Thursday, 25 September 2014

For a Fistfull of (Spoiler free) Reviews

The rush to finish Master of the Planes has slowed down my reading and completely stalled my reviewing, but now I have a chance to catch up with a look back at Scott Lynch's "The Lies of Locke Lamora," Joe Abercrombie's "The Blade Itself"  and the trio from Ragnorak Publications opening Dead West volume, "Those poor, poor bastards."

The Lies of Locke Lamora (by Scott Lynch)

The writing like the setting is opulent and atmospheric.  The world a skilful weave of historical influences.

Where food is concerned I am no gourmet, the top chiefs may talk of a inspired combinations of flavours, Heston Blumenthal may throw liquid nitrogen over everything and call it genius but me, I just want burger and chips - eaten separately.  However, when it comes to books I love to see how a writer might draw on different aspects of our culture and our past and throw them together with a dash of inspiration to create a whole new taste sorry I meant "reading" sensation.

That is what Scott Lynch has achieved and it is perhaps no accident that I am drawn to an analogy with food to describe my feelings about the book.  You see food features prominently in the book, the compact but perfectly formed gang of thieves at the book's heart must be both connoisseurs  and expert chefs in order to trick and gull their way through the hearts, minds, pockets and bank accounts of their target victims - the quite literally elevated and protected aristocracy.

Lynch paints a world with a rich palette, clothing, food, culture and history described in loving detail so that the book is a truly immersive experience.  It is a different style of writing where the one of the principle characters bestriding the story's stage is the city of Camorr itself rendered in more loving detail even than the anonymous eponymous hero Mr Lamora himself.  For Locke's trade mark is to be unremarkable, disguisable, able to paint upon his own blank canvas any character from a blundering northern merchant to an agent of an almost mythical secret service.

For Locke is a thief of a particular kind, he is a con-man.  His band are out to rob from the rich and... er... no, that's actually, just rob from the rich.  They don't even spend it save to invest in the expensive accoutrements of  wealth and power necessary to gull even more from victims too embarrassed to over admit  to their loss.

It is a game, but a deadly game, for Camorr is a town where life is cheap and often short and Locke and his friends dance a dangerous jig on a dizzying highwire, dicing with death as only the supremely cconfident young ever can.

In my mind's eye I saw Camorr as some unholy cross between

  • the geography of Venice, with its waterways and bridges, 
  • the entertainment and religions of ancient Rome with death being not so much an occupational hazard as an expected conclusion to the various bizarre sporting extravanganzas.
  • the ordered lawlessness of prohibition chicago
  • the desperate poverty of 18th Century London as set out in John Gay's the Beggar's Opera, with perhaps a nod towards Dickensian London.

Lynch adds much more to that - the mysterious elder race who built the place and left haunting monuments of architecture and a use of magic that is as magic should be - frighteningly incomprehensibly powerful.  The quirks such as wraithstone which oil the business of the city by producing "gentled" beasts of burden who are untroubled by any uproar -and there is plenty of that.

It is an atmospheric story that builds slowly, and then accelerates so that I consumed the last half of the book in just a couple of days.  The structure seasons a short period of desperate present times, with reflections on different parts of the past to help you understand how the characters have got here.

There is in Locke a hero who relies on his quick wits far more than his strong arms, for his skill in combat is so slight his mentor quickly dismisses him as unlikely to be much more than a bloodstain on the street in any serious fight.  Still he holds his own in a way which at times almost unslung my suspension of disbelief, for I doubt that the genuinely crap at fighting could spin out a fight much beyond the first fatal blow from an expert opponent.

Still it is a rich tale with an intricate plot which invites the reader to be a tourist in the most wonderfully developed city I have read of in a long time.  Just be wary of which dark alleys you stray down.

The Blade Itself (By Joe Abercrombie)

I returned to the fantasy genre through the Thorns Trilogy of Mark Lawrence, but once inducted into twitter and facebook the omnipresence of Lord Grimdark quickly made itself felt by reputation and the recommendations of friends.  The opportunity to get the whole first law trilogy as an omnibus download was too good an opportunity to miss and I settled down to read Mr Abercrombie's first book.  I will confess, it did not grow on me immediately. I did not get the wow factor that others had experienced and described.

At the moment I am reading Joe's latest book "Half a King" with a ARC of "Half a War" queued up to follow it and I will review those in good time.  It is interesting because I think I can already see a maturing of his style between the two works.  There were moments in the first book where I found the writing a little clunky.

