The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – Book Review

This review was originally published over at Booknest.eu.

Published by: Redhook (Orbit)
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Magical Realism
Pages: 374
Format: Kindle ebook.
Purchased Copy.

In Alix E. Harrow, I see a respect for stories and words and the power they hold equal to that of Ursula K. Le Guin. If you’ve followed me awhile, you know the depth of this compliment and if you haven’t, boy, have I a few recommendations for you. But this isn’t about Ursula, it’s about The Ten Thousand Doors of January, a novel that takes a magnifying glass and points it at the connection between stories, the worlds they originate from and those who are brave enough to explore them.

January Scaller is a unique girl, though in what way may not become readily apparent. True, she is “a perfectly unique specimen,” as her guardian, Mr. Locke puts it, a child grown up under the wing of this most affluent personage. “A perfectly unique specimen, odd-colored perhaps but not colored” is the description this man, almost a father to her, gives January early on. It is the turn of the 20th century, and this is America – if you needed a reminder of the disquiet, the sheer horrible racist reality of that time, the following sentence, from the view of a seven-year old, encapsulates it well: “I didn’t really know what made a person colored or not, but the way he [Mr. Locke] said it made me glad I wasn’t.” See, in only a few paragraphs, Harrow has given us a conflicting view of the man January considers a father figure.

Not that January doesn’t have a father; it is merely that he, Julian Scaller, spends most of his time tracking treasures and rare objects for his employer, the very same Mr. Locke. Cornelius Locke is something of a collector, you see, and his home would make even the Smithsonian seem an enthusiast’s collection by comparison. January’s father is his most successful agent, owed to Julian’s ability to follow stories to their source – the stories of people and of places, the origins behind their myths

It is a talent his daughter seems to have inherited, for it isn’t the dotting of a millionaire that makes her “a perfectly unique specimen” but the hunger she feels for stories and adventures, for the world outside the confines of Locke House. Like many of you who now read this review – like me – January escapes the tedium of her everyday reality through novels – penny dreadfuls and adventure stories, the horror and excitement of the grotesque. And when, on her seventeenth birthday, life throws at her the very worst it has to offer, it’s into a book that she escapes.

“…(see how that word slips into even the most mundane of stories? Sometimes I feel there are doors lurking in the creases of every sentence, with periods for knobs and verbs for hinges).

The Villains (see the shape of the V, how it places opposites on its two ends, mirroring one another and yet different?) of The Ten Thousand Doors of January range from the universal gothic of the time period to the deeply personal, the kind of villain to kill for – if you’ll pardon the pun.

Its the language, the melodious nature of it that is enchanting to the reader. The masterful control over character voice is equally impressive – a sizable portion of the book adopts the tenets of an epistolary novel, making use of a voice very different from January’s own:

The following monograph concerns the permutations of a repeated motif in world mythologies: passages, portals, and entryways. Such a study might at first seem to suffer from those two cardinal sins of academia—frivolity and triviality—but it is the author’s intention to demonstrate the significance of doorways as phenomenological realities.
At least, that is the book I intended to write, when I was young and arrogant. Instead, I’ve written something strange, deeply personal, highly subjective. I am a scientist studying his own soul, a snake swallowing its own tail.

Harrow’s use of these chapters to tell several stories serves to pace January’s own tale and to create additional tension early on,

I return then to Alix Harrow’s respect of words, captured best in the following: “Words and their meanings have weight in the world of matter, shaping and reshaping realities through a most ancient alchemy.”This is at the heart of our culture, did you know? Our society and we as members of it, invent and reinvent ourselves through the process of the word, written or spoken. Our civilization rests on the written word, where many have perished before, their words once spoken but no longer heard. And this novel gets it, understands the importance of words and their ability to change minds and hearts and the paths we make for ourselves.

There’s also the emotional connection – something deeply individual for all readers – but the novel and its characters, their suffering and loss and love and joy as they realised themselves in full, all this found resonance in me. About mid-way through, I even teared up, and there’s nothing like a few tears to illustrate how deeply you connect to a text on an emotional level.

I’m under the impression that this novel is a standalone – and I would like to praise the author for her choice; The Ten Thousand Doors of January accomplishes in one book what many series don’t manage in three – a complete story from beginning to end, which leaves the door…not sealed, not entirely, but firmly closed.

I give The Ten Thousand Doors of January a score of 5/5 stars; if I were using a ten-point system, I’d give it a 9.5 out of 10 because the ending plays it a little bit too safe and the epilogue, while a wonderful way to say goodbye to the characters, wasn’t necessary. Almost as if Harrow wanted one last moment with these characters – something I can hardly blame her for.

