Saturday, May 30, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

A quiet week this time around, but a pair of great reviews and a fantastic giveaway that's open through the weekend:

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

A slew of new additions this week, including a pair of highly anticipated titles, a series I'm excited to be diving into, a trio of sequels to indie titles I've previously enjoyed, and a new tale I just couldn't say 'no' to:

Fool's Quest (The Fitz and The Fool, #2) by Robin Hobb
The harrowing adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer and his enigmatic friend the Fool continue in Robin Hobb’s triumphant follow-up to Fool’s Assassin. But Fool’s Quest is more than just a sequel. With the artistry and imagination her fans have come to expect, Hobb builds masterfully on all that has gone before, revealing devastating secrets and shocking conspiracies that cast a dark shadow over the history of Fitz and his world—a shadow that now stretches to darken all future hope.

Long ago, Fitz and the Fool changed the world, bringing back the magic of dragons and securing both the Farseer succession and the stability of the kingdom. Or so they thought. But now the Fool is near death, maimed by mysterious pale-skinned figures whose plans for world domination hinge upon the powers the Fool may share with Fitz’s own daughter.

Distracted by the Fool’s perilous health, and swept up against his will in the intrigues of the royal court, Fitz lets down his guard . . . and in a horrible instant, his world is undone and his beloved daughter stolen away by those who would use her as they had once sought to use the Fool—as a weapon.

But FitzChivalry Farseer is not without weapons of his own. An ancient magic still lives in his veins. And though he may have let his skills as royal assassin diminish over the years, such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten.

Now enemies and friends alike are about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (The Song of Shattered Sands #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu
The first book in the Song of Shattered Sands trilogy—an epic fantasy in the vein of A Thousand and One Nights.

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

From a Drood to a Kill (Secret Histories, #9) by Simon R. Green
Some call me Shaman Bond, but I was born Eddie Drood, the latest in a long line of folks who chase monsters out of closets for a living to keep humanity safe from all that is dark, demonic, and just downright evil. Needless to say, we’ve made our fair share of enemies over the centuries—and made some questionable bargains.

In exchange for the power to fight the forces of darkness, my parents signed over their souls. They’re not the only ones who’ve made deals with Heaven, Hell, and every otherworldly realm in between, but now the bill’s due for several big names in the supernatural community.

Including my girl, Molly. She, my parents, and other major players have been kidnapped so they’ll pay up—or participate in the “Big Game.” The rules are simple: get from one side of the pocket dimension to the other and kill your competitors. The winner’s debt is paid in full, and the losers get themselves permanently lost, body and soul, forever.

To save my loved ones, I’ve got to become a ringer in this deadly contest that’s undoubtedly rigged by the Powers That Be....

The Path of Sorrow (The World Apparent Tales Book 2) by David Pilling & Martin Bolton
“A song of hope and sorrow, born on the coming storm.”

After the cataclysmic events of The Best Weapon, an uneasy calm has descended over the world. The Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom are ruined by war, while the people of the southlands have retreated to their deserts and jungles, to lick their wounds and wait for better days.

Fulk the No Man’s Son is now the lord of Silverback, and commander of the surviving Templar knights. Considered a heretic by many of his followers, he struggles to contain his unearthly powers. His half-brother Naiyar has returned to the deep jungle of his youth, where he prefers to live alone, isolated from his tribe. Both men notice the stars shift in the sky, and become aware of the rising of a new god.

On a remote tundra in the heart of the great continent of Temeria, a peaceful nomadic tribe is attacked at night and wiped out by a mysterious enemy. There is only one survivor, a boy named Sorrow. Hunted by Templar Knights, bloodthirsty pirates and an army led by an increasingly desperate slave-turned-sorcerer, Sorrow’s chances of survival are slim. He finds an unlikely saviour in the form of Bail, a ruthless assassin, and the pair realise they must stay together to stay alive...

The Winter Garden (The Ingenious Mechanical Devices #2) by Kara Jorgensen
Can death be conquered?

When Immanuel Winter set off to the banks of the Thames, he never thought his life would be changed forever. Emmeline Jardine, a young Spiritualist medium, drowns, but the potion given to Immanuel by his mother brings her back from the dead and irrevocably intertwines their souls.

But Emmeline and Immanuel aren’t the only ones aware of his ancestors’ legacy. Understanding the potential of such an elixir, the ruthlessly ambitious Alastair Rose knows securing the mysteries of death will get him everything he desires: power, a title, but more importantly, dominion over the dead and the living.

Unaware of what the dashing madman is capable of, Emmeline follows him deeper into a world of corrupt mediums, unscrupulous scientists, and murder. All that stands between Lord Rose and his prize is the boy who refuses to die, but both men know the key to stopping him lies within the girl who shares Immanuel’s soul.

The Legend of Misan Driste by Shawna Falero
This - is the Kingdom of Womynia!

In the past, the land was filled with warring men; they were savages who spoke in grunts, rarely bathed and dealt blows to each other's heads with clubs - just for fun. It was during this time that the "oppressed" women of the kingdom rose up and took their rightful place as leaders, ceasing the endless violence throughout the land with their remarkable, strategic intelligence and curvy, hourglass figures.

(However, I must warn you - the tale I am about to share is fraught with danger, stupid males, incredulous displays of amazing lady-power and the indescribable beauty of the female genius.)

Misan Driste, a young woman from the Kingdom of Womynia, blindly follows the land's new-found ideology that claims to be for "equality" between the genders. But soon after arresting a jaded loiterer named Kwon, she stumbles upon her superior officer discussing a secret plan referred to as Project Manstinction. Misan is suddenly forced to question whether or not the ideology she's followed for so long is truly as "equal" as she had once believed...

