‘A Lonely War’ is Here!

We’re halfway through the summer here in the UK, even if it hasn’t felt much like summer at all. Maybe it’s a little bit more seasonal where you are, and you’re looking for something to read? Well then, this is the perfect post for you!

The third book in my steampunk/epic fantasy Flight of the Lady Firene series is now available! It’s called ‘A Lonely War’, and you can find the details below.

A Lonely War small coverHome should be where the heart is, but for Fleet Manteios it’s nothing but a place of obligations and bad memories. When she’s drawn back to Requies to attempt a reconciliation with her dying father, she finds it a changed city. Her estranged husband might still be there, but there’s a fresh sense of hope and freedom on the streets – and there’s trouble, too.

The last person Fleet expected to see has made her way to the city, and what’s followed her could put every life in danger. Fleet’s loyalties are about to be divided, between the family she abandoned, the friend who was once a foe, and the city she fled from – and which might not want to be saved.

I’m really proud of this book, both the themes that ended up running through it, and the choices Fleet makes during the story. It’s also the longest Lady Firene book to date, which wasn’t intentional, but sometimes you’ve just got to let the story go where it will.

Maybe you’d like to read it? Here are all the links:




Kobo (Coming as soon as I can! Kobo seems to be experiencing some publishing delays right now.)


My First Readathon

[Forgive the cheesy title. It’s descriptive, if nothing else!]

In recent months, I’ve become fascinated by the world of Booktube and Bookstagram, which are – for those who find the terms as baffling as I once would have done – essentially just posts about books and reading on YouTube and Instagram. There’s something strangely hypnotic about watching someone stand in front of a camera and just review a book, or show you the paperbooks they’ve recently bought, one by one. There’s also something calming about scrolling through pictures of books (or at least there is for me, and I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one), and of course it can be a great way to find recommendations.

What I love most of all, though, is how enthusiastic all these video-makers and photographers are about books – just good old, no nonsense books – and reading, and sharing their finds. That passion is incredibly satisfying to come across when you’re a reader yourself, living in a world that so often puts more money, time and effort into every other entertainment and educational medium imaginable.

This, then, brings us to the Readathon. A readathon is, at its most basic, an organised online event, during which the participants read as many books as possible, or perhaps try to do nothing but read (particularly when the event is over a short period, like 24 hours). This last weekend saw one of the year’s two Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathons, which is a particularly popular event, and seemed to me as good a place to start as any.

It’s an interesting experience, spending 24 hours reading as much as possible, made even more interesting by the fact you’re doing it at the same time as hundreds, even thousands, of other people. There’s lots of chat about the event on social media, lots of people sharing what they’re reading, and a general sense of camaraderie similar to what I’ve found with NaNoWriMo – essentially, we’re all doing this slightly ridiculous thing, because we all share the same love! That connection is a powerful thing, and when everyone is engaged in something as simple as reading, all other boundaries cease to matter.

As a means to simply read more books, I also found it quite successful. I wasn’t particularly strict with my time, spending an hour here or there doing something else, and stopping to eat/sleep (which not everyone does!). This particular readathon also fell over two days for a UK time zone, and I was much more successful at reading during the afternoon and evening of the first day than I was the morning of the second. Even so, I read something like 220 pages of a couple of paperbacks (finishing one and starting another), plus about a third each of two ebooks. That isn’t much, perhaps, by the standards of a fast reader, but I’ve gone whole weeks in the past without turning so many pages.

Would I, then, recommend readathons to other readers out there? If you either want an excuse to really focus on reading for a set period, or to meet other readers, it’s a definite ‘yes’. I realise the 24 hour structure of this particular event won’t work for everyone (I just got lucky that it didn’t coincide with work hours), but there are a whole range of other readathons discussed online. Some last a day, others a week, but all share the purpose of getting people to read more books, and bringing passionate readers together – and with aims like that, you’ll hear very little complaint from me!


I mentioned in my last post that I’d been editing the second book in my Flight of the Lady Firene series, and sure enough, it’s now available on Kindle. Here’s the blurb:

Arjipur: a jungle haven built by pirates, exactly the sort of place Fleet Manteios and her brother Daryus should feel right at home – and somewhere they could make their fortune, if half the city wasn’t out for their blood.

