Thursday 13 September 2018

"Our Own Deep Natures": An Interview with Bryan Wigmore

Its a great pleasure getting to interview your favourite authors, so the release of Bryan Wigmore's The Empyreus Proof was the idea excuse to drag him in for another chat. This is what I got out of him....

PL: Congratulations on TEP [The Empyreus Proof]! Now, that's an interesting title, not least because I'm a child and find the initial reusage funny. Why did you pick that title, and what does it hint at about the book?

BW: Wow, that's setting the bar pretty high for difficulty! This is going back a while, but I think the title just popped into my head, and I liked it. What rationale (if any) was going on in my subconscious before that happened, I can't say without benefit of an expensive course of hypnosis. I latched onto the fact that it shared two initials with TGP [The Goddess Project] (and the "r" after the P as well) which I found pleasing, and I liked that it hinted at the possible uncovering of an important mystery set up in TGP. The Empyreum is a major player in the events of that book, and reference is made to the question of its ruler's divinity, with one of the monks of Highcloud calling him "that gibbering head", and so on. I think those are things I would have picked up as a reader of TGP, and what I would be interested in having answered in its sequel. The nature of the "divine" is a major thread throughout the series.

PL: Well you're an old hand at this now, I figure I can fire the difficult ones first now. But lets go easy. What particular aspects of the nature of the divine would you say you're most intrigued by?

BW: Ah, that's easier. I'd say the meeting-place between the genuine spiritual/supernatural and human influence/interference, and what it tells us both about our own deep natures, and our ability to warp reality with our own egos and insecurities. Or something.

PL: Well, that definitely makes sense having read the book. Do you ever feel nervous, handling big themes like these? Worry that people will start ranting about how offensive it is, or that you won't do the subject justice?

BW: Actually, the thought that anyone might rant about its being offensive never occurred to me until you mentioned it! I guess I just assumed that the kind of people who might be offended were unlikely to read it. As for not doing the theme justice, I suppose I do worry that I might miss a particularly fruitful avenue of exploration that would have benefitted the story, but that's from me wanting to write the best fantasy, not to impart my "wisdom" (which in any case is so vague, it would make the worst lesson ever).

PL: Speaking of writing the best fantasy - did writing TEP differ from writing TGP at all?

BW: Yes, it was more difficult! With TGP, I quickly got some idea of the overall shape of the story. With TEP, I knew where they started and where they would end up, but apart from the nature of one new character, pretty much everything was a blur -- and sometimes stayed a blur until I was right on top of it. Several times I had to wait for inspiration as to how characters would credibly get out of the horrendously tricky situations I'd put them in. In at least one instance, I realised there was no credible way out, and that the character would just have to suffer the consequences of their earlier actions, and the rest of the story then had to be re-planned (to the extent that it was planned at all) to take account of it.

Another difference was knowing how much to resolve some of the mysteries. In TGP, the choice between what would be resolved and what left open felt quite obvious, but in TEP it was much less so, and one major revelation caused some fretting over whether it best fitted this book or the next. (It ended up in TEP, a decision I'm now very happy with.)

PL: Do you think the extra difficulty was partially due to the added weight of being second in a series, with all the accumulated plot threads? Or just one of those things?

BW: It was like starting a novel where every character has a really complex backstory that you can't change. Well, I could have changed it -- this was before TGP was published, so I could have gone back and altered what had happened in that -- but I didn't want to. I liked the accumulated plot threads, but they did cause some difficulties I didn't foresee at the outset. It seems strange to me now, for example, that most of Orc's story wasn't clear at the beginning, and crept up on me as I went on. And that caused problems because I thought the direction his story took might make him a much less sympathetic character, which I felt would be risky. So there was some pauses while I debated whether to resist the path events seemed to be taking, and then (almost always) decided to go with it.

The cover

PL: I think there's a really hard line there for an author to follow in terms of having characters perform actions that are natural and human, and always remaining sympathetic - and the success with which you've done so is one of my favourite things about your books to date. Is there any particular knack to that?

