The Cold Commands

It’s worth pointing out that an audio book gives a different feel to book, so really I’m reviewing Richard Morgan’s writing and Simon Vance’s performance of it, and it is a performance, Vance gives each ‘voice’ a different inflection to bring them to life. And I’m praying that he’ll be asked to read The Dark Defiles  as I’m really not sure what I’d do if he didn’t [luckily he is]. From that you must know that I’m invested in the lives Ringil Eskiath, Egar the Dragonbane, and Archeth Indamaninarmal and their fate.

And fate there is as by the end The Cold Commands sets our characters in places they wouldn’t have expected to be in at the beginning, which made the last quarter or so quite a surprise, and had me scrambling to find two hours listening over 24hrs to finish it.

At the the start it’s not clear where you are going. This does require an act of faith to push through as it feels like Morgan knows you already know and love these characters and will follow them regardless of where they end up but he doesn’t really give a sense of direction.

To be fair the characters aren’t sure what they should be doing either and each of them is eventually pushed or pulled into some sort of action – Ringil is freeing slaves, Egar is bored and does a bit of breaking and entering which gets him into more trouble that he could possibly imagine and Archeth is sent to retrieve a helmsmen, who brings with him promise of her again meeting her people.

The Cold Commands does several things that make it ‘different’ or at least outside the ‘norm’ and reading Brit Mandelo’s tor.com review reminds me that a few of them really should be highlighted.

The sequence is called ‘A Land Fit for Heroes’ but who are our heroes? Ringil is probably the most surprising being not only gay but also a gay man whose intimate relationships with two minor characters are supportive rather than destructive,which is unlike The Steel Remains where the close relationship is destructive for him and the wider world and it comes back to haunt events here.  Archeth is struggling with restraint over her own desires and whether a slave girl is an expectable release. And finally, Egar’s own intimate relationship causes danger to all three though it is also a linchpin in strengthening the relationships between them.

I love The Cold Commands for that alone as there is no neon signposting. The sexuality and the problems that brings feels like an extension of the characters and I’m glad that Ringil’s relationships especially don’t ‘punish’ him.

Not that this novel a romance, it has another side shown in some dark and brutal moments. There is a rape scene, which is  rightly disturbing, and its inclusion shows a lot about the world in which everything takes place and is also telling about the characters involved and how they react.

There are a lot of soul searching moments, especially Ringil’s as he transverses the Grey Places, but each of the trio gets focus and attention, and for a middle book in a trilogy it goes deeper and further than just  treading water until the next book’s third act big finale.

Morgan likes to linger on the fights and the sexual scenes, often giving a blow-by-blow account, which I guess makes this ‘gritty’ or ‘dark’ and not for squeamish or prudish. Though I do think it’s important  that it never feels gratuitous; the fights especially have consequences. And often war ‘heroes’ are glorified by others, which are quickly earthed by Egar’s and Ringil’s putdowns.

There is also a turning of the tide here. We see the struggles that the ruler Jhiral Khimran II has in keeping power and how he keeps blocking the damn against the religious furore of the Citadel. I quite like him as character because of who he is and why he does what he does. He has a charm that comes from his scenes with Archeth and even though she’s a lot older than him he often feels much wiser. Though he s brutal and unflinching as well (and here Vance’s performance plays a strong role).

Speaking of Archeth, even she isn’t safe from Morgan’s callus hands. Outside influences extend to even her. But I’ll leave it as that to avoid unneeded signposting or spoiler inducing.

As I said at the beginning, it’s not clear at the start what to expect and I don’t want to flag those moments too much as their revelation makes you rethink a lot of earlier moments and makes a reread or re-listen in my gave something to look forward to.  But I will say that by the end Morgan has prepared the ground for something big. And the point where you hear ‘the cold commands’ will make a shiver run down your spine.

The Cold Commands uses traditional fantasy tropes and stretches those conventions to cover places they normally don’t reach. The main characters should be hard to like but they have plenty to hook your sympathies and understanding especially as their hearts are in the right place as storms gather around them. Honestly The Dark Defiles can’t come fast enough, though at last report it’s 50% bigger than this one and pays of debt due, but I’m nervous about how much Morgan is going to tear into the hearts of our characters.

