The Self-Published Blogger-Challenge

Author Mark Lawrence has come up with a brilliant idea for self-published authors.

I realise that [self-promotion] is a lot easier once you’re ‘off the ground’ and that as a new author, particularly a self-published one, it is desperately hard to be heard. It’s a signal-to-noise problem. Who knows how many Name of the Winds or [fill in your favourite] are lost to us because they just couldn’t be seen? None? A hundred?

The idea is that a team of bloggers volunteers their time to become temporary pseudo-agents for self-published fantasy authors. They receive a batch of submitted novels and go through them to see which ones they would put forward for publication, if the choice was down to them.

As agents the bloggers will look at the submissions before them. Many they may abandon on the first page as rubbish. Many others may be set aside after a chapter or two. A small subset, perhaps 1 or 3 or 5 will be read all the way through.

They pick the best of the batch and review it (and are free to review any others they receive along the way), and then the best-of-batch novels are passed around to all bloggers on the team. They all read the chosen best and assign a score, and the highest score receives the honour of being, well, the best book out of a batch of 250. And gets to be reviewed by 10 bloggers, which is honestly pretty good publicity for self-pubbed novels, since many languish unseen and unread. Most book bloggers, unless they make a specific point of reviewing self-published novels, tend not to accept and review them.

There’s an idea that self-published novels have lower quality than novels published in a more traditional way. Fewer hurdles to leap over, and so fewer chances that someone will say, “Turn back, because this just isn’t good enough.” And to be honest, there are a lot of self-published novels out there that aren’t that great, that probably should have seen more time with an editor, that, in my opinion, aren’t good enough to be considered.

Then again, I can say the same thing of some novels that have been picked up by traditional publishers. And I know that there are some real gems out there, novels that were self-published for any one of a dozen or more reasons, and being self-published isn’t an indicator of their quality. But they do get tarred with that “lower quality” brush right off the bat a lot of the time.

Anyway, I submitted my name for consideration on the blogger team, and by some stroke of luck, I was considered “highly-respected” and “well-established” enough to get a spot, for which I’m both amazed and thrilled! Especially considering some of the others on the team, who are way more established and well-known than I think I am, so I’m taking this as quite an honour.

So soon it’ll be my chance to get my hands on 25 self-published books for me to consider promoting. And Mark Lawrence is right; undoubtedly there’ll be some that fall flat with me after a few pages. Some won’t be able to keep my attention after a few chapters. They won’t make it past the first round, and unless I finish a book, I don’t review it, so those books won’t even get publicity from me. It’s a crapshoot these authors are taking, and there are no guarantees. Out of 250 books, a guaranteed 10 will get reviews, which is 4% of the batch. There’s a 96% chance that any submissions won’t make it to the final round. Anything I finish I will review, regardless of whether I choose it to go on to the final judging, so there’s more than just a 4% chance of some publicity, but the odds are still long.

And less than half a percent chance of being chosen as the ultimate final winner.

But I don’t want that to be discouraging, because there’s still a chance, and this is an opportunity for potential publicity that many authors might not typically get. Imagine being chosen to be in that final batch of 10. Imagine knowing that you’re going to get a review on 10 blogs that have thousands of hits each month, that thousands of people will hear good things about your novel and why they should go buy it right now. And knowing that all you have to do is send an email, and then sit back while we do the rest.

I’m really excited about this. I’m always on the lookout for new good books, and I love being able to tell people about the things I love and why I think others should love it too. I love knowing that not only might I be able to help people become aware of some awesome novels they may not otherwise discover, but that I might be able to help an author who has put in a load of effort for their work and may only be lacking the publicity before their novel takes off and soars. I love knowing that this will enable me to find new authors to follow and new books to read and that I’m in some damn good company while I do it.

There’s still time to submit your novel, by the way, if you’re a self-published author reading this post. Hop on over to Mark Lawrence’s blog and send him an email and we’ll see what we can do for you. Best of luck to everyone!