Also, which of your characters has your favourite arc in TEP?

BW: Probably it's just to treat them as real people rather than game counters, and not have them do something just because the plot demands it, no matter how strong the apparent need. I think if you can understand the reasons why a character does something, then you can sympathise with them even if you think what they've done is harmful. And if you as an author can sympathise with them, there's a much better chance readers will (though that isn't a given, as I've found).

My favourite arc in this book has to be Orc's, and it's perhaps no coincidence that several major turning-points in his story were completely unplanned, and one unexpected reversal shook up the whole of the rest of the book (and the series, though in the end it fitted very well with my original scheme). Hana's runs it a close second, though I'm sure many people will think I've been a complete bastard to her. But then, if she will go messing with powers above her level ...

PL: And - at the risk of mild spoilers - what arcs are you looking forwards to going into the next book?

BW: Geist's, for sure. He's perhaps the central character in the third book. We find out what his great decades-long plan is, and see him put it into practice, in all its moral complexity and with all its inevitable fallout. But everyone will have a significant storyline: Cass's is another I'm looking forward to writing.

PL: What about themes? Are there any themes you're particularly looking forwards to developing - or maybe even introducing?

BW: I'm looking forward to getting deeper into the theme that's been there since the beginning, but has perhaps not quite fully emerged so far, which is the tension between what some think of as being the Apollonian vs Dionysian modes, or (broadly) definition vs dissolution. In the books, these are most clearly represented by the the two serpents, Saeraf and Chthonis, and then by Gevurah and the Goddess. (These divisions have been there since the start, but as their own thing rather than as aspects of that overarching dichotomy.) One of the questions the story raises is, are we better off for these two aspects being kept so far apart (and for us aligning ourselves so firmly with the Apollonian, as the Empyreum has), or has it been harmful?

Then there's the theme of identity, which was so strong in TGP. The next two books explore whether a strong sense of self, an aspect of Saeraf, is actually a good thing, and whether an absence is really a weakness.

PL: Which of your characters do you think has the biggest struggle with identity? And are there any books where you particularly like the way they handle identity?

There was a sad lack of Otter talk in this interview, so here's an artist's depiction of a spirit guide at work

BW: The one with the biggest struggle with identity has to be Tashi. His role in life, his home, his faith, his body, the very nature of his physical substance, who his friends are -- the poor lad can't be sure of anything most of the time. And that's appropriate, because he probably has more conception of the identity -- the Self -- than the others, being grounded as he is in a religion that holds it as almost more important that anything else.

Orc and Hana are the other two that have major problems with identity, but certainly in Hana's case, that's less of a struggle as she's not so aware of what's going on in terms of its loss.

Two books by David Mitchell spring to mind -- Number9Dream, in which a Japanese teenager searches for his father and thus his place in the world, and the central section of Ghostwritten, about a wandering spirit who can't remember who he is, and (in a brilliant, very moving passage) finds out.

If I'm allowed non-books, the story whose identity issues I love most has to be the JRPG Final Fantasy VII. It is astonishing and very satisfying, and if not for the tedious random battles, I'd probably play through it every year.

PL: Of course games count. Do you think there's anything you learned about storytelling from games?

BW: Ideal mini-climax = cut-scene plus boss fight.

I haven't interpretted that literally in mine -- there isn't a lot of combat -- but games do seem often to know how to build up and release tension, with the dramatic developments (the cut scene) building it up and then action (the boss fight) releasing it.

And there have been examples of storyline developments in games that have left me gob-smacked and wanting to emulate their effects, which have influenced my writing even if they haven't led to me absorbing particular "rules" or techniques. One in FFVII involved a photograph revealing a previously unsuspected truth -- which might even have influenced the inclusion of a photograph in TEP -- and there was a reversal in the PS2 game Summoner which was brilliantly audacious, in which it turned out that the heroic quest you'd been undertaking was in fact aiding the forces of evil. (I won't say whether that influenced any aspect of my series!)

