ED MCDONALDWelcome to the Misery, a blasted land that resulted from the fallout of a magical super-weapon built by a living god who has since disappeared. Here walks Captain Galharrow of Blackwing, bounty hunter and secret agent of a living god. Facing traitors, flesh-eating monsters, reluctant heroes and willing villains, Galharrow and his band of cut-throats must save the Republic from the horror of the Deep Kings and their endless army of the dead. McDonald throws you straight into the action, and some of his creations are really quite disturbing. The pace is fast, the fight scenes extremely realistic and the dialogue sharp and often witty. This is a book with heart, that despite its violence is really about the power of love and friendship. It’s not grimdark, it’s grimheart. The sequel, Ravencry, is, if anything, even better! I’m avidly looking forward to Crowfall, the final book in the Raven’s Mark trilogy, which is scheduled for release in June 2019.
ANNA SMITH SPARK
The Empires of Dust lie dreaming, but their dream is about to become a nightmare as Marith, disowned prince-turned-mercenary, sets events in motion that will unleash a storm of war across an entire continent.
This is a truly extraordinary book, literary in a way that almost demands that it be read out loud. Some people’s prose is poetic, but Smith Spark’s is positively operatic. This is a bleak and bloody story of lust and addiction, regicide and madness, that feels partly like a Greek tragedy and partly like a black metal opera. I have honestly never read a grimdark fantasy quite like this before.
The Tower of Living and Dying, the second in the Empires of Dust trilogy is equally magnificent in its mythological tone.
This was a really fun read, with a great story driven by Eames’s very particular brand of humor. It’s like what you might end up with if Joe Abercrombie and Terry Pratchett sat down to write a book together while listening to Spinal Tap and early Black Sabbath on endless repeat.
The humor is absolutely on point, mixing classic rock analogies with gentle pokes at the fantasy genre in general, and yet this is far more than just a funny book. There’s a really engaging story here, and moments of surprising tenderness.
The sequel, Bloody Rose, is on my to-read list.
The Red Gods are rising, and no one is safe. Godblind is among the grimmest of grimdark fantasy, written in a style reminiscent of George R R Martin’s A Game of Thrones. The growing sense of despair as the story progresses and everything goes from bad to worse to oh-so-much worse is almost stifling in its intensity. One character in particular is dragged bodily across one of the most brutal character arcs I think I’ve ever read, and it’s extremely well done. And then there’s THAT scene, the one with the hammer…
Dark and bleak yet utterly compelling, this may not be a book for the squeamish but it’s definitely a thrill-ride for all grimdark fans.
The sequel, Darksoul, has just been released.
This is the one that is forthcoming, and you have a treat in store here!
A ferocious emperor’s daughter who will not be denied her birthright, an indolent prince forced to take a stand for the first time in his life, and an ancient and terrifying sorcerer with the power to destroy the world all collide in the lush, tropical islands of a fantasy world reminiscent of ancient Indonesia.
With its tense political drama and rip-roaring action on both land and on the high seas of a fresh and believable Asian-inspired setting, Gates of Stone reads like a collaboration between Joe Abercrombie and James Clavell.
Add feuding sorcerers and a queen who would eat Cersei Lannister for breakfast, and you have a truly fantastic fantasy debut. Angus Macallan is a compelling new voice in epic fantasy, and this is definitely a book to pre-order right now.
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash
Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction
As the series editor who chooses the stories in the annual O. Henry Prize Stories, I read hundreds of short stories every year. I also have the benefit and pleasure of asking each year’s twenty winners to write a short piece about how and why they wrote their stories. Along with my own experience as a short story writer, I’m in a good position to ponder a question often posed by aspiring writers: What are the essential elements of a good short story?As I set out to answer that question, however, I found myself instead enumerating what is not essential. The first thing you should set aside is any explicit or guiding notion of what your story is “about.” Readers often ask writers what their stories mean, but if the writer has a ready answer, that is a problem. A good writer knows where and when the first hint of a story appeared, and how she wrote it. She knows what the process was from draft to finish – but a story’s “meaning” is often as much a mystery to writer as to reader, and that’s as it should be. Writing a short story is an intuitive activity driven by the writer’s wonderful subconscious and it’s as far from meaning as dreaming is from being awake. Conscious logical planning will get you from Point A to Point B in the shortest time but the subconscious excels at fortuitous invention. A writer must learn to trust the startling images and characters that come up in the course of composition. Her subconscious, if she trusts it, will guide her through the beginning, background, and development to the ending, which is often the most difficult part to write, and to understand. The next most important thing is grasping the particular demands of this form. In bringing to life the world of a short story, it is crucial to know what to leave out. Despite some superficial resemblance to the novel, the short story differs from it in important ways; a story must draw the reader in without attempting to imitate the enveloping completeness or epic sweep of a novel. A short story also isn’t a song or a poem, forms that express their world of meaning through extreme compression and abstraction. Some very terse stories do resemble a poem or song, for example Michael Parker’s “Stop ‘n’ Go” in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018. Whatever its length, though, and however elaborate or simple its language, the short story is rooted in its own unique deployment of quotidian details, which must feel real and convincing. In all stories, even the most starkly written, the story’s world must be recognizable, however eccentric or fantastical or hyper-realistic it may be. Characters sit on uncomfortable chairs or walk on graveled paths, and the reader must be able to sit on those chairs and walk on those paths. Frequent O. Henry winner William Trevor’s conflicted Irish and English characters feel as real and important to the fond reader as her own friends. The main character in Jo Ann Beard’s “The Tomb of Wrestling,” in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018, confronts an intruder who means her harm, and the reader is as terrified as she is. The thousands of decisions a writer makes in editing a story boil down to trusting the reader to make connections. That trust dominates the writer’s decisions as she moves from draft to draft and decides what the reader needs in order to understand plot, sequence, setting, and character – without spelling out those elements. Explaining is unnecessary when the story is right; in fact, too much explanation feels to the attentive reader like an annoying interruption, a breaking of the spell. Never underestimate your reader’s intelligence. At a magical point, the writer’s subconscious inventions connect with the reader’s intelligence and emotions, and the reader understands why the story ends where it does; how the ending is an illuminated version of the beginning; that the story’s secret has been revealed without words. The trust that has guided the writer to get rid of all but the right details has paid off and the reader has everything she needs to make the story’s meaning her own. Photo by Da Kraplak on Unsplash