end up being more to keep you all coming back!

How was your March? Read any good books I should know about? (And are you free from winter’s icy grip, so that I can come visit? :p)