GIVEAWAY: Inside a Silver Box, by Walter Mosley

Today, I’m pleased to announce a new giveaway for Walter Mosley’s new sci-fi novel, Inside a Silver Box.

Walter Mosley’s talent knows no bounds. Inside a Silver Box continues to explore the cosmic questions entertainingly discussed in his Crosstown to Oblivion. From life’s meaning to the nature of good and evil, Mosley takes readers on a speculative journey beyond reality.

In Inside a Silver Box, two people brought together by a horrific act are united in a common cause by the powers of the Silver Box. The two join to protect humanity from destruction by an alien race, the Laz, hell-bent on regaining control over the Silver Box, the most destructive and powerful tool in the universe. The Silver Box will stop at nothing to prevent its former master from returning to being, even if it means finishing the earth itself.

 

 

Interested? Well, you have a chance to win 1 of 2 copies of the book, generously offered by Tor Books! Can’t get much better than that!

Rules
~ US addresses only; no PO boxes
~ Contest closes at 11:59 PM, PST, on Sunday March 15th
~ The winner will be drawn on Monday
~ Address will be forwarded to the publisher for shipping purposes and not kept by me.
~ Click on this Rafflecopter link to enter

Sorry I can’t put the Rafflecopter widget right on this page, but WordPress doesn’t like to play nice with Rafflecopter, so a clicky-link it is!

Grimm Mistresses, edited by Amanda Shore

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Editor’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 21, 2015

Summary: REMEMBER THOSE GRIMM BROTHERS? Dark fairy tales that made you leave the light on long before Disney sanitized them? Well, we certainly do! And now the MISTRESSES GRIMM take back the night, five female authors who will leave you shuddering deliciously. Get ready to leave the lights on again with five pieces of short fiction bringing the Grimm Brothers’ tales into the present. Be advised: these aren’t your children’s fairy tales!

Thoughts: Over the years I’ve discovered, bit by bit, that I have a weakness for fairy tale retellings, preferably with a dark element or an unusual twist. So when I was offered a copy of Grimm Mistresses, an anthology of fairy tale horror written by a collection of talented women, I couldn’t say no. It provided me some good and disturbing entertainment during a long bus ride across provinces.

As is true in just about every short story collection, not always stories are equal. Some are better than others. Fortunately all the stories in here are good, and they work well to chill you and make you feel a little bit sickened, bringing forth that perfect horror feeling from the pit of your stomach. Though a warning to those who haven’t read this: let’s just say I agree with Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn when he says that the wrong anthology got named Trigger Warning.

Little Dead Red – Mercedes M Yardley starts off the collection with a take on Little Red Riding Hood, told from the perspective of a troubled mother raising a daughter alone after her ex-husband was revealed to be abusive and thrown in jail. The disappearance and death of her daughter tips her over the ends into a desperate madness fuelled by grief and vengeance, and she does the unthinkable while searching for “the Wolf,” the despicable man who hurt and killed her only child. It’s disturbing, powerfully so, and doesn’t flinch away from some very brutal aspects of reality. While this adds to the story’s strength, it also pegs it as one of the hardest stories to read in the entire collection, and it’s thrown at you right off the bat, no time to adjust to the dark tone. You open the book and BAM, a story about rape and death and wolves in sheep’s clothing and I won’t lie, I actually shed some tears over this one because it was just such a visceral hit. (And I probably would have shed more had I not been on a bus surrounded by strangers whom I did not want to see me cry.)

Nectar – I’m going to be honest. I have no idea which fairy tale Allison M Dickson’s story was based on. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, though it probably was one of the weaker stories in the bunch. Largely due to the unsatisfying and quite inexplicable ending. The story starts off with 2 men going on a blind date with 2 gorgeous women, who kidnap them and reveal that they are people from a far-future earth that, for some reason, can only allow women to survive. Seriously. Something in the atmosphere makes men revert to a primal brutal animal state and they don'[t survive long. You see this quite disturbingly when 1 of the men goes into a rage and kills himself by smashing his own face in. The other man, our main character, doesn’t really seem affected by the atmosphere for reasons that are never actually explained. He also shares a bond with the woman he slept with after the blind date, who was ostensibly there to kidnap him and get sperm so that she and other women could get pregnant and continue their race. She apparently feels the same way toward him, since the story ends up her freeing him and stealing a spaceship and them running off together with their newborn son. Not exactly love at first sight, but something akin to it, since she was willing to leave her wife and her entire world behind for a guy she slept with once and bonded with because reasons. The setup was interesting, the premise could have yielded so much, but honestly, so much about the conclusion seems random and doesn’t get explained. It takes a lot of suspension of disbelief, and that rather spoiled it for me.

