Book Review: The Bastard Legion #1 by Gavin G. Smith

The Bastard Legion: Book 1

Genre: Sci-fi
Pub Date: 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Length: 336 pages
Kindle Edition: £2.99

Synopsis

Four hundred years in the future, the most dangerous criminals are kept in suspended animation aboard prison ships and “rehabilitated” in a shared virtual reality environment. But Miska Corbin, a thief and hacker with a background in black ops, has stolen one of these ships, the Hangman’s Daughter, and made it her own. Controlled by explosive collars and trained in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine sergeant, the thieves, gangsters, murderers, and worse are transformed into Miska’s own private indentured army: the Bastard Legion. Are the mercenaries just for fun and profit, or does Miska have a hidden purpose connected to her covert past?

* SPOILERS*

This is book 1 in a trilogy, and the first novel, by Gavin Smith, that I have read. Will I be buying the rest? Read on…

But first, I want to tackle the ‘problem’ of men writing women. There has been much discussion across the media platforms about the, oft hilarious, but mostly irritating; to women, way that male writers portray female characters.

There seems to be some kind of gulf between male experience of how women behave and think, and what they lay down on the pages. Surely every single one of these men cannot be singletons, can they?

For as long as novels have existed, male authors have managed to write hilariously inaccurate descriptions of female characters. Indy100 – indy100.com

There have been occasional landslides of Tweets when another male writer is ‘revealed’ to have little working knowledge of how women perceive themselves.

the latest author to scale the whole mountain of male writers who get carried away when describing women, particularly their breasts. The Guardian: ‘A nice set of curves if I do say so myself’: a Twitter lesson in how not to write women‘ – theguardian.com

And the responses range from friendly micky-taking to total outrage. ‘Why can’t men write women?’ Goes the cry. Who are these men writing for? Not me.

‘She was 40 but could have passed for a year younger with soft lipstick and some gentle mascara. Her dress clung to the curves of her bosom which was cupped by her bra that was under it, but over the breasts that were naked inside her clothes. She had a personality and eyes.” The Guardian: All cleavage and clunkiness – why can’t male authors write women? – theguardian.com

Enter (into my sphere of reading), Gavin G. Smith. As I write this, I cannot recall a single moment in The Bastard Legion where Smith portrayed his MC in derogatory terms – I think she looked in a mirror once, and ran her hands through her short hair once or twice– that’s it. So what does Miska Corbin look like? Smith hasn’t given us an abundance of description. We know she has ‘dirty blonde hair’ with shaved undercut, she’s short, and she has ‘elfin’ features. He mentions her breasts once, and that’s only because one of her ‘crew’ is staring at them when he thinks she isn’t looking, and because he is a young man, a prisoner in a previously all male environment and probably hasn’t seen a female for a long time – unlucky him that he got Miska!

For me, Miska Corbin is an example of a female MC successfully written by a male. You see, women and men feel the same things, we all get emotional, and men don’t always express anger, and conversely, not all women cry. I felt that Smith had written a human being. Of course there has to be some physical description, we, the readers want to see what the writer sees, and he uses an economy of description that allows us to visualise her very nicely, thank you, without being a complete and total douche-bag slavering over his own creation.

Corbin comes from a military family, she was a marine; as was her father and her sister, and so trained in all kinds of weaponry and combat techniques. She’s also a hacker, a good one. And finally, she has a slightly unstable personality which means that she may, or may not, decide to blow a person’s head off – literally!- depending on her mood and what occurred prior to the current encounter.

I like her. I want to be her. She is Ripley for a new generation, with a sense of humour; if a little warped, and takes no shit from anyone. She is a great tactician and even in the direst situations, is capable of keeping her cool. So what’s her weakness? you may ask. Her dad.

Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Corbin is dead and Miska, his youngest daughter, is determined to find out how/why/who. But Corbin senior’s death hasn’t prevented him from being a prime player in the story. He is a huge influence on our MC, and in Book 1 her raison d’etre. Her relationship with her father might be deemed unhealthy, but Miska Corbin seems to have unhealthy relationships with everyone she encounters.