PL: What's your favourite mini-climax in each book so far? The moment you think will really get readers most?

BW: My personal favourite in TGP is at the end of the Great Ziggurat chapter, ch26. After all the excitement of the dive, things seem to have calmed down, when the Empyreal warship Archon, forgotten about for the past four chapters, suddenly appears and begins causing chaos. So we have action/tension (the almost fatal dive), then the release, then the very quick ramping up again from a perhaps unexpected source.

In TEP, it has to be the end of chapter 30, "Reunion". I'm very happy with how the tension builds up throughout the few chapters before that, to the point where it can only be satisfactorily discharged by something terrible happening to someone. (For a long time, perhaps months, I wasn't actually sure who that would be, out of the several candidates.)

I've noticed that in both those chapters, the viewpoint switches back and forth. I think in the TEP chapter it's the first chapter where that happens at all, and in the TGP one it probably happens more than in any other.

Thanks to Bryan for his time and answers! The Empyreus Proof is out now from Snow Books and you should buy it - check back soon for a review explaining why (not that you need to read it, just trust me here)

Monday 10 September 2018

Anarchy in Ultima Thule: Barbarians in Fantasy

I forget why this was brought back to my memory, but deep in the bowels of a thread on what we'd like to see less of in fantasy on BFB, Allan Batchelder said he was conflicted by all the big barbaric northmen in fantasy.

He has a point. People spew venom about dragons and elves, roll their eyes at orcs and dark lords, and on and on and on, but big barbaric northmen appear in more series than the above by my reckoning. Joe Abercrombie might have gone to town on every other fantasy trope in the book, but northmen like Logen Ninefingers and Caul Shivers could have walked right out of a Howard or Leiber book. They are a stereotype that endures with little but happy comments in a genre seemingly jaded and restive for change.

The why of that intrigues me. I love Vikings and the Ancient Celts as much as the next shaggy-haired mead-drinking myth-reading pagan-thinking maniac and know a lot of others do. But the desire to see those cultures exported again and again to the page alone is surely not enough. Not alone.

My favourite five minute theory is that in fantasy worlds aping the complex social natures and subsequent injustices of the real world, the BBN gets to be the one that cuts through the crap. They tell and live it like it is, instead of getting ground down by the system. That's as true for Conan exploiting the weaknesses of the soft civilised kingdoms of the Hyborian age as it is for Logen pointing and laughing at Jezal's ridiculous airs and graces. They are picaresque heroes, sane men in an insane world.

Every author needs an outsider or ten to gawp and ask questions. Its part of why David Eddings recommended making heroes very uneducated. That is one way and it's no small part of the Portal Fantasy's appeal. But outsiders work just as well. Moreover, the uneducated hero is not as well placed as the outsider to question the conventional wisdom they hear. As fantasy increasingly mirrors the world's cynicism and anger, we want those questions from the characters we read.

It might account for why, if anything, BBN seem to be getting even more popular. The 80s/90s fiction I grew up reading featured them, but going from memory not as heavily as Abercrombie or Lawrence.

Of course, these are not the only form of BBN out there. Sometimes they get to be the howling hordes coming to destroy civilisation, akin to the Mierces in Anna Stephens' Godblind. Sometimes the prevailing culture are the BBN, which means they can't be the straight talking outsiders, although that does tend to signal some bloody robust politics - I think this is fair comment on RJ Barker's Age of Assassins.

But in general, I think that when we see the BBN, we know we're going to hear the things we wished we'd see and the arsekickings we'd like to hand out. They're our avatars of contempt and outrage for the compromises we surround ourselves with. Its why the comic Conan is my Spirit Guide is such genius. It speaks directly to that yearning.

