Wednesday, 30 December 2015

More boundless leaps of Imagination - Part 2 of my Spoiler free review of Unbound

So here is the second part of my review of the Unbound anthology published by Grimoak press.  I will post it also on goodreads though I should warn you that just putting unbound in the goodreads search box seems to lead to an entirely different genre!

The Diamond Queen - by Anthony Ryan

This is story that reaches skywards with its epic scope.  The opening battle of tens of thousands, is a bloody victory won that would make Nirnaeth Arnoediad look like a minor skirmish (allow me a little hyperbole here).   The warrior general Sharrow-met flies into combat astride her blackwing like a Nazgul Lord and none dare come between her and her prey.  But the spoils of victory prove elusive and Sharrow-met's past stubbornly intrudes on the present.  The Voice that is her master, commands, controls and rewards but Sharrow-met finds mysteries it cannot answer as she strives to complete her subjugation of the last city on the continent.

And when the dust has settled and silence has fallen, I am left feeling I have finished a novel, rather than a short story.

The Farmboy Prince - by Brian Staveley

There is a distinctive voice in this first person point of view tale, the unnamed narrator coarsely dismissive of both noble and ignoble visitors to his home town which aspires - at its best - to be a shit-hole.  The noble are reviled as they sit "holding one of Nick's filthy tankards as though he'd filled it up with some pox-victim's phlegm instead of ale, which, considering Nick's ale, was about right."  while the ignoble are warned "if you go for your sword in Two Streams, you'd better be ready to drop some motherfuckers"

In short, in this short story, the lives of the people in Two Streams - like the people themselves are short and ugly. Throw into the mix a traditional tale of hidden parentage, dodgy fake names, and a looming national crisis, and it becomes clear that something needs to be done.  What is less clear, is exactly what that something is, and who's going to do it but Staveley manages to raise a smile and surprise in the process.

Heart's Desire - by Kat Richardson

The style is hauntingly strange, like a letter to an absent lover.  The narrator sits entwined in the twisted ghosts of fairy stories of old, atop a tower tall enough to have held Rapunzel.  There is a wall of thorns such as entombed sleeping beauty.  There are helpful talking animals though their purpose and manner is a long way from the timely home helps that assisted Snow White.

Something is awry in this fairy tale world, a story too full of desperation and shadow to lift the reader's sense of foreboding, but the twist when it comes, still cuts to the heart.   

The Game - by Michael J. Sullivan

Those of us brought up on the SIMS and World of Warcraft will love the inventiveness of this tale.  My second daughter, not the most skilled SIMS player, used to get genuinely upset when - by some accident in playing the first version of SIMS - she managed to set her SIMS on fire and watched them reduced to a pile of ash and then an urn. My eldest, slightly more clinically observant, used to experiment with different ways of killing them off - for example putting them in a pool and then removing the ladder so they could not get out and would eventually die of exhaustion.

In the Game Sullivan plays with the idea of games and the characters that populate them as well as the people that play them.  It is cleverly done, so I cannot - in all spoiler-free safety - say much more than that Jeri Blainey, Project Lead for the Realms of Rah - MMPORG is about to have a very bad day.

The Ethical Heresy - by Sam Sykes

Dreadaeleon is an apprentice wizard with more to worry about than his mouthful of a name.  Even as they hunt down heretic mages, wielding ice, fire and lightning, Dreadaeleon - in the grip of adolescence - is obsessed with his cooler, taller, more gifted fellow apprentice Cresta.  In the midst of death and destruction and the disdain of their grim tutor Vemire, Dread vainly tries to draw some approval from his crush.   The prose captures his failures well as Dread tells himself Well done, old man.  She dressed you down like a six-copper prostitute, and you simply stood there and took it. 