My recommendation goes out to all those among you who are in love with the magic of words and stories, those of you who feel a certain disquiet when they think of having to spend a lifetime going through the motions; The Ten Thousand Doors is for adventurers and travellers and seekers. Take a look – I wager you won’t regret it.

30 Years Before: Eye of the World Came Out

Moiraine Damodred by  Dan Dos Santos

I don’t remember the exact age I first read the Eye of the World, though I must have been pre-teen. I remember my dad having bought the first three – they just came out in Bulgarian for the very first time. I was going to the villa with my grandparents, and I had these three thick tomes with me; I had…maybe a week of downtime, likely over Spring vacation and Easter.

I devoured Eye of the World, The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn in three, maybe four days. It was love at first chapter, magical and binding, and to hell with it if these books did not become part of my DNA for the week I spent reading and rereading them. This is one of the foundational series of the fantasy genre and it deepend my love for worldbuilding, complex characters, geopolitics and veiled representations of Odin and Arthurian legends.

Thirty years, they’ve been out in the world. More than all the time I’ve spent on this Earth. Thirty years, and the Wheel of Time will soon be available for a whole new generation through a medium even some of the most hardcore fans of this fantasy epic didn’t believe it would ever be seen in.

Don’t screw this up, Amazon.

Me? I go back to these novels, sometimes — in audio format, in the original language they were written in. Every time the trip is familiar, and every time it is new…but it is always something to remember.

“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and we are only the thread of the Pattern.”

I’m still crushing on Moiraine Damodred, y’all.

Crown of the Sundered Empire by J. C. Kang – Book Review

This review was originally posted over at booknest.eu.

I approach the review of this one with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I enjoyed much of the story (after a fashion), loved the characters and found several of the plot threads nothing short of riveting. On the other, dozens of typos pulled me out of the action very often, much to my annoyance.  Further, I admit to some confusion on account of the blurb of this novel only concentrating on a third, at most, of the story it tells. The much more significant conflict, which embroiders four out of the five point-of-view characters of Crown is described by the succinct sentence, “A coming war,” and perhaps by the following line “a broken land where conquerors dream of empires”.

J. C. Kang’s world is multifaceted. History and mythology are one and the same, with fragments of once-corporeal gods empowering the mortal might of broken and aspirant empires both. There’s enough here to be daunting to a new reader to the world of Tivara – at times, I felt lost, uncertain of which of the characters were being introduced for the first time and which of them had starring or supporting roles in Kang’s previous works.

I was entranced by Tomas’ story, the point of view which deals with the eponymous Crown of the Sundered Empire and with an invasion by the disgusting Bovyans, a race of large, militaristic males who procreate by forcing themselves on the women of those territories they subjugate through force. Tomas’ sharp wit is easy to grow fond of, and he goes through a dark hero’s journey, which sees him turn far more ruthless, at a very steep price. Only two instances come to mind as somewhat “off” in terms of his PoV sections, one of them when a soldier intent on not trusting the boy has a change of heart after stating very clearly he wouldn’t trust Tomas; the other involves a mid-wife in his village, of whom Tomas only ever thinks of as “the midwife.” This last one feels bizarrely archetypal and not at all like everyone in this tiny fishing and diving village has intimate knowledge of each other.

Our other characters, princes, princesses, bastards and a half-elf assassin, deal with the fallout of  Crown Prince Elrayn’s attempt to unite two broken kingdoms in order to further his own power. At its best, this part of the novel reminded me of the plots of some Shakesperean comedies, with men and women desperate to get out of arranged marriages, falling in love with exactly whom they shouldn’t and creating plenty of amusing conflict. At its worst, however, I just didn’t buy into the casual stupidity the Crown Prince exhibited in the midst of crisis – there’s incompetence, there’s short-sightedness and then there is whatever Elrayn suffers from. His early successes came across as no more than a stroke of luck, and his later failings appeared to me too artificial. Thankfully, he’s not one of the PoV characters – rather, the engine by which most of them come into the conflict.

I was familiar with the high-elf, Jie, from a short novella by the name of “Thorn of the Night Blossoms” and I enjoyed seeing her all grown-up and experienced but also struggling between duty and love. Her affair with Elrayn’s brother, Aryn, was a source of amusement and some well-appreciated tension, which ultimately didn’t come up to the sort of resolution I would’ve liked.

Alwrynn, royal bastard and brother to Elrayn and Aryn, whose overwhelming use of naval terms chafed during several instances, was otherwise an entertaining protagonist, skilled at sea but almost as helpless on land as in the world of politics. His connection with Alaena, the third PoV character and one of the princelings Elrayn attempts to marry into his family, is a source of plenty of tension that pays off really well towards the end of the story.

The action was fantastic, nothing less than what I’ve come to expect from Kang, based on my limited experience with his work.

