Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review - SNAFU: Hunters by James A. Moore, Patrick Freivald, and other selected authors.

I want to get something out of the way here from the get go. I came late to the SNAFU party. 

Terrible, I know. Stupid even. 

How could I claim to be worth my salt as a reader when I had missed out on what is arguably the premier military horror series in the world today?

But before you incite a mob and march on my house hear me out. I've been catching up... and I'm here now at the party... front and centre. And fuck me... it is some party! 

When SNAFU: Hunters landed on my doorstep I whooped like a pirate discovering treasure. I disregarded everything else I had planned for that day (except picking up my daughter from daycare, cuz you know, parenting) and sat down to read some mind bending and visceral military horror. And boy, was I not disappointed. 

SNAFU: Hunters continues in that time honoured of its predecessors by scaring the living shit out of you whilst also latching onto your cerebral cortex and refusing to let go. Each story in this anthology is masterfully constructed, and filled to the brim with bloody action, thrilling hunts, and insane mythology (vampires infesting modern day London for example, fuck yes). This book is literally wall to wall explosions, blood curdling screaming, and highly skilled hunters trying to stay alive and get their prey. 

And that's not all... this anthology also has a surprising depth to it. The characters were all layered and multidimensional, and I found myself drawn to their plights/missions in a way that is kind of unusual for a military horror anthology. The subtle nuances and philosophical musings scattered throughout the book also added a real sense of profoundness to the stories, which in turn ramped up the intensity of the action sequences to an eye bleeding level when they occurred. 

And each and every story held its own within the anthology (unlike some anthologies, where the entries are a mixed bag), from the Lovecraftian hostiles in 'The Bani Protocols' through to the Valducan Knights of 'Hungry Eyes'. I literally could not fault any of them, with each tale thrilling me in a way that was different to the other. 

The pacing was fast and scintillating, and before I knew it I had finished the anthology and was left wanting more. So what did I do... I went back to read it all over again! It is that good. 

From other dimensions through to the fallout sites of nuclear explosions, SNAFU: Hunters is the perfect example of just how good genre fiction can be (take that you snooty bastards who frown upon it). A perfect anthology for lovers of military horror, I cannot recommended SNAFU: Hunters enough.  

Do yourself a favour (yes I ripped that one from Molly) and get a copy of this cracker today! 

5 out of 5 stars.

For more information and purchase details, click on this link.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Review - Carnifex by D. P. Prior

I want to get something out of the way immediately. I love dwarves. They have always been my go-to race when playing any RPG or video game, and Bruenor Battlehammer has always been one of my favourite fantasy characters of all time (screw you Drizzt). I love them so much that they even grace my walls, with Bruenor and Gimli artworks hung proudly in my office space. Dwarves fascinate me, and they excite me, from their underground cities and hardened culture though to their love of drinking and obsession with axes. They hold a special place in my heart. 

So when Carnifex landed on my list of books to review I was ecstatic... yet also slightly hesitant. 

You see... I've read plenty of books where my beloved dwarves were cast terribly. I won't name names or books, but after awhile you get sick of seeing them portrayed in cliched ways that induce eye rolling and groans as you read. 

So the questions I had when starting Carnifex were numerous. Could Prior live up to my expectations? Would he offer something new? Or would Carnifex join the ranks of books that have failed to capture the essence of the dwarves and offer something different and interesting? 

Fortunately, Carnifex not only only embraces the rich heritage of the Dwarves but also adds to it by turning many of the things that are common with dwarves in fantasy fiction on their head. 

Carnifex tells the tale of Carnifex Thane, a Ravine Guard of the city Arx Gravis. Following a break in at the Scriptorium by a homunculus Thane finds himself swept up by events that will not only wreck everything that he holds dear, but also sweep him towards to an inescapable fate that will destroy and change all that the dwarves know and love. 

I loved so many things about Carnifex that it is hard to know where to start. The setting is wonderfully cast, and the world building rich and layered with nuggets of information that brought smiles to my face as I read. I adored the design of the Arx Gravis, and lapped up the descriptions of it and its people with glee. Carnifex himself, along with the other main characters of this book (such Aristodeus, Lucius, and Droom) are perfectly cast, with Prior capturing their heart and soul whilst also adding layers of difference to their usual stereotypes. I also adored how Prior flipped many well known tropes on their head, such as the notion that dwarves are immutably welded to the past and resistant to change. 

And holy shit... the battle scenes. THE BATTLE SCENES!!! 

People don't actually realise how hard it is to write a good battle scene, but Prior makes it look easy. They are gripping, violent, and brilliantly choreographed. Throw in some magic, and tons of blood, and the result is scintillating sword and sorcery. 

The plot itself was fun, adventurous, and ultimately tragic, and reminded me in many ways of Moorcock and his Eternal Champion stories. Carnifex is written with a tightness and skill that swept me along at a rapid pace, and the dialogue itself is laced with witty humour and one liners that had me cackling days after I had read them. There were no moments of boredom, which highlights just how well this book was written and edited. 

The ending itself is slightly telegraphed, but that didn't detract from my overall sense of pleasure when reading the book. In actual fact it added to the sense of tragedy for me, and increased the tension as the story was swept along to its inevitable fate. 