Join Misan and Kwon as they travel a land full of magic and monsters, swordplay and subterfuge, and of course, romance and sexy stuff (well, sexy-ish stuff). What they might just find is the truth in the most unlikely of places...


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews
It's been 2 years since Jason graced us with Red Sparrow, and I'm excited to see Captain Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service stepping to the forefront here.

The Abduction of Smith and Smith by Rashad Harrison
In this harrowing and thrilling work of historical fiction, two enemies become the unlikeliest of allies as they fight to save their own lives aboard a hell ship headed into the dangerous unknown.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Horror Review: Through A Glass Darkly by Donald Allen Kirch

Sometimes we forget that the oldest, most classic horror stories are still the most effective. Put a stake in the vampires, take a shotgun to the zombies, and put the werewolves in a cage - haunted houses and restless ghosts never get old.

Donald Allen Kirch is an author who has previously demonstrated his love for the classics, but I'm not sure he's ever done so as strongly as he does in Through A Glass Darkly. This is a book that reaches far and wide for its inspiration, from the classic days of Poe and Lovecraft, through the cinematic days of The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist, and into the era of found footage and reality TV. It's a fun read, best suited for a dark and stormy night, but that's where the clichés end.

I'll be honest, I enjoyed the first half of this book the most. It's here that Kirch delves deepest into ghost stories and haunted house, especially when he exposes the lives (and gruesome deaths) of those who dared inhabit Manchester House before. These are chilling stories, offered up quickly, without the need to embellish, justify, or explain away the phenomena - and boy do they work! The journey through the forest just to get to the house is fantastic on its own, and details inside the house like the plastic tarps, dripping water, and dead rats in the kitchen really set the tone. The Other is most effective, for me, when she's experienced as a lonely, malicious sort of spirit, but I will give Kirch credit for coming up with an effective backstory for the house and its terrifying evil.

As much as the first half of the book is very much an homage to Poe, the second half owes most of its inspiration to Lovecraft. Here we move beyond the classic simplicity of a ghost or poltergeist spirit, delve deep into an impossible basement, and encounter the ectoplasmic tentacles of the monster that lies at the heart of Manchester House. It's a crazy, bloody battle against ancient forces of evil and supernatural god-like monsters, complete with a heroic shaman whose backstory is almost as powerful as his faith. I'll admit it, I tend to lose interest somewhat when these stories become all about the monsters, but the portrayal of Indrid Night kept me intrigued. I liked that Kirch just didn't make him some sort of renegade priest, but a self-made holy man who isn't above acquiring tools, weapons, and beliefs from multiple faiths.

Through A Glass Darkly is pure, straight-up, classic horror that completely delivers on its promise. It has just enough detail to make it smartly contemporary, but never strays far from the timeless horror of ghosts, haunted houses, and the damnation beyond.

ebook, 292 pages
Published March 18th 2015 by Double Dragon Publishing

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Waiting On Wednesday:The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
Expected publication: September 29th 2015 by Roc

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy's shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity's ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake.

Butcher is another of those authors where I've missed my spot on the bandwagon, but have multiple titles lingering on my must-read list. With a new series just getting started, I'm looking forward to the chance to get in on the ground floor.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fantasy Review: Trial of Intentions by Peter Orullian

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

The Unremembered, the first book of Peter Orullian's Vault of Heaven saga, was a largely generic epic fantasy that hit on a lot the major tropes. That made for a comfortably familiar read, but what made it memorable was his writing style, the strength of his characters, and the amount of detail invested in his world-building. It wasn't necessarily a ground-breaking work, but it was a welcome new flavor of fantasy that was darker, deeper, and more mature.

I went into Trial of Intentions hoping for nothing more than an advancement/enhancement of everything that I enjoyed in the first book. I wasn't looking for anything dramatically different, and was actually worried that he might try to drag the story in a new direction, either to satisfy his critics, or to assuage his own displeasure with the original edition of his first book. There had to be some serious temptation there for him, I'm sure, but I'm pleased to say he's remained true to his original vision.

The one thing that did shift a bit with this volume was the structure of his writing - probably the only thing that I found to be a (minor) disappointment. Orullian had said that his Author's Definitive Edition of The Unremembered was shorter and more focused, with fewer POV shifts, but he seems to have taken a step back here. Not only were there a lot more shifts than I remembered, but the chapters are much shorter. Yes, short chapters are a definite pet peeve for me, and that artificial driving of the story from one abbreviated POV to another was a challenge to me in terms of settling into a flow. I took me about twice as long to read this volume as the first, and much of that was my own difficulty with that flow. Outside of that, the story is once again well-written story, with even stronger dialogue than the first, and even more incredible visuals. With Trial of Intentions designed to be a suitable starting point for new readers, a little info dumping and exposition is pretty much mandatory, but Orullian fits it well into the overall story. It's really nothing more than the subtle reminders you expect from the second or third book of any fantasy saga . . . there's just a little bit more of it.

The characters came alive early in the first book, and they continue to thrive here, with even greater depth and diversity. Orullian forces us to question much of what we thought we knew about Tahn, Vendanj, Wendra, Mira, and even Grant. He 'broke' many of them with the climactic events of The Unremembered, and they're not allowed to just settle back into their old ways. They've been changed by their experiences, and they continue to evolve as they come to grips with those changes. Tahn makes a momentous decision early on, choosing not to speak the words as he aims, instead taking the decision to 'save' innocent children entirely upon himself. Wendra chooses as well, deciding to unleash the full fury of her song in a war against the Quiet, not caring that the Far are falling all around her as well. Even Mira makes something of a choice, deciding to embrace her betrayal, even as she seeks redemption for herself as queen. I thought I knew where a lot of these character journeys were headed, but Orullian can never be accused of taking the easy route.