But even apprentices can find danger in this well crafted piece, the backstory of politics and magic system injected seamlessly into the writing - like the fine marbelling of fat within the lean of a high quality steak that gives the whole its flavour.   Humour and pathos mix perfectly as Dread finds himself thinking

At that moment what he was going to do seemed to fall along the lines of "die horribly, possibly while crying"

Small Kindnesses - by Joe Abercromie

The story spins around three women and the men who underestimate them.  There is Shev the young but retired thief turned smoke house hostess, Carcolf the alluring blond siren from Shev's past still flinging temptation in her way, and there is the unconscious redhead.  Though - as facebook told me only this morning - "It takes a special kind of stupid to piss of a redhead and expect calm"

Shev is the central sympathetic character, given to small kindnesses, to protecting others from their own foolishness, from striving to escape the trap of being the best thief in Westport.  Maybe there was some stubborn stone in her, like the stone in a date, that refused to let all the shit that had been done to her make her into shit.

Shev, has her share of earthy passions but tries not to let these cloud her thinking too much. 
She tore her eyes away as her mind came knocking like an unwelcome visitor.  When you live in life's gutter, a certain caution has to be your watchword.

But in a grippingly related day that grows increasingly turbulent, our charming but diminutive heroine discovers that fate neither forgets, nor forgives a small kindness. 

The Rat - by Mazarkis Williams

A boy, Emil, awaits his great-grandpa coming to stay, hoping for an insight into the past.  In this well written tale a backstory of epic grandeur is distilled down to a child's eye view of a simple hut and four people sharing an evening warmed, inflamed even, by fires of history. The title at first seems misleading, the eponymous rodent and its feline huntress little more than shadows on the fringes of the lyrical prose. But by the end the story had put me in mind of the sad fate of the crew of USS Indianapolis, torpedoed in 1945 and left for days floating in shark infested waters, their numbers steadily and inevitably diminished until they were spotted and rescued by chance.  A horror like that would etch deep into an old man's memory and so it is with great-grandpa curmudgeonly and distrustful when awake, restless and fearful asleep.

And for Emil the excitement of the new, not just great grandpa but his road companion the musician "young enough to hold his shoulders straight, but he carried snow in his hair." quickly gives way to questions he dare not ask, answers he does not want.

The Siege of Tilpur - by Brian McClellan

I had heard of the powdermage series, but this was my first excursion into the world of magic and musketry that McClellan has created. It is a tale of warfare, of a desert siege, of prejudice, class and incompetence.  Sergeant Tamas and his squad, serving the aristocratic General Seske are in the classic mould of the infantry lions led by officer donkeys as they bid to take the fortress that has never fallen. It also has shades of the Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell, the period feel (if not the generalship) more suited to the Napoleonic era than the first world war.

It is visceral action, but with very human heroes.  For a moment I saw a hint of Blackadder goes Forth as Tamas explains his cunning plan to a disbelieving general clad in a silk dressing gown (perhaps one of General Melchett's cast offs?).  As with most cunning plans, things do not run exactly smoothly, but then that is what makes the story so entertaining.

Mr Island - by Kristen Britain

A charmingly atmospheric tale of what happens when a strange traveller is welcomed to a small east coast community, all told with a true 19th century period feel by a narrator known only as Mrs Grindle.  If Jane Austen and Jules Verne had been inspired by the story of Grace Darling to collaborate this might be the tale they came up with. Of propriety and love, science and shipwreck, mystery and loss.

As the layers of the story are peeled back, and truths are raised - in some cases from the sea bed - several themes enjoy a brief flash of illumination, as though from the sweep of a lighthouse beam.  Women's emancipation, commercial advantage, luddite impulses, all flare in this skilful depiction of small town life exposed to new influences. But Mr Island and the woman whose kindness captures his heart form the spine to the story and prove that - no matter how small the space in which you stand - there is no limit to the direction in which you can look. 

Jury Duty - by Jim Butcher

There have been many great courtroom dramas since Henry Fonda first swung a jury in "Twelve Angry Men" but when Harrry Dresden - Chicago's wizardly private investigator gets involved in an open and shut case the debate will be won with spells and claws more than words and points of law.