Crown of the Sundered Empire is an intriguing read with plenty of positive elements. My enjoyment of it was mired by the typos and the extent to which I felt like a newcomer who lacked basic insight into some of the characters’ pasts and world events. Tomas’s story might’ve been a short novel of its own – and I would argue, it would’ve been a finer entry-point to the world for new readers such as myself. As it is, I liked J. C. Kang’s novel well enough, even with the issues I had, which is why I’m giving it 3/5 stars. I feel obliged to say that I’m in the minority – most of the readers who have scored this book over on Goodreads have given it either 4 or 5 stars. What didn’t work for me might very well work for you.

Reading Diary: Uprooted by Ectasy, Terror and Doctor Hoffman's Infernal Devices

I am drunk on words.

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I’ve read quite a lot this past week. After finishing Sanderson’s Starsight, whose review you can find here (Spoilers, I thought it was beautiful), I moved onto listening to an old favourite, one of the very first books I ever wrote a teeny, tiny review for. The book in question is Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and revisiting it was excellent fun, thanks in no small part to the narrator, Katy Sobey. I couldn’t believe how much I’d forgotten about some parts, and how my mind had played a trick on me, giving a greater role to characters whose roles really weren’t all that important. Funny how the mind will twist things up.

I moved onto The Devil’s Apprentice (review on the blog just yesterday!), since I was running out of time – my review was supposed to go up on the eighth, a mere four days away! Thankfully, The Devil’s Apprentice was a remarkably easy book to read — I read it in about two hour and a half long sittings. What did I think about that one? Just scroll below this post and you can find out. Or, if you’re prodigously lazy, click here.

Two books down by Friday (Sixth of December), two to go.

The weekend was consumed by postmodernism. Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman was a trippy, bizarre read, albeit wonderful for its strangeness and exquisite language. It’s brutal, though; deeply pornographic, chock-full of acts of pure desire. I have a big essay to write on it, and on Anna of the Five Towns and on To The Lighthouse, all about the ontology of reality through three very different literary currents.

In-between chapters of The Infernal Desire Machines, I read essays by Daniel Mendelsohn from his recently released Ecstasy and Terror. This paperback with its glazed pages is separated into three – Ancients, Moderns and Personals – nouns which encapsulate what the author’s essays are about.

Mendelsohn’s work is quite illuminating. I will take an in-depth look at it eventually, once I’ve read through all the essays and picked my favourites but regardless of whether you prefer the art of Ancient Greece as compared to that of the contemporary world, you will find plenty of note here. My personal so far is a piece called Girl, Interrupted: How Gay was Sappho? and is, of course, all about the Ancient Greek poet known for her poetry as much as for her outrageous sexuality.

My final read–listen–was Alan Cumming’s Not my Father’s Son. This one was horrifying, heartwarming and hilarious all in equal parts. Nothing like the autobiographical works of some ‘stars’, which might as well be screams for attention. I wouldn’t have picked this up as a paperback but I love Alan, I love his voice, I could listen to him for hours and when I saw the audiobook – was it at a sale? – I knew, immediately, I would enjoy every last minute of the man’s velvety voice. I’ll write more about this book later but suffice to say, this one really goes in-depth as to the fuel originally behind Alan’s creative drive. It also plays out like a proper mystery, which delights and excites both. A short review of this one, I think, should appear on the blog within a few days – if I’ve the energy to spare.

This post is somewhat chaotic, written more for myself than for anyone else – that said, I had fun recollecting some of my reading experiences.

As for this coming week? I did start listening to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – might as well continue it, aye? It’s interesting enough – Dickens takes awhile to warm up. Probably due to the fact that he got paid by the word. No rushing that one.

I also dabbled into a Horus Heresy audiodrama – Little Horus. That was fine, not quite as much as I’ve come to expect from Dan Abnett – but it was exceedingly short so I’ll hold no ill will towards him. And hey, I finally got to see what Horus’s Legion looks like after Isthvaan III and V – hooray!

I’ll have to unpack Philip K. Dick’s Ubik for my Researching Literature class, as well. Oh, and plenty more essays on postmodernism to read! And don’t even get me started on the self-published novels I’ve got to get through…

How about you? What’s your reading looking like this coming week?

The Devil's Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen – Book Review (Ultimate Blog Tour)

I make a game of the collection of Hells.

Stay with me, I’ll explain. Ever since I was but a young ‘un, I’ve been fascinated by the numerous depictions of the underworld in its myriad religious and…not quite, forms. You give me a TV series like The Good Place, and I’ll have fifteen essays’ worth of ideas about the not-quite-good-at-all place. You give me a game like Afterparty, and I’ll gush for ten minutes, at the bare minimum, about how cool its clock-in/clock-out, exhausted-torturer-demons-in-need-of-a-drink premise is. You give me Dante’s Inferno, and I might really get into Italian for four weeks and memorise a bunch of lines at the age of thirteen, which no non-Italian thirteen year old should know.