Vance, as always, does a startling performance, and it always makes me chuckle that the dwenda sound welsh. His portrayal of Jihral especially sets the right tone and the helmsmen sound alien and disturbing. I could honestly listen to him read the phone book. Though with The Dark Defiles being half as long again I hope his voice holds out.

And the winner is:

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Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Lizzie Barrett on No Cloaks Allowed described it thus: 

Ancillary Justice is one of the rarest of things: a debut novel that assuredly challenges its readers while continuing the familiar tradition of space opera. It at once makes you feel comfortable – if you have read any Iain M Banks or Ursula Le Guin, or seen Battlestar Galactica – but also makes you confront your own biases of gender and identity. Ultimately, it forces the reader to wonder what constitutes a human. It’s utterly sublime.

Hearty congratulations to Ann and don’t forget to check out the rest of this year’s shortlist:

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Hodder Children’s Books is delighted to announce the launch of HodderSilver, their first digital-only list, on 1st May 2014. HodderSilver will republish critically-acclaimed gems of fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction from the 70s through to the early 00s for readers to enjoy digitally for the first time. The eBooks, which will be available for purchase from all online retailers, will contain such classics as Catweazle by Richard Carpenter – a cult success in the 1970s which was accompanied by a popular TV show – and Plague 99 by bestselling author Jean Ure.

The eBooks will contain new exclusive material, including never-before-seen author interviews.

Jon Appleton, Fiction Editorial Director at Hodder Children’s Books, comments: “The list began as a personal selection of books we’ve loved and remembered – and we’ve been delighted to find other readers are already responding favourably to our choices.”

Nick Coveney, Editor, Consumer Audio & Digital, says: “These titles are fantastic for readers of all ages; we are all very excited about releasing them as eBooks for the first time. Many  – for example Catweazle by Richard Carpenter – are classic titles that still have a strong, enthusiastic following 40 years after initial publication.”

The following titles are due for release on 1st May and are currently available for pre-order through all major eBook retailers:

- The Plague Trilogy: Plague 99 by Jean Ure

“A cross between Lord of the Flies and Day of the Triffids… it is better written than anything by Wyndham and I prefer her characters to Golding’s unconvincing schoolboys.” The Guardian

- Starstormers series: Starstormers by Nicholas Fisk

“It wasn’t Asimov, Clarke or any of the other towering figures of the pantheon that got me reading SF – it was Nicholas Fisk.” SFX Magazine

- The Ennead by Jan Mark

“Deftly written, with detail and total conviction, The Ennead offers an alternative world that provides a provocative mirror of our own society.” The Guardian

- The Llandor Trilogy: Journey Through Llandorby Louise Lawrence

- Catweazle by Richard Carpenter

 

HodderSilver has its own Twitter account @HodderSilver, and Tumblr, hoddersilver.tumblr.com.

 

HodderSilver’s promise is to “republish critically-acclaimed gems of fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction from the 70s through to the early 00s for readers to enjoy digitally for the first time”

Now this is exciting as it’s SF&F and it’s aimed at children, especially books their parents may have read and may try and push on their children.  Being digital-only gives me an excuse to load up the ereader, especially as they are ones I haven’t read.

Anyone read any? Where would you start?

Days of Blood and Starlight

There is no way of getting around it. This is a love story. You see, once upon a time an angel and a devil fell in love and imagined a new way of living and so far that dream has caused both of them nothing but pain. At least that was how Daughter of Smoke and Bone ended and in Days of Blood and Starlight that feeling continues.

Not so strangely in the US this is released through Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and I’d place it, if labels are important to you, in that YA category. Though saying that if you’ve read the first book then you’ll know what to expect and the labelling will be irrelevant.

Please though don’t let the YA/love-story elements  put you off the idea of reading it but read Daughter of Smoke and Bone first. Laini Taylor is telling a big story through the relationship of Karou, currently almost human, who is trapped into rebuilding an army (by placing saved souls in newly formed bodies) and Akiva, an angel, who along with the rest his kind, has the sole mission of destroying Karou’s race.

