Oct. 10th, 2016

jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
This is Gerald Brandt's debut novel and it's a strong showing. He's definitely someone to watch. I enjoyed this take on a near future thriller.



Premise: Kris is a courier, running packages back and forth on her motorcycle in the massive layered city of San Angeles. The population has become so dense that we've built upwards as well as outwards, and now cities have distinct layers, each level a distinct class, with few people ever seeing the sky. Kris originally lived in the lowest level, barely surviving after her parents died and she ran away from her aunt and uncle. But she's worked her way upwards and the courier job allows her to see the levels above her, although she's never been outside. She's happy with the life she's carved out. But then she gets a strange message to deliver a package at the end of her shift that turns exceptionally bad when she walks in on a brutal murder. Now she's on the run from a corporate assassin who wants whatever's in the package and is willing to do anything to get it. Can Kris outsmart the assassin and the multiple corporations who want the package?

This is entirely a thriller, set on a near future Earth. The sci-fi elements are intriguing, but it's the setting itself--the layered city that stratifies the class structure of this future world--that's the most interesting and compelling. San Angeles (which I assume is a massive city spanning both San Diego and Los Angeles) is dirty, dark, realistic, and gritty. And the situation in which Kris finds herself is totally believable, with corporations ruling the future, vying for our lives as if they were commodities for their own profit. Kris herself is a compelling character, one that you want to follow and want to see succeed. She's smart--street smart--because of her past, but not so smart that her situation isn't filled with tension. She doesn't know all the answers, and much of the novel is her reacting to situations as best she can, not necessarily making the wisest decisions. In other words, she's realistic.

Overall, I thought this was a strong debut novel. I had a few quibbles with things here and there, nothing major--such as the assassin, who I thought wasn't as strong a character as he could have been, and then one particular reaction from Kris that I can't talk about because it would spoil something in the novel. But again, those were quibbles. The setting and the characters are definitely worth the read, and have kept me waiting for the sequel since I finished this.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
This is the second novel of Maradaine that features Veranix Calbert, otherwise known of as the Thorn, who's a student of magic at the local university by day and a crime-fighting superhero at night. I enjoyed both books and look forward to the next.



Premise: Veranix has ticked off the local crime lord selling the drug effitte and is now this lord's number one target, enough that he's willing to pay a local assassins guild a good deal of money to see not only Veranix killed, but taken down in a spectacular way. At the same time, the drug lord is using one of the local gangs to infiltrate the area Veranix has sworn to protect near the univeristy. Plus, it's exam week. Veranix is being pulled in too many directions at once, which is only compounded when someone at the university begins a series of pranks that escalate quickly into something more serious and deadly. Can Veranix stop the drug lord, dodge the flamboyant assassins sent to kill him, find out who's causing the pranks on campus, and pass his exams? Not without the help of some old friends ... and some new.

Again, I've enjoyed this series so far, mostly because this is really just good old fashioned fun. Veranix is basically a superhero in a fantasy setting and following his exploits is like reading a comic book. Maradaine is a fully realized city and world unto itself (with another set of books with different characters as the focus set in the same city), with plenty of room left for exploration beyond even the three books currently released. Veranix himself is fun to watch as he attempts to fight the drug trade using his own magic and a magical cloak and rope he's found, but he wouldn't be able to pull it all off without the help of numerous friends both at the university and in the gangs that rule the streets in Dentonhill. The fact that he isn't all-powerful and is actually perhaps too impulsive makes him funny and interesting and also gets him into more scrapes than he probably should be in. Again, this is all part of the comic book appeal of this series.

Overall, this is simply a fun, light, entertaining read with some humorous characters that into unbelievable but hilarious situations that often have serious consequences for the characters and the world. If you're looking for some adventure
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
This is the debut novel for Margaret Fortune. It's the first in a sci-fi series with an interesting premise, which is why I picked up the book.



Premise: Lia Johansen doesn't remember much beyond the fact that she's survived a prison camp where her parents were killed and is now being returned to her homeland ... until she steps onto the space station and an internal clock begins a countdown for 36 hours. Suddenly, she knows she's a genetically engineered bomb sent to destroy the station, retaliation by rebels for the peace talks that are set to begin shortly, bringing the war to an end. All she has to do is remain undiscovered until she goes nova. But then something goes horribly wrong and her clock halts its countdown. At the same time, she runs into an old friend of Lia's--the real Lia she was modeled after--and she discovers she could take up a new life on this station, one that doesn't end with her annihilation. Torn between wanting to fulfill her orders and go nova, and her desire to live, Lia struggles to decide which is the better option--for her, for the new friends she's made, and the old ones she's left behind. But there are more secrets left hidden inside her, insidious secrets that, when finally revealed, change everything.

I really liked the premise of this novel and its execution. It brings up an intriguing dilemma for the main character, and as the secrets she holds begin to be exposed and the story deepens into something far more complex than a mere bombing, I got drawn further and further into this character and this world. It's hard to talk much about this book without spoiling some of the plot, so I'll just say that, as Lia discovers herself and her real purpose, the world and the stakes involved simply escalate, all the way until the end. Her clock may have stopped, but the tension only grows, as if the countdown were still on. This is a character-based story, but with a strong underlying sci-fi plot that only begins with this novel and will continue in the next book in the series.

Overall, a strong start to this series. There was a section of this book where perhaps it became a little too YA for my taste, and provided a lull in the action, but once that part passed the last half of the novel picked up speed and interest. It ended in such a way that I definitely want to get my hands on the next novel in the series. I'd recommend it for those interested in sci-fi which is much more character-based than usual.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)
This is the second book in Mark Lawrence's "The Broken Empire" series. I generally like post-apocalyptic novels, but this series is much darker than most, on the verge of being not to my taste at all.



