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: ‘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.

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.

‘Star of the Everlasting’ Now Available

Late last week, I blogged about my forthcoming fantasy novella, ‘Star of the Everlasting’, the first in the Ark & Fable series. I’m pleased to say the novella is now available for purchase! Hurrah! For anyone who missed it, here’s the blurb:

In the cliff-top city of Ardom Wave, there are the nobles, the criminals – and those in between.

As middlemen ‒ or middlewomen, in their case ‒ Ark and her partner Fable tread the fine line between those in power and those most definitely not, all while keeping their heads down, staying ahead of the law, and always turning a profit.

Their ‘fine line’ is under threat, though, and Ark’s about to break her three cardinal rules. The first: never let a job turn personal, even when a face from your past comes calling. Lady Vesper might tug at Ark’s heart-strings, but as a noblewoman with a string of dead husbands, she’s a dangerous woman to get close to.

Except Vesper claims to have changed her ways and wants to escape the city ‒ an escape Ark would be willing to provide, if it wasn’t for rule number two: stay well away from magic.

Because Vesper is up to her elbows in the artifact trade, and if Ark is going to dig her out, she’ll have to break the most important rule of all, the one separating the middlemen from everyone else. She’s going to have to get her hands dirty.

To see the cover, and a few more details of the story, have a look at my previous post on the subject here. And, more importantly, to find the book on Amazon, go HERE.

It’s exciting to have another story out there in the world, particularly one that I hope will be the first in a series. I’m also experimenting with Amazon’s KDP Select program, in an attempt to give the novella an initial boost. There is of course a caveat there: the novella will only be available for the Kindle, at least for now, but if you’re not a Kindle owner, don’t despair! As with ‘Sanguine’, I’m happy to send out review copies in your choice of format – just leave a comment on this post, or send me an email (details on my About page).

It’s fair to say I love this series: I love the city (although I wouldn’t want to live there!), I love how much fun I had writing it, and I especially love the two central characters. If you fancy reading about ancient magic, crime capers and gun-fights, all with a twisty, twisty plot, I hope you’ll love them too.

‘Sanguine’ Now on Libiro

I may have been busy working on my new Ark & Fable series of novellas, but I’m also determined to get my YA fantasy ‘Sanguine’ onto as many ebook sites as possible. (I do keep meaning to include Smashwords in that, incidentally, but it just looks more complicated than any of the other sites and I keep putting it off.)

Today I’ve added Libiro to the list, an ebook store dedicated to books by indie and small press authors. It’s a really nice site and very easy to use – and even provides a choice of ebook formats for readers – so I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for something different to read this summer. It’s also been a pleasure to use as an author, which is always a plus!

So, without further ado: Sanguine, available now on Libiro, for your reading pleasure!

‘Star of the Everlasting’ Cover Reveal!

It’s only been a couple of months since my self-publishing début, but I’m never one to let the grass grow under my feet (unless it comes to actually mowing the lawn, at which I’m very lazy…). ‘Star of the Everlasting’ started life as a short story back in December of 2012. However, I have a real problem writing short stories, in that I continually try to cram too much plot in. By the time this particular story was at 12k words, I had to admit it really wasn’t going to be ‘short’ at all, and that to make it work, it needed a bit more room to breathe.

And the result is here! That unnamed short story became ‘Star of the Everlasting’, the first novella in my Ark & Fable series. It’s got gun fights and ancient magic and a city built on colossal stone pillars. It’s also got Ark and Fable themselves, the titular characters, a pair of ‘middlemen’ who negotiate between criminals and the city’s highest echelons, always in the name of profit. Well, perhaps not always, as you’ll discover if you read the novella…

So, on to the cover!

I think my partner has excelled himself this time, and I absolutely adore this cover. It’s dark and moody, and really sets the tone for the setting as a whole. It also shows a key scene from the story… and that’s as much as I’m going to say about that! However, you might have noticed the little logo in the middle of the cover, which – close up – looks something like this:

This was my partner’s idea, much as I’d like to take credit for it, and a version will appear on each novella in the series, tying the covers together.

