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Friday Reads: Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Having left Camorre after the deaths of their fellow Gentleman Bastards at the hands of the Bondsmagi, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are running a new scam in the Sinspire, a high-class casino in the city of Tal Verrar. Unfortunately the Bondsmagi haven’t finished with Locke yet, and he and Jean find themselves working—decidedly unwillingly—for a Verrari warlord with an ambition to rule the city outright. Temporarily abandoning the scam they take up their new mission, starting with a crash course in seamanship and a new cover identity as the dread pirate Orrin Ravelle…

Warning: here be spoilers! Because it’s otherwise hard to say what I liked (and didn’t like) about the book. And hell, it’s six years old, so I reckon many of my visitors will have read it already anyway. Read more

The Merchant of Dreams – Giveaway, Part 2

Update: congratulations to winners Paul, DeeDee, Gwen and Abhinav – your goodies will be on their way soon!


As announced last week, I have a stack of copies of The Merchant of Dreams just begging to be given away, so here’s the second batch!

This time it’s a worldwide giveaway, open to anyone anywhere. I have two copies of the US paperback to give away, plus two single-CD (MP3) copies of the audiobook, read by the excellent Michael Page.

All you have to do to be in with a chance is to leave a comment on this post, and say if you prefer the paperback or audiobook (or either). Please note that comments are moderated to reduce spam, so don’t panic if yours doesn’t appear right away.

Rules:

  1. One comment per entrant, please – multiple commenters will be disqualified.
  2. For security reasons, please don’t leave contact details in your comment – there’s a space in the comment form for your email address, I’ll use that to get hold of you.
  3. Closing date for entries is noon PST on Tuesday 28th January. Any comments posted after that deadline will be deleted.
  4. I will be picking four separate winners (using a random number generator), to receive one copy each.
  5. Selected winners must respond to the confirmation email by Thursday 7th February, so that I can get the books out in a timely manner.
  6. If a winner does not respond by the stated deadline, I reserve the right to select a replacement.

Good luck!

 

The Merchant of Dreams – Giveaway, Part 1

Update: congratulations to Dave, Herdis, Lucy and Steven – your goodies will be in the post soon!


My author copies of The Merchant of Dreams turned up the other day, so I thought it was about time I did a giveaway. In fact I’ve got so many different editions, I decided to do two!

First up is a UK/EU giveaway for the benefit of my fans here who waited so patiently for the UK paperback. I have three paperbacks (UK edition) to give away, plus one 12-CD set of the audiobook. As with The Alchemist of Souls, the audiobook is read by the excellent Michael Page.

A second giveaway open to the rest of the world will follow next week.

All you have to do to be in with a chance is to leave a comment on this post, and say if you prefer the paperback or audiobook (or either). Please note that comments are moderated to reduce spam, so don’t panic if yours doesn’t appear right away.

Rules:

  1. You must live in the EU to enter (sorry – worldwide postage gets expensive)
  2. One comment per entrant, please – multiple commenters will be disqualified.
  3. For security reasons, please don’t leave contact details in your comment – there’s a space in the comment form for your email address, I’ll use that to get hold of you.
  4. Closing date for entries is noon UK time on Tuesday 22nd January. Any comments posted after that deadline will be deleted.
  5. I will be picking four separate winners (using a random number generator), to receive one copy each.
  6. Selected winners must respond to the confirmation email by Thursday 31st January, so that I can get the books out in a timely manner.
  7. If a winner does not respond by the stated deadline or cannot supply an EU postal address, I reserve the right to select a replacement.

Good luck!

 

Woman in sensible armour

As a fantasy author, I’m often called upon to write combat scenes for my books. Sometimes they’re a simple tussle using whatever weapons come to hand (like Ned’s main fight scene in The Alchemist of Souls) but given that my protagonist Mal usually goes around wearing a rapier and matching dagger, there are inevitably a number of sword-fights in the Night’s Masque books.

On the one hand I find them pretty easy (and a lot of fun) to write—I’ve seen an awful lot of swashbuckling movies over the years, and of course I do armchair research as well—but on the other, I have pretty much zero first-hand experience. Plus, writing is a pretty sedentary occupation unless you get one of those fancy treadmill desks, so I’m in need of exercise. Which I hate. I thus realised I could kill two birds with one thrust, so to speak, if I took up fencing.

I prevaricated for a while, telling myself that modern sport fencing is nothing like real sword-fighting (which is true), but once my first book came out I started to feel in need of new challenges. I also discovered there was a fencing club based at a high school barely a mile and a half from my house, so I really had no excuse not to go. I therefore signed up for the beginner’s course at Cambridge Fencing Club.