This fresh fast paced story was my first introduction to Harry Dresden and the cynical wit that permeates the writing as Harry first questions "What does justice have to do with the legal system?" and then observes of the judge "This was a woman who had seen a great deal, had been amused by very little of it, and who would not easily be made a fool."

Strings pulled beyond the courtroom threaten to make a mockery of justice, but for a hardboiled kind of guy, Harry has an unusually soft centre; when the lives or happiness of children are at stake... well let's just say you wouldn't want to be at the sharp end of any stake Dresden might be holding. 

The Dead's Revenant - by Shawn Speakman

A bit like Delilah Dawson's tale of Monsieur Charmant, Shawn Speakman gives us the point of view of a main story antagonist. For 9000 words we walk with Tathal Ennis as he prepares to bring death and disaster to a sleepy English village. He has a certain amoral charm, an indifference to right or wrong as he draws people in with the spell of his words, or the words of his spell.

There is young Tim Becket "tossing in his sleep, his nightmares darker than the purpling new bruises that mingled with old yellow and green, all delivered by a grandfather who abhorred weakness." Tathal offers him an escape of sorts, not caring whether he takes it or not.  There are old sisters and a not so young barmaid who all must yield and give Tathal what he wants lest he takes it anyway.

But Tathal does not dispense death and cruelty for its own sake. There is a darker purpose a deeper quest that he pursues, a destiny sown on a bloody battlefield of long ago. The names Camlann and Myrddin Emrys evoke links to a legend - to the legend - of dark age Britain.

A Goodreads target reached?!

So there we have it - an entertaining anthology by the great and the good.  This is the 24th book that I have read and reviewed this year, far short of my goodreads target of 42 ... but hold on, if I treat each of these excellent short stories as a book read and reviewed, then I add 23 rather than just one to my total, and sail past my target with room to spare.

Hmm ... somewhat like that moment when Legolas brings down the Oliphant and all who ride in it in "Return of the King" and Gimli insists that counts as "just one."

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

With an Unbound They Were Free - Part one of my spoiler free review Unbound

An assemblage of short stories liberated from the imaginations of great story tellers

Perhaps it is a product of the busy age we live in that short story anthologies have become more appealing to my taste than before.  Bite sized fiction for a world driven by sound-bites, and there are plenty of bites of different kinds in this riveting collection which Shawn Speakman has edited.

Some of the authors I already knew and had read, others are names glimpsed on social media.  Some of the stories have roots in the authors' main works though still read well as stand alone stories, others are tales told in isolation, their backstory fashioned at the convergence of each reader's and author's imaginations. The anthology is inevitably an eclectic mix, but still entertaining in its own right and a powerful taster of different authors' styles and approaches.

In some ways it is like those trios of deserts offered in the best restaurants these days, a mix of different but complementary taste sensations that leave you hungering for more.  Just as a festive season taster can lead to bigger things and a damaging expansion in the waisline, so too this anothology might cause an explosion in my already daunting TBR pile.

But - to the stories themselves - and there are so many and with such variety that it will take two blog posts to do them justice..  

Madwalls - by Rachel Caine.  

Beautifully written, the transition from the normal world of a teenager into some dark secret, an accident of birth landing her in the midst of an ancient covenant handed down from generation to generation on which the fate of the world rests, the world and one captive.  Surreal, hypnotic, like its central theme, the reader like the protagonist is drawn into a world that lingers in the mind, or is it the mind that lingers in the world?

Stories are Gods - by Peter Orullian. 

 A story that believes in the power of argument, or perhaps an argument that believes in the power of stories.  A hero who is physically weak, but mentally strong fuelled by a powerful love and a tragic schism to take to a debating floor in a world where academic philosopy has suddenly become dangerous.  Themes from a wider well-built world (The Vault of Heaven I infer) bleed into this story though, like its protagonist, the story stands well enough on its own two feet.