Now, in this light, I'd like to see less of this type of BBN. Don't get me wrong - I love them. My unfinished manuscripts are littered with them. There's one called Barbarians that's basically an entire book of this. But they shouldn't be allowed to hog that space. Obviously, you can have BBN and another contrarian in the same book (i.e. Logen and Glokta). And it would be fun to see the Ancient Celtic and early medieval Norse cultures given greater scope than noble heroic barbarians and bloodthirsty villain barbarians. 

But if you want to use a Big Barbaric Northman? Do it. The people aren't sick of them yet and thank gods for that.

Sunday 9 September 2018

Five Quick Thoughts: Thought Quicker

1) I probably shouldn't encourage competition, but I hope everyone even remotely interested goes for Tor's Call for Contributors as Tor's pretty much always had the best blogs out there. The more people going for it, the more that stays the same. Now I just need to type up my own pitch and wait for the polite rejection.

2) Speaking of promoting things, The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams and Legend by David Gemmell are both available for 99p on Amazon. I don't know if Jen's read much Gemmell but it wouldn't surprise me if she had - there's a similar heroic feeling to both. Well worth getting both. I'd love to tell you about good bargains outside of Amazon, but people don't seem to be publicising that nearly as well.

3) I've been following the Pathfinder 2 play test and one of their more controversial rules seems aimed at stopping characters from having so many magical items they resemble Christmas Trees. I'm all in favour of this, as I play RPGs to emulate the books I read, and how many fantasy books can you think of where multiple characters had multiple magic items? Its what makes it such a shame that in many other ways, they're reinforcing the dependence on magic items. That said, I'd love to read more books (not LitRPG) based on the idea of characters deriving much of their power from the items they have. I feel like the only one where I've done so is the XianXia book I Shall Seal The Heavens. Coincidentally, this is also the only book I've read where people's butts explode all the time, and again I'd like to read more books like that.

4) It recently occurred to me that I've not really read much of the new hotness - I've yet to read Kings of the Wyld, Court of Broken Knives or Blackwing. I really should but as I sit here, I'm kinda jaded about the thought of reading about another group of warriors, mystics and politicians beating off great odds. I'd love to see some big mainstream fantasy where the heroes are doctors, teachers, potters - whatever. Something moving Fantasy beyond Action-Adventure. I think its why the grand saga of Jade City has stuck in my memory where a lot of books I maybe enjoyed more at the time haven't.

5) Not really a thought, but I'm touting for business. If there's any authors out there reading this looking for a review or interview, ping me through my twitter of @PeatLong

Friday 7 September 2018

Godblind by Anna Stephens

There's a reason I don't go chasing chances to reviews remorselessly. The reason is that I'm a big girl's blouse who dislikes hurting other people's feelings, particularly people I like. And by now, a solid proportion of the books I read are by people I like. I don't - or didn't - want to review heavily as I didn't want to write mainly negative reviews. However, every barrier must be broken. 

That's a really inviting intro to a review, isn't it?

Let me state now that Anna Stephens gets a lot right in Godblind. Its not like this was a Do Not Finish or anything. I know someone enjoying it right now after having doubts about the opening pages and I know a lot of other people will. She's got a good felicity of style - not as perfect for me as RJ Barker, but still enjoyable and more-ish. She's also got a good grasp of story. Godblind has a gripping narrative that rattles along as fast as anything I've read, jumping from action scene to action scene (something else does well) with few pauses, most of them for the rather sweet romances. 

My favourite thing about Godblind are the interactions between the reluctant prophet Dom and the world's gods. They're filled with character and a suitable sense of the power of the divine. Stephens definitely hit my sweet spot there. In terms of that theme and some other ways, Godblind reminds me a little of the Wheel of Time, only as if rewritten by Joe Abercrombie during a fortnight long bender fuelled by every stimulant he can find.

Unfortunately that pace seems to have obliterated a lot of the fine detail. The book is very barebones when it comes to exposition, leaving me rather in the dark on the world beyond the gods. The same fog of war extends to the characters, many of whom feel a little flat. I didn't get the sense of light and dark in the same people that Stephens targeted with Godblind and was, if anything, surprised at how Whitehat v Blackhat it felt.

