Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thieftaker: Historical Fantasy in Colonial Boston!

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson was on my summer reading list, and boy am I glad it was! Between this and the novels by Clifford Beal, I’m starting to enjoy great historical fantasy set outside the Middle Ages—in the case of Theiftaker, 1765 in good ‘ole Boston MA.
Great cover art - and a great scene in the book!
Ethan Kaille, loyal subject of the Crown, is a near-middle-aged theiftaker—someone who, for a price, retrieves stolen goods and makes the thieves disappear (being the moral type, Kaille encourages them to leave town, though other thieftakers aren’t so kind). But there’s a twist: Kaille is also a conjurer, who can use magic, usually by drawing his own blood and summoning the power of his spectral guardian, an old medieval ghost he calls Uncle Reg. In this sense, the world of Thieftaker is a bit like an adult version of Harry Potter set in the eighteenth century. There are muggles and “spellers,” and Kaille is just one of many spellers living secretly in Boston.

The story begins when Kaille is hired to retrieve a brooch stolen from a merchant’s daughter who died mysteriously during the Stamp Act riots that proceeded the American Revolution. It turns out the murder and thief is a conjurer, which makes Kaille the perfect man for the job. But the conjurer is more powerful than any Kaille has ever encountered, and I spent much of the novel wondering how he would possibly survive his battles with this dangerous foe.

At its heart, Thieftaker is a well-crafted murder mystery that combines an intriguing magic system with a wonderful historical setting. I’ve been to Boston many times, but I more than enjoyed visiting this city in its pre-revolutionary days and being introduced to a few real historical characters, including Samuel Adams, along the way. And speaking of characters, the author has developed a host of memorable ones, from the rival thieftaker Sephira Pryce to Kannice Lester, the pretty barkeep who serves as Kaille’s love interest in the tale.

All in all, I put the world that D.B. Jackson has created among my recent favorites in historical fantasy fiction. I also loved the fact that Kaille is not a young man, which I found refreshing, especially with so many YA books flooding the fantasy sections these days. Needless to say, I’m pleased there are at least two more books in the series—Thieves’ Quarry and A Plunder of Souls—as I am eager to explore more of colonial Boston with Ethan Kaille!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Important Is a Title to a Book or Film?

This week, a number of articles discussed how the title for the most recent Tom Cruise movie, Edge of Tomorrow, helped sink the film at the box office. (You can read them here and here and here.) Despite getting really good reviews, the movie underperformed, so for the Blu-Ray release the studio changed the title to Live Die Repeat. Even more, they’ve relegated the original title to the fine print at the bottom of the Blue-Ray cover. All of this led me to wonder: How important is a title?

"Edge of Tomorrow"? - look at the red print.
Last month, I wrote a post about the book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, which documented the marketing debacle that led to the box office failure of Disney’s John Carter, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic A Princess of Mars. Among the many marketing mishaps was the removal of the words “of Mars” from the title, leaving it the highly generic "John Carter."

He's Jimmy Carter's brother? No, you say, he's from Mars?
I feel strongly that the change from “John Carter of Mars” to “John Carter” was a disaster. I haven't thought much about the Edge of Tomorrow, but in reading these articles, I realized I barely knew the movie was out. I don't know if this was because of the title or some other marketing misfire. But I suppose now I’ll catch it on Netflix, whatever it is called by then.

If you have an opinion, I'm curious to know: How important is the title to a book or film?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

“The Raven’s Banquet” – A Fitting Prequel to “Gideon’s Angel”

Last year I reviewed Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal, an example of historical fantasy at its best, set in the seventeenth century during the English Civil War. This year, Clifford Beal released the prequel to Gideon’s Angel titled The Raven’s Banquet. The prequel sheds light on the early backstory of Richard Treadwell, the series’ heroic protagonist, in another tale that wonderfully blends historical detail with the supernatural.
Love the shout-out from fantasy legend Michael Moorcock!

The story begins during the English Civil War, after Colonel Richard Treadwell has been captured by Parliamentary soldiers, accused of treason against England (Treadwell supports King Charles Stuart, who fares badly during the war and the forces of Oliver Cromwell). This is not too soon before the beginning of Gideon’s Angel. But then the story flashes back to Treadwell’s youth, when he was a young noble’s son seeking fame and fortune in Germany during the war between the Protestants and the Catholic Hapsburg Empire. While portions of the story return to the older Treadwell’s imprisonment in the Tower of London, the bulk of the novel concerns Treadwell’s origins, if you will, and it’s here where all the story’s action takes place.

As we learned in Gideon’s Angel, Treadwell has “a skill for finding the Underworld like a pig finds truffles.” In the Raven’s Banquet we discover that Treadwell, as a child, could see and speak to the souls of the dead, and that accursed skill returns in earnest once Treadwell joins up with a Danish army opposing the papists. The twenty-one-year-old Richard Treadwell is travelling with Samuel Stone, one of his father’s servants, who harbors a dark secret about Richard’s father and a boatload of resentment too.

Historical fantasy at its best!