River and Echo - by John Marco.  

If you have seen Will Smith's "I am Legend" or the film "Silent Running" you may see the same similes that I did.  A lone survivor and his unusual companion, living ghosts in the detritus of a plague ridden city. There is a traditional fantasy feel to it - rather than sci-fi, a city with walls, lit and heated by fires, defended with arrows. Though with a slight steampunk feel.  The story is sustained by the wonderfully well-drawn poignant relationship between River and Echo.

A dichotomy of Paradigms - by Mary Robinette Kowal  

With this story the anthology lurches into a far future of interstellar piracy and technological innovation that enables artists to pursue their craft with the same vibrant immediacy of a war photographer.  Patrick the brush wielding protagonist reminded me of a pen scribbling character W.W.Beauchamp in the Clint Eastwood film "Unforgiven"  - the journalist hack turned biographer chasing after a gunslinger to document his life.  Only Patrick finds that painting the pirate queen poses more of a challenge to his conscience and his craft than he expected. 

Son of Crimea - by Jason M Hough

John Crimson is a policeman perched on the cusp of the age of science and reason - a time when method replaced madness, when passionate crime would yield to patient investigative technique. And into his world steps the disturbing Malena Penar, intoxicating and bewitching.  In a journey that spans half the world she challenges his faith in the rational, his dismissal of superstition but in the end I found it hard to tell who won!

An Unfortunate Influx of Filipians by Terry Brooks 

The story is a bridge into the magical world of Landover where lawyer turned King Ben Holiday finds himself presiding like a cross between Judge Judy and Solomon over a gnomish dispute.  Problems beget problems in a progeny of biblical proportions and in the end it is management, rather than leadership which must resolve the crises that competing incompetencies have created.

The Way into Oblivion by Harry Connolly. 

When the centre of an empire has suddenly fallen to an unknown power, that is not so much an opportunity as a threat to those previously subjugated peoples who might be tempted to flex the muscles of their newfound independence. Song, sister to the leader of the Holvos people, finds more dangers lurk beside a crocodile infested river than within it. When all choices are difficult and all options are unpalatable, she must decide what motherhood means to her. 

Uncharming by Delilah S Dawson  

The writing is delicious, a tasty heady morsel as the daimon Monsieur Charmant frequents the darkest corners of an alternate Paris and London in an obsession to utterly possess a poor desperate soul who had already sold him the best part of herself.  The story draws on a well built world of Dawson's other works but gives what I assume to be a smalller character his moment to preen his awful nature in technicolour limelight.    I liked this line especially Money had been important to him once. Now it was power and possession, the tang of owing that hit the air everytime a client gave more than they really had.

A Good Name by Mark Lawrence.  

This is another work where a supporting player from Prince of Thorns (and the short story Select Mode) has an opportunity to be fleshed out in more detail. Jorg had his band of brothers and "the Nuban" - never given an identifier beyond that - was one of my favourites. In this short story we find what brought him from the village of his birth to a place at Jorg's side in Ancrath.   It begins with pride, the pride in a name won through hardship, a name that should not bow when it was not merited.  But sometimes it is not enough to be right, and the consequences of pride cast long shadows.

All in a Night's Work by David Anthony.  

In an action packed adventure Ash - a prince's faithful bodyguard finds a night off is anything but quiet.  Deadly demons stalk the palace of an alternative Egypt and our young hero sets off in a pursuit of the assassin as single minded as it is foolish.   The only assistance to be had comes from a beetle with a broken antenna and as Ash realises partway through the chase " can't think of everything when you're dangling a hundred feet in the air, holding on to the scrawny legs of a faulty beetle."  The action is as relentless as the opening sequence of a James Bond movie, and the hero scarcely less resourceful than 007 himself.