The Leopard’s Pelt – S R Cambridge’s story was probably my favourite of them all! It starts with a WWII soldier being stranded on a desert island, coming across a telepathic leopard (who may well be a demon) making a deal with him when he gets desperate. Kill her, wear her pelt and don’t wash or tell anyone his name and he can only live by the charity of others, in exchange for getting off the island. If he can’t follow through on this deal, she gets to claim his soul. He accepts. And ends up meeting a volunteer at a hospital, a woman who wants to become a doctor (which, in the 1940s, is impressive and I applauded her on determination alone). They bond, though he runs from her when she gets too close, fearful that their connection will force him into a situation where he’ll lose his soul, intentionally or inadvertently. This is another story where I’m unsure of the source material, the original idea this was a new spin on, but honestly, it didn’t matter. It was so stylishly written, so wonderfully told that it didn’t matter whether I was reading a fairy tale retelling or not. All that mattered was an amazing story told by a very skilled writer!

Hazing Cinderella – This story by C W LaSart made me feel a bit uncomfortable, largely due to the abundance of sexuality in the text. It centres around a duo of mother-daughter… succubi? Witches? A combination of both? They obtain life and youth by draining it from men during sex, which is what leads me to think succubi, but they’re not referred to as such in the text, so I’m not entirely sure. Either way. Most of the story takes place around the daughter, taking over-the-top revenge against her stepsister and her friends, who want to frighten and humiliate her. She responds by killing them. It’s not presented as justified. Merely expedient, cruel people being cruel on both sides of the coin. It’s visually quite impressive, but not a particularly strong story, and it largely stands out from the others due to the sex and gore.

The Night Air – Stacy Turner’s story is probably my second-favourite in the collection, tied with Yardley’s contribution, so this book banked on both sides by quality. (With a second slice of quality smack-bang in the middle. I think that makes it some sort of double-decker quality book-sandwich.) This is a retelling of the Pied Piper story, taking place around a family who has just moved to a small town. There’s some odd behaviour by the locals, which they pass off at first as just small-town mentality coming to light, but it turns out that the “old wives tales” have some merit after 2 of the children vanish into the night, never to be seen again. I admit, part of the reveal at the end stretched coincidence a bit for me, but otherwise this was a solid story, emotional and impressive, and I would definitely read more of Turner’s work in the future.

So over all, this double-decker is worth reading, though it’s definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of book. There’s some very disturbing material contained within its pages, but then, that’s entirely the point. Fairy tales were cautionary tales wrapped in entertainment long before they were sanitized “happily ever after” tales that most of us have grown up with, and this brings them back to form with a host of talented women at the wheel. If horror is your thing, then definitely grab a copy of Grimm Mistresses while you can, and be prepared to feel some gut-shaking spine-tingling horror while you read.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

February in Retrospect

It’s over! Honestly, I don’t think I can properly express just how much this past month sucked. The hectic schedule of moving, plus me making 2 separate trips back to Saint John to finish things up at the old apartment and bring back the little things that we didn’t have time to pack on such short notice last time. I spent about half the month away from the new home I’m supposed to be settling into, and away from all my beloved pets. It was lonely.

Then factor in the fact that we got more snow this past month than we had during the entire rest of the winter. Snowbanks are still as high as my head in places. Some of those storms delayed travel to or from here, for either me or my roommate during the attempt to, oh, write important licensing exams. The Confederation Bridge, the only road into and out of this island, was closed to all traffic 3 times this month, which is more than a 50% increase in such closures since the bridge opened almost 20 years ago!

