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ace of skullsTitle: Ace of Skulls

Author: Chris Wooding

Publisher: Gollancz

Published: Out Now

RRP: Print £20.00 – Kindle £12.99

All good things come to those who wait, and this is it, the last stand of the crew of the Ketty Jay.

 They’ve been shot down, set up, double crossed and ripped off. They’ve stolen priceless treasures, destroyed a 10,000 year old Azryx city and sort of blew up the Archdukes son and heir. Now they’ve gone and started a civil war. This time they’re really in trouble.

 As Vardia descends into chaos, Captain Frey is doing his best to keep his ship and crew out of it. He has his mind on other things, mainly the fate of Trinica Dracken. But wars have a way of dragging people in, and sooner or later you have to choose a side.

 Cities will fall, deamons will rise, old secrets are uncovered and new threats exposed. But, when the smoke of battle clears, who will be left standing?

I suppose first off it might be worth a little back-story for those that have never read the three previous books in the Tales of the Ketty Jay series. We were first introduced to Captain Darian Frey, his beat-up-seen-better-days ship and his crew of misfits – Doc Malvery, navigator Jez, engineer Silo, ships cat Slag, and the Ketty Jay’s two out-fliers Harkins and Pinn – in Retribution Falls, next up was The Black Lung Captain and thirdly The Iron Jackal. Its best to describe these books as secondary world science fiction mixed with fantasy, a smattering of horror and huge helpings of steampunkesque ship on ship action. I know a lot of people that have likened the stories to Firefly, having never seen it I can’t comment, but I do know that based on that comparison I do feel perhaps I should seek the series out.

The adventures of the crew of the Ketty Jay are over the top rip roaring fun, there is plenty of action, plenty of humour and each book is full of skin of their teeth escapes. Originally planned as an ongoing series there was a lot of foreshadowing throughout the previous books to a larger conflict and a greater world than what we the reader was exposed to. But suddenly early on in 2013, author Chris Wooding announced that this fourth book would be the last outing for Darian Frey and his crew. That meant that this last instalment had a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of loose ends to tie off.

I’m not sure the reasons behind Woodings decision to finish the story now. I had heard he had concerns  that the format would get stale and outlive its popularity. I can understand if that was his reasoning, best to finish with the story still enjoyable, the characters still likable. But unfortunately for me, a third of the way into this fourth book, things were already getting stale. I’m not convinced trying to finish the overall story arc off in a single volume works, there is way too much to be done, too many subplots to address. I’m not saying this isn’t a good finale, there is still plenty of the trademark action, humour and daring-do. But it was the abundance of this that stunted the story as a whole.

There are a dozen too many last minute escapes from death, too many times Frey proves what a selfish bastard he is and how unfit he is for command, too many battles for battles sake. The odds are almost always insurmountable, most of the situations individual crew members – or the crew as a whole – find themselves in are easily got out of, most times without a scratch. I found this frustrating, it was almost like Wooding did not have the nerve to generate real threat by having something really bad happen to any of them. I’m not saying I want to see characters I like get maimed or killed, but a real sense of jeopardy is need in order for the reader to feel there is an outside chance not everyone will make it through. I guess I’ve become hardened reading the likes of George RR Martin and Joe Abercrombie, become accustomed to the possibility someone might die. I lost count of the number of times during reading this book that I thought “Oh, another near impossible to get out of situation” but knew they would. I to be honest when I reached the end I did feel slightly robbed.

In a way the best way to describe this book is it is very like the A-Team TV series, the characters are colourful and brash, the action loud and big, the injuries minor. Whilst it does round off this individual story well, and the overall series arc suitably, I do feel there could have been more. All of the characters get their chance to shine, even the ships cat gets its crowning moment, but that was it, everything was very workmanlike and ticked all the boxes.

If Wooding does ever decide to return to this world I would pick up the book because despite this ending, it has been a good quartet of books covering an exciting set of characters and setting. But if he does come back, I for one hope he concentrates on the Century Knights.

First off an apology to all those people who have chosen to add this blog to thier list of blog’s to follow. Also sorry to those that have read and liked my reviews, titbits of TV and movie news. I like to keep up with what’s going on, what’s new and what’s of interest to people like me that like SF/F and horror.

Also sorry to those of you that have read my ramblings on the uphill slog that is being an aspiring author, and those that have read the flash and short stories I’ve posted. If you’re wondering why I’m apologising, well look at the gaps between my posting, the lack of up to date reviews. For the past few months I’ve let this blog stagnate and neglected those people who have taken the time to read what I say.

There have been a few changes in my life over the past month or so, mainly the breakdown of my marriage and inevitable split leading me to now renting a room in a shared house, and having to go through the mindfield that is changing my contact details (there’s always someone who will be missed).

