Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
In October 2012, Harper Voyager UK, US and Australia put out the call for aspiring SpecFic authors to digitally submit their completed manuscripts, with the chance to be globally published.
The 'winners' received the full benefits of the publishing process: editing, digital publishing, and world wide sales support. By the end of the two week submission period, Harper Voyager ended up receiving over 4500 manuscripts!
It was a first in the industry that had authors, publishers and commentators in the SpecFic book industry buzzing about the opportunity and speculating about they thought the outcome might be.
I was on the fence in my opinion! A truly fantastic opportunity for those that had themselves a polished manuscript just waiting for a publisher to pick them up! However, even though I had come to respect Harper Voyager as a publisher of great SpecFic, I did have some reservations about what the quality of said manuscripts might be. In the end I figured somewhere in that 4500 manuscripts there must be a few truly great works; I just crossed my fingers that Harper Voyager had their really good 'slush pile reader' hats on!
Now, those books are starting to hit the digital shelves (and some dead tree copies too!)! 15 books were chosen to get the Harper Voyager treatment, and I was been lucky enough to receive ARCs of three of the first to be released! And here they are...
The first was Among Wolves by Nancy K. Wallace, the first in the Wolves of Lise series.
Young Devin Roché is about to graduate as an Archivist from the prestigious Llisé’s University, and there is just one more task he wants to complete – to preserve a complete history of Llisé.The history of Llisé and its fifteen provinces are a peaceful affair, filled with harmony, resolution and a rich oral tradition of storytelling. Nothing untoward ever happens in this peaceful land. Or does it?
When I started this, I had my sceptic glasses on, I really wanted to see where Harper Voyager was going with these digital submissions. I can report Among Wolves made me take off my sceptics and put on my reading spectics in pretty short order. I forgot quite swiftly that I was trying to scrutinise and just got lost in the book.
The true test, was that when I was reading Among Wolves I was incredibly ill, and all I wanted to do was curl up and mumble curses at the gods. What I ended up doing, was reading 400 pages in one sitting; I totally forgot I was supposed be dying!
Among Wolves is a novel that speculates on the truth and veracity of history, set in a world that almost worships the written word; those that tend to it, are given a status in society that supersedes most others. It's a driving force for the good and the bad in the cultured of Among Wolves, and it lead the main character Devin to seek out the histories of those forbidden the written word and can only pass on words through oral traditions.
The most intriguing stories are those that take you into a situation that you expect have the moral high ground, that sort of 'promised land' feel, but instead end up proving to be just as fallible as the situation you are leaving behind. Among Wolves has a mix of excitement, disappointment and determination that I find completely absorbing.
When you add to that a varied cast of characters, a mystery, a romance and some good old fantasy adventuring, you have a fun, yet complex novel about the desire of man to be the winner, even if it is just through words.
And, come on, it's a fantasy book about histories, storytelling and language. The only thing that could've made it sweeter for me was a pack of Tim Tam's included with each book!
This is the sort of novel I would recommend to friends and family, even those that aren't necessarily Fantasy fanatics. It has fairy tale vibe, rather than hard and fast epic, and had the feel of a remote historical pocket of our own world throughout a good deal of it! I can't say much without spoiling some of the deeper mysteries, but there is a paranormal twist in there, though not so prevalent as to turn off those that aren't necessarily paranormal buffs!
Verdict: 4 and a half well earned stars! If you can make me forget I've got an ulcerated colon for 6 hours, you've got a pretty bloody good thing going on..
So, one down two to go! Next up, the first instalment of an Epic epic fantasy:
At the darkest hour, when all hope is lost, a hero is born.When Brann is wrenched from his family home after witnessing its destruction and the death of those he holds dear, he is thrust into a life of slavery. Miles away, a deposed and forgotten Emperor seeks an instrument to use in his bid to rise once again to power. Ruthless and determined, nothing and no one will stand in his way. Brann might be the Emperor’s tool, but heroes can be forged in the most unlikely of ways…
So, this is what I like to call a 'Classic Epic'. Think Eddings, Brooks, Gemmel and you have a good idea of where Hero Born sits within the Fantasy genre. It's the classic orphaned boy with 'potential' trope, but there is one difference and I'll sum it up with: Do you know how to throw a body off a cliff correctly?
That might sound a little strange, but that is one of the stand out features of Hero Born; it actually goes through the processes that occur before action is taken, rather than just throwing you into the middle of a scene and expecting you to swallow that everything just happens.
Whether it's rowing in a slave galley, ambushing an enemy camp site or organising a huge battle, there is actual thought taken toward the actions needed to get from A to Z. What astonished me, was after all these years reading fantasy, I had really never given any of these things an ounce of thought. "Sure battle, great, next!" Not "oh, so we have to do ALL OF THAT just to get a positive result.. Yikes, exhausting! How bout we just sit around an toast some marshmallows?"
The strange thing is, this actually works to give this book a real point of interest, rather than the possibility of it simply being dragged backwards because of it. There were points where I thought "Come on, just crack on, kill somebody!", but when I thought about it, it was really only because that's what I've become used to, rather than it being un-interesting to read about.
If you were a medieval battle LARPer, this would be a like a hand guide of how to make sure your tactics were successful. And you would never end up throwing yourself off a cliff when you decide you need to chuck somebody else off one.
The cast of characters are fun and vibrantly written, each with sometimes clashing, sometimes complimenting personalities. It really is a boys romping about book, but unless you are particularly looking for a feminist feature, this will still have you completely invested in the characters and their fates.
Verdict: A great tale with an interesting twist on the genre: 4 stars!
So two out of three are looking great! Can we make it three out of three?
And the most recent is Darkhaven by A.F.E. Smith
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren - true heir to the throne - hasn't inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.
This starts out as a 'wronged woman' plot, a race to prove Ayla's innocence before something not so savoury befalls her. A not uncommon theme in Fantasy, but again, as with Hero Born it twists that theme into something new, and it is rather dark.
I don't know if it was the prancing Alicorn on the front, but even though it's called 'Dark'haven, I did not expect it to get quite so, well, ugly, in parts. The thing is, not many people can pull off ugly in a way that can cause that sense of horror for a character, without turning the reader off, or having them relegate it under the 'unnecessary shock plot point' banner. Smith pulled it off brilliantly by using it to further the storyline, creating a sense of urgency without pushing the limits of what is necessary. Brava!
Essentially it's a fantasy mystery and Smith has used misdirection and character confusion to create a head scratcher that even I didn't work out until near the end.. and I am always rather cluey! The way it plays out is actually quite interesting, as there are many little mysteries within the one bigger mystery of the murder, that are revealed in smaller pieces. I enjoyed the reveals, especially when I am thinking "Damnit! I was sure it was... Fooled!"
The relationships between the characters are interesting to watch, and create an extra air of tension in the book (you can never have enough tension!). The Priestess held my thoughts the most. Watching her try and reconcile her actions and emotions, with her beliefs and the standing within the temple she serves, was extremely engaging.
And that ending.. oh, that ending... I swore in German AND Polish, and I rarely use the the mother tongue unless I am extremely involved in the plotline..
Verdict: 4 Prancing Alicorns (with their arses on fire.. )!
So, how did Haper Voyager do?
I am delighted to see that this venture is turning out so well! I have actually begun my mission to read as many of the digital submissions as possible! Hopefully I'll be able to review more in the future and keep everybody updated on their progress!
In the meantime, good luck to all the authors with future releases, and also to Harper Voyager!