SAM_1507

(I swear there’s a deck under all that snow…)

Yeah. February definitely sucked. But now it’s over, and March can be a proper new beginning.

Reviews

The Fire Sermon, by Francesca Haig
The Janus Affair, by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
Deadeye, by William C Dietz
Gemsigns, by Stephanie Saulter
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

5 books reviewed (which matched my goal) and 8 read (which surpassed my goal by 1). Not too bad for a month in which I felt rushed off my feet with a zillion and one things to do!

Excerpts

Evensong, by John Love (chapters 1-2)
King of the Cracksmen, by Dennis O’Flaherty (chapter 1)

Other Stuff

I wrote a personal post about some of the reasons I was excited to be moving, in part to get away from some of the memories and baggage I’d accumulated over the years.

I shed the spotlight on a new anthology from Angelic Knight Press, Grimm Mistresses.

Upcoming

Now that I’m not going to be spending so much time traveling and dealing with shoving things into numerous boxes, I’m going to be able to get happily back into more reading and blogging. So I’m going to aim for the usual 8 books read and 8 reviewed. I’m hoping to arrange a couple of guest posts this coming month, too, and I know I’m going to be over on SF Signal a time or two again, so keep an eye out for me there too. Now that I’ll have more time again, too, I’m going to get back into more creative and artistic endeavours, so stay tuned for another bookmark giveaway!

In other words, March is going to have plenty of fun, even if it kills me to see it done!

So how was your February? Did you get buried in as much snow as I did? Or are you one of those lucky people who can’t currently build a small community of igloos in their back yard at the moment?

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

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

Summary: The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

Thoughts: Wow. Sometimes when you finish a book, all you can do is step back and say, “Wow.” That was my reaction upon finishing The Goblin Emperor. The sheer amount of detail presented to you in this story, the glorious worldbuilding that makes everything feel so very real. It’s not always easy to keep track of, since you’re being thrown into a culture that works quite differently from, well, anything I’ve experienced, at the very least.

This is part of what makes Maia such a good character to sit on the shoulders of. He’s something of a blank slate character, kept at just the right amount of ignorance through his life that when the horrific happens and his father dies and he is catapulted onto the throne of an empire without any training or even so much as a moment’s notice. It’s this state that allows the intricacies of court life and ruling to be unveiled, both to Maia and the reader, without convoluted infodumps or endless, “As you know, Emperor Maia…”

But not all of it gets explained so clearly. Anything to do with titles of address get thrown out in narration and speech perfectly naturally, and while you can untangle them in the end, for a little while you’re drowning in dach’osmers and osmerrems and mins and trying to figure out who’s who and what means what. Times like this make me glad that I’ve got a bit of a knack for picking up other languages, because exposure to common use helped me more than a glossary at the back of the book. (Though for those who are daunted by certain translations and proper titles, there is, thankfully, just such a glossary.) What I wouldn’t give for 10 minutes to sit down with Addison and pick her brain about the eye for detail she has when it comes to linguistics!

I have to admit, though, that I have real pity for whoever did the audiobook edition to The Goblin Emperor, because some of those character and place names were a mental mouthful, let alone a physical one! It took a bit of stumbling before my mindvoice got comfortable with some of them while I was reading. (Again, there’s a hand pronunciation guide at the back of the book for those who are having trouble and want to take the easy way out instead of stumbling around like I did!)

The Goblin Emperor can feel like a bit of a slog sometimes. More than once I lost track of the overarching plot by getting bogged down in the minutiae of Maia’s newfound imperial life, and while I loved the utter immersion in the world, it was a little bit jarring to occasionally be reminded of right, right, the whole “someone murdered the previous emperor” bit. As a presentation of realism, this gets some bonus points, because Maia had far more on his plate than just one agenda, however important that agenda may have been. As compelling reading, however, I’d say it detracts from the novel, because unless you’re a major culture geek like me or you have a great deal of patience of slow-moving but intricate plots, you’re probably going to find yourself bored and wondering what the point of this whole novel is.