When we meet her, she has turned pirate. She has stolen a maximum security prison barge – think of those great 19th century hulks in the Thames, then imagine it four hundred, or so, years in the future, and in space, with weapons, now you got it. There are six-thousand prisoners on board, from car thieves to gang leaders, rapists and murderers, some so dangerous that they are kept in some sort of suspended animation. How does one small female maintain control over this motley crew? Explosive collars! How frackin’ cool is that?! Smith sticks our heroine (is she though? Really?) in this high-risk situation, but needs a way to force all those men to do her bidding. Threat of instant death is a great inducement to do as one’s told. And if one’s head pops off, well then, one less mouth to feed. With the aid of her fathers hologram, mechanoid guards and VR environments, Miska begins to train her own personal army.

I find it a really interesting premise – take a bunch of violent criminals and make them into a formidable fighting force. There is potential danger from the men she now lives on board with, there is threat from the Corporation that hires her to do a dirty clean-up job, and from the unknown killer, or killers, of her father. Miska Corbin is a walking magnet for endangerment. You’re never sure who might turn on whom, how far will a bunch of mercenaries go to ensure their own heads remain firmly fixed to their necks?!

It is action packed. And I mean, all the time, action, (maybe a little too much?) even the moments when she is netrunning with her enhanced abilities. This area of the story I found less easy to follow – but I have the same problem playing Cyberpunk TTRPG. She meets a human shaped virus, has her skin flayed by gritty sand, and when Smith writes, ‘she dropped a number of heavily occulted hacks,’ I couldn’t honestly swear that I totally understood what that means.

I’ve read reviews of books that compare them to TV shows or films. I’m not sure I like this habit. Some reviews of The Bastard Legion claim it was like Suicide Squad or Killjoys crossed with The Expanse. I hated Suicide Squad, thought it was poorly written, clichéd, weak. Loved the other two. The Bastard Legion is the first ‘military in space’ story I have ever read; I’d not heard of this sub genre before. It is not poorly written, clichéd or weak. Smith’s writing is strong, it has the feel of a chunky, persistent force, prodding and driving you forwards. The prisoners aren’t just faceless men, they are nuanced; some more than others, not all bad – sort of, and in a couple of instances come across as more sane and less violent than Miska.

It’s a pretty unique idea; stealing a prison and all the prisoners in it, and turning them into a well-oiled fighting machine, and I think that’s getting harder in sci-fi writing as technology in our world continues to advance, the writers have to up their game. Smith has a great premise and compelling main character; even though she ought to be locked up herself, who has some complicated relationships going on. Not just with her dead father – she and her sister really don’t get on, why does she give more slack to the prisoner Torricone? And what’s with the angelic, technologically enhanced Ultra?

There’s a lot going for The Bastard Legion – the mercenaries as well as the book – and I will definitely be purchasing # 2.

I’m giving The Bastard Legion

4 stars

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Should I Have A Website?

Image result for thinking woman

Having an online presence seems to be increasingly important for writers. Although I can’t imagine Beatrix Potter or Joseph Conrad would have had much truck with all this social media and self-promotion.

The anatomy of a Blog

Unlike many bloggers, I am not efficient nor consistent in my posts, it has been what, five weeks since I last updated? Shocking. But they are are a fantastic way of sharing information and opinions, and they can be a great tool for starting debates and conversations; if that is the way your blog is written. Blogs tend to be written in a chatty or informal style, or at least mine do, and often reveal something about the personality of the blogger.

Lately, I have been considering the idea of setting up a website – as somewhere to promote my books. The website also needs attention once it is set up, but not as much. One could liken the blog to an allotment – it needs regular tending and maintenance, whereas the website is akin to a meadow – it might need a little mowing or sowing now and again.

If I did decide to use a website, I imagine this blog would sink slowly into the sunset as I’d not be able to divide my time between work, writing, blogging and the website – so what to do?

The anatomy of a Website

Websites tend to follow a standard format, not dissimilar to blog pages as far as I can tell, in that they have a Homepage/About page, a Contact section, and Products and Services; though these may be incorporated within the body of a post on Blogs.

And which sort of website set-up would I use?

Content management system (CMS) – Is a system designed to support the management of the content of web pages. You can easily manage text and embedded graphics, photos, video, audio, maps, and program code (e.g. for applications) that displays content or interacts with the user.

Self set-up involves lots of skills, such as being able design and code. Although it might be the cheapest option in the long term, it might be time consuming; and in my case as someone with little IT competence, almost impossible.

Website/blog builder service – a program, or tool, that helps you build a website. The programs are very user friendly and use a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface with drag and drop elements.

For authors to best showcase their products and give full details of WIP (Work In Progress) they are better off setting up a website. But what are the different Pros and Cons of Websites and Blogs?