Not only has Daryus made enemies by dabbling in the trade of the semi-magical drug gilgesh, but he and Fleet are about to run into an old enemy. Caria Maharin is an enforcer and head of the notorious Midnight Division – and she’s also the former owner of the airship Lady Firene. Nor is she the only one with an interest in the ship, or its crew: Arjipur has a new admiral, commandeering airships in the name of a war against an unknown enemy, and he’s got the Lady in his sights.

As Fleet fights to protect her brother, her ship and the city, she’s faced with a conundrum of her own: there are two very different men in Arjipur, both dear to her, and she’s going to have to decide where her heart lies.

To Drown in Dreams small coverSteampunk fantasy adventure! Airships! General shenanigans! What more could you want? Oh, a link to find it on Amazon? And not just that? A free book? That second link, incidentally, is the first book in the series, and if you happen to visit this blog entry between the 28th of October and the 1st November, you’ll be able to download ‘The Sky Below’ absolutely free. I say again, what more could you want?!

Less excessive use of wild punctuation? Okay, I’ll give you that one.

THE SKY BELOW Now Available!

I’ve been holding off on my latest release for a few months now (I think I started mentioning it back in April), waiting until I had the second in the series almost complete. Finally, though, it’s time to share my newest series, a steampunk fantasy adventure titled The Flight of the Lady Firene. Each of the books will work roughly as a standalone, whilst continuing key characters and a few plot strands across the entire series. Below are the details of book 1, ‘The Sky Below’:

Flyingship2My name is Fleet Manteios and I’m a pirate. It’s a cut-throat life, sure enough, but it gives me the one thing I crave after a stuffy upbringing and a disastrous arranged marriage: freedom.

When Fleet and her brother Daryus raid the airship of a rival pirate, the last thing they expect is to end up fleeing for their lives with only a single trinket to show for it. A return to the floating city of Numara in the hope of a safe haven also turns sour, as the city comes under siege from within. Shape-shifting wolves, sea monsters, and strange murders committed by even stranger creatures plague Numara, and Fleet’s ‘trinket’ seems to be at the heart of it all.

Soon, she’s attracting the wrong sort of attention from every quarter: vengeful pirate captains, priestesses, her estranged husband – and the mysterious Shan, who knows more than he’s letting on. As Numara fractures around her, Fleet is left facing the possibility that the item she carries is the greatest threat she’s ever known, and it’s going to tear the city apart.

‘The Sky Below’ is currently available for Kindle only (which you can find here), but that does mean if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can read for free. If you’re not a Kindle reader (or you just fancy a free copy!), get in touch, as I’m happy to send out review copies of the book in other formats.

More Book News Than You Can Shake a Stick At

It’s been a busy summer for me so far, between actual day-job work and putting together as many ebooks as I can possibly squeeze out in the second half of the year. However, I haven’t been remiss at attempting to take over the world– Ahem. Extending my existing catalogue to as many places as I possibly can. Here are a few details:

First up, ‘The Wanderer’s Word’, a semi-historical fantasy short story.

The Wanderers Word for web

Where king and his conquered subjects collided, only trouble could follow.

England, 11th century. William of Normandy has taken the crown and is travelling in procession across a land he now rules, but which continues to resist him.

Alden, newly widowed blacksmith of a village barely worth a name, has greater cares than a single king. His world fell into tatters the night he lost his wife and child, and now his only concern is to protect their grave.

Except Alden’s family were denied a Christian burial, and the site he chose instead is under threat from the king’s men. He’s not the only one who would see that ancient and hallowed place protected, but if Alden is to gain their aid, he’s going to have to make a deal with the Old Spirits who still haunt the land – and he might lose more than he knows in the process.

The Wanderer’s Word is a 6000-word short story, and a glimpse of a historical England that never quite was – but easily could have been.

There’s the blurb, and here are the links. This one is Amazon only, for the time being, which also means you can pick it up via Kindle Unlimited, if you’re so inclined, at Amazon US and Amazon UK.

I’ve also been adding my first YA fantasy novel, ‘Sanguine’, to a few new stores. You can now find it at iTunes, and at the subscription services Oyster and Scribd.

Happy reading!

Review: ‘The Elf and the Arrow’ by Nathan Barham

25236435I reviewed the first book of the Alora’s Tear series a while ago, and as the author was kind enough to send me a copy of the sequel, I thought I’d share my review here. Hint: I liked it even more than the first book!