Seven Tongues by Tim Marquitz  

A grim tale with a grim hero illuminated by some startling pose from the very first line onwards-  The clouds gnawed at the moon, devouring it in slow steady bites. Gryl is an unusual killer - a Prodigy - who escaped enslavement and sells his formidable powers, though still constrained by some sense of a just cause, of a distinction between the guilty and the innocent.  When such a man goes in pursuit of a slaver who has been trading in and abusing children the outcome is unlikely to be pretty. However, it is the jobs that seem easiest at first, that are likely to end most messily and by the end of this gripping piece Gryl has certainly painted the desert red.  

Fiber by Seanan McGuire.  

This was outrageously entertaining.  My eldest daughter has resolutely resisted the lure of the fantasy genre but also enjoys cheerleading as a base with the Cambridge Cougars, so a story that throws a carload of squabbling cheerleaders into a dark fantasy/horrow blend should be the kind that would fire her interest. It's a bit like the way "Dawn of the Dead" combined zombie apocalypse with fantasy shopping to become one of my wife's favourite films.  Speaking of which, this riveting short story also features a reformed zombie amongst its kick-ass, kick-head, kick everything leading females.  "...thus proving the old adage that you should never forget to wear a cup to a cheerleader fight.  No matter what kind of junk you're packing in your pants, a good boot to the groin is going to put you down if you don't have protection."

So there I am, 51% of the way through.  I'm off to enjoy the rest of the anthology and I would suggest that you do the same.    

Friday, 25 December 2015

Sometimes Numbers are not Enough - My spoiler free review of Chains of the Heretic

Jeff Salyards has conjured up a remarkable world in his debut series. I was delighted that my unsubtle badgering yielded an ARC of the final instalment of the "Bloodsounder's Arc" trilogy.  While this review will eschew spoilers for Chains of Heretic, the whole work is such an interlocked series that there will inevitably be spoilers to the preceding two volumes. So, if you have not yet met Braylar Killcoin and his band of cussed and cursing warriors then look away now.  Or still better, look here at my reviews of the preceding books.

I review Scourge of the Betrayer

I review Veil of the Deserters

However, those like me - who have lived and travelled in the head of Arkamondos scribe to Captain Killcoin's ferocious Syldoon company through two gripping books - you gentle reader may read on - though bewarned any gentleness in this book begins and ends with the reader.

At the end of Veil of the Deserters it had all pretty much gone to hell in a handcart, as Braylar's argumentative Lieutenant Muldoos would say.  Or at least as he would have said if his thinking and speech had not been slurred into incomprehensibility by a memoridon's attack.

Fighting their way out of their home city of Sunwrack, the coup masters of the Jackal tower had been out-coup-ed by the emperor they thought to overthrow and Braylar's already depleted company heads out on a desperate mission to find the previous emperor Thumman lurking in exile.  Arkamondos, never especially lucky where women were concerned, was reeling from being betrayed by a kiss. Such concerns of the heart (or - as Muldoos would consider it - somewhat lower than that) are swiftly shown to be of small consequence against far greater threats.

In war one must be able to outrun whatever one cannot outfight.   But Arki and the Syldoon find their foes are legion and disinclined to give them a simple and accessible choice of fight or flight.  It is hard to imagine a more friendless band than the one Braylar Killcoin led out of Sunwrack, and along a tortuous path they find not only more enemies, but a climate of distrust amongst even those friends who should hold each other most dear.

The previous books had set up an array of plot threads.
  • What is the mysterious Godsveil - that shimmering thousand year old curtain dividing the world in half with the power to drive any who approach it insane - who created it, and how and why?
  • Where does the flail Bloodsounder draw its power and what is its purpose, beyond its ability to steal the memories of those it slays and torture its wielder with them
  • What caused the deep-seated antipathy between siblings Braylar the warrior and Sofjian the memoridon, a mutual distaste which makes Liam and Noel Gallagher look like the Osmonds.
  • How can the crisis at the heart of the Syldoon Empire be resolved now that the Emperor Cynead  has destroyed the delicate balance of power between the Towers and the throne.
These questions carry an implicit demand for Salyards to weave them into a satisfying conclusion as Braylar wends a twisted and arduous path through political and military perils,

But they are not small questions and answering them requires new people in fresh environments as the circle of Arki's vision and Salyards' world expands still more widely. Salyards also shows again his vivid creativity, with whole new settings that stretch the envelope of his innovation. There is an originality to his world building, to the creatures he populates it with and to the system of magic that he uses, which - for me at least - defies any comparison.

