The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

Standard

The Janissary Tree (Yashim the Eunuch, #1)The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking This is why I give terrific books like MAPLECROFT four stars, because I need room for THIS.

Then I got to the end, and the whole thing fell flat.

The setting is Istanbul in the 1830’s, and an army officer has been murdered, his body displayed in a gruesome way. Imperial operative Yashim is brought in to solve the killing, and to find the other three officers who disappeared at the same time. Yashim is a man of some breeding who can move unobtrusively through all levels of society, including the sultan’s harem… because he’s a eunuch.

Anyway, historical fiction is something of a research competition. Writers immerse themselves in the time and place, studying the details that will make the reader feel that they’re really experiencing this other time and place, with just enough details to ground the story without turning into a travelogue. Then readers come along, looking for nits to pick… It’s a whole thing.

And it bores me, to be honest. As a fantasy reader, I love the sense of place and don’t worry too much about accuracy. Anathema, I know, but there it is.

In truth, the novel made me wish there were more novels with the same feeling of complexity and nuance that the real world has. I wish I were capable of it, myself.

Yeah, this is a murder mystery with far-reaching political implications. If the protagonist was a little slack in his investigation, well, that’s a nice change. The denouement didn’t work, unfortunately, and the “action” scenes deserve the air quotes. There was violence but none written with the sort of tension that makes the heart race.

Still, the description of everyday life in 1830’s Istanbul was a delight, and made me wish I could visit right now. The characters were complex and interesting. The genre stuff was tatty window dressing, and disappointing in the end.

If you’re a reader who enjoys reading fantasy novels for the settings, try this. Seriously.

Book 2 for 15in2015



Buy a copy

Some things are hard to satirize.

Standard

I didn’t get a chance to mention this yesterday with all the Book Day activity (Book two of my trilogy is out. Look at that cover! Then buy book one because these things don’t stand alone. Book three comes out in less than three weeks.) But, I had a brief conversation with my agent, and I started talking about the book I plan to write next. This is what I told her:

It’s a present-tense, second-person epic fantasy called Only You Can Save The Kingdom, Farmhand. I was originally going to use “Farmboy” but that would cut out half the readership. The best part was, when readers got to the part that read “You sneak up behind a guard and knife him in the back,” the reader would actually have to sneak out and kill a security guard.

Which I thought was absurdly hilarious, but from her? Nothing. Silence.

See, she reads queries, so whatever I try to think up, as a crazy, ridiculous idea for a book is pretty tame compared to what she’s used to. And that, frankly, is funnier than the joke I was telling.

Tough crowd.

Also, buy my books.

The Way Into Magic post

Standard

Hey, remember that book I released last month?

Well, it’s time to release book two, The Way Into Magic.

Before I go any farther, why don’t I post the cover?

Great Way Final Cover eBook 2 copy

Gorgeous, right? I love all the covers for this trilogy, but this is the one I love the most. The dragon skeleton, the cool blue, Cazia’s whole pose… It’s just incredibly appealing.

As I’ve said before, you don’t want to read this book without having read book one. This is a continuation of the story, not a stand alone text. That’s why there won’t be any new sample chapters (although you can still read the beginning of the story here) and why the description of the book will absolutely contain spoilers.

So why should you read it?

(Spoilers beyond this point.) Continue reading

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

Standard

Maplecroft (The Borden Dispatches #1)Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before starting this book, I knew nothing of Lizzie Borden except that old nursery rhyme and that she’d been acquitted. So, an epistolary historical fantasy that, being familiar with much of Priest’s work, was sure to take a turn toward horror? I was in.

And I was glad of it. There were a few minor missteps, but they were very minor. Overall, the book combines Priest’s usual flair for historical detail with the slow-building dread that comes from nightmarish, inexplicable narrative.