The worst part is that, without understanding the world and character logic, I frequently became exasperated by their decisions. Team Whitehat felt foolish, Team Blackhat felt too competent. The above paragraph are things that didn't affect my enjoyment. This part of it did in a major way. Although I think part of it is less me not understanding and more me disagreeing. One character seemed to win non-stop without trying and with only the most cosmetic setbacks, and regardless of internal logic, that's never a fun read for me. 

So how is Godblind going to work out for other people? Well, I cheated here a little. Unsure of whether I'd missed something I went and looked at Goodreads reviews after I read it, and a lot of what I said here echoes what others have said. As such, I feel pretty safe in saying that people who like their fantasy to have that in-depth feeling have a good chance of not liking this book. People who are mainly looking for a high octane adventure full of blood and thunder are in the right place though.

Myself? Well, I'm still not utterly sure. For me Godblind was a curate's egg. But what was good, was good indeed.

And yes, that is my idea of a negative review. Savage I know. I am indeed utterly wet and a weed.

Wednesday 5 September 2018


What follows is one of the most obvious and most forgettable pieces of writing advice. Well, life advice. Life and writing advice. I'm writing mainly to try and stop myself from forgetting it. But maybe others will get something from it too.

The advice is always keep pushing.

The background to this was feedback from an interview I recently had. I was told I'd interviewed very well, that I'd given some fantastic answers and generally knocked it out of the park, and been unlucky to lose out to candidates with that extra bit of experience.

And as the interviewer acknowledged, it was a Catch 22 - how do you get the experience if you don't get the job giving you the experience?

It's to push. Push and grab a job you maybe shouldn't have got (as I was trying to do tbh) or push and volunteer for every opportunity to step forwards. Sooner or later you will hit the jackpot.

Writing is the same. A friend once told me he reckoned sheer impudence and a brass neck was the most valuable skill for a screenwriter. See? I knew the lesson before but had forgotten. Even as I sit here, the lesson vibrating in my head, I've got Tor's call for bloggers up and I'm going "uhmm...". This is the wrong answer.

Pushing isn't just about submitting and schmoozing like crazy though. It's about pushing yourself, trying new methods, reading new things. You never know which work project will suddenly go huge, leaving you as the main expert on a major subject (one of my parents' friends became one of the UK's leading HIV doctors that way). You never know which doodle or micro fiction or PoV experiment spark the idea you love most in the world.

There's a caveat. Always is.The highest ambition of every human should be happiness, for all but primarily themselves. As someone with a complicated relationship with happiness, I know that the cry of "Once more unto the breach" isn't suited to everyone. Can even negatively affect the happiness of some. And it's telling how many people find their energy to keep pushing through their own constant lack of satisfaction.

But for those still looking for that success, who know they'll be happier for pursuing a dream - push. And keep pushing.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

"I wanted High Magic and Hideous Monsters": An Interview with Cameron Johnston

I used to only know Cam as another amiable face round the Fantasy Faction forum. Then I found out he was releasing a book full of Murder, Gods, Grumpy Antiheroes and, well, just all the things that make life worth living, so there was only one thing to do. The book was ordered (review here) and Cam was pestered for an interview - and here's that interview:

PL: Congratulations on being published with shiny physical copies and everything. I've told a few people about your book and the thing that always comes up first is just how physical and, uh, earthy the magic is. And how many setting wide ramifications it has. What made you pick such a depiction of magic? 

CJ: Cheers! It's super cool and a little gobsmacking to have thousands of copies out there all over the world.

Hah, because I thought it would be cool to write about. It might sound like a simplistic answer but it's true for all that. It started out as a reaction to all the low-magic human-centric settings that were all the rage a few years back and exploded from there. Me, I wanted high magic and hideous monsters, and I wanted in embedded in a gritty physical reality instead of saying some magic words and hey presto. As magic is an external source of power in this novel, it seemed to me that rather than getting drained through use it would instead flood through all of them and it was more of a problem of addiction and degradation of their magical Gift through overuse than anything else.

