Friday, 30 January 2015

Book Haul

Wow... I'm literally overflowing in books this week... so many great looking titles to read and review! My thanks to Hachette Australia and Simon and Schuster Australia.

Stay tuned for more reviews and interviews this weekend peeps! And as always... keep on reading!

Book Review - Gideon by Alex Gordon

I must admit that I approached this book hesitantly. It lay outside of my usual scope of interest, and I hadn't heard anything on the grapevine about Alex Gordon prior to its release. Well, I am glad to say that I took a chance on it. Sometimes a book will surprise you and blow you away. Gideon is one of those books.

A fascinating blend of urban fantasy, horror, history and the supernatural, Gideon tells the tale of Lauren, a women who goes searching for the truth behind her father following his death. Following the trail to a mysterious town called Gideon, Lauren's quest for truth is hampered by a strange man and mysterious events. Residents start going missing in the town, and time itself is not what it seems. 

Gideon is a chilling and amazing read. One of the things that I loved about this book was how soaked it was in history. Reading it was like stepping back in time, and I literally felt like I was standing in Gideon watching in horror as events unfolded before me. Lauren is an interesting protagonist. Tough and resilient, I adored how she was thrown into a situation filled with mayhem and darkness and essentially tasked with stopping the evil falling over Gideon. The supporting characters, namely Connie and Victoria, were all interesting and full of depth and mystery, and I loved how the townsfolk of Gideon interacted and treated outsiders (it reminded me of how people in the small town I grew up in treated visitors, usually with suspicion and hostility).

Nothing in Gideon though is as it seems, and I was swept along through the many twists and layers that make up this story. The town itself is a creepy and magnificent setting, with darkness lingering in every shadow. The history that Gordon also weaved into her world building was superb, and I loved the link to past events like the Great Fire and the witch trials. I became so immersed in this story I found it extremely hard to put down at times. 

All in all Gideon is a relentless barrage of suspense and fright. A fascinating urban fantasy with a rich and layered depth, I would recommend it to all fans of speculative fiction! 

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Book Budgeting... tips and tricks.

Hey Peeps! 

Now I know what you all are thinking as you stare miserably at your bank balance... because I do it too. It is a question that haunts us all... the elephant in the room... the darkness that clouds our mood... just how am I going to afford all of those books I want? 

Perhaps you have considered getting another job? A new credit card? Or even pondered the drastic thought of robbing the local petrol station? I know I have... nah just kidding. I have never thought about getting a new credit card! 

I've been a book lover and shopper since I was a child. So I can speak with some experience. It is easy to find yourself in a financial black hole, with your favourite author's latest release mocking you from the shop window as you ponder how you are going to eat today. We have all been there... admit it. 

Over the years though things have gotten easier for me. I've picked up some tricks along the way, and I have become much more organised in my spending and budgeting. I thought it might be cool to share some of those tips and tricks with you... some are bloody obvious... some maybe not so obvious... please feel free to share you own tips and secrets if you so wish. We are all in the same boat here... so share the love!

Tip 1 - The most obvious one... shop around!!! We live in age of technology where information is at our fingertips... so throw off that luddite shackle and get online and compare prices! My secret weapon here is Booko, a book search engine that will list and compare the prices of most online book retailers for whatever title your after. Just type in the book your after, select the edition, and hey presto... away you go! You can also lurk around all of the major book retailers websites to get a heads up on upcoming sales, price reductions and specials. Booktopia is especially good for this. So get active online! If you are a luddite and hate computers, then visit your local bookshops, compare prices, and negotiate. The less you spend... the more you have! 

Tip 2 - Budget! For the love of god... don't buy books at the cost of not eating! I've been there and done that... it isn't cool! Put your family first... pay your bills... save... and THEN see what is left to spend on books. When you have worked out your budget from month to month then... and only then... can you move onto planning your spending! 

Tip 3 - Stay informed and prioritise! Stalk Goodreads, twitter, publisher websites, and author's webpages and social media... do whatever you have to do to get the bigger picture! Know when a book is being released, who it is being released be, and how much it is going to cost. Create a book release calendar, or find one online. One of the ones that I use heavily has been drawn up by Fantasy Book Critic here. Sit back and see what is coming up and allocate your budget from there. A smart consumer is an efficient consumer!

Tip 4 - Use your eReader! Never tried an author before... but like the sound of a blurb? Don't waste your money buying the hardback and running the risk of not enjoying the book... buy the eBook version! You will literally save yourself at least 50% of the money you would have paid, and if you love the book you can pick up a HB or PB copy later on. Online retailers like Amazon and iBooks have amazing deals and specials at times... so keep your eyes open!

Tip 5 - Use your local library! Don't be a dick and pirate... if you are so hard up for cash then go down to your local library and become a member. You can try new author's this way, and most libraries will get books in for you if you ask nicely! Added bonus, your not stealing from the author's your supposed to love and support!

Tip 6 - Sign up to every online book retailer you can! Join Amazon, Book Depository, and Booktopia! There are so many! Read their newsletters... special membership offers, vouchers, and specials are always up for grabs! Companies like Book Depository also offer free postage and handling... an amazing thing when you like to buy a lot of books from overseas!

Tip 7 - Start a book review blog. Love books? Have hundreds of followers on social media? Why not create a blog and start to review and discuss books with those followers? Once you have done this, join Netgalley. Netgalley allows you to request, download, read, and review books for publishers on your eReader. This is a great way to get to know publishers and also stay abreast of what is coming up in terms of releases. Best of all.. it doesn't cost a thing! It is how I began, and how so many other reviewers have started out. Check out Speculating on SpecFic's amazing guide here for more information on Netgalley and requesting ARC's from publishers. Bonus tip... don't bloody email publishers demanding free books... build your follower base... keep reviewing from Netgalley... and go from there. They receive hundreds of emails every week from people demanding books to review... be polite, and back up your request with numbers showing your reach online.

Tip 8 - Join a reading group! I am a member of two local reading groups... and one of the best benefits is that we all swap and loan books to each other all of the time! This is another great way to try before you buy!

Tip 9 - Embrace preloved books! Go to book fairs... visit second hand book shops... and check out your local Vinnies and the Salvos! The St. Vincent de Paul shop where I live sells books for 50 cents a pop... and I have stumbled across so many great deals there in my time. You will be amazed at what you find!

Tip 10 - And finally, be realistic with your money. We all would love that signed special first edition hardback with gold inscription and illustrations by our favourite author, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and buy the stock standard paperback release. Is this tragic? For some perhaps. For me, not really. I love books, but I love not declaring bankruptcy even better!  

These are my main tips and tricks... there are probably many more... but it keeps my budget in the black and me a happy reader. I don't miss out on things usually, and I control my love of books, not the other way around. 

What tips and tricks do you guys have? I'd love to hear about them. Drop me a line!


Monday, 26 January 2015

Australia Day...

Happy Australia Day to you all!

I just wanted to write a quick post to bring you all up to speed on what is happening here at Smash Dragons. 

Well things have been very busy! I have a stack of books to read and review at the moment, and they have been my priority as of late (due to commitments I have made to very generous publishers). I have so many great books to tell you about. Keep a look out for my upcoming reviews of Gideon by Alex Gordon and Golden Son by Piece Brown!