In short, people in the small town of Fall River, MA are becoming sick, which means they’re actually transforming into weird inhuman creatures with a connection to the sea. It’s *not* a Shadow Over Innsmouth situation, although that’s obviously what it sounds like here. In real life, Borden’s murdered father and step-mother were ill for several days before they were murdered; Priest takes this detail and runs with it, imagining the elder Borden’s becoming monstrous and deadly, forcing Lizzie to kill them in self-defense.

After her acquittal, Lizzie realizes that others in town are showing the same symptoms as her parents, and sets out to do something about it.

The book seems to be marketed as the start of a series, which frankly weakens the tension by a lot. I also wish there hadn’t been a mention of Miskatonic University. Turning the page and thinking “Oh. This is Lovecraft.” has become more of a disappointment than anything else. The story could have gone anywhere, but once I read that word, I felt possibilities narrow.

I also would have been happier with more Lizzie and less Dr. Seabury. He’s a fine character, but he’s not as interesting as Lizzie and I felt he took over the narrative too much.

But like I said, minor stuff. I haven’t read all of Priest’s work, but this is my favorite so far. It’s tangible, has great characters, and is genuinely spooky. Recommended.



Buy a copy.

15 Books in 2015

Standard

I don’t usually make New Years resolutions (because why wait for the start of the year to make a change? I prefer to spread my disappointment out over the year) but this year I’m making an exception.

I’m going to read 15 books in 2015, and I’m going to write reviews of them on Goodreads, then post the reviews here.

Some of you are going to laugh at that, because you read 15 books in a month, but I’ve always been a slow reader. So I’m going to try to finish a book every three weeks or so… about the time my library lets me borrow one.

And graphic novels don’t count.

I foresee a year of very few brick-sized epic fantasies, and a lot of mid-twentieth century crime thrillers.

“Superheroes are not a genre.”

Standard

Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders has a post about lessons learned by the entertainment industry in 2014, and her number one lesson is that subject header above. And I think she’s wrong.

There are two ways to come at the question. First, do we pin the blame of a box office failure on a poorly-used plot structure? Well, you can try, but it’s not very convincing. Eventually, we’ll have something like Raimi’s version of Spider-man which, for all its flaws, made the structure of super-powered-nice-guy-vigilante-with-two-identities-trying-to-stop-crime-in-secret really come together. Audiences went nuts for the first one, and if they’re less enthusiastic now it’s because later iterations have been really, really flawed, and far too familiar.

But are superheroes a genre?

What unifies the books in the horror genre? The emotion they invoke.
What unifies the books in the mystery genre? The central plot question.
What unifies the books in the western genre? The setting.
What unifies the books in the fantasy genre? A plot element.

Some genres are easy to mix. You write a scary story set in the Wild West: Horror western. You write a romantic story with fantasy elements: Fantasy romance.

So the real question becomes: Are superheroes a “plot element” genre or are they a plot structure genre? While it’s true that there’s a standard plot formula that has become associated with superheroes (true with any genre, really), the remainder of the “superheroes are not a genre” argument Ms. Anders makes demonstrates how well they mingle with other genres.

Notice also that those other genres are mainly settings and plot structures: dystopian time-travel, space opera, etc. That’s because the superhero genre is a “plot element” style. You wouldn’t say that Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier isn’t a superhero movie because it has spy thriller plot. It’s both, in the same way that Romancing the Stone is a romance and an adventure.

BTW, did you know that I’ve been pitching my new trilogy as “Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller”? It’s epic fantasy because of the setting and the inclusion of magic, and it’s a thriller because of the pace and tone. Genres based on different things are easy to mix. Genres that are very similar can be really difficult.

A two-hour movie from a 32-page picture book???

Standard

For the past several years I’ve been listening to people griping/mocking/whatever about the The Hobbit being turned into three movies. Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous.

Shrek is a 32-page picture book that was turned into a two-hour movie. See also Where the Wild Things Are and The Iron Man (which became The Iron Giant).

The next Captain America movie will adapt Marvel’s Civil War crossover story, but how are they going to fit everything from dozens of issues into one movie?