And don’t even get me started on Disney’s Hercules.

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When my bud Dave of @TheWriteReads fame offered me a part in this Ultimate Blog Tour(TM, prob’ly), I was instantly hooked. Instantaneously. Momentarily. Without delay, I said to him, I told Dave, “Dave, I’m hooked!” Then I promptly deleted that email, it sounds way too unprofessional, don’t it, and I says to him, I sez, “Sure, I’m in.”

Because I’m cool like that.

So how’s this novel? How the HELL is it?

I quite enjoyed it. This is the story of Philip, or as I like to call him “Filip spelled with an uneccessary Ph-” but that’s only my personal lifetime of grievances being aired out again. Where was I?

Ah, yes.

Philip is a good boy, a really good boy, who accidentally gets sent to Hell to become the Devil’s heir. The Devil, Lucifer, is dying and desperately in need of a successor, but there’s been a mistake and Philip is the wrong boy. Philip is terrible at being bad, but Lucifer has no other choice than to begin the difficult task of training him in the ways of evil. Philip gets both friends and enemies in this odd, gloomy underworld—but who can he trust, when he discovers an evil-minded plot against the dark throne?

I enjoyed my time with The Devil’s Apprentice, partly because of the author’s iteration of Hell and partly because Philip and the supporting cast were enjoyable to read about. 12 year old Philip’s struggle to get better at being bad is as hilarious as my attempts at being social during the same age – although he really hits his stride in a matter of days, where I hit mine in…four, five years? What drives Philip to evil? A smitter of jealousy, a sprinkling of envy and — oh yes — a generous helping of manipulation! But fear not, for kids like that can’t do evil right, not for long. I mean, of course, kids whose names start with ‘Ph-‘ and not ‘F-‘, the poor wee buggers. Thank the celestials that he’s got a few demonic influences like Satina, a young temptress devil(ess?) who aids the recently deceased Lucifer-to-be in finding his evil footing. Is there a better thing to learn to lie for than for love?

There were some red herrings, a few mysteries that came to a squeaky clean resolution, and a hero’s journey that is as Campbellian as they come.

While not my usual cup of tea, I appreciate this novel for several reasons, the biggest of which has to do with the fact that it’s very much a child-friendly fantasy book, which has plenty to say about good and evil. The carmic balance doled out in Hell is what I was most fond of — the faces of those who stepped on others in life are used as pavement for the denizens of the underworld, those who have killed themselves spend eternity digging graves and being buried in them AND grave diggers dig those out. On and on goes this hellish torment, tinged with irony. Far from the most original rendition I’ve come across in my time as the Hells’ most avid connosieur but I liked it nonetheless.

Hell, I might read this one to my kids, as soon as they begin to form in their infernal, as of yet unknown, mother’s womb.

My score for this one is a 7.5 out of 10, which I’ll bump to 4/5 stars on Goodreads, since I (nearly) always round up and not down, especially when I enjoy my time with a book, as I did with The Devil’s Apprentice. I might even pick up the next volume, if given half the chance!

Dimension Hopping and Character Agency: An Interview with Benedict Patrick

This interview was originally posted over at booknest.eu.

Hey Benedict, thank you for joining me today! First thing to get out of the way before we jump into it – you made it to this year’s SPFBO semi-finals; even though Lynn ultimately went with Rob Hayes“Never Die” as her finalist, you put up one hell of a fight! Are you pleased with how this year’s contest turned out?

Thanks for having me, Filip – excited to chat for a bit! I owe a lot to the SPFBO, so I’m always delighted to take part. It’s a great way to meet new people – authors, readers and bloggers – and it kills my TBR list every year! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit gutted at getting knocked out today (my third semi-finalist position, dontchaknow), but it was always going to be a hard group, and that’s with the authors whose work I’m already aware of. The SPFBO is strongest when connecting new authors with new readers. I wasn’t aware of M L Wang’s work before this year’s contest began, but now she’s a hot favourite to win, and I’m excited to get stuck into her book!

The Sword of Kaigen is a special novel. I will admit it might be my own favourite so far, though having read it before the contest, I’m staying far, far away from booknest’s official score of it. I was a bit gutted to find out you didn’t make it to the finalists this year, myself but I’m cheering you on for next time!Your latest novel, The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon saw its release last month, on October 7 – what’s that been like in terms of initial reception? Has it been a load off your mind, finally having it out there?

Darkstar Dragon took a lot longer to get out into the world than I had planned, so it certainly was a relief to finally hit the ‘publish’ button. I’ve had that world running around in my head for a good few years now, and had planned to leave it there for a lot longer – at one point I had promised myself I’d have six Yarnsworld books published before trying something new. After finishing Owl Queen’s Court last year, however, I knew I wanted to take a break and try something different, so the Darkstar books got a bump in priority.

