Monday, September 24, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Bitter Seeds

first posted at

Bitter Seeds
Ian Tregillis
Milkweed Triptych 2


The year is 1939. Raybould Marsh and other members of British Intelligence have gathered to watch a damaged reel of film in a darkened room. It appears to show German troops walking through walls, bursting into flames and hurling tanks into the air from afar. If the British are to believe their eyes, a twisted Nazi scientist has been endowing German troops with unnatural, unstoppable powers. And Raybould will be forced to resort to dark methods to hold the impending invasion at bay. But dealing with the occult exacts a price. And that price must be paid in blood.


Alternative history is about positing a ‘what if’ scenario where history as we may know it is re-written. Bitter Seeds, the first in the Milkweed Triptych trilogy, suggests a very different World War Two, at least as far as Germany and Britain are concerned.

Stories about Nazi Germany coming up with some sort of weird or wonderful new technology or even magic to change the path of World War Two are not new. The challenge therefore for Tregillis was to make this fresh enough to maintain interest. This he easily achieves.

In Bitter Seeds we see the battle between science and dark magic. There is little I can really say without throwing in spoilers all over the place. What I particularly liked about the magic construct used in the story is that it does not come without a price. Nor does it appear in a Harry Potter-esque fashion that it just happens because it just happens. Matters become increasingly grim and quite dark through this use of Enochian magic.

I noted in a review by Andrew J McKiernan over at Thirteen O’Clock, a problem with the use of ‘Enochian’ as the magical construct used by the Brits. Andrew has existing knowledge of this and as such he had concerns about the apparent lack of research by Tregillis in this respect. But if you are like me and know nothing about the Enochian (other than the name making me think of Enoch Powell,) then any such shortcomings would not be apparent.

Like pretty well any good story, the central theme becomes the people and how they are relating to increasingly brutal circumstances. We see some frightful decisions being made due to the needs of the time and circumstances, in pursuit of a greater good. Some things go wrong – terribly wrong.  For my liking at least, I found the character of occultist Will Beauclerk to be the best presented, most rounded character, possibly because of the degree of distress he was going through at the heart of these dark events.

“It was here in this room almost exactly a year ago where Marsh had severed Will’s finger. It was here where Will had pleaded with him to do so. Here Milkweed had repelled an invasion, destroyed a fleet. Today the air tasted like the stones at the bottom of a centuries-old well. The bones of the earth steeped in tainted water and the shells of dead snails.”

The Orbit range of titles often includes interviews with authors. The interview with Tregillis at the rear of the book is quite interesting, not least in how he describes the germ of the idea coming after reading about a WW2 Allied project for building ships out of ice – truth can be stranger than fiction, even though the ice ships do not make it into this trilogy.

I found this a quite gripping read which passed my ultimate test of whether or not I want to read more – I most certainly do!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Autographed copies - an update

UPDATE - if you are outside Australia, contact me at ross [@] to work out postage costs.

And now here it is - my novella, It Hides In Darkness, published by Creative Print Publishing in the UK, is being launched internationally on October 8.

Would you like to be in the draw for a couple of free issues? Then head over to Facebook and 'like' the page

For anyone that is interested in a personalised autographed copy, then you need to purchase a copy here and I will dash it off, pronto - the price is post inclusive and only $9:

 But if you just want to get your hands on a copy without my scrawl defacing things:

BOOK REVIEW: The Blinding Knife

first published at

The Blinding Knife
Brent Weeks
The Lightbringer 2


Gavin Guile is dying.

He’d thought he had five years left–now he has less than one. With fifty thousand refugees, a bastard son, and an ex-fiancĂ©e who may have learned his darkest secret, Gavin has problems on every side. All magic in the world is running wild and threatens to destroy the Seven Satrapies. Worst of all, the old gods are being reborn, and their army of colour wights is unstoppable. The only salvation may be the brother whose freedom and life Gavin stole sixteen years ago.

The opening book in this series, The Black Prism, was a weighty read but worth it, The same can be easily said for its successor, The Blinding Knife.

What strikes me more than anything is the depth that Weeks has gone to in creating his world. A central point of things is that of the casters – people who are able to use a particular colour in the light spectrum as magic. Different colours produce different results, with differing influences on the personality and thought processes of the caster involved.