In Daughter of Smoke and Bone there was a stalemate of opposing armies (Angels vs Chimera) with neither side gaining ground which was then shattered and we deal with the aftermath here. Laini Taylor isolates her two main characters and shows the conflict from their opposing sides but they both have their own internal conflicts, not only in their personal relationships, but the role they play in the war.

And for a story which has two heavy threads Taylor has a light touch with both giving you enough of each to keep you wanting to know more rather than wanting to stick with one or other. Saying that though the plotting and the conveniences in events aren’t so smooth. But somehow that doesn’t matter because if you’ve made it this far and become reinvested in their plight you’re happy to follow along even wishing some scenes would end before anything too horrible happens (Taylor on the whole doesn’t pull back on those).

I like Taylor’s take on angels being the more horrible of the two and that the ‘beasts’ are mostly defending themselves though that view is harder to stomach with some the events now gathering little sympathy in their retaliation .

But each time we see Karou and Akiva representing a different way. It’s not a spoiler to say that things get worse and not better throughout Days of Blood and Starlight and part of me missed the sense of fun that was strong element in the first book, mostly it is missing because Karou doesn’t spend time with her friends, though the scenes where they do make an appearance brings back that lightness before again being swallowed up again by the dark.

 

Overall, rather than turning sickly sweet Laini Taylor takes us to a darker place than the original in this sequel but at the same time giving hopes that everything is not doomed just before raising the stakes at the last minute.

Luckily Dreams of Gods and Monsters is out in a few days so I don’t have long to wait to see how it all ends.

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Well this was a surprise. I’d seen Horowitz post some teaser tweets but I wasn’t expecting that he’d flip from Holmes to his nemesis Moriarty.

With The House of Silk he managed to work the line between honouring someone else’s creation but telling an interesting and worthwhile story.

This time though he’s leaving those safe waters for something else entirely. I have everything crossed.

I guess we’ll all find out on the 23rd October 2014.

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When Rupert Sethleigh’s body is found one morning, laid out in the village butcher shop but minus its head, the inhabitants of Wandles Parva aren’t particularly upset. Sethleigh was a blackmailing moneylender and when the peerless detective and renowned psycholanalyst Mrs Bradley begins her investigation she finds no shortage of suspects. It soon transpires that most of the village seem to have been wandering about Manor Woods, home of the mysterious druidic stone on which Sethleigh’s blood is found splashed, on the night he was murdered, but can she eliminate the red herrings and catch the real killer?

Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley is a wondrous creation. She’s gnarled, rich and wickedly humoured. She’s also interfering. These qualities makes her a perfect candidate of a detective. And like Christie or Doyle Mitchell was quite prolific.

To give you an idea Vintage have already published 13 books featuring this devilish detective and and this month are going to be releasing 20 more (4 normal paperbacks with 16 as print on demand and all are available as ebooks). They’ve been coming out quite sporadically up until now with Vintage choosing their favourites before filling in some gaps.

This is to explain why I’m now reading Mrs Bradley’s second appearance (my next read is the first  the series Speedy Death) but from the ones I’ve read so far it doesn’t seem to matter what order you read them in as Mrs Bradley doesn’t have any development but is more a mechanism to let the other characters kill each other and then nose around until she finds the murderer.

I read this one in two parts. The first half I read last year (around Halloween) but I picked it back up a few days ago and devoured the rest. Partly what I struggled with in the first half is the habit Mitchell has of dropping you into a scene with lots of dialogue but not grounding you in the scene by having the characters give some context to the scene.

It’s not something I struggled with from reading her other books and I think Mitchell got lots of  opportunities to practice her technique. But maybe it was me as well as I was much more comfortable with the cast of characters and what was being described when I picked it up again. Maybe it just took some time to get up to speed? As for the murder itself as it says in the blurb it looks quite simple but pinning it down takes Mrs Bradley some time.

The cast of characters here is entertaining with their personalities all quite different. Mitchell is great at exploring motivations and giving them layers of problems and interest so that no character feels like a cardboard walk-on. And when I got to the end I was annoyed in a good way as Mitchell manages to keeps you on your toes. Mrs Bradley is no goody two-shoes and the ending proves it.