Glenda Larke will be dropping by this week and chatting to Smash Dragons. As one of Australia's finest fantasy writers I am stoked to be able to chat to her about her latest series and her life in general! 

I recently got a lot of great feedback via twitter for my post on women and fantasy fiction. I've made it one of my goals for 2015 to broaden my reading habits to include more female writers. You should too! 

I will be writing an opinion piece this week on book budgeting and shopping, check it out for all my tips and strategies for managing your budgets and maximising your bang for your buck!

And finally, I will be holding a competition here at Smash Dragons in a few weeks where some lucky person will win an awesome prize! More information to come!

Be nice to each other peeps... and remember... keep on reading!


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Book Review - Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Abercrombie returns magnificently with Half the World, a tale full of cracking action, mystery and intrigue, and blood soaked adventures.

Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War. Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to train and fight. But after being accused of murder she is inadvertently swept up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, who is crossing the world to find allies against the ruthless High King. Beside her is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill. A failure in his eyes and hers, he will have only once chance at redemption. Lessons will be learnt. Hard lessons. Lessons in blood and deceit. 

I have been looking forward to this sequel for so long, and I wasn't disappointed in the slightest! Half the World is a rollicking tale of conflict, politics, and romance that is a wonderful follow up to Half a King. Fast paced and easily accessible, Half the World unfolds like a beautiful and blood soaked Viking epic (albeit geared towards a younger market) that is building to an amazing conclusion in book three. 

Like all Abercrombie books, Half the World incorporates many typical elements of his writing. It has wit in spades... grimy violence.. plot twists and betrayal... and a driven and character focused narrative. In fact, one of Abercrombie's greatest talents as a writer is his ability to portray flawed and layered characters, and this is again highlighted in Half the World. 

An example of this is Thorn. At first she is depicted as your typical heroine... brash... strong... and full of piss and vinegar. But as the story unfolds we see her vulnerability and deep insecurity come to the forefront as she desperately tries to find validation on the battlefield. This weakness added an incredible depth to her character, and it was fascinating to see her question herself and her place throughout the book as she was exposed to the wider world. 

Brand, another one of the protagonists, is also brilliantly flawed and broken. He is a warrior who hates to kill in a world where strength and violence are celebrated. He struggles with this shame and failure everyday, and Thorn views him as weak and useless. His relationship to Thorn is incredible well depicted, and their later romantic tension and conflict is a major highlight of Half the World. Abercrombie portrays these two young adults realistically. Both struggle with their place in the world, both are angst ridden and confused, and both make plenty of mistakes with each other as they are exposed to the harsh reality of the world around them. Half The World is as much a coming of age story as it is a political and adventure story, and it makes for a fantastically interesting tale. 

This brings me to Yarvi, arguably my favourite character of the book. Father Yarvi is older and wiser in Half The World. He has grown into his role as a politician and diplomat, and he now displays a very hard and pragmatic ethos. He is neither good or bad in this story, just realistic and aware of the dire threat that the High King poses to Gettland. Playing the puppet master, he manoeuvres people and kingdoms around like a master as he desperately seeks to bring allies to Gettlands cause. I absolutely adored how he was portrayed in Half the World, especially since I knew full well how he became (from Half a King) who he is now. He, like all of Abercrombie's characters, displays a dark side that occasionally surfaces in Half the World, and his brand of 'gunboat diplomacy' was blood soaked and magnificent to behold. 

The world building, like in Half a King, was again brilliant, rich, and full of context. I could literally taste the salt and earthiness in the air at times, and I loved how Abercrombie described and took me out into the wider universe he created through the travels of Yarvi, Thorn, and Brand. The great mystery of the Elves, and their Elf magic, still lingers throughout this book, and it was fun to pick up on all of the clues that were littered throughout the story. I can't wait to see this mystery revealed, and how the events of Half the World unfold in the future!

All in all Half the World is a fantastic sequel to Half a King. It will probably not satisfy those who were disappointed with Half a King, or those who yearn for Abercrombie to return to the days of The Blade Itself, but it will definitely enthral younger readers and those who loved Half a King. 

Abercrombie has, with Half the World, delivered a fast paced and adventurous tale of action, mystery, and blood that is easily accessible to new readers and fans alike. One of my reads of the year so far... highly recommended!

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Interview - Alan Baxter

Hey peeps!

I am very privileged to bring you yet another instalment in our interview series for 2015. This week Smash Dragons spoke to dark fantasy and horror writer Alan Baxter, author of the Alex Caine novels and numerous other works. Alan graciously took time out of his busy schedule to chat about various things, including why he became a writer and dancing monkeys! 

Alan Baxter, welcome to Smash Dragons!

Thanks for having me.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself, and your Alex Caine series of novels. 

I’m a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi. I also teache Kung Fu, running my own school, the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy, in Kiama. I live among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, with my wife, son, dog and cat.

The Alex Caine series is the story of an underground cage fighter who is at the top of his game and very happy with life, until he begins to learn a lot more about himself that he’d rather not know. He gets drawn into a world of magic, monsters and mayhem and the harder he tries to escape, the deeper he’s drawn in. It’s a world he wishes he’d never found.

Why did you become a writer? Was it for the money, girls, or fast cars?

HAHAHAHA! Oh, man, there’s none of that stuff unless you win the writing lottery and score the kind of success of the Stephen Kings and J K Rowlings out there. Writers are writers because its in their very essence. I’ve always been a writer. I make a point of trying to be a professional and successful author and if I keep working hard and have a bit of luck, maybe I’ll make a good living at it. But regardless, I write because I have stories I want to tell and writing is my self-expression. 

Dark elements are quite common throughout your work. What is it about those elements that you find so attractive to explore?

I find that darkness and horror is more honest. I’ll follow an idea for as far as it’ll go and that’s often down some very dark holes. When you’re dealing with high stakes, it can get messy.

Who are your literary influences? What is your favourite book, and why?

So hard to say. I have so many. Clive Barker is a huge influence on me and his novel, The Great and Secret Show is one of my favourite books ever. One of! The classics like H P Lovecraft, Clarke Ashton Smith, Edgar Allen Poe. Contemporaries like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin… So many!

I will admit that I loved Bound and Obsidian, and I am about to start Abduction. How did this series of novels come about? What challenges did you face whilst writing them? 
Thanks! The books began because I’d long had a reputation for writing good fight scenes – after all, I’ve been a fighter and a writer for most of my life so when those things combine, I guess I know what I’m talking about. So I decided to write a book where the hero was very much a martial artist and that’s where the character of Alex Caine came from. Then I wanted to play around with old fantasy, quest, lost city tropes, all that stuff. And the series was born!

I loved the world building in both Bound and Obsidian, and I thought the Kin were utterly fascinating. Did you do much research when you were creating this universe? 

I’ve been researching this universe my whole life really, because it’s all twisted mythology and extrapolated folk tales, all given my own personal tweaks and twists. Then I made up my own mythologies to fill in any gaps.

Your Alex Caine novels are full of fights and cracking action. How does your background in fighting and martial arts help when choreographing these scenes? 