The world-building and the mythology are developed much farther and much deeper here as well. Of special interest for me was the deeper look beyond the Veil, and the deeper understanding of The Quiet. We've already fought the Bar'dyn, and already trembled before the magic of the Velle, but Orullian shows us that there are other people trapped beyond the Veil - including races that may be different, but which are far from monstrous. It's a clever undoing of the stranger/outcast fantasy trope, and it's a refreshing new angle that builds upon what's come before. In terms of mythology, he tosses some early surprises at the reader as well, first revealing some interesting ideas or theories regarding the Covenant Tongue, before driving us into a confrontation between the Sheason and the Velle - one that seems to destroy the legendary book. The world gets both wider and deeper here, and that's precisely what I look for in my ongoing epic fantasy reads.

If you were one of those readers on the fence about The Unremembered, then nothing here is likely going to change my your mind. Having said that, I enjoyed Trial of Intentions, and I will be first in line for a copy of the third book when it's released.

Hardcover, 720 pages
Expected publication: May 26th 2015 by Tor Books

Monday, May 25, 2015

Museums, Ghosts, and Imagination by B.D. Bruns (Guest Post & Giveaway)

Having begun my writing career in narrative nonfiction, sharing where I've been and what I've done was the whole point. Luckily I've been to fifty-plus nations and done a lot of wild things, so writing about them was easy. But when I recently switched to fiction I had to figure out how my experiences could benefit this new genre. Making the exercise even more interesting is that I switched from humor to horror!

Ultimately, the best kind of horror is equally dependent upon an author’s experiences and imagination. Guillermo del Toro, who brought us the scary movies Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage, was an orphan himself. Stephen King famously wrote Misery because crazy fans were overwhelming him and his poor secretary. But one need not be abducted by aliens to write a convincing horror thriller. After all, have you ever asked someone if they’ve ever seen a ghost? When researching for a book I wrote years ago (Comstock Phantoms) I interviewed dozens of people who had ghostly encounters and each story could be accurately summed up as, “I was doing whatever… AND I SAW A GHOST!” Please note that this is neither a scary statement nor even a scary premise. Of course, most people are not born storytellers, thus it circles back to imagination.

So, really, how does personal experience fit in? Allow me to indulge in a review of mine from Midwest Book Reviews: “In the House of Leviathan neatly demonstrates the fact that the best kind of horror/thriller combination is spiced with an author's experiences: in fact, the idea for this book came to B.D. Bruns as he was sailing off the coast of Italy, and is based on his love of museums and old things.”

Indeed, I visited a thousand year old paper mill. Obviously making paper isn't interesting enough to normal human beings to be the driving force of a thriller. But some of the things I saw in that deep, dark cellar certainly were. The area was inherently fascinating, with complex chutes and canals of stone that looked like an M.C. Escher nightmare. In the darkest corners were huge, violent shredding machines with nail-tipped wooden mallets. Rotting rag heaps had kept the air dismal and and dangerous. These interesting and surprising things hidden in the stone below ground were used to make paper for the Vatican—itself a dramatic location.

That museum showed me a unique setting with a hundred ways to die horribly. Drowning, infection, mauling. Why choose one when I can have them all? But what would be the odds of all the worst ways to die happening at once? Well, why not stack the odds by having a conscious, negative force making worst case scenarios all the more likely? Thus was my first thriller novel born of a personal experience and a bit of imagination.


About the Author

Adventurer B.D. Bruns has traveled to over 50 countries to gather material for his bestselling books. He’s won 19 national and international book awards, including three national Book of the Year awards. Bruns’ first fiction book, The Gothic Shift (2014) won the International Book Awards Best Short Story Collection. He also contributes to Yahoo Travel, BBC, CNN, The Daily Beast, and The Travel Channel.

Bruns’ travel adventures span from entering the Pyramids of Giza and swimming in the Panama Canal to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and touring Torture Museums in Estonia. He has attended ceremonies from the descendants of cannibals in the South Pacific and has been consulted by a ghost tour in Malta. After residing in Dracula’s hometown for several years, Bruns moved to Las Vegas with his Romanian wife, where they live with two cats, Julius and Caesar.

For more information, please visit www.bdbruns.com or connect with Bruns on:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/bdbruns
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bdbruns
Twitter: www.twitter.com/lovebruns
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+BrianDavidBruns/posts
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/briandavidbruns
Shelfari: www.shelfari.com/briandavidbruns
LibraryThing: www.librarything.com/author/brunsbriandavid


About the Book

In the House of Leviathan
by B.D. Bruns

"An absorbing story that sacrifices light predictability for depth and solid development, making In the House of Leviathan a standout." - Midwest Book Review

From 3X Book of the Year winner comes an edge of the seat paranormal thriller in the exotic Amalfi coast. An exorcism was the first thought but last desire of Giuseppe. His contentment working with his sister at their ancient paper mill in 1860s Italy is shattered when he witnesses Old Man Grapaldi summoning the Devil. Omens from the sea threaten the village and bizarre, violent happenings at their mill threaten his family. With their church rocked by inner turmoil and so many good men succumbing to dark secrets, Giuseppe himself must overcome his fears and his physical handicap to save his beloved sister.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

A very busy week this time around as I finally found time to catch up on my reviews:

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

A handfull of new additions this week . . .

Iron & Blood by Gail Z. Martin & Larry Martin
New Pittsburgh in 1898, a crucible of invention and intrigue, the hub of American industry at the height of its steam-driven power. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood and earthquake, New Pittsburgh is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the abandoned mine tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging to feed in the smoky city known as 'hell with the lid off.'