For all that it’s slow, though, it does stand out in many other areas that might endear it to readers. First off, the fact that it’s a world without humans, or at least none of the characters are human. Most are elves, though there are also goblins, and elf/goblin mixes like Maia himself. I won’t say that this removes any issues of racism, because it really doesn’t, but it does mean that the racism you’re seeing isn’t a tired old cliché. (Admittedly, light-skinned elves looking down on dark-skinned goblins does skirt some borders pretty closely.) Maia may be the emperor, but he faces that racism every day, knowing that people close to him in court dislike him solely because he’s part goblin. The setting is definitely not your typical medieval European fantasy setting, either, thought I’d be hard-pressed to narrow it down to one particular area of our world and history that it’s most like. I did see what looked like some east Asian influences, but beyond that I can’t say for sure. It may not break all the stereotypes, but it bucks enough trends to really make it stand out, especially for anyone who’s looking for something a little bit different, a little bit beyond your classic traditional fantasy fare.

But if slow builds are what you’re seeking, and you’re craving something that has phenomenal worldbuilding and amazing attention to detail, then absolutely take the time to sink into The Goblin Emperor like it’s a warm bath. It’s a beautiful novel, intricate and wonderful, and my only regret is that there’s not going to be any sequel, because I would love visiting this world again. It’s one that you only get to see a very narrow sliver of, but it’s got the potential for so many stories, so much diversity, and I hope that Addison at least writes other stories set in the world because I will devour them in a heartbeat!

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Gemsigns, by Stephanie Saulter

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 6, 2014

Summary: Humanity stands on the brink. Again.

Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically modifying almost every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic.

After a century of servitude, freedom has come at last for the gems, and not everyone’s happy about it. The gemtechs want to turn them back into property. The godgangs want them dead. The norm majority is scared and suspicious, and doesn’t know what it wants.

Eli Walker is the scientist charged with deciding whether gems are truly human, and as extremists on both sides raise the stakes, the conflict descends into violence. He’s running out of time, and with advanced prototypes on the loose, not everyone is who or what they seem. Torn between the intrigues of ruthless executive Zavcka Klist and brilliant, badly deformed gem leader Aryel Morningstar, Eli finds himself searching for a truth that might stop a war.

Thoughts: I first heard about this book thanks to Bookworm Blues, and the high praise Sarah gave it surprised me. Sure, it sounded like an interesting enough novel, but Sarah has exacting standards and isn’t easily impressed. Could Gemsigns really be as great as she said it was?

The answer is yes. Yes it could. And then some!

Gemsigns is a novel akin to Daryl Gregory’s Afterpary or Ramez Naam’s Nexus. Utterly fantastic, sucking you in from the get-go and not letting you go even once the story’s over and there’s no more of the book to read. The world is so beautifully constructed, so fantastically real, that you swear you yourself could be living in it right now because all the little details are right there to make it all come to life in such vivid and evocative ways.

In the future, humanity has made a comeback from a crippling neurological condition caused by overexposure to so much of the technology that we take for granted today. Medical science finally found a treatment for this, using gene therapy to alter humanity just enough so that we became immune to the Syndrome. Those already affected by it stood no chance, but the next generation could live on, and the one after that, and so on. But we didn’t stop there. Once better able to alter our genetics before birth, why not eliminate chances of birth defects and genetic disease, making a stronger, better human race? And while we’re on the subject, why not create a whole new race of people, genetically modified to do whatever we want, be they people who regenerate organs so they can constantly be cut into and used for transplants, or people with enhanced strength for heavy lifting, or people with gills so they can work underwater for extended periods of time? And why bother giving them rights; after all, they’re just fleshy machines, really, created with a work purpose and will never really interact with normal human society.

This is the premise behind Gemsigns. Genetically modified humans, commonly called gems, have been freed from essential slavery at the hands of the corporations that created them, and now they have the daunting task of trying to make a life for themselves in a world that doesn’t really accept them. Even if it wasn’t for social prejudice, though, the gemtechs want their property back, want to allow gems freedom only at a cost that benefits the company. Godgangs, groups of religious zealots who believe that gems are an abomination and an affront to God and mankind, want to kill them all. And much of the outcome hinges on the results of an upcoming conference put together to settle the issue for good: can even gems be considered human?