Initial reception has been great, so far. Not all of the Yarnsworld readers have picked it up straight away. I had expected that to be the case; it is always more difficult to get people to try something new, and this was a departure from those first books – much more action-adventure, lighter than the Yarnsworld novels. What had thrilled me, however, is that the majority of people I’ve heard back from have loved the story, the world in particular. That’s feedback I can roll with, and I’m excited to return there in 2020.

Owl Queen’s Court was a powerful novel, very dark, even sublime. It must’ve tapped into the darker side of your imagination – and that’s part of why I enjoyed your latest work. “Darkstar” is a book that is a break away from what you’ve been doing in the entirety of your career as a self-published author so far, with the tightly-knit folklore of Yarnsworld. Instead of the claustrophobic spaces of the Magpie King’s forest, you had the freedom of a hundred worlds to play with. How liberating did that feel?  Was it a little daunting, as well?

Oh, I loved it. One of the best parts of this gig is getting to create your own playgrounds, and I wanted to go to town with the Darkstar, create somewhere all kinds of stories could take place in. The first book wasn’t daunting, but the second one might be, especially after hearing how enthusiastic so many of the readers have been. Will I be able to keep up that level of wonder, will I be able to live up to the promises that seem to have been made in the first book?

Crap. I’m not going to get to sleep at all tonight, am I?

I wouldn’t bet on it… I was going to ask you if you were planning on returning to Min and her crew in the future, but you’ve given me the answer already… unless you  are interested in telling brand-new stories with different characters in the sandbox you’ve created for yourself?

Got to keep myself busy, don’t I? The current novel is another Yarnsworld book, then back to ‘The Return of the Whalefleet’ (Darkstar 2), and after that… I’ve got a few ideas. I do want to return to the City of Swords at some point soon, and of course the Magpie King’s forest demands a return trip too, but… Well, there are one or two other ideas bouncing around that are demanding attention, and one of them is looming particularly close on the horizon right now.

I understand you’ve been hard at work on a new novel – To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Happy to talk a bit about it! I knew I wanted to return to the Crescent Atoll, but I honestly thought Kaimana and Rakau’s story was done. I adored the film Kobu and the Two Strings, and it really hit home for me when the creators were asked about a sequel; they did not want to, because then they would have to escalate the follow-up. As it stands, the events of Kobu are the most important moments in that character’s life. If they made a sequel, would they relegate those moments to second place? Or would the sequel be less important? I had felt the same about K and R – their story was done. They would pop up in other tales, of course, as side characters or Easter eggs, but it was time for something new.

But…

Sometimes, the characters call to you, don’t they? It’s like they have a mind of their own.

The characters had other ideas. I HATE it when authors say that, but this time it really is the case. In fact, the main events of ‘Taniwha Girl’ stem from the closing folktale in ‘Where the Waters Turn Black’, where we learn that the people of the Atoll are starting to tell folktales about Kaimana now. In a place like the Yarnsworld, stories have a price. In this next book, Kaimana and Rakau are going to find out that becoming modern folklore characters brings with it a hefty toll…

As someone who hasn’t yet read “Where the Waters Turn Black,” I think I better get to it soon! I’m looking forward to finding out what price Kaimana and Rakau will be forced to pay although knowing the Yarnsworld, I have the firm suspicion it might involve more than a pound of flesh… But to step away from the writing side of things, Authors today, especially those in self-publishing, are required to do so much more than just write. How do the mish-mash of marketing and near-constant need for social media presence affect your writing process?

I get around it by not being that good at them! I’m lucky in a way that the writing side of things tends to be well received, although of course I’m always striving to improve, and always have areas of my craft I want to keep developing. Compared with that, marketing is still a crap shoot for me. Marketing changes so often, that anytime I feel I’ve got a handle on something that is working for me, algorithms shift and success rates change. I took a break from major ongoing marketing for most of this year to focus on the writing, but plan on returning to it in 2020, hopefully not affecting the writing speed too much! It is tough, though. I’ve got nothing for admiration for the authors who seem to ace both sides of the business, and that’s really what you need to do to be financially successful at this game.

Now, for a trio of fun questions!

You used to be a devout World of Warcraft player, this much I know – “used to” being the operative word. Well, phrase. During which expansion did you finally give up?

Mists! I had actually been in and out during Cataclysm, but I ran a casual raiding guild during Mists, and when it fell apart my reasons for sticking around left too. I did nip back during Warlords for a month, but the storyline did not appeal to me. But I’m telling you this now, Filip – I’m going to try again. Did you hear they have fox people now? Fox people! I’ve already logged in with a free account to save the name ‘Vippon’. Next year is the year!

