Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review - The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

They're baaacck..... 

And this time... it's personal! 

Yes, that enthralling trio of characters who blew me away in Beyond Redemption have returned, and this time around they've brought with them an even bigger sack of mayhem, insanity, and destruction. 

I must admit I was a little hesitant going into this book. Follow-ups tend to either be flat, or downright disappointing. I also had some reservations about the fact that it was going to be self published, with images of bad covers and poor layout from other self published titles fresh in my minds eye. So I was delighted when Fletcher blew my brain right out of the water with this incredible sequel to his cult hit. The Mirror's Truth incorporates everything that was brilliant about Beyond Redemption, and then injects it with a concoction of steroids and uppers before releasing back upon the world.  

The world building is truly wonderful in The Mirror's Truth. The darkness is there again in spades, and the insanity and madness that reigned supreme in Beyond Redemption have been significantly increased for this book. Fletcher also has done a magnificent job capturing the tone and mood of this horrible world, a world that has been pushed even deeper in the abyss by the looming threat of total war. This book is not for the faint of heart. You really need to gird yourself whilst reading it at times. It can be uncompromising and truly bleak, but it is in those sorts of moments that Fletcher's razor sharp wit and black sense of humour truly shines. Paired with formidable moments of violence, this fucked up formula of darkness is truly breathtaking to read.  

What takes The Mirror's Truth to an even greater level of achievement is it's intense characterisation. Fletcher switches things up a little by shining a light inside the minds of characters like Stehlen, and fuck me it's terrifying what the reader finds in there. This insight into the protagonists and antagonists of the story make's The Mirror's Truth feel more relatable to a reader, and it really deepened my bond with the mad hatters that are Bedeckt, Stehlen, and Wichtig. This emotional investment in turn meant that when shit hit the fan (a Fletcher speciality) I was on the edge of my seat fearful and enthralled by what was unfolding before my eyes. The Mirror's Truth rockets along at a frenetic pace, and before you know it you've reached the epic conclusion and been dumped unceremoniously back into the real world yearning for more. 

For a self published book the cover is also truly outstanding. Artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has captured Bedeckt and the mood of the world perfectly, and the type and layout by designer Shawn King is both wonderful and incredibly professional. All of this elevates The Mirror's Truth to the point where it becomes the complete package for a reader and book lover.

Just when you think things can't get any darker, they do. And just when you think it can't get any more fucked up, it does. Darkness incarnate, and fucking enjoyable beyond words, The Mirror's Truth is one of the most outstanding grimdark novels that I've ever read. 

Buy it. Buy it now. 

5 out of 5 stars.

You can find out more information and purchase details for The Mirror's Truth here. Also, be sure to follow Michael and his Doppels over at his website.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Interview - James A. Moore

Sup Peeps! 

I'm delighted to bring you the first instalment of our ongoing interview series for 2017. This week, I had the pleasure of talking to one of the true gentlemen of speculative fiction, James A. Moore. I hope you all enjoy it! 

James A. Moore, welcome to Smash Dragons! First up, tell us a little about yourself and your career so far. 

Well, to say it’s been convoluted would be an understatement. I started off in comic books, working here and there for Marvel Comics on a few projects. Some were published, like the story “Of Love, Cats & Curiosity,” in issue 15 of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, and several were not. I was just taking over on a couple of titles when they got cancelled and then Marvel had a purge that ended with every contact I had there unemployed. 

I did a lot of work with roleplaying games, mostly with White Wolf Games for Vampire: the Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and the rest of the World of Darkness. 

Then one day I decided to write a novel and I sat down and started working on the first of those at the same time I was working with White Wolf. 

Did you always envisage yourself writing stories when you were younger? Can you remember the first story you wrote? What was it about?

Nope. I had every intention of being a comic book artist. Turns out my ability to draw was nowhere near my levels of ambition and one of the editors at marvel was nice enough to be direct and point that out to me while he also suggested I try my hand at writing. 

I was writing my first novel when a friend of mine told me I should write a short story first. So I set the novel aside and wrote a story called “Simon’s Muse,” about a writer who meets his idol and find out over the span of time that his idol’s muse is actually the bogeyman. 

You mentioned that you started off in comic books. I'm curious, Batman vs Superman... where do you sit in this long running debate?

Superman. Batman's one hope is Kryptonite and he'd never get close enough to him if Superman was even a little bit alert that day.

Every writer has a process. I'm curious, what's yours? Are you a plotter or a panther? What do you think are the positives and negatives to your particular approach?

Oh, I’m definitely a pantser. I don’t know if there are advantages, but I know that whenever I plot something out properly I feel like it loses all spontaneity and that hurts my head. I like the surprises and the way that, sometimes, characters do things I did not expect from them. I think it makes for a better book, at least for me. 