Did you know that the screenwriter of the KULL THE CONQUEROR movie took advantage of his contractual right to create a novel version of the movie, which was closer to his original script? I haven’t read it, but he says he never wrote the stupid stuff about Kull being terrible with a sword, and he included the reason for the “madness” that drove the king to murder his children, along with other complexities cut from the film?

In other words, yeah, people adapt things. They condense them. They expand them. They change them significantly. They put happy endings on the end of Romeo & Juliet. They turn Stephen King’s vampire into a wordless nosferatu. Works high and low are altered in the adaptation, and I’m tired of hearing the same old gripes about Jackson’s Hobbit films.

Yeah, there’s profit-seeking in it (says the guy about to release a fantasy trilogy of his own) and can I say that I’m shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on in this establishment. Of course, the only way to stop movie-makers from splitting adaptations into more than one film is to turn them into flops. Having just taken my son to see MOCKINGJAY PART ONE, I’m not holding my breath.

Me, I haven’t seen any of THE HOBBIT films yet. Maybe they suck. Maybe they’re fine and people are shit-mouthing them because they feel ripped off.

In any event, I have a ticket to see all three films, in a marathon, on an IMAX screen, this Monday afternoon. It’s going to be a nine-hour event, starting at 1pm (watching all three LOTR films on my birthday took 13 hours) and I’m going to be there for the duration. Unfortunately, my wife and son aren’t bit on movie marathons, the poor dears, so I’m having a Me-day.

(Seattle-area folks: is anyone else going? Drop me a note on Twitter at @byharryconnolly and maybe we can arrange to meet up)

Certainly, some parts will be dumb, some will be entertaining, some will be both. I last read the book a few years back, when my kid was young enough that we could subject him to family read-aloud time, so I won’t notice minor changes and won’t care about large ones. In other words, fuck Tom Bombadil. I expect that the worst thing about it will be eating meals out of the concession stand.

If I get a shit ton of work done this weekend, I’ll even be ready to sign and mail out the paperbacks when they arrive the next day.

Seriously, though: if you’re going and want to meet up, let me know.

News about my upcoming epic fantasy trilogy

Standard

Curious where things stand with my upcoming fantasy trilogy, The Great Way? Well, I just did a Kickstarter update laying out the details. Short version: I received the proofs for the trade paperbacks, approved them, and placed the order for backer copies.

Which means they’re being printed right now.

I’m just waiting for the proofs for the omnibus cover and, assuming that’s all correct, I’ll order those, too.

In other words… SOON.

The Silkworm by “Robert Galbraith”

Standard

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well whaddaya know, I guessed the killer!

Usually I never even try to guess the killer of a mystery novel; that’s not what I read them for. I like the characters, the conversations, the hidden narratives, but I don’t much care about puzzles.

Still, looking at one of the elements of the mystery (no spoilers, don’t worry), I thought I know how I’d do that if I were the killer and from there it was obvious.

Not that this ruined the book.

I confess to having a soft spot for private eye novels, even though no one is publishing them any more (supposedly). The good news is that Rowling apparently intends to continue writing the series indefinitely. Hey, she revived the boarding school genre, maybe she can make PIs marketable again.



Buy a copy for yourself.

I have a story up at Podcastle(!!!)

Standard

Well, how about that!

The story I wrote for John Joseph Adams’s HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects has been turned into an audiobook (audiostory? audiofic? radioplay?) and is live at Podcastle right now–“Help Summon The Most Holy Folded One”, my Lovecraftian Taco Kickstarter story.

I guess it should be listed as a radioplay, since they have an actual cast, not a single reader. And that cast has some names in it. Yikes. Imposter Syndrome, ACTIVATE!

I’m listening as I type this, and… is it embarrassing to announce that these guys made me laugh aloud?

Give it a listen, and check out the other stories they’ve done: for example, there’s an N.K. Jeminsin story that includes the disclaimer “Rated X. Contains sex and wolves.” ::sprains mouse clicking finger:: (My story is PG.)