It’s integral. I hate badly written fight scenes, so I try to make mine as exciting and fast-paced, but also as realistic, as possible. I draw on all my experience for that.

Alex Caine seems to share a lot of similarities with yourself. Was his creation a case of writing what you know? 

Definitely to a degree. As a martial artist his martial philosophy and his fighting ethics are very similar to my own. As a person, he’s very different to me.

Tell me about how you came up with characters like the Subcontractor (who was fucking awesome!) and the Three Sisters. Is there a process you go through, or do you just have moments of inspiration?

The Subcontractor is pretty cool, huh. I’m rather proud of him! I like to create unconventional monsters, so I try to invent something a little bit different and make it as horrible and terrifying as I can manage. But I also like those monsters to be hard to see in the world. The scariest thing is often how easily they blend in and walk among us. I don’t have any particular process, but I extrapolate what inspiration I have.

When writing, are you an architect or a gardener?

A bit of both. I’m more gardener than architect, but I always have fairly extensive notes before I start a novel. Having said that, the notes are not rules and the story will often go in unexpected directions. I love it when that happens. I’ll always roll with it and subsequently adjust the notes to accommodate the new direction.

What is your worst writing habit? 

Interesting question. I honestly don’t know. All the bad stuff gets polished out in edits and redrafts, so I guess my bad habits are the same as anyone’s – word repetition, passive voice, plot holes! But that’s all first draft stuff and I have wonderful beta readers who help me seek and destroy all that.

If you could steal one writing ability from any author, who would it be and why?

I wouldn’t. I’ve spent years developing my own voice and I want to continue doing that. If I could steal Stephen King’s sales figures, I’d have those in an instant. I’d love to sell as many books as he does.

What are you working on right now? 

I’ve just finished a new standalone horror novel and sent it over to my agent. Fingers crossed she likes it and can find it a good home. I’ve also started work on another standalone novel – a horror/crime kind of thing – and I’ll be getting back to that now.

You run a martial arts academy in Kiama on the South Coast, and you have recently become a father. How on earth do you find the time to write?

I make the time. Anyone who wants to be a writer has to make the time to do it. Of course, life, family, day jobs, all get in the way, but if you want to be a writer badly enough, you’ll make time to write. Even if that’s just two hours every Sunday afternoon, you take that. And you protect that writing time savagely. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not important. If you write 1,000 words a week – which is not much at all – you can finish a novel in two years. That might sound like a long time, but it’s better than lamenting your whole life about how you don’t have time to write, isn’t it? I’m always a writer, every waking minute I think like a writer. Then I make time to actually write and I do it. Baby nap time is gold. 

You have published a lot of cracking short stories in your career. What was your first, and how did you celebrate? 

The first one I sold was a horror story to an old online zine called The Harrow, and I got paid $5 for it. I think I bought myself a beer!

Best writing tip for novices looking to improve their craft?

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Repeat.

You are admirably a big supporter and proponent of local speculative fiction. Who should I be looking out for in 2015? 

So many! Australia is bristling with great spec fic talent. Angela Slatter, Jo Anderton, Robert Hood, Andrew McKiernan, Lisa L Hannett, Margo Lanagan, Kaaron Warren, so many more! And one of my very good friends is no longer with us, he died far too young from cancer, but he was one of Australia’s greatest voices in dark fiction. His name is Paul Haines and people should most definitely avail themselves of his work, especially his novella, Wives. You can find that in the X6 anthology from Coeur De Lion, or in Paul’s collection, The Last Days of Kali Yuga.

And finally, what can we expect from Alan Baxter in the future?

More novels, more short stories and novellas, another collaboration with David Wood. Laughs, song and merriment. Dancing monkeys! (Maybe not the monkeys.)

Alan Baxter, thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to chat with Smash Dragons! 

You're welcome, thanks for having me. 

You can check out Alan's blog and website here, and you can find copies of his work online at Amazon and all other good book retailers. Bound, the first Alex Caine book, is available right now on Amazon for the bargain price of $1.64!

You can also pick up the paperback edition of Bound from all good bookshops. And, if you are a major fan like me, you can pay Alan himself the amazing price of $25 (covers book and pnh, more if you are an international fan) and he will sign and post a copy of Bound to you anywhere in Australia! Just drop him a line (contact details on his website) for more information. The man just keeps on giving!

Tune in next week, when the lovely Glenda Larke joins us for a chat! 


Book Review - The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick

With courtly intrigue, assassinations, and a growing darkness, The Boy Who Wept Blood is an entertaining read that builds upon the best elements of The Boy With the Porcelain Blade.

Lucien's legacy lives on in his protege Dino. But ten years have passed since Lucian disappeared, and Dino is struggling to live up to his legacy. Sworn to protect Anea as she struggles to bring reform to Demesne, Dino finds himself drawn into a dangerous game where he must become both spy and assassin in order to fulfil his vow. 

And all the while the darkness at the heart of Demesne is growing towards fulfilment. 

Patrick has again weaved his magic and crafted a fascinating story of intrigue, betrayal, and mystery. I love the world he has created and expanded upon in this book, with its renaissance like facets and similarities. One of the criticisms I had with the first book in this series was that Patrick did not explain or show enough of the world outside of Demesne for my liking. In the Boy Who Wept Blood Patrick this has been improved upon, and whilst I still have many, many questions I felt comfortable with the information revealed in this book. 

Dino, the main protagonist, was both interesting and frustrating at the same time. Patrick traditionally has written very character focused stories, and this is again the case in The Boy Who Wept Blood. We witness all of the momentous events unfold mainly through his eyes and thoughts, and the reader is carried along by his role in the plot. I did enjoy how Dino evolved from the start of the story to the end, and I found his idiosyncrasies both charming and compelling. I did however find some of his choices and decision making confusing at times, and at odds with how I thought he should have reacted. 

The cast of supporting characters, like in The Boy With The Porcelain Blade, were rich, vivid, and well executed. Anae again is compulsively thrilling and mysterious, and I found Stephania's rise politically and emotionally very riveting. I did find myself yearning for Lucien, the main protagonist from The Boy With The Porcelain Blade, halfway through as I felt the story slow down and lull. However I read on, and was rewarded when things improved dramatically in the final third as the dark events surrounding Erebus unfolded. 

The action, political machinations, and intrigue in The Boy Who Wept Blood were again, like in The Boy With The Porcelain Blade, top notch. Duels, betrayals, and unrest are littered throughout the story. In fact one of the highlights of this book was Patrick's ability to enthral me during those scenes. I literally felt like I was there, witnessing events, tasting the coppery tang of blood on the air and smelling the tense sweat clinging to people as the Houses warred and conspired against each other. 

One criticism I do have with The Boy Who Wept Blood is the ending. It does leave things wonderfully open for the next book, but I just felt a little deflated by it even though Lucien does return. I expected more based on the lead up to it and the the reveal of Erebus. 

All in all The Boy Who Wept Blood was a very enjoyable, character-driven fantasy with intriguing mystery and cracking action. If you are a fan of Scott Lynch, or just fantasy in general, then you should check this book out!

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Book Loot Wednesday

Sup People!

Just a quick update to books received this week. I purchased a copy of Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley, and it finally came in the mail this morning!

