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2013 December | Fantasy Review Barn

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Monthly Archives: December 2013

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The 2014 Barneys: Day 7

The Barney for Best Faustian tale…

The first nominee is Sir Terry Pratchett.  Yes we checked the rule book; he is eligible for as many Barneys as Nathan wants to nominate him for.  So, you know, neiner neiner.

Eric is a favorite of mine, and remained so after my latest reread.  It is short, hilarious, and one of the best books I know of to grab when I need something to tide me over between heavy reads.  I will never tire of Rincewind being sucked into what seemed like an open and shut demon tempting of a soul (three wishes gone wrong, that kind of thing).  We had to consult the judges due the lack of an actual, you know, devil.  But we decided to allow it under the ‘if it’s Terry Pratchett we allow it’ clause.   You can no doubt guess who the front runner is here.  Hell this award is all but wrapped up.  But, as there was another book nominated I guess we have to look at it as well.


Johannes Cabal The Necromancer (Johannes Cabal, #1)The second contender is Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.  Hey, a much better contender than expected.  To compete with the master for this award we needed a book with a character than could go toe to toe with Rincewind, and Cabal fits the bill.  Not sure who would win in a fight, because Rincewind is already two continents away, but the question of who got the best out of their deal with devil is something that can be measured a little easier.  The difference in styles is noticeable; Rincey doing his damage with his ever present dumb luck and Cabal using his incredible intelligence.  Both books are hilarious.  Eric gets a few bonus points for including the walking psychopath that is luggage.  But then again, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer includes both trains AND an evil carnival.

Damn, another close race, who will the judges choose?

The winner is…. ME!  My story involved selling my blog’s soul to WordPress and seeing traffic more than double as a result.

That’s right Sir Prachett and Mr. Howard, you get nothing this year!  But hey, it’s an honor to be nominated, right?

I am so happy!  I hope my award doesn’t get lost in the mail with the rest of them.

My review of Eric.

My review of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.

The 2014 Barneys: Day 6

Barney Award for best main character equipped with claws, fangs or wings that isn’t a dragon (because obviously the dragons would win this award outright, no contest, because they’re just, like, AWESOME):

Fantasy depends on non-human characters; some are usually good guys (hobbits, dwarves, angels, elves) and some are usually bad guys (orcs, goblins, demons, zombies). A few are bad guys turned love interest (werewolves, vampires), which is slightly bizarre. Some are dragons, and dragons are so cool they make any story better (seriously; authors, take note, we need more dragons!). But how many of them are genuinely alien, and not simply humans with some odd characteristics: immortality, or the ability to hurl fireballs at moments of stress, or shapeshift into something or other? And how many of those are main characters, the plot-drivers? Vanishingly few.

I’ve read two books this year that rose above the welter of furred-and-fanged seen-it-all-before weirdo-fest. ‘The Demon of Cliffside’  by Nathan Fierro was one of those serendipitous discoveries that justifies (honest!) the endless hours trawling blogs and reading tweets. It was a casual query on the fantasy subreddit: anyone know any books with really original settings? And someone popped up and said: yes, my mate’s written this book set in a place with constant rainstorms. And so it was, but it was also much, much more. Because the main character (the unnamed and undefined ‘demon’, so called because no one quite knew what she was) was a fascinating and entirely alien creature. She’d been living there for thousands of years, and latterly humans had arrived and built a city around her. She’d adapted, as she always did, but the humans brought out a new aspect of herself. Since the book is alchemypunk, that leads to all sorts of brilliantly realised consequences. A fantastic foray into fantasy by an author who seems to have appeared from nowhere.

My review

Martha Wells is a bigger name, and ‘The Cloud Roads’ is a book you might have heard of, and it is in many ways a much more conventional story. Main character Moon is an orphan, scrabbling to survive in a world where he’s an outsider. He knows he doesn’t fit in very well with humans, but he never suspects that the reason is that he’s not human. He’s a Raksura, a shapeshifter with one state that more or less passes for human, and another state that definitely doesn’t, and he spends his life suppressing the urge to shift every time he gets angry or loses control. It isn’t until he meets another Raksura flying around that he realises what he is. The Raksura are nothing like humans. They are socially organised creatures (like bees or ants) with queens and breeding males and worker types, and they settle disputes by fighting. Wells explores this ‘otherness’ in astonishingly realistic detail. There’s some great world-building behind the characters, and if there were a Barney for best aerial combat scenes, she’d have won that too. A terrific read.

My review

Since I can’t choose between two such terrific reads, I’m going to declare this: a TIE!

Footnote: ‘The Demon of Cliffside’ is a self-published gem. I posted about some of my other finds of 2013 here.

The 2014 Barneys: Day 5

The Barney for Best Hidden Vampire Tale goes to…

The Killing Moon by N.K. JemisinThe Killing Moon (Dreamblood, #1)

I refuse to read vampire books.  Know what I mean?   Is there anything worse for a high brow critic such as myself than the crass, popular entertainment that vampire tales provide?  HA!  May be good enough for the masses, but not the likes of me.  (Harrumph, harrumph).