Using a free Content Management System (CMS)

Pros
Flexible
Advanced features
Easy to publish
User friendly
Usually includes hosting and free for basic websites
Content can be updated rapidly
Cons
Regular updates are required to make the site safe from hackers
The CMS stores everything separately, then assembles it on the fly when the web client requests a page, which means they can be slow

Doing all the setting up yourself

Pros
Cost-effective
Total Flexibility
Easy to publish
Cons
Time consuming
Requires design skills
Requires coding skills

Using a website/blog builder service

Pros
You don’t need any coding skills
You don’t need any design skills
Quick turn around
Easy to publish
Usually includes hosting and domain names for a premium cost
User friendly: WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)
Cons
Usually comes with strings attached
Less flexibility
Expensive

After ploughing through the possibilities; which reduce drastically the less computer literate a certain person might be (!), there is then the problem of choosing a…

DOMAIN NAME

When I first started using computers and the website came of age, this word suddenly entered my world. What on earth is a Domain Name? I wondered. It sounds, still, like something from a Dungeons & Dragons quest: The Domain of Uglith The Mighty!!

Image result for D & D domain demon
Image from Forgotten Realms.

Simply, a Domain Name is a web address, like: mywebsite.com. If you’re not using a web builder service, you need to register a domain with a company that sells domain names, apparently! Not only that, you have to pay for it! If the name isn’t available, you have to try for another one – so I have read. Does this mean that I can’t make my own up? I couldn’t locate that information…in all honesty, I got bored reading yards and yards of text. What I did pick up was to make your domain, Catchy, Unique and Easy to Remember.

Then there is the issue of Hosting.

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Note: I’m sure you can see a pattern beginning to develop here. Information and explanation becoming less cohesive and explanatory as I progress. If you’re familiar with my blogs, then you’ll understand – I am simply not built for the Information Technology Age. Anyway, back to Hosting. It’s not about wearing red velvet smoking jackets and regaling your guests with tales of derring do. Rather it’s something to do with computers called ‘Servers’, which run operating systems, store files and connect to the internet. They are designed to be open to the public so browsers can access web content. ‘Hosting’ refers to the company that rents space on one of their servers so they can ‘host’ your site there.

Some things I have to consider – so I am told.

  1. What type of website do I want to create?
  2. What will be the technical requirements of the website?
  3. What level of security do I require?
  4. Do I need email hosting?
  5. How large is the data I will be storing?
  6. What volume of traffic do I initially expect? And in the future?
  7. What’s my monthly hosting budget?

To all of the above, my answer is a consistent, I don’t know!

But I have collected some Top Tips to keep people engaged in your website:

  1. Have clear navigation – if it’s not clear, people will get frustrated and leave.
  2. Use call to action buttons – helps lead people to desired actions.
  3. Make sure your site is loading quickly – humans are impatient creatures.
  4. Keep it minimal – too much design is distracting.
  5. Keep the same look and feel throughout – a ‘brand’ identity is visually more appealing.

It all seems like a lot of hard work. I’m lazy by nature and will try to get away doing as little as possible. But, I feel on the cusp of progressing with my writing. It needs a home of its own, something that can ‘look after itself’ so to speak.

So…

Should I Have A Website? I haven’t got a Scooby Doo!

Frugal Living: DIY Your Life

Apparently, frugal living is a huge thing, yes it is my friends, all that wartime spirit of Make-Do-And-Mend is back with a vengeance. On Pinterest you can discover lovely little pictures of attractive little books by people who have written on thrifty living, and links to bloggers who write on their favourite subject and more.

Image result for make do and mend

There’s information about how you can make money including such ‘gems’ as crafting your own candles or wreaths and selling them at an open-air fayre in summer. There are ideas for ‘up-cycling’ old furniture. Then there are the suggestions for making accessories from other things. TV and radio shows giving hints and tips for so-called ‘small gardens’.

But hold on there a moment. You know what my problem with all this is? It isn’t really frugal living. It’s a trend that seems to be perpetuated by, either, white middle-class folk or those on a not too bad income in the first place.