One example in particular, a character used a gesture, the same gesture described the same way three times in as many pages and just as I was thinking "he's doing that a lot,"  the character expressed the thought "I'm doing this a lot" and I felt I was listening to the author retro-editing more than hearing the character.

It is a complex story and some of the characters were a little difficult to like.  However, I salute Sand Glotka as an inspired invention.  Impossible to pigeon hole, perhaps a consequence of his tortured past which left him bent out of any kind of normal shape, both mentally and physically. But he was enetrtaining, the curmudgeonly cripple with nothing left to live for, but living on anyway and making damn sure the rest of the world wished he didn't.

The dowsnside of reading an omnibus on a Kindle is that you can't tell how near you are to the end apart from guessing it would be around the 33% mark.  In fact it came up at 31% and surprised me in a kind of "oh, is that it?" kind of way.  And I guess that is just because it is a trilogy and like the end of "Fellowship of the Ring" they had only really just got started.

There is a visceral grittiness to the descriptions of combat scenes.  Actions covered so quickly you need to re-read it slowly to just work out the body count.  A genre defining book maybe, more by its timing than by its writing.  I am enjoying Half-a-King and suspect I will finish that trilogy before I finish the first law trilogy..

Those poor, poor bastards. (by Tim Marquitz, J.M.Martin and Kenny Soward)

This is an easily digested book, a bit like many of the unfortunate characters in it when the flesh eating zombies get at them.  It is not too long and rattles along at a furious pace as, with little preamble, a western town is overrun by the risen dead - well overwalked is probably a better description than overran which is why the heroine can escape at a pace little faster than a well oiled wheelbarrow could roll.

It has three authors and I am not sure that I could tell and I would not like to try and claim any particular narrative element for any one of the authors.

For me, the exquisite pleasure of the book was in the powerfully rendered narrative voice.    I can't say if it was accurate, but idioms of phrase and behaviour as well as the many many different ways of saying "gun" gave the book a sense of authenticity that was like the remake of "True Grit"

The story struggled a little because when you have established a group of ill matched and querulous survivors and a hoard of untiring zombies it can become a case of waiting to see who will die next and how.  The writers have tried to develop the zombie menace into something a little more specific and personal and made good use of the writer's fall back, if in doubt inject some conflict.  There was plenty of that as the heroine and her embattled pa found almost as many living enemies within their refuge as there were dead ones outside it. That certainly kept the pace up, though at times maybe I saw the influence of a change of authorial hand as villains from one scene were gifted an unlikely sympathetic treatment later on.

This is a jolly romp, but I am not at sure where it is going and I would hope the authors avoid the fate of a pair of roman consuls once given joint command of an army.  They took command on alternate days and spent ages marching the army in opposite directions one day after the other until an enemy found and overwhelmed them.  Perhaps the rigidity of a pair of train tracks will ensure a consistent and coherent direction as the story unfolds.    

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

My Very First Competition - win a Master of the Planes ARC - simples

  • More complete than "A Song of Fire and Ice"
  • Longer than "Lord of the Rings"
  • Fewer authors than the "Wheel of Time"
  • More accurately numbered than the five book "Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy" trilogy
  • More female leading characters than "The Long the Short and the Tall"

Now is your chance to read the final part of my very first trilogy

a) before anyone else does and
b) in hard copy!

I'm getting 5 rather simple Advance Reader Copies made up (A4 printed comb bound) and I will send them to the five winners of my first competition.  So what are you waiting for?

Oh yes, the rules.

Well it's really quite simple. The winners will be drawn by random lot from all those who have
a) read both "Lady of the Helm" and "Wrath of the Medusa"
b) posted a review or blog post about either/both of them
c) claimed ownership of their review(s)

To claim a review as your own, paste a relevant link either

  • as a comment (below) or 
  • by tweet to @tomunro or 
  • by a facebook message to T.o.Munro or 
  • by email to

Each review and location gets one "ticket" in the draw,
so posting the same review on goodreads and amazon for example gets two tickets

There are bonus tickets up for grabs for

  • A blog post review gets two tickets
  • the first review on a particular amazon site gets two tickets (I'm looking here at and and and

So somebody who has read and reviewed both books on both and goodreads and then put up a blog post of one of them would get 6 tickets.