Gorgeous cover art... I cannot wait to dive into this one... been looking forward to it for so long!

I have also received the following titles from Netgalley and Angry Robot Books... Flex by Ferret Steinmetz, The Buried Life by Carrie Patel, and Nexus by Ramez Naam. Thanks so much Angry Robot!

I should have more book loot to reveal in the coming days... so stay tuned!

Also... look out for my interviews Alan Baxter and Glenda Larke in the coming week!


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Musings for the Day

In a recent interview I did with Ben Peek he made a point that has stuck in my head over the past few days. In response to a question I asked about strong female characters he indicated that it was a sad reflection of society today that female characters are still considered weak and boring. 

This got me thinking. A lot. 

Was he right? Am I part of the problem? Do I unconsciously support the archaic and sexist notion that female characters are weak and boring through my reading choices?

A quick scan of my bookshelves suggests he may be right. Now don’t get me wrong. I like to consider myself an egalitarian. I don’t think men are in anyway superior to women at all. In fact, I think it’s the other way around. My wife constantly impresses me with her ability to handle things better and more effectively then me, and I am also a firm and passionate supporter of the feminist movement. Women have had the raw end of the stick for too long, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot. 

So the question needs to be asked. Why on earth don’t I have more books featuring strong female protagonists? 

To be brutally honest… I really don’t know. 

I genuinely felt shame as I read over my book titles and conjured up characters from those titles in my head. 

White male hero… white male hero… white male hero… blac… no wait… white male hero. 

What about female authors? My rough estimate is 70% to 30% in favour of men… another shameful statistic. 

So what the hell is going on here? Am I really that much of a sexist pig in terms of reading? Do I unconsciously think that female characters are weak and boring? The figures seem to suggest that I do, and that is horrifying to me.

Upon reflection my library seems to be a microcosm of the speculative fiction community in general. Men still dominate the publishing circuits, and strong male protagonists are still the norm even with female writers. Thankfully this seems to be slowly changing, and authors such as Kameron Hurley and Ann Leckie are paving the way with diverse and intriguing works of speculative fiction featuring female and genderless (or gender changing) protagonists. 

So what do I do? Sit around and wait for trends to swing towards an environment that makes me more comfortable? No… I still need to actively change now. I need to be more open to diverse works of speculative fiction, and I need to vote with my wallet. I need to find more female authors to read, interview, and promote via this blog. And I need to embrace diversity and march out of my reading comfort zones. 

And you know what… I will be better for it… both as a reader and a person. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and reading suggestions. 


Note - Fan Art is the property of Darey Dawn.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Book Review - Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Owl and the Japanese Circus tells the tale of Owl, an ex-archaology student turned antiquities thief. Whilst working Owl receives a job offer from Mr. Kurosawa, which she accepts. If Owl retrieves an artefact stolen thousands of years ago for him he will take care of the pack of vampires that want her dead. But Owl must tread carefully, Mr. Kurosawa is also a red dragon, and dragons also love to eat thieves.

Every now and again a book comes along that not only surprises you, but also excites you. Owl and Japanese Circus is a fun and adventurous read and that had me enthralled late into the night. Owl is a sarcastic, quick witted thief with a tendency to get herself into troublesome situations. I adored her snarky attitude, and I loved reading her dialogue throughout the story. I also enjoyed the rest of the characters in the story, from Owl's companion Captain right through to her online gaming partner Carpe. I thought each character was well executed, and each brought a unique voice to the plot. I also loved the supernatural elements that were incorporated into this book. Creatures like vampires, nagas, dragons and ghosts all appear, and they are a constant source of supernatural action and mayhem throughout. 

The only thing I thought that wasn't for me (and this is a personal thing... I'm sure others will love it) was the romantic subplot. Luckily it didn't really detract from the main storyline. 

All in all Owl and the Japanese Circus was a cracking debut from Charish. Fun, adventurous urban fantasy with a strong and snarky female protagonist. I cannot wait to see what Charish produces next!

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

Book Review - Messenger's Legacy by Peter V. Brett

I was excited to read Messenger's Legacy. As a long time fan of Brett's Demon Cycle Saga I looked forward to jumping back into a world where humanity is on the brink of disaster. And boy was I not disappointed! Messenger's Legacy tells the tale of Briar Damaj, a half Krasian boy in the village of Bogton, who flees into the wild when tragedy strikes at the very heart of his family. With nothing but his wits and some basic herb lore he must brave the darkness and survive.

Sporting a beautiful hardback cover and binding, Messenger's Legacy represents everything I love about Peter V. Brett's writing. Fast paced and action packed, with tragedy and soul woven in. Like previous works by Brett, Messenger's Legacy is an extremely readable and accessible story that had me gripped from the start. I simply adored the introduction of Briar Damaj (who apparently will have a role to play in The Skull Throne), and I loved how his point of view evolved throughout the story. I also enjoyed learning more about Ragen and his wife Elissa, and their relationship with Briar was both moving and fascinating. The conflict in Messenger's Legacy (like in other works by Brett) was both well written and extremely tragic, especially the scenes where people turn on each other despite the fact that they are facing extinction from the demons. 

Messenger's Legacy also highlight's Brett's ability to create a rich and textured world that seems authentic and real to the reader. There is nothing verbose about the people, creatures, or land in a Messenger's Legacy, and it is simply beautiful to read. 

If I had one small criticism it would be that I wanted to know more about Briar. The early chapters of this novella were simply mesmerising, and showcased Brett's ability to write simple yet soulful prose filled with sad innocence.

All in all Messenger's Legacy was a really great return to the Demon Cycle universe. I cannot recommended this novella highly enough to fans of fantasy, and I can't wait to see what befalls Briar and the others in The Skull Throne. 

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

Interview - Ben Peek

Hey Peeps! 

I am stoked to be able to bring the latest instalment in our interview series. This week we are featuring Ben Peek, author of the fantastic book The Godless. Ben graciously took time out of his busy schedule to chat about various things, including his weapon of choice for fighting Rjurik Davidson!

Ben Peek, welcome to Smash Dragons!

Thanks, man. Appreciate the time. 

First up, tell us a little bit about yourself and your novel The Godless.

Well, I'm a Sydney based author. My previous books are Black Sheep, Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, Above/Below, and the collection, Dead Americans and Other Stories. 

The Godless is my first fantasy novel. It's an ensemble cast piece, switching between three main characters, and set in a world where the bodies of Gods lie upon the ground, dead but still alive, due to the nature of time in the book. It has fanatical armies. It has dead things. It has sword fights and magic. It even has a cartographer. But mostly, it's about people stuck in a siege, and the things that they will have to do to survive.

How long have you been writing for? How did The Godless come about?

I've been writing for a long, long time. 

I sold my first piece of short fiction about twenty years ago, back when I was in High School. I never got paid, and it never got published, but I kept writing, since that seemed somewhat successful. At least, that's what I told myself.