The fox people even have a cute song! I will send it to you later. *Laughs* If you need reinforcements, I might just be open to aiding you in the construction of a brand new fox-guild!

You have a D&D podcast – Crit Faced – with fellow authors Josiah Bancroft, Timandra Whitecastle, Phil Tucker and David Benem. It’s excellent fun for those who don’t know about it but as a fellow DM, I was hoping you’d tell me how you got into the hobby. What’s one advice you’d give a newcomer to role-playing games?

One of my high school friends introduced me to role playing via a book called Dungeoneer. I don’t know if you had the Fighting Fantasy books when you were growing up, but it was basically an RPG using those rules. I stayed away for most of my twenties, but it was actually podcasting that got me back into it. I read a lot of webcomics at the time, and two of the strips I followed – PVP and Penny Arcade – started an irregular DnD podcast. I had never known how much fun the game could be until I heard those guys play, and I wanted to have a go.

Advice?

Don’t stress about the role playing. Certainly not about the silly voices. Most people you hear or see playing online – the Crit Faced crew included – already have a history of playing together. It takes a while to get comfortable playing together, and you need that before players allow their characters to shine through.

Either that, or get drunk. That usually leads to some odd gaming experiences, though.

It’s a hobby like no other – somehow, role-playing teaches you so much about personal choice and consequences while bringing groups of people together. Although, when alcohol is involved, things tend to get a touch more explosive!

I find the guys turn into barmaids. Not pretty.

Mine end up chugging potions way past their end-dates, puking rainbows and once, forcing a gigantic ice wyrm to grow a moustache.

Thank you so much for doing this, Benedict! Before I leave you, one last question: Which of your novels would you point out to a first-time reader, and why?

 Oh, I wouldn’t point them to a novel at all! I think a great starting point would be the short story ‘And They Were Never Heard From Again’. It is short, it is free, and I’m bloody chuffed with it – I reckon it is a great introduction to the Yarnsworld in general, and the Magpie King’s forest in particular. If someone enjoys that story, then they can be pretty such there are other Yarnsworld books out there that will appeal to them.

 You know, that’s the perfect entry point I’d offer them as well, having read And They Were Never Heard From Again. It encapsulates everything great about the Yarnsworld.

Now you’ve got me wearing my ‘aw shucks’ face.

I am happy to accept all the credit for that! This was extremely fun – let’s do it again next year! Maybe over video chat this time, eh? Will we be brave enough? Time will tell!

I’m up for it! Give me a warning, I’ll grab a few beers first, and then we can all be barmaids together. This was a lot of fun, man – thanks loads for asking me to do it!

A better first interviewee I could not have asked for!

The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren – Book Review

Originally posted over at booknest.eu! The review below is an annotated version.

Published by: Scott Warren (Self-Published)
Genre: Fantasy (Economic Adventure!)
Pages: 255
Format: e-book
Review/Purchased Copy: Provided through NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

Sailor Kestern is a fine banker in an unenviable position. His former client, a nobleman by the name of Brackwaldt, has it out for him and that’s made business difficult. So difficult in fact, Sailor’s prospects in the capital of Borreos are looking increasingly forlorn. Gates are shut in his face, trade routes are blocked for him, human shipmasters refuse to work with businesses that so much as associate themselves with the Kestern banking house.

Even with this one major issue at hand, it’s an exciting time to be a financier and Sailor isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. The Royal Mint is driving a major initiative on behalf of the Crown, introducing paper currency and hammering it into the economy with all the strength an institution has in wielding hardcore monetary policy. Adam Smith’s invisible hand?  Pfft, please, Borreos has one Darrez Issa, financier extraordinaire, who looks over the interests of the Crown with an eye sharp enough to make even an eagle jealous. A man like Sailor has a healthy dose of awe for the queen’s financial advisor, and the good sense to stay away from him after the last time the two crossed paths.

As a reader with a bachelor’s degree in economics, I was the perfect audience for The Dragon’s Banker. The economics made sense and Warren seems to have a good grasp of how demand and supply work; he’s thought through all sorts of issues that the reader could’ve picked up on and works them in the story seamlessly and just at the right time. Some of Sailor’s most minor actions, at first, see great pay-off by the end of this 255-page read and in ways I didn’t necessarily expect.

One aspect of this novel won me over, and it’s a specific reading of the novel that I will now expand on:

At one level of The Dragon’s Banker, there’s a critique of capitalism’s ceaseless chase of profit maximization. Though avaricious, Sailor never has the amassing of riches as his personal goal. For him, money is most valuable for what it can do for people. In that way, what could’ve been a cynical take on banking is instead a subversive work of fantasy well worth the read for that angle alone.