I look at the photos and the finished products, read the process for making said items and discover that 9 times out of 10, something had to be purchased beforehand to disassemble and reassemble into it’s new ‘frugally inspired’ form. (Not to mention, some of the so-called arts and crafts are shit)

Many sites, blogs and books are directed at American readers. Now I have to say this before I charge ahead – Americans are extremely appreciative of home-made stuff, whether it’s food, clothing or crafts. They are mad about collecting coupons, and therefore get some great bargains. My friend went to live there about 15 years ago, and one of the first things she did was join a glass crafting class – for free! She made me little Christmas tree ornaments! What I gather from watching American TV shows and my one visit, is that Americans love to go to craft fairs or markets – what is a Pottery Barn?! buy local produce, support small local town events – not so the Brits.

We are suspicious, cynical and reserved – generally speaking. “What, she made it? Couldn’t she just go and buy one, it’d look much nicer?!” Suspicious. “Oh really? That’s a lovely idea!”(Whilst catching the eye of another person who accidentally found themselves at a craft fayre) Cynical. “Maybe next time.” Reserved.

Also, we simply do not have the weather in the UK for any of those day long, outdoor, hippy-inspired, retro craft fairs. As soon as your table is up, it pisses down.

When I look for something to help with my frugal life, picture me sitting with my arms crossed, looking like Ron Swanson not being amused by a cheap, untalented clown. I’m going to present a suggestion list for real frugal living. I’m talking about an income of £15,000 p.a(or less) – that’s 19,547.93 United States Dollars my American friends – for a family of 3.

Rules for frugal living in the UK – from someone who lives it

1. DON’T SPEND WHAT YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY GOT!

2. Get a plot on an allotment. If you work at it, you can grow enough crops to supply your family with fruit and veg from spring to Christmas.

3. Keep an eye out for skips. Yes I mean those ugly, yellow dumpsters outside of people’s homes where they pile what they don’t want – you might find something you can really renovate and utilise.

4. Don’t buy expensive paint when redecorating – buy cheap and add test pot colours to alter the shade. Additionally, you might find that your walls just need a wash with sugar soap.

5. Use the Freecycle Network. Give stuff and get stuff for free!

6. Charity shops – use them. Stop whining that you don’t want to wear jeans someone else has worn. You drink water someone else has already drunk and peed out again. Over and over. Besides, all charity shops wash or steam their clothes.

7. Learn DIY. At least one person in every household should be able to drive a nail into wood or a screw into the wall. Preferably both.

8. Always make a list when you go shopping, and stick to it. Lookout for offers – and do not get fooled by promotional campaigns; Buy One Get One Free does not always work out cheaper; read the cost per weight on the shelf price. Stop buying ready meals and pre-processed food. Fresh is best for your purse and your family’s health.

9. Get over the idea of always having new things and make stuff for friends and family for special occasions. Accept hand-made items from friends and family.

10. DON’T SPEND WHAT YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY GOT!

I think that should do it.

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The Master – Ron Swanson in his workshop.

Book Review: The Spherical Trust by Mjke Wood

Image result for the spherical trust by Mjke Wood
The Sphere of Influence, Book III. The Spherical Trust

Genre: Sci-fi
Pub Date: 2018
Publisher: Copperbird Press
Length: 421
pages
Kindle Edition:
£2.99

Synopsis

Bob Slicker is back, with stature. But being King of the Sphere of Influence isn’t everything he imagined. He’s convinced someone’s out to get him.
Elton D Philpotts has never been away, and he also has new-found status. But being a Finance Director isn’t everything he imagined. Is someone out to get Elton, too?
Only one man has an ego big enough to carry two such massive grudges, but Martin Levison is gone, lost in deep space with no route home. So who else wants Philpotts and Slicker dead?
The threat is bigger than one man. This time there’s more to save than a lost planet or a ragtag band of mercenaries. This time the future of the whole Sphere of Influence is in play.

The final chapter in the Sphere of Influence trilogy, feels like it’s been a long time coming; but worth the wait!

In Deep Space Accountant, the hero came in the unlikely form of Elton D Philpotts; the titular accountant, who has little confidence and an obsession with numbers bordering on OCD.

With The Lollipop of Influence, the previously odious, and sweaty, Bob Slicker had to team up with navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, to escape the planet they had been abandoned on.

The Spherical Trust brings the whole cast together – including the re-emergence of arch enemy, Martin Levison. We get to meet Elton’s parents; albeit briefly in his father’s case, but Polina Philpotts is a woman to be reckoned with, I really liked her. She is one of those practical, common-sense women who knows politics, isn’t intimidated by it and will chain herself to a rock to save a beauty spot – we could do with more like her in the real world. (And this is where the title comes from – think National Trust!)