The Godless was an idea that I had had lurking around in my head for a while, but it wasn't until around 2010 that I started to write it. I had gone through a rough patch with what you would call my career at the time. A lot of authors had: the GFC had come and a lot of the slots that existed for new authors like me were drying up. I'd lost a book deal. I'd gone through two agents. It was rough, but not so unusual that I need to go into all the details for it, again. The end result though was that I thought I'd sit down and write a fantasy book. I'd loved them growing up, but I'd only been in and out as an adult, and I thought I'd take this idea I had been turning round for a while and simply write it and see how it went. At the end of it I had this book, and this series idea, and within a couple of months, I had a new agent, and a shiny book contract.

What challenges did you face in writing The Godless?

Mostly it was the kind you face having to sit down every day and write when you have no one interested in what you are doing. I think that the desire to continually produce work when no one appears interested in it is the hardest thing for an author.

One of the things I loved about The Godless was its embracement of strong and interesting female characters (Ayae and Lady Wagan for example). Was this done on purpose, and do you feel that fantasy writers should step outside the ‘white male hero’ archetype more often?

That's a sad reflection on our world, isn't it, that question? In it is this idea that female characters are weak and boring.

One of the basic choices I made when I sat down to write the Godless was that I would build the world of the book from a position of equality. By that, I mean that no matter your race, your sexuality, your sex, whatever, you're as equal as the next in the book. It's not a hard line for me to take, since it's my natural outlook on the world, but within the traditional building blocks of the fantasy feudal system and its monarchies and so forth is the idea that not everyone is equal. Mostly, I tend to think it's a blind world building choice: just like you'll accept that your hero will have a sword, ride a horse, and see a castle at least once, you'll accept that women don't have the same freedom as men. Well, white men, really. It's not something I personally respond to, but at the same time, some authors use it well and get narrative tension out of that. You can even create whole narratives out of gender swapping, in which a woman dresses as a man, or a man as a woman. But it's not what I'm interested in. So I made that decision early to build from a position of equality. 

I don't think it's such a big deal, personally. Like I said, it's my outlook in life.

As for other fantasy writers? Well, they've all got world views to present as well, and they'll make the choices that best suit them, really. I suspect changing expectations in their audience will have more impact than anything I'd say.

What’s your favourite book? Why?

My favourite book, huh?

It's never the same, one week from another, but today, I'd say Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon. It is a book set during the purges in Stalinist Russia, and has one of the finest final lines I've ever read (though you have to read the book to get it it). The English version is translated by Daphne Hardy and it's totally beautiful. She had, apparently, been living with him at the time. But seriously, it's a great book. Completely and utterly.

The world building in The Godless was simply amazing. Did you draw from any historical influences when you were designing it?

You know, probably the one that will surprise you is the Dime novel influence in the creation of the mercenary groups. I deliberately drew from the late 1800s, and the role that the Dime novel had in mythologising the West. I honestly can't tell you why - the world building was pretty organic, and most of it was shaped during rewriting, but that's the one that I was conscious of drawing on the strongest, and I think it's one of the smallest pieces of world building in the book. The rest of it, I'm sure there are bits and pieces. I was conscious of the fact that the Spine of Ger echoed the Great Wall of China, for example. And I constantly find myself having to look up ships for whenever anyone rides for a page or two on a ship. But there's no huge strand similar to those Dime novels.

It is a fact that we both share a love of Transformers (not the hideous Michael Bay movies), but what else influenced and shaped you into becoming the writer you are today?

Haha. I don't know that Transformers influenced me all that much beyond being an entrance level science fiction show for me as a kid.

But otherwise, I guess we're all a sum of our experiences. The writer in me probably owes a debt to authors such as Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, David Gemmell, Lynn Abbey, Katherine Kerr, Terry Brooks, RA Salvatore, and all the other fantasy writers I read as a kid. They were the books I found when I was young, and no matter what we'll say about the quality of some of their books as adults, they gave me such joy and love when I was a kid that I'll always be indebted to them. As an adult, the list is even longer, but when I was a poor kid growing up, those were the books I loved. 

The Godless is a large book. How long did it take to write?

Probably about two years, give or take. Like I said earlier, the motivation to complete a book is hard to find when no one wants it. The second book, Leviathan's Blood, is a little longer, and that took me just over a year to write pretty much full time (I teach part time). It really is amazing how someone waiting for your work changes your output.

In your opinion, what are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I'm totally one hundred percent a complete author with no faults at all. Except, perhaps, my spelling.

But, more seriously, I don't think I write the romance well. I mean the genre, not romances in books. Likewise, hard science fiction isn't really my strength, either. Everything else I'd feel confident with, but everyone is going to have their opinion on what they like and don't like in your work, though, and they can all have at it. Just not near me. I don't really care to hear how I'm less than perfect. I have an editor for that and she does a fine job.

What would be your weapon of choice for gladiatorial combat if you faced Rjurik Davidson?

Henri Lefebvre's left arm.

How much say do you have, as an author, in relation to the cover art for your books? (I thought The Godless covers were stunning by the way.) And what’s the best piece of cover art you have ever seen? 

It really depends on what country we're talking about. In Germany and in the US, I was just shown the cover after it had been made. But in the UK, which is my main publisher, I had a bit of input into it, mostly about the look of the characters and such. My editor, Julie Crisp, and I went back and forth on how we should frame Ayae on the cover, and in the end, we put it out to vote, and used that as a strong guide. But by and large, I don't have a huge say in it, which is, really, quite fair. If cover designs were left up to me they'd look awful - cover artists and publishers know what they're doing.

As for favourite cover art, I have no idea, to be honest. I always thought Shaun Tan's covers for his picture books were pretty sweet.

The Godless has so many intriguing and multi-layered characters. In your opinion, what makes a good fictional character? 

An ability to surprise, to react in a way that a reader is not expecting, but which remains true to the text, so while the reader can be surprised by what happened, they don't feel cheated.

Speculative fiction here in Australia seems to come and go in popularity. What do you think of the local scene at the moment? Are there any local writers whose work we should check out apart from your own?

Well there's Anna Tambour and Rosaleen Love, for starters. Trent Jameison has a new novel out this year, I believe. Rjurik Davidson has one as well. 

But I think you should read outside this scene, as well. It's nice to support local writers - and they do need supporting - but you have to be diverse in what you read, and at times, this little scene is not that. 

Time for the standard cliché question… best writing tip for beginner writers?

Read, and read widely, and read everything.

I know it's such a cliche answer, but over the years, it's really what I've found makes a difference. You want to be around for a long time? Read. Read everywhere and everything.  

How many trials of strength must a blogger go through to receive an ARC of the sequel to The Godless? *hint hint

You'd have to ask Sam Eades, but I suspect, if you were able to capture Jo Nesbo alive and deliver him to her doorstep, you'd be on the right path.

(More seriously, I'll help you out. Not in the kidnapping of Jo Nesbo, though. I mean, hes not my type.)

What are you working on right now?

Third book of the series. What will it be called... who knows? Every title I have is bad.

What can fans of The Godless expect in the sequel?

Happiness. Sunshine. Cute girls on ponies. Cute boys on boats.

But my book is called Leviathan's Blood and it'll have none of that stuff. 

And finally, will you be appearing at any events (Supanova, etc) this year? (We fans do like to stalk our favourite authors!)

At this point, nothing is decided, so maybe. I tend to be a bit reclusive, so I tend not too stress the convention stuff too much, really. But I suspect I'll do a few things - a couple of people have asked, but there's nothing set in stone at this point.