Sailor Kestern is a humanist – and that, I think, is the greatest triumph of The Dragon’s Banker. This banker, the only one worthy of representing the interests of the most avaricious creature of all, the dragon, ultimately differs from his cold-blooded patron in the following way – money isn’t an end goal for him. It is merely a tool.

To me, The Dragon’s Banker is a 4.5/5 star read. I enjoyed it immensely, partially because of my background, partially because of my reading of it as a critique on some of the woes of capitalism. It’s my firm belief that you’ll find plenty to love within these pages.

As for me, I am curious to see what else Scott Warren is capable of.

Darkest Dungeon In-Depth: The Crimson Curse DLC Isn’t Too Great

A hundred and forty hours spent playing the Darkest Dungeon, and at least half of them spent in putting out the horrors caused by the inhabitants of the Crimson Curse DLC. Great boss design, fantastic new class – the Flagellant — and beautiful character/environment art do not make up for the infuriating amount of grief that the Blood causes. Awful, awful mechanic.

But I’m done with these videos — I only have to put them all together and upload the completed version, and that’ll be the end of it. To tell you the truth, Reader, I lost some of my enthusiasm towards Darkest Dungeon — even so, I did my best not to let that show in these last few videos.

Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie – Book Review Excerpt

This review is posted in full over at booknest.eu! It’s my longest ever review, and I’m wondering whether to publish each of the short stories as a separate blog post over here at the Reliquary. What do you think?

Anyway, here goes:

Abercrombie’s prose is exceptional. His First Law novels are as successful as they are not only because of the unforgettable characters and the breathtaking twists, or because of the brutal world he’s created, one of the sheerest bloody realistic depictions of a world I’ve ever encountered. He’s one of my favourite authors, and for good reason – I’m not pledging to be impartial, but I will do my best to contain my enthusiasm over the next few paragraphs! Okay, lots of paragraphs. Lots and lots of paragraphs.

I’ll say a few words about each of the short stories in the collection, starting off with whether it’s recommended or downright necessary to have read any of the First Law stand-alone novels to get what’s going on.

A Beautiful Bastard

Colonel Sand dan Glokta is a bastard. To anyone who’s read the First Law trilogy, that’ll come as no surprise. He’s a damn likable bastard too, owing to the fact that he tends to wax poetical about life and it’s many and terrible injustices, which Glokta goes on to perpetrate in the course of one of the finest fantasy trilogies. A Beautiful Bastard is before all that, before the Gurkish got their hands on the finest fencer of the Union and ruined his body. Hours, if not minutes before, to be exact – this story takes place on the day when Glokta’s self-aggrandizement leads him to lead a doomed defense on a bridge being overrun by the Gurkish.

The story draws you in quickly enough, and then it thrashes you around with one of the finest descriptions I’ve ever read:

But Glokta was an utter bastard. A beautiful, spiteful, masterful, horrible bastard, simultaneously the best and worst man in the Union. He was a tower of self-centred self-obsession. An impenetrable fortress of arrogance. His ability was exceeded only by his belief in his own ability… Glokta was a veritable tornado of bastardy, leaving a trail of flattened friendship, crushed careers and mangled reputations in his heedless wake. 
His ego was so powerful it shone from him like a strange light, distorting the personalities of everyone around him at least halfway into being bastards themselves. …most committed followers of the Gurkish religion were expected to make the pilgrimage to Sarkant. In the same way, the most committed bastards might be expected to make a pilgrimage to Glokta. …He had acquired a constantly shifting coteries of bastards streaming after him like the tail after a comet.  (5-6)

This is exactly the kind of Abercrombie prose that shines and glitters on the page. The ironic undertone, the sheer emotional charge of it; and at the end of the day, it encapsulates his character at this point in time so well.           

And of course, if the description wasn’t enough, Glokta finds a perfect way to show how much of a spiteful bastard he is to the only true friend he’s had, Goleem West, who just so happens to be one of the finest side characters Abercrombie wrote in the original First Law trilogy. Oh, and there’s Corporal Tunny who will be known to anyone and everyone familiar with The Heroes. He’s the best. And the worst.

This story was the perfect kick-off to an anthology filled with Abercrombie. My score for A Beautiful Bastard is 4.5/5 – because it’s the perfect comfort food of First Law stories, because the style and voice and prose are as sharp as the pointy end of Glokta’s steels but it doesn’t add any new, unknown dimensions to the tried-and-tested Glokta mix.

Small Kindnesses 

Do I need to read any of the standalone First Law novels to get what’s going on? Nope, this one is quite alright with First Law trilogy knowledge, or even without it!