So I pride myself on reading a better sort of fantasy; secondary worlds the differ from the norm, completely unique characters, and the use of lots of large terms that may or may not require a dictionary.  Again, absolutely no vampires allowed.  (Huh?  What about Carpe Jugulum?  It’s a Pratchett book.  Um, no, don’t remember vampires in it, can we move along?)  Ahem, sorry about that.

So I have a major bone to pick with N.K. Jemisin.  Because she tricked me in a major way.  I read The Killing Moon.  I loved The Killing Moon.  I even rated it five stars, something I am not known for being real generous with.  And right there, right there hiding in plain sight, is a damned vampire tale!  I almost missed it. But the Gatherers are government sponsored, Goddess blessed vampires; stealing ‘dream blood’ (how could I miss this clue!) that they gradual become addicted to.  They end up craving dreamblood, if that isn’t a vampire I am not sure what it is.

So now my world is upside down.  If I like vampire tales what else do I like?  Perhaps salmon flavored candy?  Broccoli bread?  Root canals without anesthesia?  I just don’t know any more.  Pass me another vampire book, I guess anything is possible.

The 2014 Barneys: Day 4

The Barney Award for best piking use of creative swearing in an epic fantasy:

The Light of Kerrindryr by H Anthe Davis

World-building is a fundamental part of fantasy. Some fantasy authors draw a squiggly-edged continent, add a few kingdoms, three rivers and a mountain range, decides how many gods are in the prevailing religion and – we’re done! On with the story! This author is not quite like that. You want to know where the highest rainfall is? Which are the best grain-producing regions? Where the stables are in the army camp? How the ogres count? (Seriously; in base six, if you want to know, which gives the mathematical module in my brain a frisson of pure delight.) And it goes without saying that there are languages and some creative swearing, which, by Morgwi’s balls, is piking awesome. [Notice that this award is for creative swearing, not simply repeated use of the f-word, otherwise Richard K Morgan would win, hands down.]

All the human characters here are fascinating, but there are non-humans, too; ogres and skinchangers, goblins and some really creepy beings called eiyet. Creepy oozes out all over the place, and there are moments of pure horror, in the Hitchcock sense of chills up the spine, rather than the more usual sense these days of grossness and spilled entrails. There are also magically enhanced – well, things, for want of a better word. There is a certain blurring of the distinction between alive and not-alive which gave me the heeby-jeebies, frankly.

The story is complex, subtle and many-layered. Compelling characters, a fully-realised world, an action-packed plot that zooms along at a rate of knots and never feels in the least contrived, and a wonderful ending with plenty of emotional resonance. A beautifully conceived and written book with real depth.

My review

Footnote: this is a self-published gem. I posted about some of my other finds of 2013 here.

For more about the author’s incredible world-building, here’s the website.

The 2014 Barneys: Day 3

The Barney for Best Barbarian Warrior not named Logan Ninefingers, because let’s face it no single warrior in modern fantasy can compete, because wow was Logan awesome. I mean when he beat The Feared I almost shouted out loud, and I was sitting in a Subway around ten o’clock at night when I read it.

What?  Oh, ya, the award.

The Grim Company (The Grim Company, #1)The first nominee is Brodar Kayne from The Grim Company, by Luke Scull.  Note how he is not the Bloody Nine.  He may be a Northern barbarian on the outs with the land’s ruler, and he may be the best around despite not getting any younger, and he may have tragic backstory including a lost family.  But he is NOT the Bloody Nine.  I have seen him described as more cuddly and that description could certainly work; he is a hard man but genuine in his desire to get better.  And despite his similarities to Logan his story stands up on its own, part of a fun weave that made The Grim Company an exciting new entry for us lovers of dark fantasy.


The Heresy Within (The Ties That Bind, #1)The second nominee is The Black Thorn from The Heresy Within, by Rob J. Hayes.  Now this guy is certainly not Logan Ninefingers, despite being the most dangerous barbarian around and running with a crew of big nasties.  And despite that fact that his reputation for killing (specifically of killing arbitrators) is often enough to force him to kill again.  But unlike Logan there isn’t that hint of wanting something better coming from The Black Thorn, his nasty isn’t hidden behind an awesome nickname.  Betrim (his real name) and The Black Thorn are the same person, not two sides of a coin.

So who wins?  Surprising even myself the winner is… Betrim, The Black Thorn!  While I enjoyed The Grim Company more on the whole (though both books entertained me), when it comes specifically to Barbarian Warriors Not Named Logan Ninefingers I enjoyed Betrim’s path more.  He was the best character in his book, whereas Kayne was often overshadowed by a strong surrounding cast.

So congratulations Mr Hayes, your creation has won a coveted Barney award.  From what I understand, the trophy has already been lost in the mail.  Sorry.

My review of The Heresy Within

My review of The Grim Company