All in all Carnifex stands proudly alongside other magnificent sword and sorcery novels from the past. If Prior continues to improve he shall become a real force within the fantasy genre. I cannot wait to read the next instalment.

Highly recommended for fans of dwarves and sword and sorcery!

4 out of 5 stars.

For further information and purchase details click here.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Interview - Mitchell Hogan

Hey Everyone!

To celebrate the US release of his book Blood of Innocents author Mitchell Hogan kindly took time out of his hectic schedule to stop by for a chat. We touched on a variety of things, from writing a sequel to how he would fight Cthulhu. Read on to find out more!

Mitchell Hogan, welcome back to Smash Dragons!

It has been almost a year since you last popped in! I gotta ask, what’s new with you?

A lot has happened, 2015 was a crazy year for me. I’m about two weeks away from daughter number 2 entering the world — so things will be even more hectic for a while. Writing wise, Harper Voyager’s version of A Crucible of Souls was released in August 2015, and Blood of Innocents in December 2015 (the US version of Blood of Innocents was released on February 2nd).

I also managed to self publish a sci-fi space opera novel, Inquisitor, in June 2015, and signed the audio rights to Audible. Right now I’m currently 80,000 words into a new fantasy novel. 

So, a very eventful 2015!

You recently released the second volume in your Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, entitled Blood of Innocents. I’m curious, was the process for writing this book any different from the first?

A Crucible of Souls was a sporadic effort over many years, with the first 100 pages written a very long time before I returned to the manuscript with an eye to finishing the first draft. I had no idea what I was doing, and it showed. It took a lot of effort to ‘massage’ it into shape! 

Then as I’d learned so much I was more confident in my own abilities. With Blood of Innocents the first draft took around 8 months from start to finish. It still had problems (as almost all first drafts do), but it was in decidedly better shape than I expected.

How have you found working with Harper Voyager different to releasing your books independently?

Harper Voyager has a huge team of specialists and they’ve been fantastic to work with. The first big change which makes a difference straight away is you’re working to someone else’s timetable, rather than having self-imposed deadlines. If you’re used to setting your own schedule you might find this hard to adjust to. For example, instead of getting a structural edit back and being able to take your time to revise a manuscript, I had a 4 week turnaround to get the ms back — which means 4 weeks of 12+ hour days working on it. Another main difference is there are a lot of things out of your control, whereas when you self publish you have complete control. In some ways this is scary, but on the other hand you don’t have to worry about finding and paying for editors, proof-readers, formatters, cover designers, marketing etc.

What is your favourite line in Blood of Innocents? Why?

“It has begun.” — which is the final line of the book. On Caldan’s journey, much has happened up to this point, and while many threads have become clearer for the reader, there’s still quite a lot left to reveal. So for me this line is a promise of what’s to come in the epic finale of A Shattered Empire.

One of the things I love about your work is your heavy emphasis on magic and sorcery. How did you come up with your system and all of its facets?  Do you have a favourite magical power from the books?

As with probably every magic system, mine started out small and grew from there. I wanted a design that didn’t just rely on innate talent, but on a physical object which controlled the sorcery. From there I decided the objects should have a limited life, which led to sorcerous power being corrosive. Then of course, you have to think of ways to break your magic system! So I came up with corrosive resistant items I called ‘trinkets’, and finally, a method of circumventing the rules of my system — in a completely logical way — which came to me when I read an article about experimental fusion reactors. From there it’s just a matter of thinking of ways the sorcery could be used, or abused, and the consequences.

My favourite use of sorcery from my books are Caldan’s experiments combining sorcery and clockwork mechanisms/devices to create constructs, or automatons. They’re like golems in a way, however you can also imbue them with sorcerous powers which someone shrewd can use to their advantage—as our hero shows. I could have gone a lot further with these than I did, but perhaps I’ll save that for another series…

Characterisation can be tricky, especially when dealing with a world filled with multiple POVs. How do you stay on top of it all when plotting and writing?

I’ve found the best course of action is to keep character notes, which can be as brief or as detailed as you like. Mine could have more detail, but I’m always eager to get stuck into writing! I also have a chapter breakdown in Excel, and for each chapter I detail the POV’s, word count, a summary of a few sentences, and also colour code a cell to show whether there’s action or a reveal etc — this way you can see at a glance if there’s not enough to keep the pacing up (or a reader interested) over a few chapters, and can easily see dead spots in the story.

How do you think you have improved as a writer since you first self published A Crucible of Souls?

I’m far more organised, which mightn’t seem like a big deal but it is! Plus, I’ve learned a lot about structuring, plot and characters from the various editors I’ve worked with. I judge how I’ve improved by how much I have to cut from my first draft. With A Crucible of Souls I cut around 100,000 words, and with A Shattered Empire I think it was around 15,000 words. That’s not to say I’ll ever end up with a fantastic first draft! When revising I cut a fair bit as well, but not whole chunks of text.

Hypothetical question… if Lovecraft was right and the Ancient Ones do exist, what would be your weapon of choice when defending the Earth from their onslaught?

