In these strange times, my daily schedule is relatively untouched, though I do now have my children at home with me as the UK self-isolates.
I’m excited to introduce the character design for Og-Grim-Dog. I think the artist has done a fantastic job of bringing the brothers to life. At the moment he is working on the cover for book one, so I hope I will have news on this for you before too long.
I like the fact that the fantasy community is still active online during this period – it’s nice to be able to interact with other people in this way. In that vein, I’m letting you know about an online reading festival I’m involved with over on Fantasy Sci-Fi Focus. It’s on virtually all day (especially if you’re in North America) this Saturday, so make some time to check it out!
Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Making a conscious effort to read some of the ebooks on my ipad and went for this one which I’ve wanted to read since it won spfbo3 which Toric’s Dagger was entered in.
The story follows ‘grimdark pirates’ struggling against one another and the local empires who would like to see the end of the pirates. The characters – Drake Morass, Keelin, Elaina Tanner and more are mostly piratical types who, let’s say, have their own moral code. Certainly a morally grey grimdark (TM) style of novel here. I found them convincing and entertaining. They are at each other’s throats – the question is, are they capable of uniting to save their skins?
I am 99% sure the book is set in the same world as most of Rob’s other fantasy books – there are some references to other parts of the world here and there but you certainly don’t need to read anything else first. The author does the whole pirate thing – from the descriptions of the ships, to the characters’ speech – incredibly well, and for me this makes it stand out enough to earn a 5***** rating. Mr Hayes must have done some significant research and given some serious thought to the world, plot and characters, but writes the story so smoothly that you don’t see any of that. The fantasy and magical elements are low key and woven in with the gritty world of pirating very well and it makes for an original and distinctive read.
The story is certainly adult in every respect and people looking for a YA read about pirates need to go elsewhere. I’m not a massive fan of pirate stories per se but I really enjoyed this. By focusing on such a small scale (relatively, for fantasy) I felt like the writer was able to take his time with the story, giving the pirates the centre stage, when often (in fantasy) they get a bit part and it has a slightly gentler pace compared to the average frenetic fantasy read.
I certainly recommend this one, especially for those wanting something a bit out of the mainstream.
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First of all, an update on the writing. I have sent book one of the new series to my beta readers and received feedback so that is due another final edit before it’s ready. I have also made a decent start on the first draft of book two, so I am still hoping for a late spring/ early summer release of the new series.
Meanwhile, I’m running a limited time promotion on The Weapon Takers Saga. You can get Toric’s Dagger free from the 2nd-6th March on Amazon with reductions in all territories on books 2 & 3 (the price varies on this). This has been a good way to attract new readers in the past, so spread the word if you can!
Valour by John Gwynne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There’s no doubt that John Gwynne is delivering for fans of epic fantasy with this series, hitting many of the tropes we have come to expect from the genre.
His main achievement, I think, is in creating a work of breadth and depth, with a substantial number of character povs, while keeping a frenetic pace. The book is well plotted and full of action scenes, with individual fights and large scale military engagements occurring regularly. The author knows his stuff when it comes to medieval warfare. Altogether, this is no mean feat.
Of course, all of which means other elements are, almost inevitably, less sharp. The characters are all solid and likeable but there are few that climb above their fantasy standards: the prophesied young hero, his sword mentor, the wise woman, the gang of loyal family and friends. I’m not criticising – all the characters serve their purpose, they carry the storyline and have allowed Gwynne to finish what is an epic story. We have an overarching good v evil storyline, with an interesting range of characters on the ‘bad’ side. The worldbuilding is developed but the author hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew. We have human kingdoms and giant kingdoms, all quite similar, creating a believable Dark Age style world without the need for more complexity. Magic is a half way house between being mysterious and having a system: perhaps not totally pleasing either ‘camp’ but probably not putting off many either.
So I guess I’m saying that so far, this series doesn’t try to do many new things. I’m not sure I’d give any one element 10/10. But nor would I give anything less than 7 or 8. Readable, exciting, fast-paced, huge in scale, diverse characters, a believable fantasy world – for this reader and I would have thought most fans of the genre – Valour delivers.
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