I expect to run this for about a week but I will post again to give you a couple of days before the exact deadline.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Trilogy Complete?

Well it is 20th September 2014 and the first draft of Master of the Planes, final book in the bloodline trilogy  is complete all 255,712 words of it.  Not far short of the length of the other two added together.

Now comes the effin editing, not least of which is checking the occurrences of f words to make sure that all profanity is fully justified by character and context!

I have pasted below a first draft of the blurb for Master of the Planes.  Let me now if it piques your interest.

Master of the Planes Blurb

The traitor has been unmasked and Niarmit at last can hope;
to untangle the web of evil which has enmeshed her,
to take the attack to the salved people’s oldest enemy,
to savour a chance of personal happiness.

But Maelgrum has many allies, new and old.

And secrets buried deep can surface still to shake the young Queen’s spirit and shatter her plans.

And Niarmit must ask again who she was and is and who she must become in pursuit of victory and the answer to the question

“How do you kill that which is already dead?”


Torsden, like Kimbolt, wore full armour.  The shield was painted blue with a gold stallion rampant upon it, a slightly larger copy of the one Pietrsen carried.

“It doesn’t look like he’s accepted his dismissal from your post, Master of the Horse,” Kimbolt said.

“He’s an arrogant bastard,” Pietrsen muttered,

The arrogant bastard drew a bastard sword from his belt.  It was a blade that most men would have wielded two handed, but Torsden swung it in one giant paw, his wrist flexing effortlessly to snap the weapon to left or right.

“Remember, Pietrsen, whatever happens, everything is carried out as we agreed.”  Suddenly Kimbolt needed the reassurance, the promise.

“His strength is as mighty as his ego,” the Master of Horse mumbled on.

“Pietrsen, your promise, your word of honour whatever happens.”

“You have it, Seneschal.” Kimbolt’s second blew out a soft whistling breath. “You’re a braver man than I, Kimbolt.  I just want you to know…”

“Save it,” Kimbolt spat.  He wasn’t interested in good-byes, at least not from him.  “You know what they say about big musclebound men, Pietrsen? Big means slow.”

There was a flutter of movement.  A thrush darted from the wall of the steading, either disturbed by the creak of the gate closing or drawn to the noise and smells of cooking in the cavalry camp.  It flew low, swooping across the ground.  Torsden’s sword flashed, a tiny spray of red and two halves of the bird fell to the snowy ground.

“Shit, that was fast,” Pietrsen said.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Happy Birthday to Bloody Cake News

With apologies to Tolkien and to Gimli and especially to Agnes, I butchered one of my favourite Lord of the Rings excerpts to craft this birthday tribute to Bloody Cake News for tomorrow, Sunday 7th September.

The Song of BCN

The web was young, the trees were green
And bloody cakes were all unseen
No blog was laid on page or site
When Agnes woke and wrote so bright.
She claimed the shameless books and hacks
She heard unnumbered audiotracks
She rode by train to Cambridge here
And there saw three new stars appear
As friends upon a web based wire
A group to raise the bar much higher

The web was fair, the cakes were tall
In summer days, before the fall
With mighty scribes from blessed lands
And western towns who raised their hands
And called out, "Agnes you can stay,
We have some books to give away."
A queen she was in oaken chair
And authors turned to stop and stare
With golden hair and silver pen
And reviews of power often when
The light of Peat and Joe and Mark
With shining copies of their ARCS
Undimmed by night or pint of beer
There chatted freely, oh so near.

There finger on the keyboard smote,
There books were read and blogs were wrote
There baked was cake and piped was glaze
The plotters wrote, the agents crazed
There princes, kings and viking sail
And lyric prose like fishes’ mail
Writing and story, plot and word,
And poignant quotes were often heard.
Unwearied then were bloody cake folk,
Even with two ankles broke
The authors tweeted, facebook glowed
And at the cakes, the saliva flowed

The wifi’s down, the web is gone
My favourite links are now all wrong
No book is planned, no chapters writ
Distraction snares me in its pit
The cover waits for one more part
Justice due for Darko’s art
But still the chosen pics appear
A facebook status oh so clear
There likes their crown in pages deep
Till birthday girls awake from sleep.

For those who want to cleanse their literary palate with a shot of the original, here's a link to Durin's Song, as sung by Gimli son of Gloin in the mines of Moria..

(Edited slightly on 7th September to improve the scanning in the first verse and the sense elsewhere)