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company, travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake's cousin, Veronique 'Nikki' LeClerque. Smuggling a small package as a favor for a Polish witch should have been easy. But when hired killers come after Jake and a Ripper-style killer leaves the city awash in blood, Jake, Rick and Nikki realize that dark magic, vampire power struggles and industrial sabotage are just a prelude to a bigger plot that threatens New Pittsburgh and the world. Stopping that plot will require every ounce of Jake's courage, every bit of Rick's cunning, every scintilla of Nikki's bravura and all the steampowered innovation imaginable.

Wanderlust by Adam Millard
London 1902. Renowned art thief and cat-burglar, Abigale Egars, is good at her job. Assisted by contraptions created by her tinkerer and mentor, Octavius Knight, she is a ghost, evading the Met. at every turn. Unceremoniously abducted from her bed in the dead of night, Abigale learns that The Guild, an insidious and powerful organisation, has implanted a device in her head, a contraption that will administer poison directly into her system at the flick of a switch if she doesn't do what they say.

Blackmailed into stealing three priceless artefacts by The Guild, Abigale must avoid being captured by her arch-nemesis, Detective John Wesley Alcorn, but he's the least of her troubles.

Wizards, magic, necromancers, it's all very real, and Abigale is soon up to her eyeballs in it. Can she survive London, Saint Petersburg and Paris in one piece, steal the triptych and return it to The Guild before the wizards take it from her?

Can she stay alive long enough to save the world?

The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp
Filled with characters as menacing as they are memorable, this chilling twist on vampire fiction packs a punch in the bestselling tradition of ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, a vainglorious and well-established antiques dealer, has made a fortune over many years by globetrotting for the finest lost objects in the world. Only Sax knows the true secret to his success: at certain points of his life, he’s killed vampires for their priceless hoards of treasure.

But now Sax’s past actions are quite literally coming back to haunt him, and the lives of those he holds most dear are in mortal danger. To counter this unnatural threat, and with the blessing of the Holy Roman Church, a cowardly but cunning Sax must travel across Europe in pursuit of incalculable evil—and immeasurable wealth—with a ragtag team of mercenaries and vampire killers to hunt a terrifying, ageless monster…one who is hunting Sax in turn.

From author Ben Tripp, whose first horror novel Rise Again “raises the stakes so high that the book becomes nearly impossible to put down” (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother), The Fifth House of the Heart is a powerful story that will haunt you long after its final pages.

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson 
In our rapidly-changing world of "social media", everyday people are more and more able to sort themselves into social groups based on finer and finer criteria. In the near future of Robert Charles Wilson's The Affinities, this process is supercharged by new analytic technologies--genetic, brain-mapping, behavioral. To join one of the twenty-two Affinities is to change one's life. It's like family, and more than family. Your fellow members aren't just like you, and they aren't just people who are likely to like you. They're also the people with whom you can best cooperate in all areas of life--creative, interpersonal, even financial.

At loose ends both professional and personal, young Adam Fisk takes the suite of tests to see if he qualifies for any of the Affinities, and finds that he's a match for one of the largest, the one called Tau. It's utopian--at first. Problems in all areas of his life begin to simply sort themselves out, as he becomes part of a global network of people dedicated to helping one another--to helping him.

But as the differing Affinities put their new powers to the test, they begin to rapidly chip away at the power of governments, of global corporations, of all the institutions of the old world. Then, with dreadful inevitability, the different Affinities begin to go to war--with one another.

What happens next will change Adam, and his world, forever.

And a late addition to the stacks - I hit the used bookstore before heading out on a hike today and scored some L.E. Modesitt Jr., Graham Masterton, and Bentley Little. I'm lucky if I can make it in a few times a year, and I'm always afraid it'll be my last visit (the owner is 79 years young!), but no matter how long it's been he always remembers me, always remember what I'm looking for, and always knows what new additions might catch my eye. You can't get that kind of service online. :)


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Trial of Intentions by Peter Orullian
Having caught up with Peter's Author Edition of The Unremembered, I'm glad to finally be diving into the follow-up, which I can tell you opens with a little tragedy and a lot of action.

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews
It's been 2 years since Jason graced us with Red Sparrow, and I'm excited to see Captain Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service stepping to the forefront here.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fantasy Review: Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

I know it sounds like hyperbole and hype, but Knight's Shadow truly is a must-read book, a title that I quite literally could not put down. I found myself wandering the parking lot at the office all week, reading through lunch and breaks. I kept it on the seat beside me and read pages while waiting in line at the drive through, Last night I even followed my son around the mall, reading as we walked and he played.

If you read my review of Traitor's Blade, then you know I had some challenges with the first book, and some reservations going into this, but you can forget everything I said. Not only has Sebastien de Castell completely won me over, but he's managed to top The Grace of Kings as my favorite read of the year.

Seriously, it's that good.

With the first book, I found that the flashbacks and history served to overwhelm the story. What happened before, especially regarding the fall of the Greatcoats, was simply more fascinating than the developing story. Here, de Castell really pulls away from those flashbacks, having Falcio, Kest, and Brasti talk about the past, but keeping us firmly rooted in the present. It shifts the focus significantly, and allows for a much better flow to the story. History is still important, and there are still mysteries to be revealed, but they accent the story, rather than drive it.

As much as the characters were the strongest aspect of Traitor's Blade, I felt the book suffered a little from its focus on Falcio. Alone, isolated from his fellow Greatcoats, and developed as much through his past as his present, he conspired with the flashbacks and pacing to drag the story down. Here, we get much more of an ensemble cast. Yes, the other characters are very much defined by how they interact with Falcio, but they share the scenes. More importantly, they have significant moments of their own, allowing them to grow, to develop, and distinguish themselves. Valiana gets significant character development as well, transitioning from spoiled would-be Queen to one of the bravest and most valiant of the Greatcoats, while Darriana takes a long time to reveal herself, but proves to be most of the most intriguing and pivotal characters in the story. Even the Dukes and Knights get their moments, with several of them becoming legitimate characters, rather than just tropes or plot devices.