This third book ties together the previous two in directions I had not imagined would be the case. It has nearly all of the characters racing across known and unknown space; bouncing from planet to planet in the Sphere of Influence, in a dizzying race that accelerates not in a machine-gun blazing, cinematic, all-American heroic manner, but in that bumbling British style that has many comic moments.

There’s a lot about how we, as a species, take our environment for granted; without being preachy – if there’s one thing Mjke Wood does not do, it’s preach. Like when Elton discovers where all the waste goes:

Elton pondered on it. He looked at the size of the pipe, vibrating with the onrushing surge of excrement. He thought of the volumes he’d seen gushing in from all corners. He thought about the time frame, one hundred and sixty years. Out there, somewhere in space, was a place where you would not want to crack open your spacesuit helmet for a nanosecond, because there was one mighty bad smell.

I could not see how Wood was going to tie everything together; especially when he incorporated the Teddy’s – child-minding teddy bears, introduced killer bees and a whole section of a planet devoted to Norwegians who loved to sing at all hours of the day. I could not envision how certain events could be addressed in a single book; such as how to save a planet, how the bad guy gets his comeuppance (if he does), and what do all those numbers mean?!

But he does it. And he does it well.

There is a quintessential Britishness to Wood’s writing, like Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, Wood has lovingly crafted characters who are appealing; for the most part, silly; a lot of the time, and prone to making mistakes like the rest of us. We follow the multiple viewpoints through interstellar blunderings, cringing board meetings, ripped pants, assassination attempts, and waste management. Wood has a, seemingly, effortless style that can be deceptive, his work is very easy to read, but it is not light on the science in science-fiction. He does not shy away from dealing with scientific terms, there’s mathematical problems he has evidently had to solve, such as the time differentiation between planetary travel and enough technicalities to keep readers of hard sci-fi happy.

If there was a criticism I would make, it would be that I think it could have been longer. There was a lot of information to compact into a novel this size – though I can understand the author wanting to keep all books in a trilogy of similar length. I would, for instance, have liked more about Russ Kurosov the muscle-bound Commando who had a special ‘Jim’. A the end of the trilogy, a note from the author reads, I have ideas for stand-alone novels set in the Sphere, with new characters, new problems and new insanity. I can only hope that Kurosov is one of those selected for further investigation!

Oh, a little addendum – there’s an Easter Egg throughout the story. I had one of those hang on a minute moments. Copperbird, the huge corporation that runs all sorts from prisons to heated boots, is the imprint the books are published under!

I’m giving The Spherical Trust

4 Stars

Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date:
2008
Publisher:
Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group
Length:
536 pages
Paperback:
£12.99

Publisher’s Synopsis

The end is coming.

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but its going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. Its past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

https://firstlaw.fandom.com/wiki/Last_Argument_of_Kings

Back in January 2017, I wrote a review of The Blade Itself. I ‘won’ it in a book swap. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a three-year journey for me into the world of Logan Ninefingers and his motley band of Northmen.

What to say about a trilogy that got mixed reviews and a massive following that led to a well visited wiki Fandom, that I was, on and off, submerged into for three years?

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie – he writes amazing characters.

Logan Ninefingers is Still alive. Continues fighting, and is drawn into, not only personal conflict in the North, but the greatest battle in the Union. Last Argument of Kings finds him questioning himself more and more – is he a good man, or an evil man? Is he fit to lead his band, or best serving as a follower? Should he allow his barbarian, mindless, other self; The Bloody Nine, to take control in battle, or give up and welcome death?

Ninefingers has been our prime MC throughout the trilogy; as it is him who begins the first book and ends the third, and as he matures, so his view on his own lifestyle is called into question – can a man so steeped in blood and violence opt for a peaceful life – does he even deserve it?

Abercrombie has given us a (anti)hero who could easily have been a pedestrian D&D style character, but despite what some critics say, I do believe he develops. He may not stop fighting, but he lets us know, via internal dialogue, that he wishes the whole bloody affair over and done with. His is a cerebral development; strangely, given that he’s a mercenary, a killer – a murderer. I say it’s cerebral because Ninefingers thinks about what he has done and how he came to be where he is. He thinks about how it might be if he changed, and realises that because he has so much history of violence and a reputation for it, then the chances are pretty slim. This is a melancholic chapter in his, and the reader’s, journey.