Normally in fantasy you don't use magic without costs: you get tired or drained etc, but that's not the case here and there are no costs exactly, but what I came up with are the consequences if you use too much too quickly. It's a little like deciding to sunbathe around an unshielded nuclear reactor, and as Bowie said: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange...

Too much magic does things to a magus, but if you are careful you can gradually build up an increased resistance. If you are not careful then you change in body and mind, consumed by magic's need to be used.

PL: Well nothing says gritty physical reality like being so magical you produce the best fertiliser! A lot of what you're saying reminds me of the place tech holds in good cyberpunk - the sort that worries about all that power in the hands of so few - and I certainly saw similarities in the book itself. Is that an accident, or were you deliberately looking at the cost of magic to society as well? Should I start calling The Traitor God MagePunk?

CJ: These days I don't even know what the punk suffix is meant to mean. It's tagged on to more or less everything.

I suppose you could say that in this world magic is a much more visceral part of society than in a lot of things. The sort of pervasive influence that megacorp tech companies might bring in a cyberpunk setting instead trickles down from a magic elite.

I was indeed deliberately considering the effects on society of a magic that seeps into blood and bone. When you can use blood to power magical effects (especially if acquired from magi) that has a lot of ripple down effects. Surgery for instance is rare and looked upon with great suspicion.

The only truly appropriate way to advertise your book

PL: *crosses out magepunk label* I can only approve of that sort of level of ripple down effect.

So what made you look for a grizzled cranky antihero as the vehicle for all this? Or did Edrin come first? Or would I know the answer if I'd finally got round to reading Head Games?

CJ: It's all down to film noir and Cast a Deadly Spell (if you haven't seen that film, you really should). I fancied writing about a grizzled down-on-his-luck detective in a secondary world full of magic. Something a little different than the usual urban or grimdark/epic fantasy but bearing blood from both.

It did evolve away from that idea to become its own thing, but that was the original idea and that concept is a little more obvious from the short story.

PL: I'd never heard of that film but will watch it imminently.

I have to say, when I first heard you were having a book published, that wasn't the direction I was expecting. Partly because there's not a lot of fantasy like that in general, but also because I'm a horrible stereotyper and expected someone into swords and archaeology to write a book full of duels and archaeology. It is very classic fantasy territory after all! Are there any parts of the Traitor God that you'd say are influenced by those interests?

CJ: There only a smattering of detective fantasy set in a secondary world but very little that approaches that gritty film-noir kind of feel. The Low Town series by Daniel Polansky is probably the closest thing I can think of. 

There's very little of The Traitor God influenced by my interest in swords, being as the main character does not have any interest in being a warrior, but if we expand that to all things medieval and weaponry it does feed into the siege breakers later on - magi skilled in body-enhancing magic wearing extra-heavy enchanted armour. They are living tanks and handweapons bounce off, much like how knights in plate armour were on the battlefield.

As for archaeology the main thing I took from that is that Setharis is an ancient city built atop itself for thousands of years. Down below ground level there are lost mines, tunnels and forgotten temples and rooms filled with the detritus of thousands of years of human occupation, well, mostly human...

The author, busy looking all intrepid and stuff

PL: As in it was mostly humans down there, or the people were mostly human? Nah, that's probably too big a spoiler. Do we get to go down there in the sequel? Tell us all about it!

*off the record chat reveals Cam was working on this back when Polansky's Low Town came out* Also - wait, were you submitting this back in 2011? How long has it taken for The Traitor God to go from seed to mighty tree?

CJ: Some secrets will be revealed but most of the sequel it is set outside of Setharis, venturing into the snow-blasted hills of the Clanholds to where Walker got his extensive facial scars.