Because of the split the writing side of my life has suffered. Although I’m still reading (I have to have some escape), I find it hard to find anything to say apart from short reviews on Goodreads. I have several reviews prepped and started. Blue Blazes and Under Empyrean Skies by Chuck Wendig, the Broken Empire trilogy by Mark Lawrence, The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I will probably eventually get round to posting these reviews, but unsure when.

I do post reviews over at Fantasy Faction, something that I have managed to keep up and keep at.

Alongside the downslide in reviewing is the stalling of my novel writing. The main WiP I’ve been working on since early in the year – Life In The Fastlane – has stopped. Parts 1 & 2 are done, one has been beta read and I’ve done a second draft that came in nearly at twice the length of the first draft. Part two is out with beta readers and I made a start on part three. But then it stalled, barely a chapter in and I hit a wall. I’ve not added to it for over a month and a bit, I open the file up but nothing happens, I just stare at the words wondering where to start.

I’ve tried to break the blockage, I’ve started in on a novella based around an idea I’ve had on the go for a couple of years now. It has helped, I have managed to make progress on it and it is loosening up the old grey matter. But unfortunately my love of writing is lacking of late and I fear it will scupper my 2013 plan of having a fully drafted novel ready to send out to agents by my 50th birthday at the beginning of December.

I’ve rambled, what I’m trying to convey is I’m still here, battered and bruised and in need of some inspirational sign that life is not totally shit and there is something worth all the effort. But I will carry on, never been a quitter.

 

charm

WARNING – WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FROM POISON AND CHARM

 

How do you follow the re-imaging of Snow White, why with the re-imaging of Cinderella. Both have a similar core story, wicked stepmother, distant father, girl dreaming of something better. All the elements are there, but as with Poison, with Charm Sarah Pinborough has turned the story on its head and attacked it in a different way. Here Cinderella is a headstrong wilful young woman, she is independent, brazen at times. She lives with her father, step-mother (who, although ambitious and ever-so slightly obsessive, is not wicked at all) and step-sister (only one as the other has been married off) in the lower end of town, eking a living out of what little her father earns after her step-mother has spent it. The situation is not good, but it could be worse, and despite the Spartan lifestyle they are helped along the way by the kindness of a Robin Hood/Artful Dodgeresque young man called Buttons.

But Cinders dreams of a better life, a life in the castle, with the prince as her husband and the world at her feet, a fantasy she lives out as often as she can, spending her days dreaming and her nights fantasizing, about what life with her handsome prince would be like. But for Cinders there is no fantasy life, no masked balls, with fine dresses and handsome men to dance with. Those delights are all for her step-sister Rose, a plain but kind sibling who is little more than a tool, used by her mother to re-ignite a lifestyle that was lost to her when she followed her heart. But then – as with all good fairy-tales – Cinderella’s wish comes true, a woman appears offering her the chance to go to the ball, a chance to taste that life she so dearly holds onto in her dreams. All she asks in return is that Cinders search every room in the castle and reports back with what she finds. Cinder’s asks if the woman is her fairy godmother, the woman does not say yes or no. With the aid of the woman’s magic Cinders is transformed and goes to the ball, but she finds that dreams don’t always come true.

Cinders captures the prince’s heart, and with an obsessive step-mother going into melt down, verbally abusing her father and step-sister for all their woes, Cinders realises that perhaps the cost they are paying for her to be happy maybe too high. But then, as she prepares for her wedding she realises that the prince is not the fantasy figure she dreamed of, instead he is a shallow, selfish man, who has a secret that he shares with no-one. Cinders begins to realise that rather than a fairytale ending, she is facing a nightmare and a future without love.

But this is a Sarah Pinborough story, and when you buy into one of her tales you know you’re getting a rollicking ride and usually a little smut thrown in. Cinders is naughty, very naughty at times. Buttons a bit of a perv and the mouse a voyeur (yes I said mouse). But as with Poison, here it’s the other characters you have to keep an eye on, alongside the main players there is another story running its course. Those with a sharp eye, and have read the previous book, will spot three characters that have come before, and that this tale is just a continuation of a greater one started with Poison. But as with that previous tale, here you’re left wondering where you’re being taken, and what endgame Sarah has planned. From early on I guessed that the prince was the same one from Poison, mid-way through it became obvious who the coach driver who took Cinders to and from the Ball was, but it wasn’t until right at the end that I knew who the fairy godmother was, and what she was looking for hidden away in the castle.

But again, at the end, as with Poison we are served a curveball, there is another didn’t see that coming moment. Does this moment signal the end to three of the characters story? Quite possible, there is one story untold, and I think that one might be the one that is out of sync chronologically.

