Friday, 6 January 2017

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. Nuns and magic and... just wow!

 Imagine an ice-bound world where the polar caps have expanded as the power of its sun dwindles. A world where life is confined to a 50 mile wide corridor circling the globe, and maintained by the power of the focus moon. This is the world of Red Sister. The world of Abeth, where the ice-wind howls down and hurls shards of ice at those foolish, or unlucky enough, not to have found shelter.

I was lucky enough to receive an Advance Reader Copy of Red Sister, and I have to say, Lawrence does not disappoint. The first book in a new trilogy, Red Sister is a departure from Lawrence's previous novels which take place in the Broken Empire. There is an immediate difference from his previous books, both in tone and content.  Red Sister is far closer in tone to the Red Queen's War than to the Broken Empire trilogy, with none of the hateful protagonist that many found themselves loving despite themselves.

Most of the characters in this book are female, with men playing largely minor roles. Lawrence also has both homosexual and disabled characters, and does a fantastic job of making neither fact matter. All characters are treated purely as people.

Nona Grey is unwanted and broken, given to the child-taker without a price, and consigned to a life of blood and violence as she passes on the Convent of Sweet Mercy. If you were expecting women devoted to a life of meditation and seeking to be closer to god, you will be disappointed.

"It is important, when killing a nun, to bring an army of sufficient size."

Lawrence paints a picture of a world where mankind is just barely clinging on. The worldbuilding is organic and unfolds slowly through the eyes of the characters, through flashbacks and stories, rather than by bombarding the reader. 

The magic system is both simple and effective, with magical power passing through the ancient bloodlines of Hunska, Marjal, Gerant, and Quantal, each conferring various abilities. Strong blood strains (primes or pure strains) are a rarity, and strong mixed lines are rarer still.

Nona's story unfolds as she adapts to life in the convent and progresses with her training. She is faced with the challenges of discovering what friendship is supposed to be, and learning the lessons of trust and betrayal, as she studies the business of violence, poison, and blood. But Nona is not without a past, or enemies, and both have their part to play in this tale.

The prose is what we have come to expect of Lawrence. Lyrical and bordering on poetry in many instances. There is a dark beauty to the author's writing which makes it hard to put down and I am already waiting for the sequel.

Red Sister will be released by Harper Voyager in both hardback and ebook format on April 6th and is available for preorder now.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Paternus by Dyrk Ashton - A Book Review.

It's done. It's dead. 2016 is no more! Actually it wasn't a bad year, in many ways it was an excellent year. But EVERYONE died! In that one stretch of 12 months we lost Bowie, Harper Lee, and Alan Rickman. 

You killed Snape, you bastard! 

Christ, we lost Prince! We lost Muhammed Ali. We lost Victoria Wood and Ronnie Corbett!

We lost Carrie Fisher!

2016, you sucked!

I was going to go on but, I'm too depressed to spend any more time on that list. So let's go onto brighter things.

Thing is, for me at least, 2016 was a great year. I released the final book in my trilogy in the last weeks of 2015, and it sold stonkingly well. 

I was awarded not one, but two stipends from ACX to help attract a narrator for the audiobook versions of my books.

I managed to agree terms with the ever excellent Jonny McPherson and the first of the trilogy is out now, with book two to follow in March (ish).

More importantly, I got back into the writing saddle and wrote 97% of my next novel. 

Frankly, if 2016 taught me anything, it taught me not to waste time - and to be kind. Life is simply too short to waste on things that don't excite you. When it comes to books, I'm going to combine both those thoughts and will no longer review anything that I wouldn't give more than three stars to. 

Reading is incredibly subjective and there are very few absolutes. I get sent a fair number of books. I'm pretty rubbish at getting around to reading them all, and some I simply can't get into. No author needs to have their book dragged through the mud just because it wasn't to the reader's taste. So from now on, if I don't like something, or can't finish something, I simply won't review it.

With that in mind let's take a look at Dyrk Ashton's offering - Paternus.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. It's one of the SPFBO finalists. If you don't know what that is then, (seriously, where have you been???) you should take a look at Mark Lawrence's website.

I had heard a few things about it beforehand but I like to think I have a reasonably open mind.

After a rocky opening chapter Ashton settles down to the business of reminding me why I read so many of Dean Koontz's books. This is urban fantasy done right. Not a sparkly vampire or shirtless werewolf in sight, and the pace! Don't make any plans to do anything else once you start reading this.

Ashton weaves multiple mythologies and legends together within his own cunning tapestry. The main character is thrown into a series of events that manage to demonstrate how just about everything she knew about the world was wrong, without falling prey to the dreaded info-dump.

The classic clash of good vs evil is re-imagined into something that seems far more human. This isn't really angels vs demons (plus four or five more mythologies), it's a lot closer to 'them vs us' and Ashton does a good job of painting both sides in various shades of grey. 

The book is clever, and fast-paced with more than enough twists to keep you guessing. Paternus is not pretentious. It makes no attempts to be anything more than a rollicking adventure. This isn't Tolkien or Rothfuss, it's closer to Anne Rice or Clive Cussler. But then, it never pretended to be anything otherwise. 

If I can pick holes for just a moment, it does seem to fall prey to the American belief that everyone in the UK still drinks tea from fine china and wears tweed, but perhaps that was just this one character. We'll forgive that this time (but I'll be watching you Ashton.)

Paternus seems to be the first book in a series but holds together well enough on its own that no reader will be left hanging. (What kind of author would do that anyway?)

Overall this is a very impressive debut and I'd be happy to read the sequel. You can get copies in paperback, kindle, and audiobook versions here.

Four stars.