Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Interview - Brian Staveley

Hello Groovers! 

I am delighted to bring you yet another instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and chat with the evil mastermind known as Brian Staveley (seriously... he is a nice guy). Now for those of you who don't know Brian he is the author of the incredible Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series, and one of the few authors who I genuinely believe will change the landscape of speculative fiction in years to come. I hope you enjoy!

Brian, welcome to Smash Dragons!

First up, tell us a little about yourself and the Unhewn Throne series. 

I’m the guy who still hasn’t figured out that I should put the mug down after the third cup of coffee.

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne follows three adult children of a murdered emperor – a monk, a special forces soldier, and a politician – as they try to untangle the conspiracy behind their father’s murder, while staying alive themselves.

Why did you become a writer? Did you always envisage yourself writing stories for a living? 

I took a slightly unusual track to the writing of epic fantasy. I studied poetry as an undergraduate, then did my MFA in poetry. Half my bookshelves are still filled with volumes of poetry (I’ve been reading Larkin this week), and for about a decade, I taught high school while writing poems. The thing about poems, though, is that there are about forty-two people worldwide who will actually pay you money to read them. Everyone I knew who was writing poetry had another job, sometimes several other jobs, and I got to thinking, “What if I tried my hand at a genre that people are a little more excited to read?” I’ve been a voracious reader of both fantasy and science fiction since I was a kid, and so that seemed like the most exciting place to dive in.

Can you remember the first work of fiction of you wrote? What was it about?

This is a subject of some serious debate between my parents and my wife. My parents insist that I wrote Anty’s Avinchir – the illustrated tale of a small ant who leaves his family to have various adventures before returning home – in a hospital waiting room when I was three. My wife argues that there was no way I was smart enough as a three year old to write even a rudimentary book. 

Both of your books have had an amazing reception so far. Are you still surprised by their popularity amongst fans? 

I’m just delighted. One of my favourite parts of the job is when readers get in touch to yell at me: “You asshole! I’m falling asleep at my desk today because I stayed up all night reading your ‘Kent-kissing book!” I know that feeling so well, that joy of being so immersed in a story that you just can’t put it down, and it’s so much fun to be able to provide that, in whatever measure, to others.

One of the things I love about your work is that you achieve a great balance between wonderful characterization and creative and dynamic world building.  I’m curious, was this something you had to be conscious of whilst writing so that you wouldn’t get lost in either one?

In my mind, it’s all about character. All the other stuff is the stage, and while the stage is important (a big nod to all the lighting and set designers working their assess off out there), it doesn’t mean much if there’s no one to populate it. Whenever I get stuck with these stories, I go back to the characters: what do they want? What terrifies them? What are their darkest secrets? Their proudest moments? 

What hurdles did you face in getting your work published? How have you changed as a writer from before your debut to now?

It’s going to sound trite, but the toughest part for me is writing the books. There’s been a moment in each of them so far (sometimes several moments) when I felt just totally lost, like I’d lost control of everything and couldn’t go on. That’s a tough place to be. This isn’t to downplay the difficulty of actually breaking into the industry. I think I queried about fifty agents, most of whom never responded, before I got a letter back from Hannah Bowman, who is now my agent, reading, “I really like what you have here…”

Strangest research you have ever undertaken for your books?

This is another place where my fans and readers have been just awesome. When I get stuck on some technical point, sometimes I throw it open to twitter or facebook, and that’s led to some great discussions about avian anatomy, maritime history, and, oddly, some serious geometry. Writing can be lonely, and it’s great fun to chat with folks with different skill areas about specific things in the book. I got an email from a doctor once. He was very nice, but wanted to point out a flaw in one of my corpses. I love stuff like that.

In your opinion what is your best writing skill? Worst?

Best: Hearing and assimilating criticism.

Worst: A tendency to overwrite certain types of scene.

I loved the concept of the Vaniate and how it was explored, and I adored the themes and ideas surrounding the Blank God and the Csestriim. I’m curious, where did you draw those ideas from when you were writing? 

I taught ancient world history, comparative religion, and philosophy for a bunch of years, and I can’t overstate the importance of those subjects when it came to the world-building of The Emperor’s Blades. The Shin religion, for instance, is sort of an amalgam of Zen with certain strains of Taoism. Anyone familiar with Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu will hear echoes of those texts in the Shin aphorisms. Stuff like that is packed through the books.