I assumed that the overall story would not be told in a chronological order – my initial thought was we would get something along the lines of Sin City – I was wrong to some extent. Charm does follow Poison, as is obvious by the characters and what the fairy godmother is looking for in the castle. It is the true story that Rose demands of her new husband that is the one that’ll be out of place – or perhaps parts of it will. I’m guessing that Beauty will cover events that happened before Poison, events that led the prince and the Huntsman to being lost in the forest and pursued by unknown enemies.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 13,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

RIP Neil Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

News has broke of the sad passing at the age of 82 of Neil Armstong, the first man to walk on the Moon. As Commander of Apollo 11, he and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin spent nearly three hours on the Lunar surface.

Earlier this month Armstrong underwent surgery for blocked arteries. No news has been released yet as to the cause of death.

 

 

Subterranean Press are releasing a limited edition of Joe Abercrombie’s first standalone novel Best Served Cold – http://www.subterraneanpress.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=abercrombie04&Category_Code=B&Product_Count=1 – and yesterday the cover art was released.

Surely a thing of beauty, featuring the central figure of Monza Murcatto – The Snake of Talins.

Springtime in Styria. And that means war.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll, and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell, but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular —a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a barbarian who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started…

Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

Subterranean Press plan to release the book in the Autumn.

With a week to go (in the UK, the US would have seen it last night) until S2 of Game Of Thrones premiers on Sky Atlantic, HBO have released two new videos featuring the new characters and new locations coming up in the next ten weeks.

Stannis Baratheon, Mellisandre, Davos Seaworth, Lord Balon Greyjoy, Maergery Tyrell, Qhorin Halfhand…

And we go beyond the Wall, to Qarth, the Riverlands and points between

Twisted Showcase Trailer

Twisted Showcase is a web based anthology series that launches on March 1st with Peter & Paul staring Gareth David Lloyd (Ianto Jones in Torchwood). The series has 5 parts with stories ranging from drama, horror, comedy and psychological  thriller.

The trailer was launched on the Twisted Showcase website – http://www.twistedshowcase.com/ – today.

 

The guys over at fantasy-faction.com have launched their first podcast, the plan is for this to be a weekly event, alternating between an author interview one week, and Q&A session + book review the next.

To launch the series they’ve posted an interview with Joe Abercrombie (The First Law, Best Served Cold, The Heroes), where he talks about his work, his current novel and shoots the breeze in general.

A good start to what I hope is a weekly treat for fantasy fans all over.

Here is a linky to the podcast http://fantasy-faction.com/2012/fantasy-faction-podcast-joe-abercrombie#comment-13041

 

 

I follow a lot of writers – on Twitter and via various blogs/websites – and most of the articles/posts/tweets are about how their various works are progressing. One main thing mentioned is how well the writing is following the pre-determined plan they created prior to writing the first word. As a writer having a game-plan before I start is something I’ve never managed to achieve.

My writing is haphazard, it flows and changes direction as every conversation, scene, major event occurs. I find planning all that out beforehand hard to envisage. I do have an idea where my story is going, I have the start and the end. What happens in the bits in between is in the laps of the gods.  I primarily write short stories, perhaps that is why I work this way? With a shorter narrative to produce there is little need to plan ahead. If this is true then that is perhaps why I have struggled so much on the two occasions I’ve pushed the limit beyond the standard 8,000 words.

I’ve one completed novel under my belt, it was written for the first Pratchett Prize 18 months or so ago. I topped out at a little over 81,000 words, it never made the cut and I’ve not revisited it since I got the rejection. Just after Christmas I decided to have a look at it and see if anything needed doing, boy, did something need doing. It was all going OK up until about chapter 5 – just over 8,000 words in ironically – when things started going a bit Pete Tong.

Somehow I managed to include a character I’d killed off in chapter two, I also revisited a location that was destroyed – killing said character – without any mention of it being re-built (or allowing for the time it would take to re-build it). As I progressed the story meandered around the central characters in such a way that my the middle I’d given up all hope of understanding what was happening – and I’d wrote the bloody thing.

I’m working at the moment on another novel, so far I’m about six chapters in and over 15,000 words. I’ve spent a lot of time re-reading and re-editing as I go. This has made the first section more fluid and makes it follow the story. But it is time consuming and means I’m writing with a stutter and not getting a good head of steam up.

I suppose what I’m saying is am I doing it wrong by forging ahead without a map? Should I try to get into the plan ahead mindset?

Interestingly there was an article on Joe Abercrombie’s site in May last year along similar lines – you can read it here  http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2011/05/04/gardening-and-architecture/ – where he places authors into two categories, architects and gardeners. The architects plan and stick to the plan, and the gardeners go with the flow (or as he says write more organically). So I guess I’m not alone in working this way, just sometimes feels like it, which makes me feel somewhat better. But knowing others work the same doesn’t help get that novel written.