First of all, if you read and enjoyed Fragments (the first book in the Alora’s Tear series), I’d highly recommend simply skipping this review and reading The Elf and the Arrow. It’s an excellent and very satisfying book, and probably best enjoyed without even the minor spoilers ahead! However, if you need a bit more persuading, read on.

Continuing the story begun in Fragments, The Elf and the Arrow picks up the story of the half-elf Askon of Tolarenz as he fights the war spreading across Vladvir, gaining both friends and foes in some unexpected places.

A couple of things struck me whilst reading The Elf and the Arrow and comparing it to its predecessor. First, it continues the strong writing – particularly when it comes to combat scenes and atmospheric descriptions – of the first book. Secondly, The Elf and the Arrow, whilst continuing the story, is something of a different beast, being frequently more complex, more political and throwing up more surprises.

That’s not to say that The Elf and the Arrow is a slow book, as there’s plenty of action, and plenty of twists and turns. Instead, it takes the story of Fragments and adds new dimensions, going deeper into the world of Vladvir and into Askon’s character. Of the former, we get fresh attitudes to the elves, as well as new perspectives on both the Norill (who break out of their role as mindless enemies in this book, becoming something far more intriguing) and several of Askon’s former allies.

Of Askon himself, we also get a new perspective. One of my favourite aspects of The Elf and the Arrow was his struggle with the fragment he now possesses, which adds an enjoyably surreal flavour to some of the action. More importantly, Askon is essentially battling his own emotions and anger every time the fragment gets out of hand, adding an extra dimension to a magical artefact that could have been far too powerful otherwise.

Overall, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Whilst The Elf and the Arrow really needs to be read as a follow-up to Fragments, it works well as a single episode of Askon’s story, providing well-paced action, surprises, more complexity and a particularly satisfying ending, whilst leaving plenty of bigger questions still to answer in later volumes.

Review: ‘Exile’ by Tom Stacey

ExileCoverI’ve been reading more and more indie fantasy lately, and what I read, I like to review. ‘Exile’ is the latest book I’ve come across, and as it was an excellent read, I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well as on Goodreads. My thanks to the author for a free review copy.

In the heart of the Verian Empire, two young boys are about to awaken a dark horror, something not seen in their land for generations. An appealing simple premise, perhaps, but it’s one that sets a far wider-reaching and more complex plot in motion in Exile, an epic fantasy novel filled with war, rebellion and a cast of strong characters.

It’s the latter, in particular, that I found appealing. Too much of the ‘grimdark’ fantasy I’ve read of late has focused on characters that are deeply unpleasant. Exile’s main cast, on the other hand, seem to be essentially decent people, forced into horrible circumstances by their enemies. There’s plenty of violence and darkness here, and the characters don’t go unchanged by those things, but Beccorban, Loster, Riella and even Callistan all felt sympathetic to me, their worst excesses easily understandable given the events they go through during the course of the novel.

Exile’s biggest strength though, in my view, is its pacing. For a book of this length, there’s rarely a dull moment, yet it never feels rushed as the requisite fights and battles are well broken up by quieter moments. The prose, too, is strong (I came across only one major mistake, where an odd POV change halfway through a scene felt to have been left over from an earlier, unedited draft), meaning Exile is a surprisingly quick read, and the plot rarely flags.

My biggest issue with that plot was how long the reader has to wait for answers. That the characters and their country are facing a formidable foe is clear: just who that foe is, though, and what they want, is a long time in coming. In fact, they don’t even have a name until the book is three-quarters done, and I would have preferred some of this information a bit earlier in the novel.

Still, that’s really only a minor gripe in an otherwise impressive book. Exile is well-written, well-paced (particularly given its length) and with characters you can’t help but root for, as they struggle to overcome both their own demons and a powerful, often deadly foe.

‘Jupiter Ascending’ and Joy in Storytelling

Last night, I went to see ‘Jupiter Ascending’. I don’t want to talk about the film itself all that much; suffice to say, I thought it was a lot of fun, ridiculous and cheesy, frequently silly but with dialogue that didn’t make me cringe too often. What struck me most of all, though, was that it was a film that felt curiously joyful. It revelled in its silliness and was absolutely unashamed about the fact that it was pure fluff. And you know what? I sometimes feel like we need a bit more of that in the world.