There’s so much in the way of social and political commentary in this book that it’s hard to know where to start. Take any typical argument you might hear about racism, disability, or class prejudice and you’re going to find it in Gemsigns. Whether or not certain people are deserving of rights, whether it’s better to pass as “normal” or to be unabashedly yourself, equality versus equanimity, you name it. It’s all here, and it’s all presented in a way that doesn’t negate any of the complexities of the issues involved, but neither is it so complex as to be hard to understand for those who may not be well-versed in social issues. It’s all wonderfully accessible!

And also demonstrates that humanity can nearly be crushed under its own weight and come out the other side with even greater technological advances and yet still we’ll be arguing the same arguments, just about different people. But for all that’s a very sad notion, Gemsigns gives us hope that even though the future will still hold idiots bent on not learning anything, there are also countless people willing to learn and grow and help those in need and to strive for a better and more level playing field for all. It may seem trite, but that’s a powerful message, and one I sometimes think we all need to see more of.

Saulter’s flawless writing makes a great story into a brilliant one, and even the moments where infodumping happens, it happens in a way that’s still fascinating and doesn’t detract from the reading experience. The worldbuilding is exquisite, the characters are real and flawed and you can’t help but be interested in them, even when you may not necessarily like them. From Eli Walker’s determination to stay honest to Zavcka Klist’s ruthless pursuit of her company’s assets to Aryel Morningstar’s mysterious nature and her charismatic approach to people… It’s a beautiful cast of characters that drive the story onward. The whole thing is character-driven, rather than letting swift action fill the pages. Tension comes from wondering what the outcome of the conference will be, who will the Godgangs kill? Any sense of more physical action comes right at the end, with a series of amazing plot revelations that just floored me, which is especially impressive considering how blown away I was by the book in general.

What it comes down to is this: if you want complex social sci-fi that deals with powerful issues in a way that both entertains and educates, then read Gemsigns. If you want a superbly written future, read Gemsigns. If you want to be deeply impressed by somebody’s debut novel, to the point where you’d swear that this sort of polished refined prose couldn’t possibly be someone’s debut, then read Gemsigns. It’s more of an experience than just a mere story, a new world rather than a mere novel. It’s very possibly one of the best things I’m going to read this year. Social sci-fi just doesn’t get any better than this!

Deadeye, by William C Dietz

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 27, 2015

Summary: In the year 2038, an act of bioengineered terrorism decimated humanity. Those who survived were either completely unaffected or developed horrible mutations. Across the globe, nations are now divided between areas populated by “norms” and lands run by “mutants”…

Detective Cassandra Lee of Los Angeles’s Special Investigative Section has built a fierce reputation taking down some of the city’s most notorious criminals. But the serial cop killer known as Bonebreaker—who murdered Lee’s father—is still at large. Officially, she’s too personally involved to work on the Bonebreaker case. Unofficially, she’s going to hunt him to the ends of the earth.

In the meantime, duty calls when the daughter of Bishop Screed, head of the Church of Human Purity, is kidnapped by mutants and taken into the red zone to be used for breeding. Assigned to rescue her, Lee must trust her new partner—mutant lawman Deputy Ras Omo—to guide her not only through the unfamiliar territory but through the prejudicial divisions between mutants and norms…

Thoughts: Deadeye paints an image of near-future America, devastated by disease but doing its best to recover and get on with life. The disease, a bacterial infection, has left most of the infected as mutants, people with disfigurements and who are ostracized from society due to the possibility of passing the contagion to “norms.” Cassandra Lee escaped infection, is still “normal,” and works with law enforcement to make life safer for everyone.

