book reviews, q&a, spoiler free

The Unspoken Name

Book Review

45046552The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood

Rating: XXXXX

Published February 20th by Tor Books

“Nothing in this world has earned the power to frighten you Csorwe…You have looked your foretold death in the face and turned from it in defiance. Nothing in this world or any other deserves your fear.”

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honoured title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

I was lured in by a pretty cover and I stayed for the orc assassin. Usually, I have a good long paragraph at the beginning of my reviews explaining how and why I chose this particular book to review but it’s really that simple and I’m so glad I let my fickle mood reading self, pick this book because folks, it’s a doozy.

I haven’t read a lot of big or high fantasy in a good while, mainly because they tend to be chunky books and I’ve found it really hard to slog through larger books lately and when this turned up I panicked that I’d made a mistake. At over 450 pages it’s not huge but it was large enough to intimidate me a little. Within 100 pages I don’t know why I worried and by the end, I wanted to go back to the beginning and read the whole thing again or even better read the next book immediately (can I have the next one yet? Please. I’m desperate). The pacing was a little slow by the end of the first third but not terribly slow and by the time I was just over halfway through I was ravenously turning pages. I’m someone who procrastinates over the last 100 pages of a book but I’m honestly shocked I managed to accomplish anything else when I still had some of this book to read because it absolutely hooked me in and that last third is crazy. I kept turning to my husband to tell him “There aren’t enough pages left.”

One great thing about The Unspoken name is that although it really feels like high fantasy, to begin with, it has such a great mix of genres swirled in, we have some science fiction and space opera elements even. The world that Larkwood has created is rich, stunning and at breathtaking; the image of all these worlds connected to each other, some thriving and full of life, while others are dying and decaying, is just hauntingly beautiful. The way magic works too, as a warlock player in dungeons and dragons I felt was particularly interesting and alongside the world-building, all of the information is just introduced and explained in such a natural organic way throughout the story.

Pretty much all of the characters in this book are a hot mess, in the best way. There is no one main antagonist and almost every character is a beautiful shade of morally grey in some way or another and honestly, I am absolutely here for it. I love characters that aren’t black and white and don’t tend to fall fully towards particularly ‘good’ or ‘evil’ which I’ve seen a lot of in the high fantasy I’ve read previously which made this book even more of a breath of fresh air. I love the messed up relationship between Csowre and Tal (No hard feelings) and I really hope we get more of that in the next book.

The Unspoken Name is out now and I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you’ve had enough of your garden variety fantasy books! Thank you once again to Tor Books and the ever fantastic Jamie-Lee for sending me this early copy for review. When can I get my hands on the next one?

 

 

Comics, q&a, spoiler free, Uncategorized

NPC Tea – Sarah Milman Q&A

Q&A

You may have seen my review for this week, the latest two issues, six and seven, of NPC tea, a beautifully illustrated comic by the lovely Sarah Milman. (If you missed the post you can check out spoiler-free reviews for Issues 1-5 here or issues 6&7 here). Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you all a little Q&A with the illustrator and author herself!

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First off, thank you so much for taking part in this Q&A for my blog. I realise you must be super busy with the Kickstarter for the latest issue of NPC Tea being live and working on the issue itself. I’ve been reading NPC Tea for some years now but for those who may not have heard of NPC Tea before how would you describe it?NPC Tea is about a tea shop run by orcs, elves and other fantasy creatures in modern day Cardiff, and it’s inspired by D&D, Final Fantasy and LOTR. That’s the elevator pitch, anyway! The comic is about fantastical beings trying to live a normal life but finding their pasts difficult to escape. It has themes of pacifism and historical revisionism, and also orcs and elves kissing. You know, all the important stuff.

How have you found using Kickstarter to fund each issues initial run? Were there any particular pros and cons?
I’ve really enjoyed using Kickstarter, but it’s difficult to switch off from! I’m quite an anxious person who tends to stress a lot, so the campaigns are both really exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s easy to obsess over numbers, and if you don’t like self-promotion it can get painful at times! That said, it’s incredibly satisfying when a campaign succeeds, and it’s allowed me to connect to people from all over the world. NPC Tea wouldn’t have been possible without it. 