If you were dropped into the world of the Unhewn Throne how long do you think you would survive for?

Really depends where I was dropped. I could probably manage all right in Ashk'lan. I've spent a lot of time in the mountains climbing, running, biking, exploring, being cold, being dehydrated, being lost. The Bone Mountains, in fact, are modeled partly on the Sierras in California, where I've spent a lot of time. I don't think I'd stand up as well to Kettral training, and I'd be lost entirely in the political machinations of Annur...

The Last Mortal Bond comes out early next year. In one sentence, what can we expect from the finale of the trilogy?

Bigger, better, faster, more.

Where did you draw your inspiration from for the magic in your books? Will we see some more insane magical battles in the TLMB?

I wanted a magic system that had the possibility to really impact both character and plot. The nature of the leaches wells has profound implications for who they become as people: Balendin, for instance, or Sigrid. There's an addiction there, an addiction to the power and the source of that power, that I found really interesting to explore. Also, the fact that those wells are closely guarded secrets gives provides the possibility for some interesting narrative mysteries and plot reveals. And yes, there's some serious magic in The Last Mortal Bond...

You recently signed a new 4-book deal with TOR. Can you tell us a little more about this deal? Is it a new series, or four standalones?

We haven’t decided on all four books yet, but without a doubt at least two of them will be stand-alone novels set in the world of the Unhewn Throne. There are a lot of stories in this universe I’m still eager to tell.

I’m going to be an ass for a sec and ask a fanboy question… a book about Flea… any plans? (Please forgive me… I bet you’ve heard that question over and over)

Everyone seems to want a Flea book, and I’m eager to write one. It’s not what I’m working on now, but I’d say it’s almost an inevitability in the next five years.

What would be your weapon of choice for gladiatorial combat against the Flea? 

An M1 Abrams Tank. Anything less and I'd be dead in moments.

If you could sit down with another author for the day in order to pick their brain who would it be and why?

Ursula Le Guin. I’ve admired her work since I was a little kid, and I keep going back to some of her books over and over, taking away different things as I get older. I’ve encountered few writers, alive or dead, as sensitive, versatile, and brilliant.  

What is your take on the state of speculative fiction at the moment?

I live in on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I’m about the last person who has any real sense of the state of anything aside from our woodpile…

What are you reading right now? Recommendations to keep us busy until TLMB comes out?

Just finished N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, which really blew me away. I’ve been a fan for a while, and I think this is her best book. Now reading Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names and really loving it. Just started Kevin Summers’ The Bleak December, and while I’m only a couple dozen pages in, I’m really digging it. Also, Larkin’s complete poems is excellent, but boy, some of his early stuff was crap.

And finally, where do you see yourself in ten years?

I can barely keep track of where I’m supposed to be in ten days! 

Brian Staveley, thank you for dropping by!

Thanks for having me! 

You can pick up both of Brian's books released so far (The Emperor's Blades and The Providence of Fire) at all good online retailers and bookshops. I'd recommend them both to anyone with even a remote interest in fantasy. They are seriously that good. You can also keep up to date with Brian via social media and his websiteAnd finally keep an eye out for the next instalment, titled The Last Mortal Bond. That bad boy is due out in March 2016, and is already one of the most hotly anticipated releases for that year. 

Until next time peeps, be nice to each other. And keep on reading!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Interview - Michael 'Rage' Fletcher

Hello Everyone!

I am delighted to bring you another instalment of our ongoing interview series with writers from around the globe! This week Smash Dragons had the awesome opportunity to once again speak with Michael R. Fletcher, author of the dark fantasy Beyond Redemption, and the previously published cyberpunk novel 88. In our last interview Michael was wonderful to chat to, and incredibly friendly and open with his responses. We discussed different things, including writing, tattoos, and drinking!

Michael, welcome back to Smash Dragons!

Sod off. 


I read that interview you did with Michael. It was crap, purest drivel. He didn't write the damned book, I did.

Okay. So...who are you?

I'm a manifestation of Michael's pent anger, his inability to express hurt and disappointment. A life time of suppressing his every feeling has left him an emotional cripple. I'm the most powerful of Michael's Doppels.

Right. This seems a little far fetched.