After all the casualties of the first two books the brief stopover in Sunwrack gave Braylar a chance to replenish his company and we get to meet Rugdi a female sergeant and an ogrish lieutenant more belligerent even than Muldoos. But for all these intriguing characters, it is the sparring between Soffjian and Braylar that still drew my attention most.  The warring siblings who seemed to hate each other almost as much as I - as reader - loved them both.  Brother and sister circle each other, tongues as sharp as swords, conveying a bitter and weary disappointment which still does not mask the respect they hold for each other's powers.  Soffjian's journey is more tortuous than her brother's, her perils more grievous her desires more complex. Braylar takes his greatest chances on the battlefield driven by an unswerving loyalty to the orders of his Tower Commander and to the welfare of his soldiers.

The great strength of Salyards' writing continues to be his description of battles all seen from the near ground level of the cowering Arki.  To be fair the scribe makes efforts to extend his contribution beyond penmanship to some semblance of swordcraft and even gets tuition from an unanticipated quarter.  There may have been an element of luck in the survival of so useless an unarmoured civilian through the hard fought battles of the first two books. But it is dangerous to taunt fate for so long and Arki - the progressively more embedded war correspondent - dons gambeson and helmet as well as strapping on a blade.

Over the course of the trilogy it is Arki's arc that shows the clearest development.  At the start we had the awkward, bookish civilian in company with soldiers so coarse their funniest story concerned the death of a colleague beneath the mountainous prostitute whose suffocating favours were his particular predilection.  By the last few pages Arki has grown into a far more worldly and resourceful individual prepared to take up arms and brave any danger alongside the soldiers whose grudging respect he has earned.  Still nervous and squeamish - he nonetheless has learnt that mercy has consequences and does not flinch when it is his turn to stick the knife in. I am reminded, as Arki is, of how miserable and barren his life had really been before he fell in with Braylar. Life without companionship is more a matter of existence than living and there is no companionship quite like that of soldiers facing the most desperate of circumstances, knit together into a corporate being by discipline, training and such loyalty that they will lay down their lives for their comrades.

Salyards paints a vivid picture of the crude coarse camaraderie of fighting men, of a military spirit buckled to the point of breaking by the sledgehammer blows of adversity, and of an unlikely hero who finds his place, indeed his family, in the middle of a battlefield where far more than the Syldoon Empire is at stake.    It was with a certain serendipity that my favourite iPhone playlist (The one titled "Sad shit that I like") tripped round to play Dire Strait's "Brothers in Arms" just as I reached a crucial rain filled point in the perils that beset Braylar, Arki et al.  

The trilogy is called Bloodsounder's arc and it is only as I write this that I see the meaning of that title.  For it is not just the flail that carries the name Bloodsounder!  The story may be told by Arki, but this is the story of Braylar Killcoin, one time son, brother, nephew, but above all else he is Syldoon.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Fraternal Fragments - my review of Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence

My goodreads target of 42 books to be read (and reviewed) in 2015 continues to mock me, supremely confident in its inevitable victory as - even now - I just crawl over the halfway line. However, I am determined to go down fighting and Mark Lawrence's latest publication - an anthology of short stories about Jorg and his brothers - is an easily digested morsel which nonetheless packs quite a punch.

