Review: The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

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You know you have read a top class book when it’s over and you feel depressed. I have post trilogy depression, amongst the worst kind of book related disorders. One where you have invested so much of your time and soul into a multi character epic that you tend to forget that in the morning you have a job to go to. Yet at the same time I feel like my eyes have been opened to a new world. Grimdark!

Prior to reading Abercrombie’s work I had never experienced such truly gritty and dark fantasy. I now know it is a genre of its own, but to be honest I look at it more as ‘Real Fantasy’. In a similar fashion to the mass market popularity of Game of Thrones, where other fantasy series have failed to grow, the First Law gives us everything we would expect from a well constructed fantasy universe, but also gives us characters that could have come from a history book. They don’t just have faults, they live and breathe by their faults. Reading Joe Abercrombie’s books has shown me how characters can be despicable and make you root for them at the same time.

Logan Ninefingers and Glokta are amongst the most interesting and unforgettable fictional characters I have ever come across. Ferro and Jezal made choices throughout the books that felt so real. Often one expects a book to go a certain direction, or a character to say or do a certain thing, especially in fantasy writing. Not for Abercrombie’s characters. As I turned the pages my inner voice was constantly saying no, no, don’t do that, don’t say that. However, this only kept me wanting more.

The Last Argument of Kings is a fine climax for the trilogy. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I will only say that it was good to see things come together in the final battle. Abercrombie takes us into the head of the many POV characters. Using his amazing blend of vivid description and gritty language, we are taken right into the thick of it. I bled with the characters. Swore alongside them. I cringed and laughed with them. Few books draw you in so deeply. I felt I lived the First Law rather than read it. And that is the biggest compliment I can give Mr Abercrombie.

I feel there is little need for me to do an in depth review of this book. It is extremely well written. All of the characters that you love are back and in fine form. The story develops in an interesting way and does not repeat itself. There is action, emotion, suspense, drama and just about anything else you need in a good book. Just go out and read it.

I don’t often recommend books to my close friends but I will be telling every fantasy fan that I know to pick up these three books and get stuck into them.

Rating 5/5

Saturday Morning

There is no time like a Saturday morning for curling up with a good book and a cup of tea. To get you in the mood here are some of my favourite quotes on reading.

“We read to know we are not alone.”
– C.S. Lewis

“When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.”
– Desiderius Erasmus

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
– Emilie Buchwald

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
– Frederick Douglass

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
– Harry S. Truman

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.”
– Jerry Seinfield

“A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
– Mark Twain

“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”
– P. J. O’Rourke

Enjoy your cup of tea this morning!

 

Review: On Writing by Stephen King

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Even if you aren’t a writer, I would say read this book. Part autobiography, part guide to writing, On Writing  had me nodding my head so many times, people on the train must have thought I was a bobble head. I will admit that I haven’t read a lot of his fiction. I am familiar with most of his stories through their TV, movie and comic adaptations. Yet I was fully engrossed for the whole book.

King’s early life is described in such a vivid way that I felt as though I was there with him. At other times I was sitting in a chair right beside him, listening to him talk on a lazy Sunday afternoon, recalling the days of his youth. I have a new found respect for the man whose life never seemed to be easy. I can appreciate how he is able to bring so much character and feeling into his own writing. That being said, it is obvious from his tips on writing that more than life experience has brought him success.

I will not go into the details of what he suggests every writer, new or established, do when practicing the skill. However the idea of having a toolbox from which to draw is one that I feel could translate to any art form. And that is why I would recommend the book to anyone who dabbles in some form of art. King provides not only advice on techniques, but a philosophy which inspires you to stop reading his book and get to it. Often I was torn between putting the book down and getting back to writing, or continuing to turn the engrossing pages.

The amazing thing, now that I look back on the book, is that I did not agree with all of his advice. Those who have read my blog before will know that I feel there are many different techniques and forms of writing. There is no absolute right or wrong, other than traditional grammar and structure, and therefore one shouldn’t feel as though you need to follow everyone’s rules. If you tried to you’d never get any actual writing done. You’ll find conflicting advice anywhere. However, despite my occasional disagreements, I found myself finishing the book and feeling invigorated. I felt like I have the power to turn on my computer and begin typing pure gold. For King to be able to do that whilst still have me questioning some of his advice, honestly amazes me.

One thing King mentions which I could not agree with enough is that without constant reading, particularly of authors who are considered masters, or books that are popular or acclaimed, one can never truly learn to become a better writer. To see examples of good writing, to absorb them properly, will do you more good than reading 100 guides on how to write. (Ironic really to make such a point in a book on writing advice.)

I don’t and will not hesitate to give ‘On Writing’ 5 stars. It strikes a fantastic balance between motivation, technique and biography. You don’t need to agree with everything he says, but you will feel like you have the capacity to achieve your goals once you have finished reading.