I’m a massive fan of your Crowley stories. How did the genesis of Crowley come about? Was it a light bulb moment, or the culmination of many different thoughts and creative threads? 

Thank you very kindly! I’m rather fond of the bastard myself. I sort of had plans for Crowley in comic books, but they never came to fruition. Instead of losing him, I made a few adjustments and plopped him into my first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE, when I needed a character like him. Believe me, he has evolved a lot over the years. 

Will we see more Crowley stories in the future?

Oh yes. I’m just finishing a collaboration with Charles R. Rutledge and we have another planned. I also have a stand alone story set for him in Victorian England, and I’m about three quarters of the way through a weird western called BOOMTOWN, which actually precedes several of his adventures in the old west. 

I couldn’t get away from Crowley if I wanted to. He wants to be talked about.

I’ve recently started to read Seven Forges, the first book in your epic fantasy series. I have been struck by just how different (in a good way) it feels to a lot of the fantasy that is being published today. Was this a conscious decision on your part? To write something that stands out from the crowd? 

Absolutely. When I was younger, before I started writing, I read almost nothing but fantasy. A friend of mine introduced me to horror when I told him I was sick to death of reading the same story again and again (Orphan boy finds Item of Power, uses Item of Power to save the Land from Evil Menace coming back for Round Two.) It was a fun story the first hundred times, but it got stale. So I decided no dragons, no elves, no ancient menace coming back to threaten the Land. They had to be new and different or I didn’t want to deal with them. 

What’s your take on publishing right now? What do we, as an industry and community, need to do better in your opinion? 

Buy books and read them. Seriously. Make sure you post your reviews online, on Amazon, on Goodreads, the whole nine yards. On the publishing side? Harder to say. I know several very successful self-pubbed authors. I am more and more impressed by the successful ones every day. I’m likely going to be publishing a lot of my backstock on my own in the hear future, rather than giving up half of everything, including control of how the books are done. Time will tell. 

I will say this: Publishing is constantly changing these days and I’m interested in  seeing what it becomes. 

Tell me a random fact about yourself.

I’m seven years a widow this year. I still love and miss my wife, but life moves forward and so have I. 

What’s the most cherished book in your library? Why?

Stephen King’s THE STAND, the original version, not the unabridged volume that is far too thick and unwieldy. I think it’s one of the best books ever written and it drew me into reading again when I was seriously thinking of stopping. 

Favourite movie? Why?

That's waaaaay to hard to answer. So I'll say Captain America: The Winter Solider, because it's a phenomenal example of practical special effects and one hell of a fun story. My answer would be entirely different tomorrow or the day after.

If you could shoot the breeze for a day with any other writer (dead or alive) who would it be and why?

Too many choices. I’ve met several of my favorites. These days? I’d love to pick the brain of Ray Bradbury, who has always been a favorite of mine 

You write about horrifying things in a lot of your stories. I’m curious, what scares James A. Moore?

What used to scare the hell out of me was losing my loved ones. I couldn’t imagine what my world would be like without them. These days, having lost my wife and several family members I’m not as afraid of that as I once was. If I’m being honest, I’m not exactly happy with the results of the latest election and I think we’ll see dark times ahead. That scares me a lot. 

What do you do when you’re not writing? 

I read books, I work at a Starbucks not far from my house because I truly love being able to cover my medical expenses, get out of the house and have a 401K, along with Christopher Golden I’m teaching a few writing courses, and I am an avid movie buff. 

You mentioned that you work at Starbucks. What's the weirdest order you've ever received? 

Short coffee (8 ounces) with ten pumps of white mocha and 8 raw sugars and extra caramel drizzle. Basically about two ounces of actual coffee and enough sugar to jack an elephant's blood sugar into the stratosphere. 

One of the things I admire about your work is its scope and breadth. You happily dance across genres, pushing yourself from horror through to military horror and even epic fantasy. What is the reasoning behind this? Is it to stay fresh creatively? 

I hate the idea of being forced into one model of writing. I like to write about whatever strikes my fancy and that means looking outside of the horror genre from time to time. Horror is my first love, and likely always will be, but I want to do different things. 

You’ve collaborated with Charles R. Rutledge (another author whose work I deeply admire) on a number of writing projects. Just how hard is it to work alongside another author? What are the benefits and negatives of collaborations in your opinion?

The first rule of writing with someone else is to find someone you like and admire. The two are not always the same thing. I’ve written with Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jeff Strand, Christopher Golden and Charles. R. Rutledge. I enjoyed each process for different reasons. Mostly I like the idea of playing in a shared sandbox of ideas. I like reading a story that I’m a part of. In the case of working with Charles, we like to throw curveballs at each other and watch what comes of it. 