Jorg bestrode the Broken Empire trilogy dominating his stage as completely and charmingly as Shakespeare's Richard III.  With a central character of captivating brilliance, I found that the brothers sometimes struggled to illuminate and define themselves. It is like the search for planets orbiting distant stars (exo-planet) where the planet's characteristics must either inferred from the effect they have on the central star, or can be observed directly only when the central star is obscurred.

Photo by Gemini Observatory - an exo planet (Brother Makin perhaps) outshone by a central star (Jorg of course)

This collection of short stories offers plenty of opportunity for individual brothers to showcase the subtle nuances of their own pasts, free from Jorg's dazzling light.  We see Makin (twice), Red Kent, Brother Sim, the Nuban and of course Rike operating alone, driven (mostly) by their own motivations.  It is interesting to see, in Makin and Kent's stories particularly, how slim is the line between the bandits and those that they prey on.  Jorg's rampaging band of brothers, after all, was not a single abherration in the midst of a perfect civilisation (it's not called the broken Empire for nothing).  They were one band amongst many in an era reminiscent of the 12th century turbulence of King Stephen and the Empress Matilda - a time when it was said that God and his Saints slept.

There are also two stories specifically about Jorg - "Select Mode" and "Sleeping Beauty" - which I have a particular fondness for having read both when they were previously published.  As a result of one of Mark's many competitions, I got to do a sound recording of  Select Mode while the author Richard Ford did  a recording of Sleeping Beauty. I liked the economy of Select Mode - an insight into a young man still near the start of his road career.  Sleeping Beauty, a longer piece, has all of Mark's inventiveness, more of Jorg's cussed refusal to lose, and an entertaining take on some familiar fairy tales.

You can listen to both audio recordings here.

Select Mode - read by T.O.Munro

Sleeping Beauty - read by Richard Ford

Right up until the end of this collection of short stories, I was unsure which would be my favourite.  I had always liked Sir Makin and the Nuban so their tales - filling in back stories in a way which made sense of their behaviours in the main trilogy - had a head start insecuring my affections.

But then I read the last story that of Father Gomst, and here perhaps I return to my initial observation for - intriguing as Father Gomst is - this is a story of the Ancraths - dazzlingly dark as they outshine all others.  Gomst appears in their lives with all the hope but none of the power of a Mary Poppins figure put in charge of a murderously rebellious nursery of two young brothers. In this story we see Olidan - instinctively cruel. We see Jorg aged six and you may, like me, be reminded of the Jesuit saying, "Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man."  We also see William aged four and see how even the very young can manipulate and control adults, snaring them in a mesh of their own threats and promises.  It is this story too, where lines of Lawrence's prose most readily leapt out of the page at me.

"Clergy, no matter their station, do not bow to crowns, but Gomst felt the pressure on his shoulders even so."

"Gomst had told bigger lies for worse reasons.  One could hardly rise in Roma's church these days without a crooked tongue."

"Lies are soft and accomodating.  The truth is hard, full of uncomforatble angles. It rarely helps anyone."

In this venture Mark Lawrence joins the ranks of the self-published authors - or at least hybrid authors - ably assisted by Pen Astridge's wonderfully professional cover.

Within all the stories and their footnotes, there are massive spoilers for the Broken Empire trilogy, fateful forecasts and promises - enough to make those of us who have read to the end of Emperor of Thorns, smile at a circle completed, while others new to Jorg would find the trilogy denuded of some of its biggest twists.

But then, although these stories mostly precede the trilogy's bifurcated chronologies,  they were not intended as an introduction to Jorg's tale, so much as an opportunity for those of us who loved it to revist some old acquaintances an ambition it fulfils splendidly.

I might also mention at this point that I too have found some inspiration in Jorg's tale, having twice used him as the subject of entries in fan-fiction themed short story competitions at Fantasy Faction, so for those still hungering for Jorg related short stories, my own offerings are here.

The Road to Arrrow (Feb 2014 Fanfic entry)

Kittens, always the kittens (Feb 2015 Fanfic entry)