“Small Kindnesses” introduces us to Shev, a thief of great skill and some renown, and to Javre, The Lioness of Hoskopp. A young Severard (one of Sand dan Glokta’s right-hand men) makes an appearance too, though it’s hardly something more than a cameo. Shev’ though barely entering her twenties, is already tired of the thieving life and is actively trying to get out of it when, of course, the local crime lord’s son has to drag her back into it. So Shev does a job – and she does it fairly well, top marks for the way the action scene is written and for Shev’s crabby luck – but some people just aren’t happy at all with what they get, and our thief ends up in a tight spot. There’s a lot going on in here, and Javre and Shev have incredible chemistry as soon as both are on the page together and conscious. 

What’s even more excellent is, the story of Shev and Javre doesn’t end here – no, this is just the beginning of some of the wackiest adventures in the First Law universe! We’ll get back to them when we get back to them. 4.5/5 – because I know how much more hilarious the pair’s adventuring is about to get.

A Pair of Quick Mini Reviews

Hullo, followers! I’ve been meaning to get a pair of non-fantasy novel reviews out of the way, so here goes! But before I go all non-fantasy on y’all, I just finished a wonderful staple in early 20th century fantasy classic and I’m going to say a few words about it as well! #everythingiscontent

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White

At last, I come across the work of famed English author, T. H. White! And this, the first book in his Arthurian tetralogy, was a delight. The Sword in the Stone sold me on White’s version of the Arthurian mythology due to two chief reasons – the humour and the characters.

The humour is anachronistic – thank Merlyn! Merlyn, who lives life backwards to everyone else, has such items in his hut such as a weapons rack brimming with modern weaponry, as well as degrees from all of Europe’s leading universities! He decries the state of the European education system in pre-Arthurian times quite a lot, he does, wot wot.

As for the characters, they are full of heart, good cheer, and no small amount of silliness, too! Take King Pellenor, for example, a ridiculous monarch with no land, no armies, not even a bed! He, however, has a task he unfailingly pursues, and that’s to search for the (terrible, question mark??? ) Questing beast. To our young protagonist, Arthur (affectionately called ‘The Wart’ by everyone in his foster father, sir Hector’s domain), King Pellenor is jolly good fun. The two become fast friends.

The Wart is wonderful, filled with that thirst for adventure that you just need to have in any proper Arthur! I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s like as a king in the next three novels!

I listened to this one as part of “The Past and Future King” audiobook, as narrated by Neville Jason. Wonderful, excellent work imbuing the characters with life!

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Spoilers for  “Of Mice and Men” below.

How do you talk about a classic novella such as this one?

This one is about the friendship between two men, George and Lennie, childhood friends. George takes care of Lennie, who, although a large and inhumanly strong man, has the innocence of a child, and a child’s understanding of any given situation he is in. Terrible strength is, in this case, a curse.

I’ll not retell what happens, and I won’t shy away from the plot points – “Of Mice and Men” is a tragic story that presents the world as it was (and too often still is), cold and uncaring towards those who are born different and lacking what society deems as normal. Lennie’s child-like fear and actions is the engine that propels the story forward,  forcing George and him to move from town to town, and ultimately forcing George to eutanise his friend. You understand why he does it, and whether you think the novella itself is good, great or not worth a damn… It’s heartbreaking. It’s tragic. And it’s an act of love.

Marx the Humanist by Muriel Seltman

I came across Muriel Seltman’s “Marx the Humanist” by accident while looking through the many, many different sections of NetGalley’s offerings. As an English Studies (Literature) bachelor’s, I’m interested in all sorts of different ideologies, anything that’ll give me a greater understanding of what moves human beings from a societal and ideological viewpoint. When it comes to Marxism, I know a fair lot more than about, say, libertarianism, because come from a family at least partially socialist. Or communist. Or Marxist. Honestly, it’s complicated.

Seltman’s novel gives an easy introduction to Marx’s ideas while also offering a thesis statement in the very title. “The Humanist” is broken down into four chapters, an appendix and an epilogue; the chapters first give a basic introduction to Marxism, through direct quotes from many of Marx’s works like “The Capital” and “The Communist Manifesto” co-authored with Engels. In addition to these passages, the author gives additional context or furthers certain arguments, to mixed effect.

It’s far from the most persuasive piece of historical (sociological, humanist) non-fiction I’ve read. Seltman too often abandons any attempts at convincing non-believers and nay-sayers, instead singing Marx’s praises into what, at worst, felt self-congratulatory. Some of the author’s arguments didn’t go far enough, either. It seems like Seltman couldn’t find a good enough balance between quoting passages and commenting on their own.

This is a good introduction to Marx’s ideas, thanks to well-chosen quotations, and a decent text by Muriel Seltman. Not quite 3 stars, not quite 4 — my score is 3.5/5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Troubador Publishing Ltd. for providing me with a review copy. Opinions are solely my own.