As a book which is 84 years old you may think it would have dated but it doesn’t really. It doesn’t have modern obsessions with gore, flawed detectives, and its glamour is understated rather than gaudy. It feels classical if that makes sense.

I honestly can’t wait to see where Mitchell places Mrs Bradley next.

Not that I feel like I’ve been away as I’ve been having a lovely bookish time elsewhere. I’ve been chatting lots on twitter, doing a monthly book club podcast with Rob, Kate (both from Adventures with Words) and Simon (of Savidge Reads) and doing my bit for genre with my other blog No Cloaks Allowed. I also get the privilege of making sure The Readers and You Wrote the Book go live every other week to their respective growing and loyal audiences.

Now, No Cloaks Allowed was bit of an experiment for me as I wanted to spend time ‘selling’ the idea that genre fiction as a diverse and wonderful world to explore. And it truly is but it’s a lot for one person. So I’m going to use No Cloaks Allowed to review and show off the wide range of SFF shorter fiction and nag some of my friends into joining in. It’s selfish really as I love SFF and it’s an excuse to keep buying collections and anthologies (Ellen Datlow’s Lovecraft’s Monsters is supposed to ship any day now.)

Blogging has always been about my own loves and then trying to make the idea of reading as infectious as possible. And it’s easy for reading to be infectious – being on twitter has been the worse thing for my TBR as you get to see so many people’s latest loves as they happen and then they push books on you! It’s wonderful.

But then you also read tweets like this:

And a couple of days earlier a female reader said they’ll never read another bloke.

I  don’t get it. It can’t be narrow-mindedness, can it? I just don’t why you’d be proud of not reading something on purpose? I can understand if the work itself is dire (or if you don’t like horror/gore as not everyone has a strong stomach) but apart from that no excuse really.

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It’s not that hard to make a diverse TBR (admittedly this is SFF-heavy) but it didn’t take me more than 30-seconds to put together.

That was the tipping point. Just talking about SFF for me feels a little closed in and I’ve had this review of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley half-written but nowhere to post it. So now I’ve not really got an excuse have I? I’ll have to finish it.

And now  the damn is broken I’ll have to just keep going and talking about different types of books because sometimes all you need is the gentle encouragement of someone showing you how to do things another way.

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Each of the logos above shows a project that I’m involved in and in order of appearance they are: No Cloaks Allowed, Hear…Read This!, You Wrote the Book!, The Readers and handebooks.co.uk.

The first one and the last are the most time consuming at the minute.

handebooks is my freelance (e)book creation/conversion service and I’ve been working hard on projects for FoxSpirit and Jurassic London. I’m having a great doing it. It’s brilliant seeing new books start of as one thing and to get them ready for the (e)reading world.

No Cloaks Allowed was a bit more spontaneous. It’s launching tomorrow but basically it’s a blog/podcast project spotlighting the diversity in readers and what SF&F covers. Click here tomorrow to find our more including who has written some great posts to kick it off.

Hear… Read This! is a monthly book club and November we’re reading I  Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and House of Rumour by Jake Arnott.

I also produce HRT and YWTB! and The Readers making sure they all go live on time edit and packaged.

What does this mean for GavReads?

I’m putting GavReads on hiatus.

I’ve had a great time here and I’m having a great book time in general.

Well as the post says, ‘something has got to give’.

I’ve updated my Review Copies page but I don’t know what I’m doing with my non-SFF reviews as I’ll have some books that I really want to share at some point. 

Sorry for the lack of updates but I’ve been busy on other booky things:

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I’ve been doing lovely ebooks for Jurassic London’s new mummy books The Book of the Dead and Unearthed


Vulpes logo

Fox Sprit has branched out  and created a new imprint, Vulpes, to cover historical european martial arts. I know but listen:

It might seem an odd move for a genre fiction publisher but we think it makes perfect sense. You can hardly swing a sabre at a genre event without hitting someone who would know how to use it

And as head typesetter and ebook maker for them I’ve been working on it. If you’re a fan then you’re going to enjoy this one.  

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Something else I’ve been involved in is No Cloaks Allowed - a new blog & podcast and this tweet probably sums it up:

I’ll be contributing reviews and things as well as hosting the podcast so I’m really excited about showing another side to SF&F  More news on 1st November