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Logan Ninefingers.
Image from
comicvine.gamespot.com

Jezel Dan Luther returns to Adua, his home city. Physically scarred from his journey to the West (Book II: Before They Are Hanged). He is still a young man with dreams to match, yet changed by his experiences. He is a little less brash, a lot less selfish – and in for a terrible time. He thinks to marry the woman he loves; Ardee West. He thinks to settle down into some well-paid post of Captain. Jezel, unlike Ninefingers, gets little chance to think, he must do as he is told; because of the position he finds himself thrust into. His choices become shockingly limited; despite his new-found role, and he can only react to situations. Jezel does his damnedest to be a decent man and feels thwarted at every turn. In the first book, I reacted to Jezel as, I’m sure Abercrombie meant me to, with contempt. He was a superficial, selfish little shit. In this final book, I desperately wanted it all to work out for him.

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Jezel Dan Luther.
Image from GeeklyInc

Superior of the Inquisition, Sand Dan Glokta, is still in the secrets trade. We still get that oppositional internal dialogue when he speaks with others; A shame to leave such lovely company…but when duty calls. He thinks after a short interview with Arch Lector Sult. Glokta probably changes least of all. This could be attributed to the fact that a man so crippled and steeped in politics and up to his elbows in others blood and bile hardly has much choice. He cannot run; literally, he would not be able to hide for sure, and he knows that at any point his bloated corpse might end up floating down the river. But Glokta still held my interest, why? Simply because he sticks to what he knows best, which is staying alive. There are, however, two very touching scenes. One involves his old fencing friend from his youth, Collem West, the other involves West’s sister, Ardee. It is interesting to watch Glokta in the face of helplessness, he always expects the worst outcome – but for two instances, he hopes, not for himself, but for Collem and Ardee.

I have to admit to having a lump in my throat when Glokta encounters his old friend who has been struck down with a hideous disease.

Of course there are many, many other characters who deserve mention – The Last of the Magi; Bayez, The Dogman, Black Dow, Ferro Maljinn, Severard, but I couldn’t do them all justice in a simple blog post.

There are few men with more blood on their hands than me.

Logan Ninefingers knows all about fighting and death, and there is a tonne of it in this book. The battles are hideously well written. The fight on Crummock i’Phail’s hill fort is astonishingly violent and immersive. It was like being behind the wobbly wooden barricade with them, as they waited in the dawn mist watching Bethod’s army waiting to move. Fingers, limbs, heads, every possible body part is pierced and sliced and skewed and bludgeoned. How on earth Abercrombie found so many words and phrases to describe death in battle is beyond me. It isn’t a huge cinematic blockbuster of a war, it’s one of those horrible localised battles; sure there’s hundreds of men involved, but we are exposed to the horror of hand-to-hand fighting, the smells and the grunting, the feel of steel sliding on bone. We see our ‘hero’, Logan Ninefingers do a truly horrible thing. In previous books we have seen skirmishes and battles, we have seen blood and guts, but this battle is truly mayhem. How can the reader possibly relate to the character after committing such an atrocious act? But here’s the thing, I did!

The final battle in Adua is equally violent, with a dash of Bayez’ magic thrown in for good measure. Sometimes, battles in films and books can be so expansive, so huge that we cannot really get a feel for what is going on. Abercrombie gives us snapshots of the city through the eyes of each character as he, or she, struggles to survive. This way we see what it is like to be a refugee from one’s own home, the starving peasant, the soldier who actually is scared, ruination where once stood beauty.

It’s bleak. It’s dark. It’s depressing. And so it should be. War is no fun for anyone; even those who signed up for it in the first place – because it is fucking dangerous, and we can feel this in the people fleeing, in Jezel’s desperation to lend a hand, in Ninefingers mad rush into a row of pikemen, in West’s hasty assault with his cavalry and infantrymen. And I was totally engaged.

I have read reviews that said the writing is ‘clunky’. I have read that people found it boring, or everyone dies (everyone doesn’t die by the way). I thought the writing was succinct, none of that Tolkeinesque, flowery stuff, just your good, solid writing that I feel fits the style of narrative. I still like that Abercrombie kept the chapters as seen from different points of view, and the internal dialogue is wonderful. It isn’t fantastic writing – but then again, I’m not sure what that means – a thoroughly academic command of the written word AND the ability to create an amazing story AND engaging characters AND…whatever else?

But it’s a fantastic tale well told.