Ben Peek, thank you for taking the time out to talk to Smash Dragons!

No probs, man. Happy to do so.

You can find a copy The Godless at all decent online book retailers and stores. Ben is such an incredibly nice guy, and has a razor sharp wit that is very thought provoking. Get behind him, and purchase The Godless. You won't be disappointed!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Book Review - The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick

A fascinating, character driven fantasy, The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is a solid debut novel from author Den Patrick.  

Lucien is an orphan, and one of the Orfani (all Orfani have deformities). He is lonely, and tormented by his differences despite being afforded the best education and training alongside the nobles of Landfall. But unrest is growing, and Lucien finds himself caught up in political rivalries and conflicts where he has to rely on more than just his blade to protect the ones he loves.

Patrick has crafted a fascinating world in The Boy with the Porcelain Blade. Incorporating many interesting elements from Renaissance Italy (House system, fighting styles, and the fact the characters speak Italian), the author weaves an action packed tapestry that was both fun to read and unique. His multi-layered characters, who were all different and wonderful in their own particular ways, enthralled me. I was especially taken by the Orfani themselves. Their existence alone was an incredible part of this story, and their deformities and strangeness (for example they don’t have red blood) kept me glued as the story powered on and their mysterious heritage was revealed. Patrick does layer the story with clues here and there, and part of the fun in reading this book is in finding these clues. I also really enjoyed how The Boy with the Porcelain Blade was structured. The reader gets glimpses into Lucien’s past, and these events help illuminate what is happening in the present with great effectiveness.  

One criticism I do have however is that I wanted to learn more about Landfall and the sprawling castle of Demesne. Compared to other major releases in recent years there is a distinct lack of detail revealed by Patrick. I found myself yearning to know more, and I was extremely frustrated when my questions when unanswered by the end of the book. Patrick obviously chose to write a book focused on the characters themselves, and whilst this worked really well and I was captivated I still wanted to know more about their environment around them. The devil is in the details, as they say.

All in all this was an extremely fun and vivid read. A character based fantasy with Renaissance and gothic elements woven in. A must read for fans of Lynch. I can’t wait to read the next book!

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Whats the goss?

So... whats the goss?

What's making headlines this week in the world of speculative fiction? Well... Angry Robot are back, and boy are they angry! Well, not really.

Angry Robot are gearing up for another assault on readers by releasing review copies (via Netgalley) of their upcoming books entitled Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz, Nexus by Ramez Naam and The Buried Life by Carrie Patel. All of these look very exciting, and I for one am stoked to see Angry Robot powering up again after the dramas of 2014.

For more information and other Angry Robot news check this link out.

In other news, the nominations for the Ditmar Award have opened for 2015. The form can be found online here. Please consult the list of eligible work (also found at that link) before nominating. Voting will take place later on this year at SwanCon 2015. If you have a favourite author, then please take the time to nominate them and their work. It really does mean the world to them.

Charles Coleman Finlay has been named editor of F&SF, beginning with the March-April 2015 issue. More information can be found here.

And finally... drumroll please (or should that be booming war drums sounding the distance?)... Lord Grimdark... aka Joe Abercrombie... is touring Australia in February!!! He will be doing a book signing, talk, and QnA at Galaxy Books in Sydney on Sunday February 15th at 2pm. Come and bow before the dark lord! For more information click here.

Thats all for this week peeps... stay tuned for Ben Peek's interview on Monday, and remember... keep on reading!

Latest Book Haul

I am extremely lucky to have the opportunity to review so many fine titles here at Smash Dragons. The past few days I have received an influx of books. To say I am over the moon would be an understatement.

I cannot wait to immerse myself in all of these books. My deepest thanks to Harper Voyager Australia and HarperCollins Australia.

Book Review - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Art and Design

I am a massive fan of fantasy art. From the early days of my childhood I adored pouring over drawings, paintings, and sculptures of things ranging from dragons souring through the skies through to wizards standing toe to toe with invading armies. I literally worshipped artists like John Howe, Keith Parkinson, Michael Whelan and Frank Frazetta, and I consumed their work with fanaticism and passion. 

So when I heard of the the impending release of the Art and Design book for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies I was excited to say the least. And boy, was I not disappointed. 

Composing of over 250 different pieces of art, sketches, costumes and concept designs, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Art and Design book is an impressive addition to fantasy art literature. This book covers everything, from the initial sketches and artist discussion right though to the final design that made it to film. Props, sets, creatures, armour and weapons are all covered in great detail, and conceptual artists like John Howe and Alan Lee provide expert commentary all throughout the book. 

I adored pouring over each and every single page, taking in the beautiful artwork or gleaming an interesting fact from the information (such as how Thranduil's armour was initially inspired by the intricate and beautiful armour of Japanese samurai) that accompanied it. I also enjoyed how the book was divided into sections that focused on the different factions of Middle Earth, and I loved seeing the bad guys (orcs, goblins, Necromancer etc) get equal treatment and focus. It was simply amazing to learn just how much work and background design goes into the production of a film like the The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and after reading this I have a new found respect and admiration for all of those men and women behind its production. 

I could read this tome over and over and still discover new things every time. To put it simply, this book is a must have for any fantasy art lover, Tolkien fan, or cosplayer. An absolutely stunning and visually brilliant book, and a must have for anyone with eyes and a soul! 

5 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was kindly provided. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Book Review - Blood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson

Vikings... warring factions... powerful and malevolent forces at play... what more could you want in a book? Blood Will Follow encompasses all of these and more. The sequel to Swords of Good Men, Blood Will Follow opens after the siege of Stenvik as Ulfar, Audun, Valgard and Finn all deal with the events that occurred in Swords of Good Men. They soon realise that they will have very important roles to play as the battle for supremacy between the old ways and the White Christ plays out. 

I have to admit that I was really looking forward to reading Blood Will Follow. I thought the first book in the Valhalla Saga (Swords of Good Men) was awesome, and I was excited to dive into a fast paced and action packed Viking fantasy again. Unfortunately, Blood Will Follow is a different sort of beast to Swords of Good Men. Slower and more measured, Blood Will Follow really pushes character development to the forefront of the novel. Characters like Ulfar, Audun and Valgard are pushed to their limits, and we see them and others grow in ways we possibly couldn't have imagined. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I will admit that I was hoping for another slick and faster paced tale like Swords of Good Men was. 

Therein lies my dilemma. Blood Will Follow obviously is building to something massive and hugely epic. Kristjansson originally laid the foundations for his world in Swords of Good Men and has built upon them in great detail in Blood Will Follow. I still adored how his world brimmed with instances of magic, old gods walking around, and historical nuances that added a depth and richness to his setting. But by the end of it I was left feeling a little disappointed. I wanted more action... more violence... more Swords of Good Men actually. Structurally Blood Will Follow was a little more polished then Swords of Good Men, and I thought Kristjansson handled the shifts in points of view better in this novel. There are also still a few moments that will blow your mind, and the plot is building nicely to something that will hopefully explode in the third novel. However, by the end of it I still wanted more clashes and action sequences. 