Really? You've talked with him. He's a sweetheart, isn't he? Not a mean bone in his body. He's had the same group of friends for over thirty years and they've never heard him raise his voice. See how unlined his face is? That's because he's never had a facial expression; not once has concern wrinkled his brow. Notice how he never expresses opinions on sensitive topics? Go ahead, ask him about religion. He'll waffle about and in the end you'll think he answered, but he'll have said nothing. He's a fucking coward.

Okay, but—

Shut up, I'm not finished.. You've read Beyond Redemption, right? Don't answer, I know you have. Rhetorical. It's bloody brilliant isn't it. A simple kidnapping story hiding a savage attack on everything we hold dear. Or everything most 'sane' people hold dear. It all looks like the stupidest shit to me. 

I wouldn't call it an attack—

The fuck do you know? Here's a couple quotes pulled from the book:

"Delusion is the food of the gods and they never go hungry."

"Power corrupts and a corrupted mind becomes more powerful. You ask if there is a ruler—a king, an emperor, a governor, a lord—who is sane? I think the answer clear."

"What is faith but delusion without the power to back it up?"

And those are only the the ones I can remember off the top of my head. The book pokes fun at the insane crap otherwise sane people believe.

Sure, belief is definitely one of the themes of Beyond Redemption

You're missing the point. Can you really imagine that pansy pufftart writing something as dark and fucked up as Beyond Redemption? He doesn't have it in him.

I even hid the fact I wrote it right there in the book: "The tales are only as dark as the teller."

Remember that quote at the beginning of chapter fourteen? Have you ever met someone less dark than Michael?

Notice his middle initial? Michael R. Fletcher. The 'R' is me. I am his Rage.

Now let me ask you a question: How dark was Beyond Redemption?

Pretty damned dark.

Fucking right. Rob Bedford over at SFFWorld called Beyond Redemption "the grimdarkiest grimdark novel to ever grimdark." That's how fucking dark it is.

Now tell me you think Michael—that quiet and so fucking polite sweetheart—wrote that book.

Damn. Okay. You wrote it. 

That's right. And do I get any credit? No!

I suppose I could interview you, tell people the truth.

It's bad enough I have to write his damned books and now you want me to do his interviews too? No. I just wanted some credit. And now people know the truth: He keeps us chained in the basement—


You think I'm his only Doppel? Pfft! We're chained in the basement writing and editing his next books—they're fucking brilliant—while he sits upstairs catching up on the latest Walking Dead season.

So you don't want to do an interview?

Hells no. And your Doppel, Pride, says hello. He says he's tired of reading books and writing all those reviews for you. He wants some damned credit!

Following this Michael 'Rage' Fletcher proceeded to moon me over Skype... and scream nonsensically about harvesting my soul for his collection. I cut the interview off there. 

Beyond Redemption is available now from all good online retailers (here are the links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble) and bricks and mortar stores. Anthony Ryan loved this book, and it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. If you like dark fantasy or grimdark, then you will love this! Pick up Beyond Redemption today! 


Oh wait... there's more?! Michael has kindly offered to giveaway some download codes for his books Beyond Redemption and 88. To enter all you have to do is tweet what you think would be your whackiest delusion in the world of Beyond Redemption. Be sure to include @FletcherMR and @HarperVoyagerUS in your tweet, along with the hashtag #MyBeyondRedemption.

Winners will be chosen in 5 days! 

About Michael R. Fletcher - 

Michael R. Fletcher is a science fiction and fantasy author. His novel, Beyond Redemption, a world of dark fantasy and rampant delusion, was published by Harper Voyager in 2015. His debut novel, 88, a cyberpunk tale about harvesting children for their brains, was released by Five Rivers Publishing in 2013. The next two Manifest Delusions novels, The Mirror's Truth and The All Consuming, are currently in various stages of editing while Mike tries to be the best husband and dad he can be. Michael is represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. 

About Beyond Redemption:

Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn't an axiom, it's a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken—men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.

But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates—The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left—have their own nefarious plans for the young god.

As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. When one's delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is:

Who will rule there?

Friday, 6 November 2015

Review - The Wheel of Time Companion by Robert Jordan

Since its debut in 1990, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series has captivated millions of readers around the world. Over the course of fifteen books and millions of words, Jordan created a rich and detailed world. Yet only a fraction of Jordan's imaginings ended up on the page, with the rest going into his personal files.

The Wheel of Time Companion finally reveals a wealth of previously-unreleased information about the world of the Wheel of Time, as well as expanding on many known details.