Premise: Jorg Ancrath has seized control of a castle in highlands, an act of rage and revenge against his father, who did nothing to avenge the deaths of Jorg's mother and brother. But being a king isn't as easy as it looks. Especially when an army marches toward his castle, intent on destroying him and his lands as a stepping stone to seizing control of the entire empire. But Jorg has never been one to simply sit back and let others walk over him, and he intends the empire for himself. He's always got a few tricks up his sleeve. All he has to do is stop an army over ten times the size of all of the people he now rules.

I'm torn by this series. I love the post-apocalyptic setting and the touches throughout the book of what came before and how the world has moved on from the nuclear disaster that destroyed it. It's a dark world, brutal and dangerous and deadly. I like that aspect of the setting, and the mixture of standard fantasy elements with the science and tech that had been developed before the disaster. But Jorg himself and the atrocities that he instigates or perpetuates make it extremely hard to like the novel as a whole. I write dark fantasy, but this is grimdark and it's ten times darker than anything I've written. The emphasis is on the grim, with little in the way of sparks of hope or light at all. The structure of the novel could also be an issue, since it bounces back and forth between two time periods. I had no problem following this, but some may. I did love the plot device of the box that holds Jorg's memories in order to keep his plans from the sorcerer invading his mind, with the drawback that he doesn't have access to those memories either, and how the box was used to keep him sane enough and focused enough to do what needed to be done. So again, I'm torn. There are some excellent aspects to this book, and then there are some drawbacks.

I believe I'll read the third book in the series, to see what happens, but the series is so dark that I need to prepare myself for it first. I love the post-apocalyptic setting and some of the plot structures and plot devices. But Jorg is a hard character to follow, and the darkness is so grim it's hard to read. It's balancing on the edge of being gratuitous for me, and I don't read for the violence. I read for the hope. If you love grimdark, then check this series out.
jpskewedthrone: (Shattering)


Bullying

I’ve been struggling with what I wanted to write for Hold Onto the Light. Not because I didn’t have anything to say—I knew I wanted to talk about bullying; that’s why I volunteered to participate—but because I wasn’t certain exactly what I wanted to say about bullying. I’ve decided I should just tell my own story and leave it out there for the readers to interpret on their own.

I was bullied in school. Not to the point where I considered suicide or became depressed (I don’t think) or anything like that, but it definitely shaped me and my life. I’m a military brat—meaning my dad was in the military and so I moved repeatedly throughout school and passed through many communities with various levels of support for the military families in the area. Some were extremely supportive, others … not so much. I ended up going to three different high schools, spread across the US—Washington State, Virginia, and Texas. It was great to see and experience such a wide and diverse cross-section of the US—something that likely helps me create different, realistic cultures and worlds in my fantasy novels—but it had a significant disadvantage as well: no stability, which meant it was difficult to form lasting friendships. Not impossible, but difficult.

I was bullied at each school. It wasn’t physical bullying, it was more subtle than that. Because I was military and new and got good grades, I was shunned by almost everyone. The first time someone said they wouldn’t talk to me because my dad was in the Navy was a slap in the face. Somehow, that made me different, and as we all know, being different is what draws the bullies in. What it did to me was turn me inwards. I escaped into books, found my friends inside words and pages. In essence, I shunned nearly everything and everyone throughout high school. I was a “loner” that participated in band and other activities, but I never became part of any of the social cliques at any of the high schools I attended. I was always the outsider, and in some sense I accepted it and embraced it. It shielded me from the teasing, which was constant, but thankfully never escalated into violence. Possibly because I became so self-involved that I simply didn’t react to anything they said or did to me. If the person you’re torturing isn’t reacting, the “fun” of bullying gets old fast.

But the point is, without that bullying throughout high school, what might I have done? I’d likely have been part of the theater club, perhaps some of the other more social clubs as well. I might have done more with the band, rather than jumping from one instrument to another. It probably wouldn’t have taken me 28 years to finally come out as being gay. Granted, I may not have become a fantasy writer without the bullying, because I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time reading fantasy and sci-fi novels to “escape.” And I wouldn’t have spent so much time creating my own worlds, with characters that I consider friends, because all of the books I’ve written so far started there in high school.

And all of the books I’ve written so far have had some form of bullying that has shaped the main character. In the “Throne” series, Varis is bullied or abused by nearly everyone she meets in the slums. In particular, she’s bullied psychologically by Bloodmark. In the “Well” series (originally published under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate), the books start out with Colin being physically beaten by a group of kids his own age, and that bullying continues throughout the series, even into their adulthood. And in the new “Ley” series, Kara gathers around her friends who are being bullied by others, because she’s been bullied herself and sees herself as a protector. I even have an unpublished novel called FEVER that, after reaching the halfway point, I suddenly discovered dealt with physical abuse/bullying in the first half, and psychological abuse/bullying in the second half, all unplanned. It simply wrote itself into the story.

So obviously the bullying I experienced throughout school affected me. I tend to tell myself that it didn’t, but obviously it’s coming out in my writing. Obviously, it left a more lasting mark than I’d like to admit. I’m not consciously trying to make my novels or stories about bullying, but it’s certainly there. It’s coming from the subconscious, which does most of my writing in the first place. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the bullying—most likely I wouldn’t be a writer at all, perhaps not even a sci-fi fan—but I have to ask myself, was that really necessary? I know I didn’t experience an extreme form of bullying, but it still had lasting effects. The fact that even this mild emotional bullying altered me to such an extent only emphasizes that the more severe bullying can be devastating.

********************

About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to
https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/

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Joshua Palmatier

August 2017

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