Rating: 5/5

20 quick tips for writers

Writers can never get enough tips and advice from their peers. In an effort to give back from my own experiences here is a list of 20 things I’ve learnt.

1)      If you don’t enjoy writing, stop and look for a new job/hobby.

2)      You will always look back and think that you can improve what you’ve already written.

3)      When selling books to strangers, Book covers are more important than your blurb and often more important than your story.

4)      Anyone who says ‘write everyday’ obviously hasn’t got a full time job and a family.

5)      That being said, write when you can, as often as you can. Even if it is only 200 words.

6)      Your back, neck, hands and arms will suffer. Maintain posture and take breaks!

7)      Don’t write what you think will sell, write what you WANT to write. Otherwise it will be rubbish.

8)      You are way more excited about your writing than your friends and family. Remember not to talk about it all the time.

9)      If someone is helping you with reading/editing make sure you really show them how much you appreciate it.

10)   There is nothing wrong with tropes and clichés as long as what you write is entertaining.

11)   Finishing a story is hard. Every time you do, pop a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

12)   Some people plan, some people write as it comes to them. Neither approach is wrong or right.

13)   Grammar is incredibly important. Don’t trust your spellchecker.

14)   Writing can be isolating. Make sure you step outside into the real world just as much as you step into your imagination.

15)   Reading for enjoyment is one of the most important tasks for someone who intends to write what others will enjoy.

16)   Set yourself small goals. My first goal was to get 1 single person I didn’t know to read my work. So far I’m doing alright!

17)   Even with a lot of hard work, it’s tough to make a living out of writing. But never give up.

18)   It is very easy for us to become overly critical. Be careful in how you judge the writing of others.

19)   Google really is your friend.

20)   Stop to smell the roses every once and a while. Then get back to the keyboard, you’ve got writing to do!

Remember the most important piece of advice, don’t take someone else’s opinions, tips or advice as gospel. Different things work for different people and different people have different tastes. Find your own happy spot and just don’t forget to never stop learning.

New cover for Dawn of the Valiant

In anticipation of the release of book two of the Valerious Chronicles, Dawn of the Valiant is now FREE on iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords.

I have also been working on updated covers for the eBooks to provide a more thematic pattern throughout the trilogy. The updated cover for Dawn of the Valiant is now live. Enjoy!

DOTV Ebook Cover

 

Silent Harbinger Out Now for Free

One of my short stories that was originally written for a competition has now been published. If you are looking for a quick suspenseful hit of dark fantasy check it out and download the story completely FREE here.

The brief blurb for the story is here:

In mere moments they will arrive. His neck is strapped to the altar. His hands and feet chained. The villagers can only watch on in fear as the devils draw closer. Even if he wanted to scream for help, he couldn’t. But his haunted fate has led him to this moment. He just doesn’t know it.

These savage creatures have reduced the village to a blackened, broken shell. But a catalyst is coming.The Silent Harbinger will reveal all to the people of Avelline. 

Happy Reading!! And spread the word.

 

Still Kicking

I have been absent from my blog for a little while now. Rest assured it is only a good thing for all of those awaiting the remainder of the Valerious Chronicles. Editing on Book 2 is still underway but nearing the end. I can see a light at the end of a long tunnel. I think it’s a train!

Whilst my editor running out of red pens, I have begun writing the final book. I am well on track to have The Tyrant’s Onslaught published mid-year and The Fleet of Sinsai in early 2015.

In the hours between my day job and my real job (writing), I have managed to find the time to read some fantastic books. If I get a chance I will write up a few more reviews.

Until then I will keep you updated. Remember that you can always check the status of the next books in the Valerious Chronicles on my website. I update it on a weekly basis.

Review: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

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Wizards and Football…Hold on, did you just mention two of my favourite things together? Unseen University and Football, Discworld and Football. I think my brain just melted a bit.

That was my reaction when Unseen Academicals was released. Sadly my reading list was too large. But now I have finally gotten around to reading Terry Pratchett’s foray into the tug and war of foot-the-ball. Being upfront, I had very high expectations of this book. Did it meet those expectations? Short answer – no. However there was no way it could have ever done so. So I will pass my judgement with an open mind.

All of the Discworld novels are entertaining. It is extremely rare to pick one up and not turn the pages with enjoyable ease. Unseen Academicals is no different. Give it a go, you most likely won’t regret it.

To begin with, I thought there would be a lot more football in this book. And yes, the overarching premise is a revolution to Ankh Morpork’s ball game, to make it more closely resemble modern day football, yet there is more focus on a handful of characters working in the University. I found them genuinely likable for the most part. I wasn’t in love with them though.

The story is tied into one of these characters in particular, Mr Nutt, who is an interesting fellow; polite, skilled and articulate. I liked Mr Nutt the most and will not go into revealing any of his secrets. I don’t want to spoil the book. Any part with him in it kept me interested and it was worth reading just to uncover more about him.