Once again we have a nice mix of adventure, thrills, dark humor, and even darker cruelty. I laughed aloud at several points, especially the scenes involving the Knights. I'm not sure any class gets skewered quite so effectively throughout the entire series. Just check out this scene in which Brasti politely requests that Knights help Kest determine who to kill first.

"Right. Well, if any of you are wife-beaters, child-killers, perhaps murderers of old people, could you just sort of raise a hand or nod? It would make it a lot easier for us."

"Brasti, that’s ridi—"

But to my utter amazement, one of the Knights started to raise his hand, just for a moment before he saw his fellows look at him. No one ever said you had to be brilliant to wear armor.

I also found myself regularly cringing and cursing de Castell for what he put his characters through, especially Falcio. The battle of Carefal is one of the most powerful I've ever encountered in a fantasy novel, especially in how it impacts the Greatcoats and changes their entire perspective. I won't say much more than that, as the worst examples are pivotal spoilers, but I challenge you to read through the entire Greatcoat's Lament without pausing to catch your breath, punch a wall, and rail against the world.

Finally, what really elevates Knight's Shadow above its first volume is the advancement of the mythologies and world building. We find out much more about who the Greatcoats are, who they were, and who they're destined to be. Similarly, we come to understand just who and what the Dashini are, and what role they have to play in the broader conflict. With the mystery of the King’s Charoites resolved, the story advances to embrace the wider conflicts and betrayals of a world on the brink of war. Every time you think you have it figured out, de Castell reveals another hidden motive or betrayal, turning the entire tale on its head more than once. It's brilliant, it's effective, and it's entirely satisfying.

Thoroughly entertaining and emotionally intense, Knight's Shadow is the kind of historical fantasy that makes everything else pale in comparison. Sebastien de Castell gets inside our heads, inside our hearts, and under our skin. This is a powerful read, one that's full of surprises, and satisfying in absolutely every respect. If there's a problem, it's that it raises the bar so high, leaving Tyrant's Throne with some big expectations to fulfill . . . but that's a good problem to have.

"Tell them the Greatcoats are coming" indeed.

Hardcover, 600 pages
Expected publication: June 2nd 2015 by Viking

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off - The Second Five

With my review commitments once again on track (if not completely caught up), I've had time to sit down and dedicate my reading to second batch of titles in the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off.

To be as fair and consistent as possible with my evaluation, I didn't want to just sneak these in, one at a time, between other titles. My moods and tastes do change regularly, depending on what I've just read (and whether or not I enjoyed it), so ensuring a measure of consistency was key for me in my overall approach.

As was the case last time around, I committed to reading the first 50 pages (at a minimum) of each title, with the hope that one or more books in the batch would be strong enough to keep me reading right through the end. While the last batch had 3 titles that kept me engaged (which was a pleasant surprise), I'm afraid there were none here that I felt compelled to finish.

VJ Lakshman - Mythborn
In terms of presentation, the editor's preface raised serious red flags for me. He begins by selling himself, convincing the reader that he's a man whose judgement is to be trusted, and then goes on to sell the book, telling the reader what to like about it. Tack an author's preface onto that, which sounds just a little too innocent and eager, and any experienced reader of fantasy is going to wonder what they've signed up for.

I tried giving this more than 50 pages, to kind of distance myself from those early doubts, but none of it ever came together for me. I didn't see much more than very basic world building, consisting primarily of setting, without any sort of significance. The characters all fell flat for me, as did their dialogue. The narrative was a bit simple for my taste, not quite bland but fantasy-generic, although it did have a decent flow to it. Maybe it gets better, and maybe there's more development of the world and its characters as the story goes on, but I couldn't find the hook or the spark to keep me reading.

EJ Stevens – Burning Bright
This one I feel bad about not finishing, as it certainly does have promise, and I suspect might work very well for the right audience. The problem is, it's the third book of a series, and diving in mid-series rarely works for me. I liked the characters, but there were clearly nuances to their relationships that went completely over my head. I kept feeling like I was missing something, and without a shared history to justify it, the emotional aspect of their relationships was just annoying.

As urban fantasies go, this does seem to have it all - demons, witches, and fairy creatures - but it didn't really offer anything new or unique to really distinguish it from the crowd. The first-person narrative had just the right about of snark, with some inventive curses, and the dialogue had a solid amount of flair, but that's just not enough for me. Like I said, maybe it's the characters that really distinguish it, but only if you're already invested in them. Having said that, it was very well-paced, with some great action scenes, and a building sense of tension I could already detect early on.

Anthony Stevens – Shifter Shadows
I'm seeing an increasing tendency within the genre to break a story into bite-sized chunks, as if spoon-feeding a generation that lacks the attention span to read beyond a page-turn (or screen-refresh, as the case may be). That just doesn't work for me. I find it both frustrating and distracting. It's hard to settle into a flow and get attached to a narrative when the chapters are little more than scenes, topping out at 2-3 pages in length.

Maybe that's why the story felt so disjointed to me, and why I struggled to make connections as we skipped so quickly through times, places, and people. The opening scenes were interesting, offering up a glimpse of wild people and life in the wilderness, but then the focus shifts to a couple of kids in high school, and that's where the story lost what little interest it had generated. There were some moments of violence that caught my eye, and some insights into the life of a shapeshifter, but they weren't enough to win me over.

Rob Vitaro – By the Light of the Moons
This is a book that had a very young-adult sort of feel to in terms of the language, the narrative, and the plotting. The characters felt much younger than they were really supposed to be, with dialogue that wavered in terms of maturity levels, creating an artificial sort of feel to the interactions where you could feel the author speaking through them.