Boring? Boring?! I can’t imagine what they were reading. This is not a boring book. It keeps the pace of the previous two, action, violence and intrigue, interspersed with quieter moments to alter the pace. Abercrombie manages to avoid clichés very well, the whole thing could easily have tipped into another fighting fantasy book with swords and sorcery and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t. I’ve picked up loads of books in the fantasy genre and then tossed them aside after a couple of chapters (and that was being generous in some instances).

Not to spoil it, but everyone doesn’t die. Some do – I’m not saying who – some survive in the same way they always have; by their wits or by violence, and some survive because they bend with the times.

We don’t always get what we want – could be the moral of the story (if there has to be one). Or, be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

You see, like real life, sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Is there a ‘happy ending’? I’m not sure, but I was not expecting that.

I always have a little sad moment when I complete a book, and this was no exception. I’m going to miss drinking wine with Ardee, struggling down dank staircases with Glokta, and wrestling with my conscience with Logan Ninefingers. I’m not sure I can leave it all behind, I might have to go after other titles by Joe Abercrombie – and that for me is what makes a good, if not great, storyteller.

FIRSTLAW_BLADEITSELF_VOL1_COVER_jpeg_rev3
Cover of first volume of The First Law comic book covering The Blade Itself.
Image from GeeklyInc

I’m giving Last Argument of Kings (and The First Law trilogy)

5 stars

#IndieAuthors: It’s Trending on Twitter

Good morning all.

Image result for indie author month banner

There’s something rather wonderful happening on Twitter this morning. In fact, it will be a month long happening.

#indieauthors is surely on it’s way to ‘Trending’ right now, with writers and readers from across the globe sharing their book titles and buying like there’s no tomorrow.

I believe the tag was started by @agletterman, a writer who joined the #WritingCommunity on Twitter a few months ago and has posted daily, almost, about writing, authors, the craft of writing and has been encouraging other writers to interact and share their questions and solutions to issues ranging from – what do I do when I have writer’s block? To should I kill off my darlings?

I don’t know who began the #WritingCommunity hashtag – I like to think I had a hand in it, but can’t be sure – it would be interesting to find out where, and with whom, it all began, but one things for sure, it has taken off big style. The Writing Community on Twitter has been an extremely supportive online arena, especially in the light of the political shenanigans and depressing news stories that abound, and the Tweets that are reportedly ‘vile’. Many people have said they hate Twitter because it’s a cesspool of hate and vitriol, back-biting and denigration. Not in the #WritingCommunity.

So what’s an Indie Author?

Being an indie author is primarily an approach to writing and publishing, a matter of self-definition. If you see yourself as the creative director of your books, from concept to completion and beyond, then you’re indie. You don’t approach publishers with a longing for validation: “publish me please”.

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/what-is-an-indie-author/

Being an #indieauthor does not mean you are working and publishing alone, without an agent or publishing house. You might do this and self-publish and go with a small press and, or, start your own independent publishing company. There’s a lot of flexibility in being an indie author.

So why is #indieauthor and #indieapril a good thing?

Well, when someone sets out on the creative path there is no-one to tell you what to do. You create whatever you want, whenever you want, in whatever style suits you. Sounds great doesn’t it? But it can feel isolated for some, lack constructive feedback, lack praise for successes. (*Writers, you can see my ‘How To Embrace Twitter As An Aid’ blog here.) Writers work alone (mostly). We spend days, months; sometimes years, crafting a single manuscript; MS. Emotions are poured onto the page, imaginations fired up, a world envisioned and told for others to read. But for those who are not brimming with self- confidence, or who do not have contacts, or have never had the good fortune – and luck does play a huge part in whether or not you get taken on by an agent and published by a known press – to be taken on by a publishing house, where does one go?

You might decide to use something like Amazon CreateSpace, or set up a website with an author page to sell your books. But there are over 200,000 books published annually in the UK alone. How do you get your little self-published or indie title noticed in the avalanche of words? It’s an extremely difficult task – besides, who wants to spend fifty percent of their time doing the business side of things when they could be writing another book?!

The Twitter community of writers is doing it’s damnedest to support each other in many marvellous ways. And #indieapril is the latest, and hopefully will be an annual ‘event’. It allows all the shy and retiring types to put their work out there. It allows the socially awkward to promote themselves, it allows people who have been rejected by agents another chance to be heard, it allows any age, race, gender/genderless, class, creed; whatever, to say – I am a writer and I have this book that I am proud to share..