Deadeye isn’t exactly a comfortable read at points, in no small part because of the prejudice between “muties” and “norms.” Mutants are actively discriminated against. They’re segregated from the rest of society, forced to live in “red zones” where the risk of contagion is higher, given little to no real support from the government, and even those in charge seem to just want to sweep them under the rug and not have to deal with them. Most of the animosity seems to stem less from fear of contagion and more disgust with the fact that they have disfigurements and people consider them ugly. Which got me wondering what kind of privileged life all these characters must have led, to have never seen a person with deformities from injury or genetic issue. That aspect of Dietz’s near-future world-building sat badly with me, to be honest, because it seemed to say that only people who contracted the disease look like that, and everyone else is has a perfect unblemished body. Especially given that some of the deformities listed are things like withered limbs or unhealing abscesses, rather than horns of pointy ears (though they’re present too).

I do have to commend Dietz for taking the idea of a new disease in the near-future that doesn’t create an army of zombies, because honestly, that idea’s been done to the point where it long since ceased even being stale. Having zombies as the outcome of emerging diseases seems to be weirdly in vogue, and as someone who vehemently dislikes zombies, I like seeing that concept go in a different direction. So while I imagine some people of similar mind might be put off by the description of this book, thinking that “mutants” is just going to be another word for the walking dead, I can assure you that it isn’t the case.

The ground is a little shaky when it comes to the science behind Dietz’s infection, however. Bacterial infections can cause disfigurements, but the kind of mutations you see in the book seem more likely to be caused by a virus meddling around with DNA, especially when you consider things like horns or elven ears. Also, it was stated that neither a cure nor a treatment has been found, because it keeps mutating and changing so quickly, and medical science can’t keep up with it. However, there seems to be no mention of people contracting it twice, which is what would happen if it kept mutating to a different strain. That’s why people get the flu multiple times in their lives. Influenza mutates quickly enough that the strain one year isn’t the same as the one next year. If it was mutating too quickly to formulate a vaccine, or even figure out which antibiotics might treat it, then people would run the risk of being infected multiple times, which doesn’t seem to be an issue since it never gets a mention.

Also, only mutants can be carriers or the disease, for some unexplained reason. This is part of the reason they’re segregated in the red zones. But the reason for this isn’t clear either, since it’s stated that people can survive infection without mutation, though it’s rarer. But logically, any human who survived infection could also be a carrier. It just seemed to be another piece of stigma attached to mutants, though this one can’t really be explained away by people being stupid and bigoted. Perhaps this is just so rare that it hasn’t happened yet, and this will be addressed in a future novel in the series; I don’t really know.

Dietz’s writing is decent, if a touch unpolished. In particular, what struck me was his tendency to explain acronyms with their full meaning in parentheses… in the middle of speech. Unless whoever was talking was doing the explaining (in which case, different punctuation than parentheses should have been used), that’s not the time to put aside the helpful little note for the reader’s sake. But for the most part, it’s okay. Very action-oriented, so if you’re looking for something that’s heavy on car chases and shootouts, then definitely take a look into Deadeye.

I think most of my apathy about this book is that unfortunately it just wasn’t too my taste. So while I didn’t think too highly of it, I think it’s quite likely that others, particularly those who tend to prefer police procedurals, will like it far more. The flaws I found may seem quite large partly because I didn’t find much to counter it, but even with that in mind I can’t say that it was a bad book. Just not one that I really enjoyed much. But I can say with certainty that there are those to whom this book will be quite appealing: as I said, those who like police procedurals, those who like their near-future fiction to be gritty and filled with action, those who are looking for a fast-paced ride through a grim and disturbing urban fantasy future that’s still in flux, then for you, it may well be worth checking out Deadeye when you get the chance. There’s enough mystery and suspense to keep the story going, and enough plot threads leading to the horizon to bring those readers back to the series for more.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Grimm Mistresses

Today I get the honour of shining the spotlight on an amazing-looking anthology that’s just been released, Grimm Mistresses, published by Ragnarok Publications/Angelic Knight Press.