The Companion includes:

* A detailed entry for each named character
* An inclusive dictionary of the Old Tongue
* New maps of the Last Battle
* New portraits of many characters
* Histories and customs of the nations of the world
* The strength level of many channelers 
* Descriptions of the flora and fauna unique to the world
* And much more besides!

The Wheel of Time Companion is unmissable reading for fans of this bestselling series.

When this almighty tome landed at my front door I was excited. As a life long fan of Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time I was hopeful that this companion would live up to the hype and publicity it has been getting these past few months. And, after giving it an initial flick through, I am happy to report that my hope was not misplaced. 

At over 800 pages long this companion is massive and incredibly detailed. Everything is covered, from insightful looks at each and every character through to the strength level of the many channellers that appeared throughout the story. Cultures are explored, and customs outlined and explained. In fact whilst I was skimming through I was (yet again) blown away by the gargantuan amount of world building that Jordan put into his books. It simply boggles my mind, and goes a long way to explaining why his books were so rich and alluring to epic fantasy fans. And respect must also go towards the editors of this companion. They have done a masterful job of piecing it together with encyclopaedic detail, and by incorporating tidbits that were absent from the novels (entires for characters that didn't appear much in the novels sheds light on their overall role in the world) they have also added to the rich heritage and legacy of Jordan. 

If I had one small criticism it would be that I wanted to see more artwork and maps. Whilst it is wonderful to be able to look up entries for obscure things such as rare flora and fauna, or to check the updated strength level of a particular channeler that has popped up, I still found myself wanting to see more then just an encyclopaedia. The other warning that I must air is that this companion contains significant spoilers (pretty much all of them). If you are new to The Wheel of Time (welcome, you have made a good choice) then I would suggest that you use this companion sparingly at first. However, if you like me and have consumed the books with glee already then this companion will be the best friend you need to embark on the journey all over again, or to settle that nerd fight you may be having online one night. 

All in all The Wheel of Time Companion is an incredibly impressive addition to the already rich tapestry of Robert Jordan's work. A must have for any fan of the series. 

3.5 stars out of 5. 

A review copy was provided. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Review - The Builders by Daniel Polansky

A missing eye. A broken wing. A stolen country.

The last job didn’t end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain’s company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain’s whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score.

Polansky, you magnificent bastard. 

I have just finished The Builders, and I am stunned. 

I really don't even know where to begin. 

Do I rave about how you took a genre (dark fantasy) and made it your own with this story? Or do I wax lyrical about your off the hook action sequences amidst a story that is essentially about anthropomorphic animals and their revenge? Or perhaps I can comment about your incorporation of weird western elements into the overall plot? 

Ah fuck it... I will just cut to the chase. 

The Builders is THE story of the year so far. 

Brutal, gut wrenching, and darkly humorous with a dash of fucked up, The Builders sets the bar extremely high in telling the tale of the Captain and his merry (as in they can, and will, bust you in the nuts if you cross them) band as they seek revenge on those who betrayed them many years ago. And the plot... damn it is good! Starting out at a rocket pace that never slows, the reader is brought up to speed via chapters that aren't linear in nature. This structure works extremely well, giving an insight into past events that eventually lead to the night where the Captain and his friends finally seek their revenge. And the characters... wow. Depicted in a way that only Polansky could pull off, the Captain (mouse) and his group (including a stout, salamander, and badger) ooze snark and dark charisma in spades. Each has their own issues, quirks and demons, and each brings something different to the story. I fell head over heels in love with them all, and their interaction and discourse with each other had me in fits of laughter at times. Another magical thing about them was the fact that whilst they all have human-like qualities and emotions they still retained some of their animalistic instinct and nature. I never thought I could be moved so much by a ragtag group of animals, but this bunch burrowed their way into my heart and made themselves at home. And as the story unfolded and things became clearer I was blown away by the simple yet intricate way Polansky had guided me there. Be prepared for feels amidst the incredible violence... lots and lots of feels. 

This novella utterly brilliant. It is Redwall. It is Watership Down. It is the Dirty Dozen. It is Unforgiven and True Grit. It is all of them, and more. 

It is The Builders. 

A different and masterful tale that epitomises everything I love about this genre, The Builders is highly recommended for anyone (human and animal) with a beating heart!

5 out of 5 stars. 

A review copy was provided.