I found the toughest parts to get through those focusing on Glenda; the tough, motherly night kitchen cook. She was a great character, but the end of the book had a lot of Glenda. I feel it would have been better served with a bit more football or focus on the actual Academics.

My biggest criticism is an odd one, but it is the fact that the Librarian did not get enough of a cameo. I can understand that a character who cannot speak is a difficult one to write about in length, but this was the opportunity to do so! (An Orangutan for goodness sakes. The perfect goal keeper.) His participation in the actual football had so much potential, but was too brief to be memorable.

That aside, Vetinari stands out once again. I don’t need to go on in length as to how well Pratchett writes this tyrannical man. And the side story, which sees Juliet, one of the University’s staff, modelling dwarf designer clothes, was an interesting change. More dwarf culture is never a bad thing.

The sporting culture of Ankh Morpork was terrifically colourful, even if those colours were primarily sickly shades of browns, yellows and greens. You get a real sense of the common people milling together in the streets and those scenes stand out for me with vivid imagery.

Overall this was more of a story about a few quirky individuals, which used the coming of proper football to the Discworld as a backdrop. A little part of me wonders, if the roles had been reversed and the actual game had been centre stage, with the drama of the University’s staff less prominent, would it have made for a better story.

We will never know. But we will have enjoyed the book regardless!

Rating 4/5

Eats, shoots and leaves…and edits.

One day I will look back at the time I was able to walk around with no glasses and sigh. Alas, my passion for writing and the subsequent editing required is slowly making my optometrist rub his hands together, whilst shiny $100 bills float in front of his eyes.

I have been editing book two of the Valerious Chronicles over the past fortnight and am making good progress. My original intention, after having published Dawn of the Valiant, was to have the second book out by August ’14. Now, I am looking to have it out by March. Much of this depends on the ability of my beta/proof readers to get their reading done, which is why I am now slaving away to finish my first edit of the manuscript.

In my off time I have been reading Lynne Truss’s ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’; a book I have been meaning to read for some time. I would definitely recommend it to my friends and family, and in particular anyone that does a lot of writing. Now I saw writing in any sense; for pleasure, for work, in fiction, academia and even text messaging. It gives us a humorous view of the simple rules around punctuation. I myself never truly learnt proper grammar, and to be honest I am probably stuffing it up right now! But if I manage to improve even one aspect of my writing, then it was worth reading. If I don’t, then at least it made me laugh.

My main editor is probably getting heart palpitations from the chapters I am laying on her desk, but it’s all done for the readers. For the people kind enough to fork out their hard earned dollars for my books. For all of you out there, I am working hard to get book two ready. In the meantime go to your local bookshop and buy enough books to keep you going until March.

Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Cover of "The Blade Itself (First Law)"

Cover of The Blade Itself (First Law)

Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie, say he is a master of modern fantasy. I will be honest I have not had the chance to read a great deal of new fantasy. I am still working my way through piles of the classics. But having read ‘The Blade Itself’, I now realise I need to pay more attention to the new wave of fantasy authors.

Abercrombie’s writing is absolutely stand out. It is fluid and gripping, with a terrific use of both modern and old vernacular to truly paint a picture in your mind. Often I took a moment to re-read one of his metaphors or quirky descriptive phrases because they were that good! I found myself thinking, ‘God what a brilliant way to describe that.’, something I don’t do that often when I’m reading. The book is full of curse words you rarely see in fantasy writing and I sincerely believe that if used properly they really add to the story. They provide a gritty realism to the world often missed by traditional fantasy authors. So hat’s off to Joe for changing the way I think about my own writing.

The true strength in ‘The Blade Itself’ is the diversity and sincerity in its characters. Few books have twisted and uncouth characters as the main protagonists. Sure there are some great examples, but this has got to be up there as one of them now. Every POV character is flawed. But not flawed simply to have a flawed character, flawed in a real sense. Each character is utterly believable, which in a fantasy setting is not always possible.

They are selfish, frightened, mean, arrogant, and deplorable at times, loveable at others. From start to finish you are wondering whether you should be cheering for a character or hoping they plunge into an endless chasm. If Tolkien had his Fellowship of the Ring, Abercrombie has his Band of Merry Misfits.

And that is what the book seems to boil down to. I haven’t started the rest of the First Law trilogy, and do not want to give away big spoilers, but this book is a tale of gatherings. Whilst most first books in a trilogy culminate in a disaster or reveal a large looming catastrophe, this one only hints at a larger issue, but really focusses on getting the characters together. I found it unusual to flick over the last page and think to myself, ‘I don’t really know where this is going, and don’t know whose side I should be one.’ But damn, I can’t wait to read more.

There were no particular scenes that jumped out to me. If you ask me what was your favourite bit? I find it hard to pinpoint any particular event. Yet the whole thing kept me turning page after page. And there is no truer sign of a good book. If you like hard edged fantasy, go buy this book!

Rating 4.5/5