In saying that Blood Will Follow is still an enjoyable and solid read. I suspect it probably is suffering from middle book syndrome a little, and that the third instalment in the series will blow my head off like Swords of Good Men did. All in all well worth your time, especially if you like the first book and/or are fans of the likes of Gemmell and Lawrence. 

3.5 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Book Haul and Quick Update

Greetings peeps!

Just a quick post today... received some very nice goodies from the good people at Hachette Australia and HarperCollins/HarperVoyager... I'm a lucky boy aren't I?

My deepest thanks to HarperCollins Australia and Hachette Australia. Both publishers are firm supporters of the blog, and have been very generous with both their time and products. I cannot wait to dive into them all!

I also received galleys of Robot Overlords by Mark Stay, No Man's World by Pat Kelleher and Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley. My thanks to Netgalley and the respective publishers. 

Quick update... Ben Peek interview still looks good for late this week... upcoming reviews include Blood will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson and The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord... and I have a special surprise in store that you will all love!

Gotta scat... have a bed to build!

Remember... keep on reading and writing people!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Book Review - Emergence by John Birmingham

What do you get when you cross Jim Butcher with Kevin Hearne, and add a dash of good ole Australian dark humour, and loads of violence, sarcasm and wit… why John Birmingham’s Emergence of course!

Dave is your average joe. He works hard, and plays even harder. A legend in his own lunchtime, Dave is facing divorce and mounting tax debt when things turn upside down. Monsters from another realm invade Dave’s oil-rig, and his encounter with them changes him into something else entirely. A superhero… a goddamn superhero!

Warning… this review will contain language that might be offensive to some… but it is necessary to convey my opinion of Emergence.

You have been sufficiently warned….

So where do I begin… I fucking loved this book!!! It is evil… evil and hilariously entertaining. Birmingham has someone managed to craft a tale that is not only morrish and addictive but also hilariously dark and offensive at the same time. I can’t recall laughing as much as I did from reading Emergence (raging demon boners and Dave’s facebook statuses spring to mind as examples of humour… seriously… you have to read it to understand). I was grabbed from the start with Dave’s hangover monologue, and I ploughed through it like a Viking at a wedding feast! Birmingham has taken some of the best elements of urban fantasy and merged them with what I can only describe as bloody hilarious humour, cracking action and witty dialogue. His protagonist Dave is a rip snortingly funny hero, whose actions and language made my face hurt from the roars of laughter that exploded from my lungs. Emergence is not solely a comedy however, and Birmingham has masterfully weaved plenty of military detail and action (for fans his previous books, like me, this will come as no surprise) into the text to keep the story moving along nicely. The world building was top notch, with Birmingham cleverly incorporating monsters and the UnderRealms alongside modern elements like Barack Obama, Facebook, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Emergence is fast paced and easy to read. Before I knew it I had ripped through military engagements, maul smashing fights and blood fuelled rage and turned the final page. I yearned (yes John… yearned) for more!  The climax left things brilliantly open for the next instalment (entitled Resistance, due out in March), and I can’t wait to see what is going to happen when Earth faces the armies of the UnderRealms with Dave (even his name makes me chuckle) as our champion. Emergence reminded me of the first time I read Stormfront (Jim Butcher). It is just a bucket of monster filled fun, action and wit that you will remember reading twenty years from now (not because it is a literary masterpiece, but because it fucking hilarious and incredibly entertaining!). 

In the immortal words of Oliver Twist… please sir (or king… or God… whatever they call you these days John)… I want some more!

A bloody good read! 

5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Interview - Rjurik Davidson

Hi Everyone,

I am stoked to be able to bring you the next interview in our series on Australian speculative fiction writers. Rjurik Davidson, author of Unwrapped Sky (one of my favourite books of 2014), took time out of his busy schedule to chat with Smash Dragons about himself, his work (past, present, and future), and the craft of writing. 

Rjurik Davidson, welcome to Smash Dragons! Tell us about yourself, and your novel Unwrapped Sky.

I’m a writer, editor and speaker. Unwrapped Sky is a novel of love and revolution, loyalty and betrayal, myth and technology. Caeli-Amur is an ancient city perched on white cliffs overlooking the sea. It is a city in crisis. When minotaurs arrive for a festival, three people’s lives fall apart as the city erupts into revolts. Some people think it’s a bit like China Miéville, others like Jack Vance or Gene Wolfe. I’d be happy if I lived up to any of those.

Why did you become a writer? Who are your literary influences?

I started writing as a child, stopped for a while, returned to it in my early twenties. At sixteen I wanted to be in a rock band. Not unusual for a teenage boy, but later on I played with some really good musicians and as Dirty Harry says, “A mans got to know his limitations.” There was a period there in my late teens, early twenties when I sort-of drifted around directionless. But slowly I settled on writing. It was a calling from the beginning, even if I ignored it for a while. From then on it’s been fairly steady as a writer, I suppose, though I haven’t been wildly prolific. A lot of my writing has been non-fiction: people can read some of that on my website. I’ve probably got a book’s worth of essays, not counting online pieces. Maybe someday someone will want to publish a book of those. Anyway, I’m someone who crosses genres and modes. I’m not just a fantasy writer, but also write SF, surrealism, magic-realism. I’m not just a fiction writer, but write essays, screenplays, and am planning a non-fiction book. I don’t think of any of these as separate in any way. In my head, they’re all part of the same project.

I’ve been thinking a lot about influences lately. Sometimes the people who influence you the most aren’t necessarily those you think are your influences. I’d like to be influenced by Le Guin, Ballard, Philip K. Dick, but I’m not sure how much I am. You can find a bit of Ballard in the ruined landscapes of Caeli-Amur, a bit of Le Guin in the questions of politics, a bit of Dick in the way certain characters lose it. I think you can find traces of Peter Carey, Samuel Delany, the realist writers (Tolstoy, Zola) and others in my work too. It’s all a kind of mish-mash in the end, though. My favourite writers include Hilary Mantel, Anton Chekov, Jorge Luis Borges, Peter Carey, Jean Paul Sartre, Virginia Woolf, James Ellroy. Inside SF, I tend to like the New Wave writers: Thomas Disch, J. G Ballard, M. John Harrison (who’s really a post-New Waver writer nowadays and whose recent work is brilliant), Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ. 

You’re an interesting case in that you have worked both as a writer and an editor.  How has this helped shaped your craft?

I have a lot more respect for editors than I ever did before! Poor things. It does demystify the process though. I’ve worked as an editor in a ‘literary’ publication and some film magazines, and so that also gives me a perspective from outside the speculative fiction world. That’s good to have, though sometimes I feel like a bit of an outsider in both worlds. It’s also taught me that though we’re all ‘experts’, it’s pretty hard to predict which pieces will resonate with readers. Yes, we generally know the good pieces from the bad, but every now and then we’re really surprised by the things readers love and unnerved by the things they hate. It’s hard to predict. 

Tell me about the genesis of Unwrapped Sky. Was it one of those light bulb moments or a long process of creation and evolution? 