Publishing is not a quick business. I wrote the short story Head Games in 2012 and then began developing it into a novel in 2013. I finished the rough draft of what came to be called The Traitor God in late 2013 and I finished various drafts and revisions in mid 2015 and then began sending it out to agents. It took about a year before I signed with my agent, and after a few more rounds of edits and polishing of the manuscript we sent it out to publishers and Angry Robot snapped it up in mid 2017, and published it in June 2018. All in all, it was about five years from beginning to publication.

PL: And how much longer than that time have you been writing with the hope and intent of one day being a published author? Has how you go about writing changed in that time?

CJ: I've dabbled with writing on and off since I was ten or so, and have many old beginnings of novels trunked in dusty files somewhere. I wrote two complete books in the mid-late 2000s and to be honest, they were pretty poorly written. I decided to 'get good' around 2010, joined a kick-ass writing group and seriously worked at improving my writing with a series of short stories and writing exercises before I tried another novel.

PL: My obligatory question for everyone - what's the best and worse pieces of advice you've received?

CJ: The best piece of advice: First drafts are ungainly and awkward things verging on the horrible. Don't worry if it seems that way when you read it back to yourself. The real magic is in the editing, rewriting and polishing.

The worse piece of advice: Write what you know - pfft. I guess I know all about dragons, wizards, ancient eldritch horrors and the like then? It's a nonsense statement when what it should really say is 'Do your research'.

PL: And finally - who are your favourite cranky antiheroes other than Edrin?

CJ: Oh, favourite cranky antiheroes is it? Well, I'll opt for Hellblazer's John Constantine, Deadpool if he's not been fed his chimichanga's on time, Sand dan Glokta from Joe Abercrombie's First Law books, and Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes.

Thanks to Cam for his time! You can find more of his writing at his own site. His books, The Traitor God and recently announced sequel God of Broken Things, are published by Angry Robot. You can buy them there, at Amazon UK and US, Waterstones, and a bunch of other places.

Sunday 2 September 2018

Five quick fantasy thoughts from the week

1) Working through my backlog of as yet unread kindle books, I came across the sampler from Sigil Independent. I've been meaning to check out some of their authors but never really got round to it, so I cracked it open little expecting to find some really awesome Choose Your Own Adventure fiction right at the front. I'm not sure everyone else reading this will have the same deep nostalgia for CYOA and Fighting Fantasy that I do, but anyone who does should get the sampler for those reasons alone.

2) A few posts here and there on various forums have made me start wondering what sort of reader I am. Some people view skim readers with suspicion, yet I know I definitely indulge in that from time to time. I'm fairly sure I'm not really that suspicious. I've also been told I should take more than a few pages before deciding whether I like a book - maybe, but I know that when I ignore my gut instinct that the author's vision won't match my preferences, I'm usually wasting my time. What do my readerly instincts up to? Has anyone tried to classify readers, working out what makes them tick and what styles marry up to those preferences? And would it even be a good idea.

3) Back to theme of kindle backlogs, and I've got a good idea on how to make yours even bigger. Eli Freysson is giving away his entire The Call series for the next few days, so if anyone's looking to grab some bloodsoaked monster hunting fantasy for their reading list, now is a very good time to do so.

4) And speaking of northern strongmen, I was recently reminded of a post on Best Fantasy Books (by Allan Batchelder, I believe) that nailed the real true overused trope in fantasy: northern barbarians. I think I'm going to do a bunch of posts in the future looking at these sorts of trope. If anyone thinks they've noticed another overused trope that somehow flies under the radar, please let me know!

5) Final shout out for a friend. Bryan Wigmore's The Empyreus Proof was released on kindle recently (with paperback to come). I was lucky enough to beta the book and its a very worthy sequel to one of my favourite books of last year. I'll be reviewed it here soon, but if anyone here trusts me (hahaha, you fools!), I'd go get it now rather than waiting for the review.


6) Shortly after publishing this, I found out RJ Barker's Age of Assassins is *still* available for 99p. This makes no sense to me. None. I urge you all to take part of this act of foolishness now. Scroll down to the recent review to see why.