Most casters are proficient in casting within one, perhaps two colours. The Prism, the national leader of the Chromaria in many respects, is a master of at least all the visible colours in the light spectrum.

Crafting from light comes at a cost – the more you use it, the faster you hasten towards your end. Eventually your particular colour will take you over, potentially turning you into a colour wight.

Gavin Guile is the current Prism although he is really Gavin's brother, Dazen, having stolen his brother's identity sixteen years earlier.

Unlike those headed towards becoming a wight, Gavin is instead beginning to lose his colours, his abilities, a sign that he is approaching a premature end to his life.

In what might be seen as a possible allegory regarding our own world where nature is out of balance, the magic – the colours – are running out of control with dire consequences.

The outward protagonist is the Colour Prince,  the leader of a rebellion against the Chromeria, the ruling body of the Seven Satrapies of Gavin's world. The Colour Prince has rejected the teachings of the Chromeria, surrendering himself to being remade by his colours but as more than a colour wight. But beyond the continuing advances of the Colour Prince, Gavin also has to deal with internal politics,  treachery and his own inner demons and secrets.

My only gripe was the lack of a short introduction reminding us of the events of The Black Prism. At first I struggled a little to remember just who was what. But Weeks soon reintroduces all the principle characters and it starts coming back to you. The story is well supported by two detailed glossaries and an appendix discussing more of the details of colour and crafting.

This is a fascinating, compelling read. It is more than just a successor to The Black Prism, both extending and strengthening the story.

Highly recommended

BOOK REVIEW:Lady of the Shades

first published at

Lady of the Shades
Darren Shan


A man tormented by ghosts, a woman whose love could kill, and a deadly secret that refuses to stay buried – sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. Ed, an American author on the hunt for his next story, arrives in London. Ensnared in an illicit affair that can only be conducted in the shadows, Ed's world is turned upside down as a series of shattering revelations blurs the line between what's real and what's not.


Are we ever truly free of our past, from ourselves?

That question seems to be an underlying theme in this novel.

Ed Sieveking is an author of the supernatural, the macabre. And his is haunted by  ghosts. Or are they merely manifestations of his own subconscious? He doesn't know. But he is haunted by them all the same and Ed rightfully wonders about his own sanity.

In London, Ed is researching material for another book. And he meets a girl, beginning a relationship with her that son becomes complex, not exactly helped by Ed's own past and the secrets he carries with him.

The eventual revelation of Ed's past is a little abrupt but Shan has still made it work within the context of this particular story.

As the story progresses, the macabre touches become a little more pronounced. While I was able to eventually guess somewhat where things were leading, I was still caught out by the macabre depth of the ultimate twist in the plot.

As for Ed's ghosts, will we ever learn whether they are real or not?

This in an easy novel to get into. The flaws in Ed's character make him strangely interesting. I found Lady of the Shades to be a strangely satisfying and engaging read – definitely worth checking out.

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman Who Died A Lot

first published at

The Woman Who Died A Lot
Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next 7
Hodder & Staughton

Thursday Next is at a low point in her life: she is four months into an enforced semi-retirement following a near fatal assassination attempt. She is yet to walk without a stick, has double vision more often than she doesn't, and has limited mobility in her left arm.

A time, then, for relaxation, recuperation, and rest. A time to spend with her beloved family, avoid stress, take it easy, meet old friends and do very little. If only life were that simple...


Why do I keep doing this to myself? I just love the Thursday Next novels but they are just so damned hard to write about.

The last instalment in the series, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, was almost exclusively set within BookWorld, the odd construct which lies behind the pages of literature. But this instalment is set entirely on Thursday's own world. Not quite our world as we know it but identifiable as generally pretty similar to ours.

One of the fascinating things about Fforde's Thursday Next novels is the way he takes the odd, the different, putting ti together in a quite believable sense. And this instalment is no different in that respect except that it is the loss of some that, to us, strangeness which propels the plot.

Thursday is not the woman she once was, still recovering from the terrible injuries suffered in One of Our Thursdays is Missing. But at the crunch, mentally she is as sharp as ever.

Yet again, Thursday finds herself up against the Goliath mega-corporation but with another twist which keeps it from going stale. And Fforde has once again managed to weave that interaction into a wider story.