The idea for Unwrapped Sky came many years ago. Initially I wanted to write a story where the magicians of a city were oppressed. It would be a story of their liberation. At the time I didn’t know quite how to write it, so it sat in my notebooks for ages. The initial impulse for the world of Caeli-Amur came from reading a New Wave writer, Samuel R. Delany. There’s a scene in The Einstein Intersection, one of his ‘science fantasy’ books, with an underground ruined bunker of some sort. The opening of the novel read like fantasy, then suddenly there was this ancient ruined technology and I thought, “Whoah, what’s this?” I then went to Clarion South writers’ workshop and wrote a broken story set in Caeli-Amur, which emerged in a white-hot week. Michael Swanwick was the tutor that week and gave it a ‘Swanwicking’, which I was all the better for. When I returned to Caeli-Amur, it was waiting for me. Suddenly I knew how to write that novel about the oppressed magicians, though it turned our quite different from how I imagined as a twenty-year-old.

I’ve always been curious (as a historian and teacher) as to how much research goes into writing a novel. Brian Staveley talks about being caught up researching interesting little tidbits, such as how far a man on a horse can travel in a day. Was this the case when you were writing Unwrapped Sky? 

That’s about it. I try to get all those technical things right. The other one is to call things by their right names. It basically involves a lot of looking things up: “What do you call the back raised deck on a boat?” 

Unwrapped Sky is a novel that spans across many different genres, with elements of fantasy, new weird, and steampunk evident throughout. Was it challenging writing a novel that crossed over so many different literary foundations?

Part of the challenge was to create a sense of cohesion to work with the surprise that comes with genre merging. How do all these elements work together? How do you make sure it doesn’t feel like it’s just all thrown in non-sensibly? I didn’t want to fall into the mistake of over-explaining. The real world isn’t like that. We wander through without much idea about the history of the things around us – without much about them at all. I wanted a sense of that in the novel. I wanted the readers mind to go on wild flights trying to fill in the gaps. If anything, Unwrapped Sky probably leaves a few too many things a mystery, but the next novel The Stars Askew clarifies some of them, and introduces other mysteries. 

There are some fascinating and thought provoking concepts in Unwrapped Sky, ranging from an examination of revolution and power through to class warfare and the notion of love and identity. I remember being stunned by its breadth and scale. Was it your intention to try and write your novel this way?

I want my novels to be rich, complex, thoughtful. I want them to be about something. If you’re going to spend a year or more on a novel, they should be about something. I took some of my attitude from the realists, I suppose, who try to use their novels to capture a sense of history itself and the forces that drive it. So you try to have characters crossing the different strata of your world. Take a factory worker like Boris Autec and shove him up into the world of the elites. That way you get to see both sides of the world. See how the elites live, but show how the poor do too. When I was about 13 years old I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which is an absurd and brilliant book. I remember there being pages and pages of authorial comment and historical theorization. It seemed to be about almost everything! You couldn’t get away with it now, but it seemed an amazing way to write a book. I hope you get a bit of that sense in Unwrapped Sky. 

I adored the characters in Unwrapped Sky. I thought your ability to make me experience a range of emotions (for example anger, yet understanding and sadness at the words and actions of Boris) on every single page was one of the highlights of the book. Who was your favourite character to write, and why?

Kata is really the hero of the story, and I’ve a pretty big soft spot for her. Max thinks he’s the hero, but comes to realize he’s not. He has an arrogance that I don’t care too much for. But Boris was probably my favourite, and in a sense I think the most original. He rises, but his rise is a moral fall. I think he’s more complex than Max, probably. My challenge was to make us empathize with Boris, even though we know he’s turning bad. 

Whilst reading Unwrapped Sky I was struck at how horrifying and yet fasciating the Elo-Talern were. Will we learn more about them and their origins in the next novel?

Indeed we will. The Stars Askew will unveil more of their history, and complete their story. Elo-Drusa is waiting for readers with her flickering, horse-like head.

As a magic system nerd I found the system of thaumaturgy in Unwrapped Sky utterly fascinating. I especially loved how you incorporated a big element of risk and cost in using it. How did you come up with it?

As I was writing, I was reading about quantum theory, and multiple universes, and these made their way – in very mediated configurations – into the form of thaumaturgy. Perhaps the most obvious gesture is that at the beginning of Unwrapped Sky thaumaturgy is fragmented into discrete disciplines. Each discipline has its own set of formulae and equations. So thaumaturgy is fragmented and the character Max is searching for a unified theory, a “theory of everything.” When you use it, it poisons you, a little like magical radiation. So there’s a real sense of thaumaturgy as a met
aphor for science. But they’re metaphorical gestures. Thaumaturgy is scientific in the world of the novel. It’s not our science though.

Caeli-Amur is described with such life and depth that I actually felt like I was there wandering the city as events in the novel unfolded. What historical influences inspired your creation of it?

I’d say it’s a series of combinations merged into its own entity. It’s a bit of Ancient Rome, a bit of Paris in the 8th and 19th Century, a bit of Russia at the turn of the 20th Century. But of course it’s none of those either. Caeli-Amur is its own city with its own original things too.

You’ve been selected, along with 199 others, to colonise Mars. Due to weight restrictions you can only take 3 hardcover books. What titles are they, and why?

1. War and Peace, because it’s massive and very, very complex. I could reread it several times, I think.
2. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. To my mind, the greatest of SF novels.
3. My own little collection, The Library of Forgotten Books. There’s nothing like rereading one of your old stories and being surprised: “Did I write that?!”

What are you currently working on? What can readers expect in the future?

The Stars Askew is off to the editors. I’ve pretty much finished up with The Rusted Earth, which is gaslight fantasy. The main character is a suffragette librarian – Eugenie Healy – who works at the National Museum in Melbourne. In this alternate Australia, there is still an inland sea and much of the megafauna – giant lizards and diprotodons (giant wombat-like mammals) – still survives. Readers of my story ‘Int. Morgue. Night.’ (from my collection The Library of Forgotten Books) might recognize this setting, though the action in the novel takes place in the 1890s, not the 1950s. As a result of the sea, there has been a massive influx of migrants. Readers can expect to encounter opium dealers and spiritualists, Chinese junks sitting in the harbour, industrialists in the halls of a powerful men’s club, a rural utopian community who have rejected the modern technologies, the hideout of one of the last bushrangers, a ruined ancient city in the desert – and automatons, of course. I’m also working on a bunch of new short stories. I really want to get back into story writing.

What do you think about the current state of speculative fiction in Australia? Are there any local writers you would recommend to fans of Smash Dragons who are on the rise?

Australian Speculative Fiction is powering on. It’s still a small community, but a vibrant one. Sometimes I wish it were better known in the mainstream, and better known overseas. There are writers breaking out onto the international stage. Some include: Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Ben Peek, Mark Barnes. I’m very keen to read James Bradley’s Clade, which I predict will be a phenomenon. Twelfth Planet Press and Coer de Lion press are both bringing out great stuff. 

Finally, will you be attending any book signings/events in 2015?

I’ll be around Australia more, but I’m not sure at the moment.

Rjurik Davidson, thank you for taking the time to chat with Smash Dragons!

Thanks for having me.

You can purchase Unwrapped Sky online or at at all good book retailers. It is one of the most fascinating reads I've had in years, and I implore you all to go out and get yourself a copy. 

Stay tuned for next week, when Smash Dragons interviews Ben Peek. And remember peeps... reading is cool!