It’s a topic that keeps coming up in the world of SFF literature, in a slightly different guise. There, the sub-genre of ‘grimdark’ is oft-discussed, and even as frequent conversations about whether it’s dead yet – or at least dying – crop up, it feels like every major fantasy publisher is trying to market their newest authors in the same mould. Where once everyone had to be ‘the new Tolkien’, now they’re ‘the new George R.R. Martin’, no matter how ridiculous the comparison.

It’s far to say that I’m not grimdark’s biggest fan. Clearly, it sells by the bucketload, and I keep returning to it out of hope (that I’ll find something that blows me away) more than anything, but nearly every book I pick up leaves me disappointed. It’s not just that I’m an optimist and like to see that reflected in my fiction: it’s that I came to fantasy, first of all, for its imagination and its capacity for escapism, and reading endless books filled with death, violence and abhorrent characters doesn’t really fit the bill (particularly when I can see enough of that every day on the news). Fiction should attempt to capture the world as it really is, of course, but I feel grimdark tends to forget there’s light to balance out the rest.

Back, then, to Jupiter Ascending. It’s a very silly film, true, but also packed with ideas and imagination. It felt, to me, to have that same spirit of adventure and optimism that fantasy from the 1980s had in far greater abundance than most of what’s being published today. There are definitely things in SFF from that era I wouldn’t want to revive (the fact that huge swathes of the genre were just Tolkien rip-offs, for one), but I’d still love to see some of that hopefulness return to the fantasy genre. Not every book has to be dark or darker, and not every fantasy world has to be a grim landscape populated only with broken souls. If I had to choose between that and pure, escapist fluff, I’d choose fluff every time.

Epic Reads: ‘Forge of Darkness’ by Steven Erikson

I’ve blogged a lot recently about various bits of writing news, but it’s been a while since I just talked about my first love: books. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was planning to start a new series of posts, talking about ‘epic reads’ – in other words, longer books that are far beyond the word counts of most published fiction.

I have a real fascination with these weighty tomes. For a start, fantasy – more than any other genre – is absolutely littered with them. Some series are even book after epic book, and run to millions of words when taken together. Whilst there’s something of an expectation that fantasy novels will be longer than the norm, it takes a skilled writer to really pull that off and to keep the reader invested in a story that might take years to tell.

16280101My first ‘epic read’ in this series, then, is Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson. Erikson is best known for his Malazan Book of the Fallen series, which – at 10 books and over 11,000 pages in paperback (thank you Wikipedia!) – came to an end in 2011. Since then, Erikson has started a new, related series, the Kharkanas Trilogy, which is a prequel of sorts to his earlier work but also stands alone.

As this isn’t an official review, I won’t relate the plot of Forge of Darkness here. Goodreads has the usual blurb, along with a good set of reviews. Instead, I want to talk a bit about some of the things Erikson does in the novel, both the highlights and things which are perhaps a bit more problematic.

First of all: just how epic is Forge of Darkness? The quick answer to that is ‘very’! Erikson has weaved a plot of extraordinary complexity, with a vast cast of characters, many of whom provide their own POV. It’s quite clear, too, that plotting really is where Erikson excels, and the story never gets away from him. Whilst Forge of Darkness is a long book, virtually every scene pulls its weight, adding some new detail of plot or character that adds to the overall tapestry. Remove even a single strand, and the story loses some of its vital depth – every piece of the book really is necessary to understand the whole.

Erikson is also a very skilled writer. Forge of Darkness is, at times, almost poetic, and the prose flows perfectly. However, this is something of a double-edged sword. Poetic is one thing, but this is a novel brimming with philosophies and musings on the way the world works. This is, at times, as dry as it sounds, and I sometimes found myself wishing certain characters would stop thinking and start doing.

Still, a certain level of thoughtfulness is perhaps needed with a book of this length. Nothing but action would be just as tiring, and – as is the case with many long, complex books – the pace here is generally slow. As a result, we get a chance to get to know a good number of the characters, despite the fact there are so many of them; those that blur together in the early chapters generally become more distinct as the story goes on, as we get a better sense of their personalities, motives and histories. It’s difficult to pick out a single protagonist, or even a handful of them – which might bother some readers – but Erikson does a good job of explaining each new character, often with surprising subtlety.