When trying to describe what happens, I find myself in real difficulties. How can I do so without making it sound like absurd nonsense that is not worth your time in picking it up. But, while indeed delightfully absurd, Fforde's genius is in making it all make a strange form of sense.

Funny. Multi-layered, Enjoyable. Just go and read the damned thing!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Diary of a novella - Chapter 1

Over the last couple of months I have found myself on a more-than interesting little journey. So far I have learned all sorts of things that I had not thought of or not given sufficient thought to. And so here go - the first of a string of posts that shall be documenting what it is like as an author being published on the small press scene.

So how was the story born?

One of the things I toy with for inspiration is browsing websites such as Ralan to see what potentially interesting anthology markets might be calling for submissions. I came across one that was seeking horror stories set in the Confederate States in northern America. This idea intrigued me and I scribbled various thoughts but they did not get beyond my writing journal at the time.

I subsequently took on some post-graduate studies in writing at the University of Canberra. One subject was a project to undertake an independent writing project. I decided this was a good opportunity to explore my fledgling ideas for a horror story set on a plantation within the Confederacy.

Developing the piece saw me exploring aspects of life within that place and that time, leading me to a rice plantation rather than the stereotypical cotton plantation. I had a supervisor at university who kept on eye on my project and she put me onto a quite valuable source, transcriptions of interviews conducted in the 1930s with surviving former slaves. This provided a wealth of information for developing a style of voice.

I was also intrigued to learn of what was at least a phase of slave owners bestowing names on slaves, that were sourced from things like classic literature. This in turn lead to character names like Cassie (Cassandra), Ulee (Ulysses) and Pompey.

Years before I had read in a historical novel about a startling punishment on a slave plantation which involved the use of a cat - the feline not the cat o' nine tails. I subsequently came across other references to that and similar punishments. It seemed dark enough to warrant an adapted use of the same in my story. A reader of an early draft of the story, described that scene as completely absurd and unusable.

There is a scene with an attempted rape. The same reader above, was infuriated, declaring that I was merely attempting to titillate and therefore the story was 'unpublishable'. I did not go into rape in any light manner. But this was intended as a horror story for adults. And there is a perverse side of me that enjoys proving others wrong.

The setting in a southern state also provided another aspect I thought full of prospects for engaging the senses - venturing into the swamps. In the end the swamps did not feature as much as I had first intended but it was still an interesting piece of landscape to explore, seeing as I have never seen one other than on the television.

This proved a fascinating experience for me to be writing about this particular environment. And as a 'true' speccie fiction head, the supernatural simply had to enter the piece.

At the end of the day, I finished the novella, received a High Distinction for the content (but marked down a little on some other aspects - grrrrr) and the adventure was pretty much over for the time being.

Stay tuned for Chapter 2.

In the meantime, here are a couple of links - an Amazon link for worldwide distribution (but more details on other options shall be detailed before long) and for my Australian friends, a link to obtain an autographed version (should you be interested in my scrawl across the otherwise virginal white paper).
Click me for an autographed version

Monday, September 17, 2012

Copies of It Hides in Darkness

And now here it is - my novella, It Hides In Darkness, published by Creative Print Publishing in the UK, is being launched internationally on October 8.

Would you like to be in the draw for a couple of free issues? Then head over to Facebook and 'like' the page

You can order a copy direct from Creative Print Publishing. Or from Amazon. And a heap of other places.

But for anyone that is interested in a personalised autographed copy, then you need to purchase a copy here and I will dash it off, pronto - the price is post inclusive and only $9:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Such exciting times!

There are some things that make the frustrations of being a writer, all feel worthwhile.

In all honesty, I doubt we ever entirely get over the thrill of seeing our name in print. I admit that I still get a kick out of it. But sometimes it is an even bigger reason to get excited.

My small novella, It Hides In Darkness, won a competition being run by Creative Print Publishing in the UK. The prize was having it published as a standalone piece. The email informing me of that was such a thrill. But finding myself on the cusp of my first proper solo work being released as me even more excited.

As I type, it is not too long after receiving the email confirming that the proof copy is back from the printers and apparently looks pretty darn good. And a copy is about to start winging its way Down Under for me to give it my seal of approval.