The autumn term started at the end of September; in fact the first lesson was on the Thursday evening before I went down to Brighton for FantasyCon. I was a bit worried I’d be horribly stiff at the convention, so my husband showed me some exercises that would help stretch my leg muscles and build core body strength. As a result, I was only a little footsore after the first class, since we only did footwork. In subsequent lessons we learned how and where to hit our opponent, and a bit of parrying. The instructor likes to focus on the basics in the beginners’ class and leave more complex techniques to the intermediate class.

The beginners’ class is over now, and whilst it was fun, it has also confirmed my suspicions that it’s not for me. Partly it’s the modern sport: the protective clothing is hot and uncomfortable, and I find the highly stylised nature of it (compared to realistic fighting styles) somewhat frustrating. Partly it’s because I’m unsurprisingly not terribly good at it, having started so late in life, and I don’t enjoy activities I’m not good at (this is why I hated PE at school). Mostly, though, I’m not in sufficient physical condition, and it’s very tough on the right arm, which already gets a hammering from computer use and longhand writing.

It was a painful decision to give up; writing has taught me how to persevere in the face of obstacles, and I really did want to enjoy it, but I have to face up to my limitations. It’s been a valuable learning experience, and at least I can now cross another topic off my bucket list. So, I’m regretfully going to have to bail before I do myself a mischief and have to dictate my next novel!

 

The Merchant of Dreams: publication date confirmed

I’m very happy to announce the publication date of the second book in the Night’s Masque trilogy, The Merchant of Dreams.

Ebook & US paperback: 18 December 2012

UK paperback: 3 January 2013

Now, before you grumble that the US is getting the paperback edition ages before the UK, the explanation is simple. Usually the US publication date is near the end of the month, but that means a Christmas Day launch date, which is less than ideal! So, the US date has been brought forward a week, whilst the UK date has to remain where it is to, again, prevent a clash with Christmas. All clear? Awesome.

Below is the (draft) back cover text:

Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year. But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice—and a conflict of loyalties that will place Mal and his friends in greater danger than ever.

So, all I need to do now is finish writing the damned thing! Wish me luck…

Action? Figures!

One of my favourite bits of writing fantasy is the action scenes. I rarely bother to plan them in advance – one sword-fighting scene in The Alchemist of Souls was described as “Big fight!” in my outline – as I find they’re more fun, and more fluid, if I just make things up as I go along. However occasionally I want to write something that involves more than a single pair of combatants, and it’s at that point I have to plan the logistics a bit more carefully. Writers have various techniques for doing this, but one I’m trying out during the writing of The Merchant of Dreams is to use Playmobil figures. They’re a handy size, come with lots of different weapons – and of course they’re fun to collect!

Note: After taking photos* of the various stages of the fight scene, I realised they were potentially massive spoilers for the ending of the book, so for the purpose of this blog I mocked up a generic fight scene as an illustration, using the same figures for my protagonists and some random pirates. I might post the real photos after the book comes out…

From left to right: Kiiren, Sandy, Ned, Coby, Gabriel and Mal take on some pirates!
From left to right: Kiiren, Sandy, Ned, Coby, Gabriel and Mal take on some pirates!

The setting for this scene is a square in Venice, hence the cardboard “palazzo” in the background and the terracotta “well” in the centre. In the above photo we see a nice street-level view of all the separate combats, and having chosen the figures carefully (and swapped hair, hats, etc around as needed) it’s easy to tell who’s who. However it can be hard to get an accurate idea of distance from this angle, so you might want to take a top-down photo as well:

Birds-eye view of the same scene
Birds-eye view of the same scene

Now we can see exactly who is fighting whom, lines of fire, that kind of thing, so this kind of shot is great for logistical planning.

Finally, you can use close-up shots to get an “over-the-shoulder” perspective from a single character’s viewpoint:

Close-up on Coby, looking towards Mal's fight
Close-up on Coby, looking towards Mal's fight

Not only is this rather cute, it can give you ideas for the next move in the combat. That pirate in the red bandana is looking like a good candidate for a head shot!

That’s really all there is to it – I moved the characters through the combat, taking photos at each stage, then when I came to write the scene, I used the photos as reference material. I didn’t always stick exactly to the original plan, and I dare say it may change again in the next draft, but it gets the creative juices flowing :)

Do you have any favourite outside-the-box techniques to share for handling the trickier aspects of writing?

Technical note: I used a Panasonic Lumix FX-55 with no flash (it tends to create too much over-exposure) and manipulated the light levels in The GIMP.