Richard eventually meets a gypsy girl named Anya who gives him a talisman that supposedly protects him from harm. Anya makes a brief appearance in Gideon’s Angel, so I was expecting her to play a larger role in the prequel. Instead, her appearance in this story is equally brief, which makes me believe there is more to her and Richard’s tale to be told. The remainder of the first half of the novel focuses on Richard’s unscrupulous brothers-at-arms, as well as the aforementioned Samuel Stone, and the moral dilemmas for Richard that ensue.

The core of the story takes place after a battle in the German woods ends badly for Richard’s company, and he and one of his dangerous and unruly companions named Christoph are saved by a mysterious group of bow-wielding women. No men live among them, and soon Richard discovers he’s among a coven of witches. Richard’s relationship with one of the women, named Rosemunde, is central to the tale, while a particular dead soul begins to warn Richard of the growing danger surrounding him.

Overall, The Raven’s Banquet (at just 235 pages) turned out to be a fun, quick read. Richard Treadwell is a likeable and complex character, and I enjoyed spending this time with his adventures, even if the story’s plot is simpler and less spectacular than Gideon’s Angel. I believe there is room for a sequel to The Raven’s Banquet and yet another prequel to Gideon’s Angel to bridge the wide gap between the two books. But whatever Clifford Beal chooses to do, I’m sure it will be a worthwhile read.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A BookBub Recommendation for Enoch’s Device!

Today, Enoch’s Device is being featured on BookBub, the premier online service that connects readers to books. BookBub is a bit picky about what it features, and editorially evaluates a book before choosing it for a promotion. I’m very excited that Enoch’s Device was chosen, and the Kindle version will be on sale from today through August 15th! You can purchase it here.

Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.
Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
Stephen Reynolds of SPR called “Enoch's Device is a wonderfully imagined, vividly described, alternately lyrical and violent romp of a novel that should give lovers of historical fantasy just the kind of fix they're looking for.”
Marty Shaw of Reader Views wrote: “If you enjoy tales of magic and adventure that are perfectly blended with reality and history, ‘Enoch’s Device’ by Joseph Finley will be an exciting read for you.”

And Cate Peace of Indie Books R Us summed it up: "All in all, a refreshing twist on the religious thriller, and one that will have you turning pages from cover to cover as fast as you can."

Now is a great time to pick up a copy – and if you’ve already read it and enjoyed it, please tell a friend!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

“The Scourge: Emaculum” and Other Tidings from the Historical Fantasy World

This has been a great summer for historical fantasy fiction. Yesterday, author Roberto Calas released The Scourge: Emaculum, the third and final volume of his Scourge trilogy, which reimagines a medieval plague like the Black Death as a zombie apocalypse. I really enjoyed the first two books in the series (which I reviewed here and here) and am looking forward to seeing how the journey of Sir Edward Dallingridge will end. Here’s a cool image of the book’s cover, as well as its description on Amazon.

The last mile is always the longest.
The Scourge: Emaculum is the haunting conclusion to the Scourge trilogy. Sir Edward Dallingridge’s wife, the Lady Elizabeth, waits, once more, in St. Edmund’s Abbey. And to reach her, Edward must battle a king and save a queen, break an oath and make another. He must destroy a legion of demons and take up God’s banner as two armies threaten to tear England apart.
The Red Plague that has swept England continues to burn through the populace, and the feudal hierarchy collapses. With every life he takes, Edward’s soul blackens a shade, and only his lost love can save him from his sins. But he must reach her first. And his greatest enemies are not the savage plaguers wandering the villages of his kingdom, but the men and women who have avoided the affliction.
Where is King Richard?
Where are England’s armies?
Can the Red Plague be cured?
Edward will unravel each of these mysteries . . . but the answers may not please him.
Roberto is running a launch party for the novel on Facebook today, which you can join here. And you can buy the novel right now on Kindle here.
Earlier this summer, author D.B. Jackson released the third volume in his Thieftaker Chronicles titled A Plunder of Souls. The series is set in Eighteenth Century Boston and his books feature some of the most beautiful cover art around. The first book in the series, Thieftaker, remains on my summer reading list, and I’m about to tackle it next right after I finish The Raven’s Banquet by Clifford Beal.
Speaking of The Raven’s Banquet, I am very much enjoying the prequel to Beal’s historical fantasy novel Gideon’s Angel (you can read my review of that one here). I should be posting my review of The Raven’s Banquet later this month.
In the world of television, Starz is about to launch Outlander, based on the historical fantasy novels by Diana Gabaldon. The show premiers on August 9 and hopefully will become the antidote to my post-Game of Thrones hangover.
And while thinking about August 9th, there is a bit of exciting news brewing for my own historical fantasy novel, Enoch’s Device. But I need to wait until Saturday to break it. Check back then!
In the meantime, if you’ve read any great historical fantasy fiction this summer, drop a comment and let me know!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood

I was on vacation last week, which left little time for blogging. But I did have time to finish a wonderful book by Michael D. Sellers titled John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood. The book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ landmark John Carter of Mars series or the internal workings of a Hollywood studio that, in Sellers’ view, led to the failure of Disney’s John Carter.