Finally, it’s time for the blurb (not necessarily the final blurb that’ll make its way into the ebook, but it’s close enough):

In the cliff-top city of Ardom Wave, there are the nobles, the criminals – and those in between. As middlemen – or middlewomen, in their case – Ark and her partner Fable tread the fine line between those in power and those most definitely not, all while keeping their heads down, staying one step ahead of the law, and always turning a profit.

A fine line that comes under threat when they’re faced with conflicting requests from two equally wealthy clients, either one of whom could cause serious trouble if they don’t get their way.

The way out requires breaking Ark’s three cardinal rules. The first: never let a job turn personal, even when a face from your past comes knocking. Vesper might tug at Ark’s heart-strings, but as a noblewoman with a string of dead husbands, she’s a dangerous woman to get close to.

Except Vesper has changed her ways and is looking for a way out of the city – a way Ark wouldn’t mind providing, if it wasn’t for rule number two: never get involved in magic.

Because Vesper is up to her elbows in the artefact trade, and if Ark is going to dig her way out, she’s going to have to break the most important rule of all, the one that separates the middlemen from everyone else. She’s going to have to get her hands dirty.

You might have guessed that ‘Star of the Everlasting’ is rather different from my last self-published book. Whilst ‘Sanguine’ was a YA novel, this is firmly in adult territory (although, in all honesty, I don’t write huge amounts of sex, graphic violence or swearing in anything), set in a very different world. It’s also the first in a series, and I’m going to be trying a few different things when it comes to publication. For the first few months, at least, it’s going to be an Amazon exclusive, so I can gauge if that makes any difference to initial sales (I’ll say more about this when I do a more general self-publishing post). I’ll also be trying to get the next couple of novellas out as quickly as possible, with a novel-length omnibus to come later.

So, there you have it: ‘Star of the Everlasting’, coming soon to Amazon, and setting in motion events for a whole string of stories. I’ll have more release details soon, but for now, enjoy the cover, and let me know what you think!

Women Write Fantasy – The List

Over on Fantasy Faction today, there’s a very interesting link to a document put together by Sonika Balyan, which is essentially an extensive list of women fantasy authors, going back to the 1930s. Obviously, as a female writer myself I found this interesting, but I’ve also been drawn to fantasy books by women ever since I was a teenager. Overall, I’d say my reading habits are split roughly 50/50 when it comes to the author’s gender, though there may be a slight skew towards women. However, out of my favourite authors, those whose works I return to repeatedly and whose books I automatically pre-order, the vast majority are women. I’m actually struggling to think of any who aren’t.

I decided, then, to work out what percentage of the authors on that list I’d read at least one book by. The answer: 53 out of 312, which comes out at a shade under 17%. I’ll admit to being a little disappointed by that – I’d expected it to be far higher.

There are a few caveats to be made, of course. There are a handful of urban fantasy and paranormal writers listed, genres I read only occasionally. I’m also not sure how many of the American authors listed have been published in the UK, and whilst it’s easy enough to import books these days, I first read many of these authors in my teens, when I was relying solely on British bookshops. Having said that, though, 17% is still much lower than I’d like.

I’m not trying to make a point here, incidentally, other than that this is a useful resource. I’d like to see more women in fantasy, of course, both as writers and readers. I’d like to see more diversity of every stripe, in fact, just part of the reason I make a habit of promoting my favourite authors. I also wish misguided comments like, ‘Oh, I don’t read books by women’ could become a thing of the past. (Seriously, if this applies to you, you’re never going to get anything other than merciless laughter from me.) Mostly, though, I just wanted to share this fascinating and incredibly useful list. I’ll be returning to it whenever I’m in need of something new to read – and if you’re at all interested in the fantasy genre, I highly recommend you check it out.