The other thing that I took away from the first 50 pages is a lack of world-building and scene setting. I came away from it having very little idea what anybody or anything looked like, or where they fit into the overall world. There was some nice action described, and a few moments of humor, but overall it just felt very young and sort of bland.

Claude Blakhen – The Feather and the Swords
Right off the bat, I should point out that this is a translation, and even the most professional mass-market publisher translations can come across as awkward and stilted, robbing the story of the author's original flair and flavor. This may very well be a much better book in its original Polish, but I kept cringing at things like word choices and changes in tense.

There does seem to be some decent world-building and character-building here, and I got a sense of the larger story that I liked, but I struggled so much with the language that it really became a distraction It's a shame, because I suspect this could be a much better book than my experience suggests, but it does need a professional writer or editor to make a thorough pass at the translated text.

CONCLUSION: None of the titles in this batch engaged me enough to read through to the last page, unfortunately. I had high hopes for a few, but they all fell short for different reasons. Burning Bright probably has the most immediate potential, especially for those who have read the rest of the series, but I can't recommend it as a stand-alone title, and I think there's a solid story hidden beneath the language of The Feather and the Swords, but it needs work.

I'll be diving into the next batch following my current read, so we'll see what it brings.

Tough Travels with . . . Dead Gods

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: DEAD GODS

Fantasyland had gods, right? And now they are dead. Dead Gods are not forgotten though, often they are still just influential to the land as they were when living.

Let's get straight to the good stuff, shall we? It's one thing to invent a mythology, populate it with fantastical gods, and then kill them off one-by-one. Cool, yes, but perhaps a little too easy. It's another thing entirely to take a known mythology, set your cross-hairs on its figurehead, and kill off somebody billions of people believe in. Yet, that's precisely what a few well-known authors have done.

There are two gentlemen who have killed 'God' for laughs (or, at least, for satirical purposes), and they are James Morrow and Douglas Adams. In Towing Jehova, Morrow actually begins his tale with the discovery of God's naked, two-mile-long corpse, floating serenely in the Atlantic Ocean. The Vatican wants it buried in an iceberg, while atheists want it destroyed. In Blameless in Abaddon, Morrow continues the story, this time with God not quite dead, but a comatose centerpiece of a Florida theme park - at least until he's put on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity. The third book, The Eternal Footman, deals a plague of death awareness, with God's skull a in orbit above as a blasphemous sort of new moon.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Adams offs God in a bizarrely comic, ridiculously ironic puff of logic. It's a rather convoluted series of circumstances, all based on the impossible existence of the Babel fish - a symbiotic alien that that burrows into your ear and translates any language in the universe. The existence of such an impossible, yet useful, creature both proves and disproves the existence of God, based on the conflict between evidence and belief. In the last of the original books, Arthur traveled to the end of the universe to witness God's final message to creation. That message? The brilliantly comic, "We Apologize for the Inconvenience" which has more irony and blasphemy in its grammar than should be possible.

The Pantheon series from James Lovegrove, beginning with Age of Ra, takes a broader, more imaginative death-stroke to established mythologies - both contemporary and historical. Just imagine a world in which ALL of the gods who have ever been are real, in which they've gone to war, and in which the gods of the ancient Egyptians have defeated all others. Odin, Zeus, Allah, Jesus . . . all of them are dead and gone, leaving a modern world where men, women, and gods all walk the Earth. Here you have soldiers armed with ancient weapons (flails, maces, and sickles), modern weapons (guns, tanks, and planes), and magical weapons (god-powered staves and bombs), fighting alongside armies of mummies resurrected from the battlefield.

Getting back to invented mythologies and imaginative fantasists, Robert Jackson Bennett does a number on an entire pantheon of gods in City of Stairs. The story opens with a tale of conquest that extends so far as to have seen the conquerors murder the gods who once watched over the land of Bulikov, reshaping the landscape through the chaos of a catastrophic, anti-miraculous event known as The Blink. It killed the gods and destroyed their miraculous works, but there's still a lingering question as to the fate of the gods, especially with their miraculous items hidden away in a mysterious warehouse that puts Area 51 to shame.

Finally, we come to No Return (and it's upcoming sequel, Shower of Stones) by Zachary Jernigan. This is a story set in a world where the gods are real, and where Adrash, the last god standing, remains floating among the stars, bored, depressed, and idly contemplating the destruction of the world below. He has crafted a series of metal moon-sized spheres, the orbit and rotation of which he shifts ever-so-slightly to keep his worshipers anxious and uneasy. He's already caused two cataclysms by dropping individual spheres upon the planet, but the next (should it come) will be the big one. The first book involves a plan to appease Adrash and bring peace to the planet, while the second calls for revolt against him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Waiting On Wednesday: Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland
Expected publication: September 1st 2015 by Tor Books

America's most distinguished historical novelist steps fully into the realm of fantasy and makes it her own

Where the Cape of the Winds juts into the endless sea, there is Castle Ocean, and therein dwells the royal family that has ruled it from time immemorial. But there is an Empire growing in the east, and its forces have reached the castle. King Reymarro is dead in battle, and by the new treaty, Queen Marioza must marry one of the Emperor’s brothers. She loathes the idea, and has already killed the first brother, but a second arrives, escorted by more soldiers. While Marioza delays, her youngest son, Jeon, goes on a journey in search of his mute twin, Tirza, who needs to be present for the wedding.

As Jeon and Tirza return by sea, their ship is attacked by a shocking and powerful dragon, red as blood and big as the ship. Thrown into the water, Tirza clings to the dragon, and after an underwater journey, finds herself alone with the creature in an inland sea pool. Surprisingly, she is able to talk to the beast, and understand it.

So begins a saga of violence, destruction, and death, of love and monsters, human and otherwise.