Remember the Grimm Brothers? Those dark fairy tales that made you leave the light on long before Disney went and sanitized them? Well, we do! Now the MISTRESSES GRIMM take back the night, five female authors who will leave you shuddering deliciously. Get ready to leave the lights on again with five pieces of short fiction bringing the Grimm Brother’s tales into the present. Be advised: these aren’t your children’s fairy tales!

 

CONTENTS
“The Night Air” by Stacey Turner
“Little Dead Red” by Mercedes M. Yardley
“Nectar” by Allison M. Dickson
“Hazing Cinderella” by C.W. LaSart
“The Leopard’s Pelt” by S.R. Cambridge

 

 

Seriously, people, does this anthology not look fantastic? There are some good names here, and really, I’m always up for some dark fairy tale retellings! Consider my interest piqued!

The Janus Affair, by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Pip Ballantine’s website | Tee Morris’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 29, 2012

Summary: Certainly no strangers to peculiar occurrences, agents Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are nonetheless stunned to observe a fellow passenger aboard Britain’s latest hypersteam train suddenly vanish in a dazzling bolt of lightning. They soon discover this is not the only such disappearance – every case inexplicably unexamined by the Crown.

Thoughts: After enjoying the high-action steampunk adventures of Books and Braun in Phoenix Rising, I figured it was about time to return and continue following along with the escapades of this dynamic duo. This time, however, they’re unofficially investigating the disappearances of women involved in the suffragist movement, women campaigning for voting rights and equality. (It scares me a little to discover, upon doing research on the movement, that women in Canada have had this right for less than a century. Which means that there are people alive today who were born before women had the right to vote in this country. And that saddens me.)

Ahem, that little interlude aside…

Eliza Braun has a personal connection to the suffragist movement and the disappearances occurring within its membership, but even if she didn’t, she’s the sort to follow that lead anyway. She’s not the type to see a mystery and just say, “Well, somebody else will take care of it.” I love that about her. She sees problems and starts working on the solutions. She’s a fantastic character to read about, strong-willed and feisty, always on the go, sure of herself even when others seem bent on forcing her into a mold for which she isn’t suited.

Wellington Books, on the other hand, is a character I love to follow because he’s studious and composed and yet there’s so much more to him than meets the eye. He’s the kind of person I’d have wanted to be when I grew up, had I read these books years and years ago. And put together with Eliza, they make such a great team with a great mix of personalities that you can’t help but want to read more about them. I adore the way they play off each other.

Plot-wise, there’s a lot going on here. While Books and Braun are investigating the disappearances of suffragists (off the record, of course, because they’ve been specifically told not to investigate at all), we also get insight into Eliza’s past and her romantic life, a conspiracy within the Ministry itself, a handful of intertwining subplots to keep things going even when the main plot has come to a bit of a standstill. None of the subplots feel forced or tacked on; they flow quite naturally, since really, when do any of us only have to deal with one thing at a time in life? Combine this with plenty of action and tension and you’ve got yourself a winning formula that keeps the entertainment coming.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of social commentary woven into the story, particularly about the place of women in society and the rights thereof. The Janus Affair is one of those books that can really get you thinking about the history of women struggling for equal rights to men, and the setbacks to the movement. Ballantine and Morris do not go into extreme detail about some of the punishments given to women imprisoned for their campaigns, but they do make mention of historically accurate issues such as being force-fed through tubes after going on hunger strikes. But even the milder refusals to concede that women are equal to men can rankle, especially when it comes from characters you expect better on. Even Books made a comment that seems relatively benign but still relegates women to the realm of the “gentle, lesser sex.” For those who haven’t done much research into the history of women’s right, who have only seen the fights occurring today, some of the content in this book might be a bit of an eye-opener, and a good jumping-off point for further personal research (if you’re anything like me, that is).

I don’t know why I waited so long between reading the first and the second books of this series. Typically I’m not much of a steampunk person, but honestly, the writing and the worldbuilding in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences books more than makes up for any ambivalence I may normally feel. Twice now I’ve been proven wrong, and that’s convinced me that I need to read the third book soon, in preparation for the release of book four. Even if you’re normally hesitant about steampunk novels, this is a very fun series you definitely ought to try.