So whether you’re a writer or not, pay a visit to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, say ‘Hi’; they’re a friendly bunch. Find the #indieauthor or #indieapril, and discover new up and coming authors, buy a book – hell, buy half a dozen if it’s for you e-reader – and help support creatives who normally don’t do much shouting or arm waving – I might be gobby, but an awful lot of writers are timid creatures, please be aware.

Image result for indie authors

Book Review: The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

Genre: Fantasy Noir
Pub First Date: 4th April 2019
Publisher:Kyanite Publishing
Length: 350 pages
Paperback: ARC copy from author for review purposes

Titan City, 1933

The wizard Anson Walker’s cynical retirement is thrown into chaos when the daughter of his ex-wife hires him to rescue her mother. Her kidnapping is only days before the Aberration, a cosmic event every century when the rules of magic don’t apply. As Anson dives into the criminal underworld of Titan City, he uncovers an ancient conspiracy, the return of a decades-old nemesis, and dredges up feelings he thought long gone. Will he rescue his old flame, or succumb to the sinister forces arrayed against him?

Some readers may not have heard of the Fantasy Noir genre before. It is one of those sub-sub-genres that is becoming popular; like Diesel, Stitch and Elf have emerged from the genre of Steampunk. From Fantasy has emerged Alternative, Dying Earth and Futuristic. Also Dark, or Noir, and if you are familiar with the term from cinema, then you will have an idea where Alexander Thomas is coming from.

The Magician’s Sin has, as it’s lead, Anson Walker; ‘Exterminator’, who shares more than a few characteristics of the hard-boiled PI about him – though he does, in one scene, make protestations to the contrary. He’s mature (don’t know how old), intelligent to a degree, cynical and has a smart mouth. He swears and spits and smokes, I like him. I have a weakness for Marlowesque characters with snappy lines and a quick delivery – Anson Walker has a few snappy lines, I would have liked more.

He is ’employed’ – I use the term loosly as she doesn’t pay him, by Caroline Dupree, a young woman not only growing and finding herself, but along the way finds what or who she is and what she is capable of. She develops very nicely as a character, though some of her early growth happens a wee bit too quickly for my liking; she seems to accept the remarkable with remarkable ease.

I really enjoyed the opening scenes, where we are introduced to Walker – and his skills as a wizard. I became quite attached to the Dupree family in their little domestic, after work setting. There are some pretty neat descriptions of characters and places – of the MC: ‘Anson was lanky like a shadow at sunset.’ Of a group of Russian gangster types: ‘Their grim, flat faces were slate tiles.’

I found some of the dialogue stilted, in that it did not flow in a manner conducive to helping move the scene forwards, or it felt unnatural, or innappropriate for the scene. I can’t, for example, imagine discussing much at all whilst in the middle of a three-way fight with an Amazon.

Yes, I did say Amazon, as in mighty female warriors. This was another sticking point for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy, I love noir, I love horror, and superheroes, and mythology – you see where I’m going with this? Thomas has included all, and more, of these beings into one story, and for me, the scene outside the nightclub lost all psychological realism – simply too many varieties of beast; vampires, werewolves, Japanese demons, medusa-like women and ogres. This nightclub also has the strange ability, I don’t understand how, it’s not explained, to have people from different eras in the one place – from Roman Legionnaires to Mark Twain. Again, my suspension of disbelief was suspended a little too high.

I think Thomas has come up with an interesting idea, with a great main character and supporting cast – one called Chevron grew on me, and Thomas piqued my curiosity with this guy. The Aberration is a great concept about when the magical energies will be weaker, or at least in flux and it has an exciting finale.

It’s a crazy mix of 1930s detective noir, comic novel, superheroes and mythology, that I’m not 100% convinced Thomas has pulled off. I feel he could have had one story thread, a single arc and one or two fantastical beasts, and it would have been just as good. Sometimes it feels as though the author got over-excited and wanted to fit in as much as possible, and in parts, smacks a little of a D and D game – the amazing devices, shining orbs and jewels, and very powerful magic. I don’t believe I am the target audience for this novel – though I do like all the elements, it’s too ‘noisy’ for my tastes, but if you like your fantasy stuffed with humanoids, feisty women and a snarky lead, then this will be just your thing.

But despite my reservations…

I am curious to know what happens with the two characters in the end scene…will they be back for a second outing? We’ll have to wait and see!

The Magician’s Sin is Coming to E-book, Paperback, and Hardcover 04/04/2019, courtesy of Kyanite Publishing.

I’m giving The Magician’s Sin

3 Stars