Another great buzz.

The excitement grew even more on realising that the book (my book! yeehaaaa!) is already available to order!

Exciting times - and not necessarily in the tradition Chinese sense.

Following on from this excitement, I feel safe in announcing that yet another little publication is on its way. Stay tuned for those details!

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always. Or even follow the blog by email. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cheats should never be allowed to prosper

I have blasted on this overall theme before today and now I’m at it again.

Recently there were some noises being made about the review-for-hire scene where an author could pay these dodgy operators the appropriate fee in return for which the ‘reviewer’ wrote glowing things about the author’s work. So I blasted about that over at awritergoesonajourney.

On top of that, articles seem to be popping up all over the place about British crime writer, RJ Ellory, being caught out and admitting to writing reviews of his books on Amazon under pseudonyms. Needless to say these reviews were glowing. For example, writing as ‘Jelly Bean’ he described his work as ‘one of the most moving books I have ever read.’ Other alleged comments include: ‘It is so beautifully written I felt as though it enabled me to be a part of that era even though that can never actually happen’ and ‘I would highly recommend this book to anyone who really wants to experience a class read’ and even better still, describing his own work as a ‘modern masterpiece’.  Even more moving was ‘whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul.’

Remember – this was the author describing his own work while pretending to be other people. How does he even have the gall to be doing that?

Not content with using his masquerade to write his own bogus reviews, Ellory used the same opportunities to blast some of his competitors’ work while remaining safely hidden - or so he thought.

Bear in mind this was not just a once off. It seems that Ellory has done this multiple times under different aliases. Yet now that he has been caught out he has admitted to doing it, noting that ‘I wholeheartedly regret the lapse of judgment that allowed personal opinions to be disseminated in this way and I would like to apologise to my readers and the writing community.’

A ‘lapse of judgement’ implies something less than a series of deliberately written and posted bogus reviews with Ellory pretending to be someone else. But note that his apology is not actually apologising for that. His apology only seems to be for letting his personal opinions sneak in ie deriding the work of others. If he really does think his work is actually represented by those over-the-top descriptions, then RJ Ellory has MAJOR egotistical problems and needs to be worrying about psychiatric care and getting fitted for his straight-jacket. Nonetheless, I am not seeing any apologies from him for a quite deliberate deception of others.

I recently had a brief online debate with someone else on this subject. That other seemed to think that writing bogus reviews was nothing more than a bit of harmless self-promotion. I heartily disagree. It is nothing short of deliberate deception, telling lies to the whole world in a deliberate attempt to con people into buying your material. That is not self-promotion. How can it be self-promotion when you are in fact hiding the fact that it is yourself writing that nonsense?

Equally interesting in the article linked above, another author, Stephen Leather, justified his admitted practice of writing bogus reviews by saying “Everyone does [it].” I disagree in the strongest terms. If you have any personal ethics, you don’t do that. If you have any basic decency and honesty, you don’t lie to the world like that. And I do NOT know great swags of authors who think this is all such a great idea as Leather does. I can only think of one rather self-righteous author/self-publisher whom I believe engages in that style of behaviour. And in my opinion they have the morals of a particularly unscrupulous sewer rat.

The argument has become that nobody is being hurt by this practice of bogus reviews. Like hell! While Amazon’s ‘review’ system has quite rightly become thoroughly discredited for just the sort of practices being discussed, the genuine reviewers at other places and in other media are also sooner or later going to find themselves quite wrongfully disparaged.

These idiots should be supporting genuine reviewers as good reviews, provided they are warranted, can mean more sales. Instead, these fools have been pursuing stunts that damages the credibility of reviewers and thus in the long run, only doing themselves damage.

It disgusts me that the likes of Ellory has stooped so low. It further disgusts me that his apology does not seem to extend to being sorry that he deliberately lied to and deceived people. It infuriates me that the likes of Stephen Leather insist that nothing is wrong with such a practice, quite falsely stating that ‘everyone does it.’

My counter-argument is how about people show the likes of Ellory and Leather what they think of that duo and anyone else pulling such stunts – boycott them! Refuse to buy their work! Hit them in the pocket as cheats should never be allowed to prosper!

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always.