Hmm… as this is hypothetical, some of the weapons on the Nostalgia for Infinity should do the trick. This spaceship is in Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds, and holds the Cache “Hell Class” Weapons — self-contained and self-propelled, and self-aware, with at least an interplanetary range — they would cope with the threat nicely!

What have you been reading lately? Anything exciting?

My time is severely limited at the moment, but I’ve managed to read Carnifex by D.P Prior which was gritty and really well written, with a brutally tragic ending. And I’ve started on an ARC of D.K. Mok’s latest novel, Squid’s Grief, and so far I’m enjoying it immensely. I always love D.K.’s intelligent characterisation and the wry humour throughout her books.

Can you give us an update on A Shattered Empire? What can we expect from the third book?

The structural/developmental edit of A Shattered Empire is done. Right now the book is being copy edited, and when I get the manuscript back from Harper Voyager it’ll take me 1-2 weeks to go through, and then it’s pretty much out of my hands! The official release date is September 2016 — only 8 months away. Oh, and I’ve seen draft covers, and the final cover will be awesome!
Readers can expect a lot more action as the trilogy comes to a conclusion, plenty of reveals and loose ends tied up, and insane sorcery… I’d love to give more hints but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone!

Will you be attending any conventions this year? Will fans have the opportunity to get their book signed at those conventions?

I'll be at Supanova Gold Coast and Melbourne, if anyone wants to come and hang out. Gold Coast April 8-10, Melbourne April 15-17

They’ll be my first conventions, and although I don’t have a confirmed schedule I’ll be on a panel or two, and there’ll be plenty of opportunities to have books signed. I hope (fingers crossed) I’ll also be invited to Supanova Sydney in June.

And finally, will we ever see unicorns in your work?

Probably not… though I should never say never. Perhaps my daughters will beg me to write a book with unicorns, and then it’ll have to happen!

Mitchell Hogan, thanks for stopping by! 

Always a pleasure Matt! Thanks for your hard work and dedication with reviewing and interviewing Australian authors.

Blood of Innocents is available now from all good book retailers. For more information click on the following links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Booktopia, and Harper Collins

Trust me... it is worth the read. 

Until next time, be nice to each other, and keep on reading!

Review - Blood of Innocents by Mitchell Hogan

Writing the second book in a fantasy trilogy isn't easy. There are many factors to consider, especially if the first book was a hit (A Crucible of Souls was). There are reader expectations to now manage and exceed, and a story that not only needs to develop but also be improved upon from the first book. Unfortunately, many authors fall short in this endeavour, leading to the rise of the term 'middle book syndrome'. 

Fortunately, Hogan is not one of those authors. 

Blood of Innocents not only exceeded my expectations, it smashed through them and swept past cackling and lobbing magical lightning at all in its path. 

Beginning where A Crucible of Souls finished, Caldan finds himself on the run with a ragtag group of companions. Events are spiralling out of control around him, as he struggles to help the woman he cares for in a world filled with former allies, and new and powerful enemies. The Empire is under threat, and legends of pasts evils may not turn out to be legends after all. 

I loved so many different things about this book, from it's Tolkienesque world building through to its many sword and sorcery moments, that I could literally write for days. But I have to keep it as concise as possible. So here goes. 

Blood of Innocents is not constrained by tropes, and therein lies its brilliance. Hogan has shown where a writer can take a fantasy story and still please fans of a more traditional vein with this book. The construction and expansion of the world is well thought out, and the magical systems in place rival Sanderson in their design and originality (warlocks, coercive and destructive sorcery... hell yes). There is admittedly a lot of description to work through, but Hogan's universe needed to grow in this book in order to set things up for the final volume of the trilogy.

The story itself unfolds at an enthralling and rapid pace, with many moments where I felt as though as I was an actual companion on the road with Caldan, fleeing those who were hunting us. It is hard to achieve that level of intimacy with a story, but Hogan does it with ease whilst also incorporating spades of moral ambiguity and grit into the plot. The lines between good and evil become very blurry the further in you get. 

The action itself is incredibly intense and brilliantly choreographed, and the sorcery battles have to be read to be believed (I've read some great magical battles, and Hogan is right up there with the best). Climaxing wonderfully, the ending leaves you wanting the next book straight away so you can continue the adventure. 

Blood of Innocents is what I want from a fantasy book in every way, shape, and form. Entertaining, enthralling, and moving, it has been my favourite read of the year so far. 

A wonderful follow-up that fuses Tolkien, Salvatore, and Moorcock, Blood of Innocents is truly magnificent. I cannot wait for the final book in the trilogy! 

Highly Recommended!

5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Quick Update

Hello Peeps!

Just a quick update to let you know that I am still alive!

I haven't been posting much the past few weeks because I have had a lot of my plate personally. All is well, I just haven't had the time or energy to write reviews. Add to that family visiting and you get my drift.

I'm feeling refreshed now though, and can announce that my reviews and posts shall start again from tomorrow. Mitchell Hogan is dropping by for a quick chat, and I am reviewing his second book Blood of Innocents (heads up, its bloody amazing).

So stay tuned for that, and much more over the coming month. That big announcement I hinted at is still happening, more news to come.