Book review: Ten Ruby Trick, by Julia Knight

Black into white into blue into grey into black. Order and pattern are the way of Holden’s life, buffering his mind from the reality that he is mage-bonded to the Master of the Archipelago, with no choice but to obey his every whim or die in agony. So when the Master commands him to capture the notorious privateer Andor Van Gast, Holden has no qualms about using his former lover Josie to do it. Josie, herself a pirate captain of no mean repute, is well known to be Van Gast’s worst enemy, so surely she will be happy to help Holden? In fact Josie and Van Gast are secret lovers, using their famed rivalry to fool their victims into siding with one or the other in elaborate confidence tricks–and Josie intends Holden to be next. This time, though, the stakes are higher than money or treasure. If anything goes wrong, both she and Van Gast could end up dead–or worse.

Ten Ruby Trick is in many ways the perfect swashbuckling romance. Van Gast is the quintessential rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold, always ready to do the stupid-but-exciting thing; Josie is cunning as a bag of foxes and stubborn as all hell. There are sea battles, storms, chases (lots of chases!) and a really nasty villain to boo – what’s not to like?

This is no bland medieval fantasy world, however. The majority of the inhabitants are dark-skinned, apart from the Viking-like Gan, and gunpowder weapons sit comfortably alongside magic that can quell storms or erect forcefields against cannonades. Most intriguing of all is the magic of the Archipelago, which crystallises on its users’ skins, turning them into helpless grotesques, barely able to move and reliant on their slaves for everything. This is nasty, dark magic at its most imaginative.

I began my review with Holden, as does the book, because although Van Gast is undeniably the hero of the story, Holden is the anti-hero. He’s the guy we want to fail – and yet whose struggles against the vile magics that hold him in thrall cannot help but engage the reader’s sympathy. The theme of this book is freedom, and no character embodies that theme better than Holden.

If you enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean or Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar books and don’t mind a dash of unsoppy romance with your fantasy, I recommend you give Ten Ruby Trick a whirl!

Ten Ruby Trick is available as an ebook published by Carina Press.

Book review: On Stranger Tides, by Tim Powers

I wanted to re-read (and review) this book this month, before the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, on which it is very loosely based, comes out. I’m very glad I did, as it’s been many years since I first read it and the experience was quite an eye-opener.

On Stranger Tides was first published in 1987, and is the third (and most American-based) of Powers’ historical fantasies. It is set in the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century, where magic still survives on the remote fringes of civilisation. Penniless puppeteer John Chandagnac sets out from Europe to reclaim the family estate in Haiti from his usurping uncle, but en route the ship is boarded by pirates and John is forced to join their crew. Dubbed “Jack Shandy” by his new shipmates, he harbours dreams of completing his quest (and rescuing his fellow passenger, the lovely Beth Hurwood, who was taken captive in the raid), but he runs afoul of Blackbeard, who is searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth, the key to immortality. In true swashbuckling pirate fashion, Shandy learns to fight and sail a ship, kills the bad guys and gets the girl, facing European sorcerors, voodoo bocors, zombies and even Baron Samedi himself along the way – no wonder Disney wanted to steal the best bits to reanimate their own ailing franchise!

In fact this book’s plot has so much in common with the very first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, that it could almost have inspired it. At the very least it shares the same source material, with an early scene of the pirates telling stories around their beach campfire “of ships crewed by zombies and glimpsed only at midnight by doomed men”. Even the protagonist’s pirate name is awfully close to that of Jack Sparrow, and he does indeed become captain of his own small ship and spend a couple of long spells getting blind drunk on rum (or red wine if he can get it) on beaches. There’s even a character who could have stepped out of the original movie, a black pirate called Mr Bird who periodically shouts “I am not a dog!” for no apparent reason.

In some respects this is a very old-fashioned book: there is no strong language (beyond an occasional “damn” or “bloody”), with any actual swearing being referred to obliquely, and any feminist readers are likely to be disappointed by the passivity of the female characters. Beth Hurwood exists purely to be threatened by the bad guys and rescued by the hero, and the one potentially interesting young woman (a teenage Ann Bonny) makes only a couple of brief appearances. However all this is very true to the genre’s swashbuckling, “Boy’s Own” roots and detracted very little from this reader’s enjoyment, perhaps because the hero himself is a complex, well-rounded character: likeably naive to begin with, gradually coming to enjoy his new adventurous life but with a moral core that prevents him from descending into the savagery displayed by the other pirates.

Overall, I can heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves a good adventure story. It’s darker than the movies, but comedy is much harder to pull off on the page than on-screen, and Powers’ rich imagination more than compensates.

As an aside: The further I got into this book, the more I realised what an unconscious influence on my own writing it has been. The combination of history and the fantastic, the clash of New World and Old, even some elements of the magic, have all found their way into The Alchemist of Souls. Well, Picasso did say that “immature artists imitate, mature artists steal” :)