On average how long does it take to complete an issue?
It’s condensed a lot over the years. Issue 1 took about three months to draw, while 7 took 3 and a half weeks. I aim to complete two pages a day, but with recent issues, I’ve tried to pace myself. As a freelancer it’s hard not to overwork, and to force yourself to step back or take time off. 

What is your favourite aspect of creating comics and what particular element gives you the most personal satisfaction?
This is difficult – I find most of it very satisfying. There’s nothing better than nailing the script, especially when it takes a while to get just right. I really enjoy looking back on older pages and seeing my progression – even if I might cringe at some bits of artwork, I like to think that I keep improving with each issue that I make.

Do you have a least favourite aspect?
Colouring! This is why I initially chose to use limited colours for NPC Tea – I enjoy all the other elements apart from colouring, and I think it’s my weakest area. Though I’d like to get better at it, and will probably go back to full colour in future projects. It’s not strictly comics related, but I hate admin and promoting myself too – I actually freeze up when I have to send out business emails, even if it’s in response to something good…

What tools do you use to create comics and what makes them the “right tools” for you?
I make my comics completely digitally, and NPC Tea was all made with OpenCanvas. I’d like to switch to Clip Studio paint though – OC can be a bit buggy, but I haven’t found a program that has the same kind of line quality that I like. I also use Scrivener to write, though to be honest pen and paper works in a pinch.

How would you describe your typical work routine?
Chaotic…? I tend to write best very late at night. So, when I’m writing scripts or thumbnailing, I tend to stay up late and get out a draft in one or two sittings, then edit the script with a cup of tea over the next few days. When it comes to actually drawing, I’m a lot more disciplined, and I’m at my desk at 10am, working through till about 7. I like to work to podcasts and cartoons – my favourites are Swindled and Avatar the Last Airbender. As a freelancer I can work whenever I like, but that’s not always a good thing!

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I find that travelling helps me to write. Especially on trains, it’s easy to let my mind wander and come up with dialogue and new ideas. The indie comics scene in the UK is so diverse – reading other people’s comics and seeing what they’re creating is inspiring. My favourite thing to do is have a nice bath while reading comics! I also play games, though as a completionist they tend to make me procrastinate…
I’d like to have more hobbies that make me go outdoors. I am very pale and weak.

Do you have any advice to give to others who may be thinking about creating comics?
I’d say start out with something short, and gain the experience of getting it printed. I made the mistake of starting a long form comic straight out of the gate, and that was a difficult learning curve. Also, make something that you’d like to read! If you’re stuck for ideas, there are always a lot of anthologies out there to join.

What is next for NPC Tea? Is this the end?
Well, I’ve written this volume to stand alone, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have ideas for a series two! I’ve written a lot of short stories too – it’s been a long time since I’ve written something not NPC Tea, and I might want a break from orcs and elves when all this is over… but that’s looking unlikely. I think I’m going to see how people react to the finished story, and go from there. If people want to see more from Hanny, Oz and Bryn, I won’t need much convincing to continue.

You can order issues 1-7 via Sarah’s Etsy store here right now if you want to catch up asap or if you back the Kickstarter you can choose to receive all of the single issues (with an exclusive slipcase to keep them all together neatly) OR a hardback bindup of all of them! Not forgetting Sarah also has a Patreon where at the $1 tier you can read up to issue 6 digitally right away!

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Bookish Discuussions, q&a, spoiler free

James Lovegrove Q&A

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It’s been two days since the release of Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove, (you can check out my spoiler free review here) and today I’m excited to share with you a Q&A I did with the main himself about his experiences writing his newest release.

First off let me say, I absolutely loved The Magnificent Nine, it completely took me back to the days of watching Firefly on SyFy, the show had such a particular feel and quality to it that I think you’ve really managed to capture. One of the things that, I think really helped was your use of language, a really unique aspect in the show and one that I think you’ve managed to embody brilliantly in your writing for this book. How did you find getting into that particular style? Not just the use of signature words from the show such as ruttin, shiny and gorram but the inclusion of the chinese phrases and the way the words flow in such a way that makes it instantly recognisable to a lot of fans.

Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the book so much .At the risk of sounding cocky, I found
it fairly easy getting into the Firefly idiom. That’s because I’ve watched every episode
and the movie at least three times, and because I love the show. The dialogue is this
delightful mix of the florid and the earthy. I was already used to writing Victorian-style
dialogue from my Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so all I had to do was add some Western-
movie grit to that. It all flowed from there. Honestly, The Magnificent Nine was perhaps
the most fun I’ve ever had with a novel. I polished off the first draft in about four
weeks. It was paid fan-fiction, basically.

Do you have a favourite Chinese curse word or phrase from the series or that you used in your book and did you get to make up any of your own?

While writing the book I put out a distress call on social media, and luckily a Chinese-
speaking Facebook friend, Yen Ooi, came to my rescue. She gamely helped me with
translating several fairly obscene phrases that I came up with, most memorably “beat
me with a wet and soft sheep cock”. From the existing Firefly pinyin lexicon, I think my
favourite is “Holy mother of God and all her wacky nephews”, which crops up in “Our
Mrs Reynolds”.

Although the language is a big help in giving your book the same feel as the show on which its based another thing that struck me was just how well you captured the feel of each of the characters, did you do anything in particular to find the actions and voices of these characters and their rhythm among themselves and each other?

The characters were so well-sketched and clearly defined in the show that it wasn’t hard
re-creating them on the page. The trick was staying true to the way the writers and
actors portrayed them, while at the same time using the techniques of the novel, such as
interior monologue, to flesh them out that little bit more. The one person I was least
certain about, to begin with, was River. Over the course of the series she changes a great
deal, swinging between wide-eyed moon-calf and hyper-intelligent kill bot, and I found
her hard to get a fix on. I was completely unsure about writing her, and I couldn’t quite
believe it when my editor told me I’d actually got her nailed. Hell of a relief.

Is there a particular member of the crew of Serenity you relate to the most?

Probably Wash. He wisecracks to hide his insecurities, like I do, but when it’s called for,
he gets down to the job and is utterly competent, as I hope I am. He’s also got a
gorgeous, tough-as-nails wife who takes no bullshit, and so do I.

Did having the opportunity to write The Magnificent Nine and it’s predecessor Big Damn Hero change the way you felt about any of the characters?

I’d always looked at Mal as a good guy to the core, but when I was re-watching the
show in preparation for writing the novels, I realised he’s pretty hardcore ruthless. He’s
more embittered than he lets on, which emerges in flashes here and there, such as in
“Ariel” when he nearly throws Jayne out of the airlock. You threaten what’s his, and no
matter who you are, you’d better expect reprisals. I think it’s Nathan Fillion’s charm
that’s deceptive here. He makes Mal wonderfully easy-going and you might think that’s
all there is to him, but there are moments when Fillion allows glimmers of the steeliness
beneath to show through. It’s a terrifically well-rounded performance.

In this book you really dig down into Jaynes emotions which are often only hinted at in the show and personally I enjoyed this closer look into a character that at first glance could have easily been written off someone who doesn’t really give much of a care about anyone but himself, your story really highlights what we see glimpses of in the show, how did it feel really getting down into all of that and what made you decide to do so?

I think Jayne gets stereotyped as the big dumb guy who likes to shoot guns. I thought
it’d be fun to up the stakes for him and give him something to care about, so in The
Magnificent Nine he reconnects with an old flame and discovers that their affair may
have had unintended consequences. Perhaps against his own better judgement, Jayne
learns to step up and do the right thing, even though this comes at a cost. Can’t say any
more than that because of, y’know, spoilers.

You’ve written over a number of genres over the years and for different age groups, how does writing a tie in novel for a series like Firefly differ from that and how did you get into it?