I've been a fan of Holland ever since stumbling across a tattered paperback copy of The Valley of the Kings years ago. The idea of the woman who brought King Tut to life turning her attentions to dragons excites me to no end!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fantasy Review: When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

While I hesitate to call this a throwback or reactionary fantasy, there's no question that When the Heavens Fall has a very late-80s/early-90s feel to it. From the characters, to the world-building, to the story, to the narration, Marc Turner's debut just feels like something I'd almost swear I read 25 years ago. That's not necessarily a bad thing - many of my favorite epics are from that era - but it will certainly present a challenge to readers who've become accustomed to something more polished and more complex.

I've already seen some readers complain about the world-building, but I appreciated both the world itself and the way it's built. What you have to understand is that Turner's style is about as far away from info-dumping as you can get. He throws us head-first us into the story, drags us along, and simply expects us to catch up. The politics, mythology, and magic are revealed in sporadic dribs and drabs, often through conversation or internal monologues. You have to pay attention, and you have to make some connections on your own to have the story come together, and I liked that.

As for the characters, I liked them, and was certainly invested in their fates, but I'll be the first to admit they could have benefited from a little more emotional depth. The Lurker and Jenna were an interesting pair, playing off one another nicely, but neither one grabbed me and screamed HERO! Ebon was a legitimate hero, but a little too good to be interesting - he really needed a just a few darker, selfish aspects to round him out. Romany was pretty much his polar opposite, a legitimate villain, but a little too bad to be truly interesting, although I loved her interactions with Spider. Parolla, on the other hand, was a character about whom I constantly wanted to see, hear, and know more. I loved her as much as I loved her story arc, and I actually got frustrated when the story moved away from her. Had Turner invested as much effort in building out the other characters as he did her, I think this would have been a much stronger tale.

The narration itself was serviceable, but nothing special. Again, like I said, it has that feel of a late-80s/early-90s epic fantasy, when plot came before characters, and characters came before storytelling. It flows well, is nicely paced, and doesn't fall into any of the debut author traps of overused words or phrases, but the switch between POVs is a little harsh at times. There were times I felt like Turner was simply changing POV to give himself time to think, time to figure out what to do with a character next, without advancing too far towards the climactic convergence of magical forces and supernatural powers.

With all of that said, I really enjoyed the story. It not only developed well, but it resolved itself nicely. It's increasingly rare that an epic fantasy can manage to sustain my interest through the climax, and keep me reading closely, enjoying the details and nuances, as opposed to skimming ahead to find out how it all ends. The darkness, the magic, and the very idea of power really appealed to me here, and I felt Turner did a masterful job of building the story towards that climax. It's a story that just got bigger, deeper, and more intriguing with each new revelation.

I'm really curious to see how fans of the genre respond to When the Heavens Fall. I suspect that will largely depend on how long they've been fans, and how wide their reading experience has been. If it comes across like nothing they've ever read before, that might be a challenge. If it seems at all familiar, however, and evokes any feelings of nostalgia, then I think it's those readers who will be clamoring the loudest for a sequel. Either way, I enjoyed it, and I'm anxious to see what Turner does next.

Hardcover, 544 pages
Expected publication: May 19th 2015 by Tor Books

Monday, May 18, 2015

INTERVIEW with Justin Lee Anderson (author of Carpet Diem)

Good morning, all! Joining us today is Justin Lee Anderson. As one of those unfortunate authors who were left in a tough spot when Thorstruck press closed down, he persevered and ended up being picked up by Wild Wolf press instead. He joins us today to talk about Carpet Diem: Or...How to Save the World by Accident, which (as you'll see in the blurb below) sounds like a ton of quirky fun.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Justin. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

I've been writing and editing professionally for over 15 years, but Carpet Diem is my first novel. It’s an urban fantasy comedy about a hermit whose living room carpet turns out to be the deciding factor in a bet between God and Satan. Then it’s stolen, and it’s up to him to get it back – or else! It’s a witty, sexy, sweary, fantastical thriller.

Q: And it sounds like a ton of fun! The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing - as you found out when Thorstruck folded at just the wrong time. When did you begin writing, and what has the journey to publication been like?

I started this book over ten years ago, and it’s been a long evolution. That’s had a lot to do with life getting in the way of writing, but I’ve also been guilty of some industrial grade procrastination at times. I think part of the problem was believing in myself and that the book would ever be published. Luckily, I had family and friends to do that for me. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist. I think if I read the book 1000 times, I’d change something every time. The trick was in knowing when to let go!

Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

I think the ideas come easiest. You just have to be open to them and paying attention.  Things like the synopsis and summary are more difficult. Having written almost 100,000 words, it’s so difficult to sum it up briefly in a way that gives enough to make someone interested without giving away plot points that work so much better when they come as a surprise. That’s hard.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

I’m not a plotter. Well, I haven’t been, anyway. With Carpet Diem, I had a premise, some core characters, some clear ideas for climactic moments and major emotional beats, and with that, I set off to see where it would take me. So yes, a lot came as I was writing, including characters becoming much bigger than I had intended them to be at the start. I find it easier and more natural to have a notion of where I’m going and let the characters and events flow. Having said that, I have loosely plotted a sequel and I will be trying to use that as at least a framework – but there’s every chance the final book will look nothing like the scribbled pages of A4 I’m starting with!

Q: When it comes to writing, nothing ever turns out like we imagined, does it? On that note, when writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

I tried to write a book that I’d want to read. I like books that surprise me. If I see a plot twist coming a mile off because the author has foreshadowed it too heavily, I get bored. I want to not know everything. I want some mystery and I’m happy for things to come completely out of the blue. So while I definitely wrote some moments I hoped would particularly resonate with the audience, the audience I was aiming for was really just me. So I hope there are a lot of other readers out there who share my taste!