I reviewed John Carter (of Mars) two years ago. At the time I was a bit critical of the film, unhappy with the ways it deviated from Burroughs’ first novel A Princess of Mars. Since then, I’ve watched the film several more times with my daughter and, especially after seeing her wide-eyed reaction, my feelings for the movie have warmed considerably. Still, the movie was deemed a disaster for Disney, resulting in a $200 million write-down by the studio. So what happened? How did this admittedly good film fare so badly? Michael Sellers, a filmmaker and former CIA officer, offers a compelling explanation in John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.

The book begins with several chapters about Burroughs’ first novel, A Princess of Mars published in 1912, as well as the storied writer’s life and the various attempts to bring his John Carter of Mars series to the big screen. The rest of the book focuses on the film and what went wrong, including the unfortunate decision to drop the words “of Mars” from the title (resulting in the dull and confusing “John Carter”) and what Sellers’ calls the studio’s “tragically inept marketing” of the film. The story of the film’s marketing failure is fascinating and should make this book a must-read for any JCM fan disappointed in the movie’s promotion and perception among critics.

Interestingly, Sellers led an effort to help save the film in spite of its “clueless marketing” (in his view). He started a website called The John Carter Files and created two fan trailers for the film that, in the view of many, were far better than anything put out by the studio. You can compare trailers below and decide for yourself:

Studio Trailer

Sellers' First Fan Trailer
Sellers' Second Fan Trailer

Sellers is also leading an effort to convince the studio that John Carter is worthy of a sequel—a point with which I wholeheartedly agree. You can read his post about this here.

Ultimately, I found John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood to be a quick and convincing read. I’m also planning on following Sellers’ efforts to encourage Disney to continue the John Carter franchise. Burroughs’ novels were such inspirational masterpieces it would be a shame if we couldn’t see more of them on the silver screen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“A Dance With Dragon’s” – GRRM’s Most Merciless Tale Yet

Let me start by saying this is a first rate novel. At times, I found myself lost within its pages, feeling the story’s suspense and tension in my very bones. It is better than A Feast For Crows and probably on par with A Clash Of Kings. But it is easily George R.R. Martin’s most merciless tale in the series. Imagine A Storm Of Swords ending right after the Red Wedding. Just merciless.

A Dance With Dragons is the fraternal twin of A Feast For Crows. Originally, Martin intended them to be a single book, but after it grew two long, he broke it in two. He separated the storylines geographically, so the two books were supposed to take place at the same time. But that is only true for about half of A Dance With Dragons. Past the midpoint, the novels’ timelines converge and several of the stories started in A Feast For Crows continue in A Dance With Dragons. As a result, we have several chapters from the viewpoint of characters like Cersei and Victarion Greyjoy, who were major players in A Feast For Crows. There’s also scenes from Jaimie’s and Arya’s points-of-view, but none from Sansa’s or Sam’s.

The main characters in A Dance With Dragons are all the fan favorites who were left out of A Feast For Crows: Daenerys, Jon Snow, Bran Stark, and Tyrion Lannister. The book also features a myriad of scenes from other characters’ viewpoints, including Theon Greyjoy, his sister Asha, Lady Melisandre, Barristan Selmy, Davos Seaworth, two princes of Dorne, an exiled knight who served as Hand to the last Targaryan king, and Kevan Lannister. It’s a thick character soup, but somehow it all works.

This novel includes more scenes set across the Narrow Sea and around Slavers’ Bay than any of the prior novels. Many storylines are leading toward Daenerys and her dragons, and it’s in these scenes that the book is at its best. In fact if this novel only concerned Daenerys’ storyline, it would be a worthy read. Dany shows her naiveté in this one, revealing she’s still a young girl and not quite ready to play the game of thrones. As the title suggests, her dragons play a significant role, and the scenes involving them are among my favorites. Ser Barristan Selmy also takes on a leading role. He’s one of the few true heroes left in the story, wise and brave and noble like Ned Stark. We’ve needed a replacement for Ned for a while now, and Selmy is it. Of course, this means he’ll probably meet a tragic death in The Winds Of Winter. C’est la via.

The bulk of the remaining action takes place in the North, where Ramsey Bolton has become the book’s biggest monster since Prince Joffrey. (Actually, Bolton is worse. Much worse.) He and his father have their eyes on Winterfell, which Ramsey hopes to secure through a marriage with a girl he believes to be Arya Stark. Meanwhile, up at The Wall, Jon Snow is dealing with Mance Raider and all the Wildlings who surrendered at the end of A Storm of Swords. He also has to deal with the presence of Stannis Baratheon and his red priestess Melisandre, whose prophecies are starting to play a major role in these books. Beyond The Wall, Bran continues to search for the three-eyed crow, and while his story arc makes long strides, it’s unclear where Martin is going with this character.

By the end, the lives of nearly every character the reader cares about are far worse off than when the book begins. Pick your wedding, Red or Purple, and you’ll get the picture. Also, there are no storylines resolved in this book. Nearly every main character’s tale ends in some form of cliffhanger. So now, we must wait until The Winds Of Winter to learn what might emerge from the chaos that is the end of A Dance With Dragons.