About four years ago I told my then-editor at Titan, Miranda Jewess, that I’d be
interested in tie-in work but only if it was Firefly. Titan didn’t even have the licence
then, but a couple of years later they did, and Miranda remembered what I’d said and
got in touch. I jumped at the chance. I like a challenge, and I also like to get things right,
so I re-immersed myself in the ’Verse and got reacquainted with the characters and the
tech, and then decided I would really lean into the Western-movie elements of the show.
I was excited because I’d never done anything like this before, neither a tie-in nor a
Western (other than a Western-inflected short story, “The Black Rider”, in the
anthology Gutshot). I had, however, had some experience with writing in other authors’
voices through my Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft pastiches. It was really just a case of letting my love for Firefly show through and giving my fellow Browncoats what they
want.

Were there any particular rules of guidelines aside from the obvious when you were creating the story? If so could you tell me a little about these? Did they restrict you very much? Did you have to change anything in particular to accommodate them?

I submitted three story outlines for consideration, and Titan and the licensor together
decided which one they would like to see as a novel. So, from the outset, I was writing to
order, but still the guidelines were fairly loose. Once I’d written the book, it was up to
editorial to say what they thought worked and what didn’t, and I rewrote accordingly.
There wasn’t too much of that, in the event. Mostly it was a case of a line of dialogue
here and there not sounding quite right and needing to be honed, or a few instances of
character interaction which didn’t ring true. Any changes were minor. I felt that, even
if it wasn’t expressly stated, I was being asked just to have fun in this fictional world
and do the best job I could.

Thank you for your answers, as a last question I would love to know if you have a favourite episode of the Firefly and why?

It’s not so much a favourite episode as a favourite moment. It’s in “War Stories” when
Niska is torturing Mal and Wash at his skyplex. Zoë strides in, and Niska thinks he’s
being terribly clever and mean by inviting her to choose one of them to save, and before
he’s even finished talking, Zoë just points at Wash and goes “Him”. It’s perfect. You’re
expecting her to agonise over the choice. So’s Niska. But she doesn’t. She rescues her
husband because (a) he’s her husband and (b) she knows Mal can hold up better under
torture than Wash can. It’s both emotionally and logically the correct choice, and it
shows both how pragmatic and at the same time how loving Zoë is.

James Lovegrove is the author of several acclaimed novels and books for children.

James was born on Christmas Eve 1965 and, having dabbled in writing at school, first took to it seriously while at university. A short story of his won a college competition. The prize was £15, and it had cost £18 to get the story professionally typed. This taught him a hard but necessary lesson in the harsh economic realities of a literary career.

Straight after graduating from Oxford with a degree in English Literature, James set himself the goal of getting a novel written and sold within two years. In the event, it took two months. The Hope was completed in six weeks and accepted by Macmillan a fortnight later. The seed for the idea for the novel — a world in microcosm on an ocean liner — was planted during a cross-Channel ferry journey.

James blew his modest advance for The Hope on a round-the-world trip which took him to, among other places, Thailand. His experiences there, particularly what he witnessed of the sex industry in Bangkok, provided much of the inspiration for The Foreigners.

Subsequent works have all been published to great acclaim. These include Untied Kingdom, Worldstorm, Provender Gleed and the back-to-back double-novella Gig.  Many of his early books are being reissued by Solaris Books in a series of compendium volumes entitled The James Lovegrove Collection, beginning in late 2014.  United Kingdom was shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, while “Carry The Moon In My Pocket”, a short story, won Japan’s Seiun Award in 2011 for Best Foreign Short Story.  It and other stories by James, more than 40 in total, have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies over the years, and most have been gathered in two collections, Imagined Slights and Diversifications.

More recently, James has moved into the Firefly ‘Verse, writing tie-in fiction based on the much-missed TV series (and its follow-up movie). His first Firefly novel is Big Damn Hero (based on a story outline by Nancy Holder). His second is The Magnificent Nine.

In addition, James reviews fiction for the Financial Times, specialising in the children’s, science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel genres, and was a regular and prolific contributor to Comic Heroes, a glossy magazine devoted to all things comics-related, until its regrettable demise in 2014.