And this is a subtle book – for the most part. I felt Erikson’s deft storytelling fell apart in just one or two instances, where moments of extreme violence were suddenly thrown into the story. Whilst I understand these moments are intended to show how Kurald Galain (the world of Forge of Darkness) is starting to fray, they felt unwieldy and out-of-place against the otherwise steady pace. This is, I’m aware, partly a personal preference: I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted with violence in ‘grimdark’ fantasy, and its inclusion here spoiled sections of this book for me to the point where I considered not finishing it at all.

Perhaps my biggest issue with Forge of Darkness, though, was its seriousness. There’s hardly a single joke or moment of lightness in the entire book, which very little to leaven the grimness. The serious tone, along with Erikson’s baroque writing style, makes it feel almost po-faced at times, with some scenes coming off as unintentionally hilarious. I’m not a great fan of ‘funny’ fiction (now there’s a subjective term!), but for a book of over 900 pages, Forge of Darkness is so, well, dark that it occasionally verged on being hard work.

That’s not to say I disliked the book, though. Overall, Forge of Darkness is an accomplished work, by one of the most impressive writers working in fantasy at the moment. For writers, there’s a huge amount to learn from his stories, particularly with regard to dealing with huge casts of characters and plot complexity. For readers, this is a book (and a series) to really get your teeth into, whether you’re already a Malazan fan or not – and when it comes to the darker variety of epic fantasy, Erikson’s work is some of the most intelligent and immersive fiction around.

Review of ‘The Relic Guild’ by Edward Cox

It’s true I’ve been a bit short on writing time lately, but I have been squeezing in a fair amount of reading – and after getting my hands on a shiny new copy of ‘The Relic Guild’ through a Goodreads giveaway, I was eager to review it.

First of all, a confession: I have a real weakness for novels that take place in unusual settings, so ‘The Relic Guild’ was never going to have a hard time drawing me in. Whilst fantasies set in single cities are becoming increasingly common, Labrys Town is something apart, situated in the centre of an endless labyrinth, and apparently a realm in its own right. Once a hub of trade and travel, connected to hundreds of other worlds – the Houses of the Aelfir – it’s now been cut off by war, leaving it isolated and apparently abandoned by all but the humans trapped within its walls. Except Labrys Town’s old enemies aren’t as dead and gone as everyone seems to think, and they certainly haven’t forgotten their past foes.

Taking place across two timelines, forty years apart, ‘The Relic Guild’ relates both the first war and the re-emergence of those enemies thought banished. We see the Relic Guild itself, both in its prime and in its ‘present day’, much diminished form. Multiple characters appear in both narratives, and the two arcs run parallel courses, intertwining rather than one simply being used as an excuse to provide backstory. Both are equally compelling, too, and I found myself eager to get back to each timeline as chapters ended – if not always on cliffhangers, then at least on points of tension.

It helps, of course, that there wasn’t a single character in the novel that I disliked. There’s a certain creepiness about the villains, of course, particularly towards the end, but I found each equally fascinating – and whilst there are numerous heroes, each felt well-rounded and distinct from the others. It seems a little unfair to pick out favourites from such a large and diverse cast, in which each member of the Relic Guild has their own particular role to play, but I found myself warming to Marney and Samuel, whilst the necromancer Hamir – though appearing only infrequently – seemed to have by far the most intriguing secrets left to reveal. (On a side note, I was also pleased to find so many female characters in the book, from protagonists and villains, to women who appear for a single scene before meeting a sticky end; too many fantasy worlds, after all, seem to have populations that are 90% male, judging by the named characters and ‘spear-carriers’ in their pages.)

Plot-wise, ‘The Relic Guild’ starts and ends well, but does flounder a little in the middle, as the key characters are forced back and forth across the city with the enemy always one step ahead. The two parallel timelines also work against the otherwise decent pace of the novel: because of their interwoven nature, and the way the story jumps between them, it takes a long time to get any answers from each of the two strands. Still, the prose is rarely wordy and focuses on moving the story on, meaning I found myself turning pages surprisingly quickly for such a chunky book.

On the subject of plot, though, a warning: here lie cliffhangers, and big ones. Neither of the two narratives has reached anything like a resolution by the end of the book, and whilst both have reached suitable stopping points, there’s definitely a feeling that there’s a lot more left to come (and big, important stuff too, judging by how much has to happen to finally connect the timelines together). If you can take the wait for a sequel, however, ‘The Relic Guild’ is certainly worth your time, bringing together an intriguing setting, likeable characters and some enjoyable weirdness that suggests the story’s only just getting started.