If you had to pick three other writers to be on your zombie apocalypse team who would they be? Why?

Brian Keene, because he owns lots of guns and has done his research. Jonathan Maberry becasue he's done the research and has mad martial arts skills. Charles R. Rutledge for both of the aforementioned reasons. 

What's the best piece of advice that you could give to people wanting to break into the industry?

Work at it every day. Finish one project at a time. Develop a thick hide. Don't quit the day job. Read outside of your genre, read inside of your genre. Write what you want to read, not what you think someone else might like to read. 

What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2017? 

Grim Death and Bill the electrocuted criminal by Mike Mignola and Thomas E. Sneigoski. The two of them working together on a novel is a notion that absolutely delights me. You can check out a link here.

Finally, what's on the horizon for James A. Moore this year? 

I'm working on the sequel to The Last Sacrifice right now. That's called Fallen Gods. Indigo, a mosaic novel with Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest,  and Mark Morris and yours truly comes out in June.  And, with Christopher Golden, the novella ten years in the making, Bloodstained Wonderland is coming out this year as a limited edition from Earthling Publications. Also, Charles R. Rutlede and I have our third Griffin & Price novel, A Hell Within, coming out from Cohesion Press later this year. I like staying busy. People can check out my Amazon page for more information and pre-order details. 

James A. Moore, thanks for dropping by! 

You can find James's work at all good book retailers. Be sure to check out his Seven Forges series (I'm reading through it now and it's fucking amazing!) and his latest book, The Last Sacrifice. His work with Cohesion Press is also top notch military horror (Crowley for the win!). 

Until next time good people, be nice to each other and keep on reading! 

Review - Bound by Alan Baxter

Smash Dragons is back baby! After a lay off over the holiday period I'm delighted to get back into the swing of things with you all. Up first, I decided to revisit my review of Alan Baxter's Bound. It has just recently been released by Ragnarok Publications in the US and UK (with a blurb from me on the cover), and is an amazing read. 

Buy it, buy it now. 

I picked up Bound, by Alan Baxter, on the recommendation of a friend. I owe that friend a few drinks now. 

Bound is about cage fighter Alex Caine, a man who can see his opponents moves before they make them. Following a successful fight Alex is approached by an Englishman called Welby, who knows his secret and wants Alex to help him unlock the key to an ancient and powerful grimoire. Drawn into a world filled with magic, violence, and a chaotic Fey godling called Uthentia, Alex must harness his innate magical ability and fighting skills to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Upon finishing Bound my first thought was 'damn.'

My second thought was that if Stephen King and Jim Butcher ever had a love child then it would be Alan Baxter.

Finally, my third thought was that Bound is a seriously entertaining read.

Full of dark, gritty and bloody goodness, Bound is possibly one of the best urban fantasy novels I've read in many years. Cracking action and dialogue propel the story along at a fast pace as the reader journeys from the cages of the underground fighting scene in Sydney to the icy wastes of Iceland. I loved the fight scenes, and I could tell they were written by someone who has trained extensively in hand to hand combat and martial arts. I almost felt the bones being broken and smashed at times throughout the book, and it was this gruesome realism that kept me enthralled page after page. The world in which Bound is set was also gloriously gritty and full of things that go bump in the night. Dark horrors exist everywhere (the Three Sisters for example) in this universe, and the world is full of mythical and supernatural creatures such as gargoyles and the Fey.

Alex Caine was also a fascinating protagonist, flawed in many ways but still very noble and honest. He was a believable hero whom I couldn't help but cheer for as the odds kept stacking up against him. His rages, lust, frustration, and mistakes throughout the story only added depth to his character and made him more human. His dialogue and interplay with the other characters (like Silhouette) throughout the novel were also loaded with wit and humour that had me chuckling well into the night. 

The other characters and creatures in Bound were also interesting. I loved the idea of the Kin, and the dark horrors like the Three Sisters and the Subcontractor. However, the two characters I absolutely adored were the evil duo of Mr. Hood and Miss Sparks and their Black Diamond Inc. They are the perfect narrative foil for Alex and Silhouette, and their dark and twisted relationship and actions brought a real nefarious essence to the story that was both creepy and strangely thrilling as well. 

All in all Bound was a bloody excellent read. I cannot recommend this book enough to fans of Butcher and Wendig.

4 out of 5 stars!

For more information, and purchase details, go here. Also, be sure to check out Alan's other work on Amazon or at his website. He is a wonderful writer with incredible talent.