Q: Sounds like the right approach. In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

There’s an absolute stand out that was a surprise, but of which I’m actually incredibly proud. I've been surprised by the number of women who have raved about how much they love my female characters. I consider myself a feminist, but I certainly didn't consciously set out to write good female characters – I just wanted to create strong characters. But I was genuinely shocked by the reaction. It made me very happy.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

Loads. Jasper FForde, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett, Joe Abercrombie, Jo Nesbo and Carlos Ruiz Zafon have all influenced different parts of Carpet Diem. But if I have to pick just one, it’s Neil Gaiman. The breadth and depth of his imagination is just stunning. I've been a fan since I read Dream of 1000 Cats when I was 17, and I still get that same feeling of excitement every time I pick up something new of his.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were your work to be optioned for the big screen?

Ooh! Good question. Incredibly, I haven’t actually thought about it before. Idris Elba would make an ideal Priest. Simon would fit Martin Freeman well, but there’s a reason that would become problematic (that’s one of those plot points I don’t want to give away!) Maggie Smith would be a great Harriet (though with the same problem as Simon). Faunt is hard. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head who has the right kind of wiry, bohemian look. Daniel and Lily, my angel and demon, are easier. Daniel has to be David Bowie and Lily would be perfect for Evangeline Lilly (no relation).

Q: Now that's a cast I'd pay to see! Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

As I mentioned, I've plotted a sequel to Carpet Diem. But I’ve also started a totally different project, with the working title of Eidyn. It’s a more traditional fantasy set in a world that is based on the historical origins of the different areas of Edinburgh. I started it as a YA novel, but discovered that not swearing doesn't come naturally (and feels a bit unnatural in the context), so instead it’s a little more in the vein of Joe Abercrombie crossed with a kind of role-playing feel. In fact, the main characters are based on characters that friends and I have been playing for years.  Whether I finish that first or write the sequel probably depends on how well Carpet Diem does!

Sounds promising! Thanks again for joining us in the Ruins.


About the Author

Born in Edinburgh, Justin Lee Anderson spent a decade of his childhood bouncing around the US, following his dad’s professional football (soccer) career. He returned to the Scottish capital in his teens and, after a few brief sojourns to Dundee (for an English degree) and the South of France (for his family), settled back in the city that’s always been ‘home’.

In over 15 years of writing and editing for a living, he’s done everything from restaurant, theatre and comedy reviews to training manuals and magazines, including four years as the writer, editor and photographer for an Edinburgh guidebook. Currently working as a Content Editor, he lives with his Brady Bunch family in a permanent state of happy chaos.

He has the same initials as the Justice League of America, and his favourite writers are Neil Gaiman, Aaron Sorkin, Joe Abercrombie and Joss Whedon, in no particular order.

He misses Firefly.


About the Book

Carpet Diem: Or...How to Save the World by Accident
by Justin Lee Anderson

Fifteen years after losing most of his family to a devastating, pudding-related tragedy, Simon Debovar has settled into a life of self-imposed exile from the stinking, selfish morass of humanity. Content that his daily highlights will include hazelnut coffee, a long bath and the occasional jar of olives, his life is completely upturned by the discovery that his ornate living room carpet is the deciding factor in a bet between God and Satan.

When mysteriously well-timed carpet thieves deprive him of the crucial heirloom, Simon is forced to leave his hermit's existence behind for a world of angels, demons, witches and immortals.

And then it gets complicated.

Blood, Boobs, and Carnage

What, you ask, is Blood, Boobs, and Carnage all about? Well, for one day only, crazy folk across the blogosphere are posting about a movie, a television show, a book, or all three that falls into the category of Blood, Boobs, and Carnage. Head on over and visit Alex or Heather for all the details.

Let's go in order and start with a movie. I thought about going with a couple of classics like Heavy Metal or Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, but I'm sure there will be a dozen mentions of each today. I seriously considered Zombie Strippers, which stars none other than Jenna Jameson (in her first non-porn role) and Robert Englund (otherwise known as Freddy Krueger), but it's a bit too deliberate and self-titillating. Instead, I've gotta go back to the classics, back to the 80s, and tip my hat to scream queen legend Linnea Quigley. From Return of the Living Dead to Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers to Night of the Demons and beyond, she defined blood, boobs, and carnage for an entire generation.

Television is a bit more difficult, but let's give it a shot. I could go the easy route with something like Xena, which had Xena and Gabriel, plenty of fake blood, and lots of cartoonish carnage, but (again) I suspect we'll be seeing the two of them all over the place today. Instead, I'm going to go with a show that might not immediately come to mind, and with an example that's likely not the one you're thinking of. Let's reach for the stars with Star Trek: The Next Generation, but skip right past Deanna Troi (the obvious choice) and go for Lursa and B'Etor, the Duras Sisters. Making their debut in season 4, they were rather infamous for their Klingon cleavage window, and were certainly responsible for threatening their fair share of carnage.

Finally, that brings us to books, my favorite of the three. The Wheel of Time immediately comes to mind, with the women of Ebou Dari decked out in cleavage-revealing dresses (which they use to provocatively frame the protruding hilt of their marriage knives), but that really only covers 1 of the 3 category. Lyka Bloom does all three well, but erotic horror seems a little too easy/obvious. So, instead, I will go with one of my favorite reads from last year - The Barrow by Mark Smylie. Along with Andy Remic's Iron Wolves saga, this is a book that marks a trend towards a darker, more mature sort of epic fantasy, one that reaches deep into the genre's pulp sword-and-sorcery roots, but which absolutely refuses to hold back on the sex and the violence. I know that explicitness (in both violence and vulgarity) turned off some readers, but I thought it was brilliant.

Okay, your turn - what are your Blood, Boobs, and Carnage picks?