S.J.A.Turney's Books & More

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Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy

Murder in Absentia

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For me, Murder in Absentia is a solidly 4* novel. A treat in numerous ways, a surprise in many, engrossing and unusual. I’m now applying a 5-point system for review, and given that, here’s why I rate Assaph Mehr’s work so highly.

  1. The world that Mehr creates. This book is a work of fantasy, though it is so closely-knit with the history of Imperial Rome that were it not for certain elements within the plot, it would be hard to see this as anything other than straight Roman fiction. The main location in this world seems to be a mash-up of Rome, the bay of Naples and Alexandria. It is clearly a fantastical version of the ancient city and culture of Rome, with geographical elements of the others drawn in. The naming conventions, social customs, dress, military, households and even religious aspects are very clearly Roman. The flavour is Roman. And it’s flavoured very well.
  2. The plot. Despite fantasy elements, this is essentially a whodunnit. It is a proper original mystery. Starting with a body – killed apparently during some dark, magical ritual – the hero, Felix the Fox, is retained by the victim’s father to solve the mystery of his death. The plot is full of twists, turns, herrings of the ruddy kind, and avoids too many cliches as it brings us to a satisfactory conclusion.
  3. The negative point here, and the reason for a 4* review rather than a 5* one: The book could have done with a thorough copy-edit. Lines like “he eyes were”, “an administrative organisations” and “if I we needed any more” are examples of the small typos that creep in. There is also a heavy tendency to mix tenses wihtin a sentence, which can be quite jarring. Also, anachronisms like “juiced up” sit a little difficult with me, though that’s really a personal preference, I suppose.
  4. The author’s handling of magic. There’s a lot of fantasy out there, and though I tend these days to concentrate on Historical Fiction, I’ve actually read plenty of it. Magic is often very Dungeons and Dragons in fantasy, or perhaps very Lord of the Rings. “Fireball! Magic Mouth! Prismatic Spray! These are not the droids you’re looking for.” Mehr’s form of magic used in the book is much more subtle and realistic, more reminiscent of the ritual in Lovecraftian horror or suchlike. It is all rites and tattoos of power and herbs and incantations. In short it worked, reading surprisingly believably and actually, oddly, it fits in well with the Roman feel of the background. You will, within the first 20% of the book, be viewing this magic as an everyday part of the culture.
  5. The detail. They say the devil is in the detail but if so, the devil is one hell of a helper to an author. The sheer scale of the bits and pieces of research Mehr has put into his Roman history for the book is impressive. From the nature of Roman Numina to the traditions of funerals and burial to the daily routine for the seeing of clients by Roman patrons, Mehr has really put in the work in his research.

So there you have it. A fascinating fantasy world, full of impressive real details and with a realistic and interesting type of magic, hosts a twisted and complex murder plot. Only the lack of a little proofing prevents this from being a genre-founding, mould-breaking novel. No, actually, it doesn’t. The novel is still that, and minor irritations over the specific text should in no way prevent you from buying and reading this. If you’re into Rome or Fantasy, you’ll enjoy it. If you’re into both, you’ll LOVE it.

 

Written by SJAT

January 14, 2016 at 10:38 am

Roma Nova – Inceptio

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inceptio

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Inceptio. I’d heard of it, seen the rather handsome cover and actually met Alison briefly at a historical fiction do, and when I had a gap in my revue pile, I slotted it in for a read.

Firstly, let me say that I really enjoyed the book. It was engaging and fasincating, thrilling in places and beautifully described. The characters were quite realistic and empathic.

So what is it like, given my aforementioned lack of expectations? Well, I’d say few readers will get everything they seek from it, but most certainly everyone will get something. The obsessive Roman fiction nuts might find it a little too modern. The crime nuts may cluck at their plot being laden with alternate history. The sci-fi lovers will approve of some of the concepts, but could find too much history and realistic modern world filtered in. The Romance lovers might be irked that thrillerdom keeps getting in the way. But the simple thing is that few readers are so specific, and most readers will find at least one aspect of Inceptio that they love, while many will appreciate the all-round. Because there’s crime, thriller, action, military, romance, hints of sci-fi-near-future, exploration of character and so much more. And anyone who likes any of that will read this and enjoy it.

So this is alternate history. A recreation of the modern world in which some decision was made another way at some point in history and things turned out differently. The story takes as its premise not a world in which Rome did not fall, but a world in which a small Roman colony in the Alps survived that fall and the fall of Byzantium in the east, going on to become some sort of Romanized utopia with overtones of Switzerland. And because of the presence of this nation, the rest of the world has developed slightly differently.

Our heroine, Karen (at least for some of the time!) finds her normal New York life turned upside down following a small incident, which sets in motion a chain of events that leads to her learning that she is in fact an heiress, a noble, even a scion of a family in Roma Nova. There ensues a tale that is one of self discovery and personal re-creation as Karen discovers life in the world of New Rome while pyscopaths hunt her, men vie for her attentions and a growing sense of duty forces her to train, learn and join paramilitary forces.

Parts of this story will surprise you, parts will excite you, and parts will enthrall you, but all of it will make you think and make you want to know what happents next. I find it hard to believe you will read Inceptio and not find something about it that really grabs you.

In short, go get Inceptio and introduce yourself to the world of Roma Nova.

Written by SJAT

September 17, 2015 at 8:00 am

My writing has a process?

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I was invited by the lovely and talented Prue Batten to take part in a writing process blog tour. For any of you who’ve not listened to me blather at great length about Prue before, you might like to check out her work: the fay fantasy Chronicles of Eirie and the medieval Gisborne saga. Her words are like silk. They are like a fine wine. They are beautiful. Check out Prue’s writing process here: Am I Unique?

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The tour requires that I answer several questions, and I find them to be sharp, complex ones on the whole, but we start with the easy one:

1. What am I working on?

And yet even that is far from simple. You see unlike most writers, who are sensible and logical and not clearly barking like me, I am apparently unable to concentrate on one project at a time. My imagination constantly runs riot and hurls thoughts at me that begin with phrases like ‘But what if…’ or ‘And what about…’ and I find myself branching out and adding another tandem project to my roster. And so… what am I working on?

Well, the simple one is The Assassin’s Tale, which will be released in less than 2 months. This is the third book in the Ottoman Cycle, following the adventures of Skiouros, a Greek former thief at the end of the Fifteenth century as he journeys around the Mediterranean on a quest for vengeance. For those of you who’ve read The Thief’s Tale and The Priest’s Tale, you might be interested to hear that the action here moves from Spain to Italy in the hunt for the exiled Turk.

But then there’s another project. A secret project. Shhhhh! No details, hints or teasers for you here, I’m afraid, but this is a project that is taking place intermittently between the others, alongside the talented Gordon Doherty. Yes we are working together on something, and I love it. 🙂 News on that will follow in due course.

And then there’s the OTHER project! This third one is a joint project with the superb Dave Slaney, the man who has designed most of my book covers and done other wonderful sterling illustrations here and there. Dave and I have joined forces to create a childrens’ book based on the Roman military, with my story and Dave’s amazing images. Having seen some of the early sketches, I can only say it’s going to be a belter of a book! 🙂

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2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmmm. ‘Which genre?’ I would have to ask. I’m mostly known for writing in the Republican Roman era, but I’ve also written Roman principate stuff, 15th century Turkish/Byzantine, epic fantasy with a classical feel, a few contemporary short stories, and so on…

I suppose, then, that I simply have to try and answer ‘what is different about my work?’ Probably nothing is my answer. After all, such a question can only reasonably be answered by the readers. I can tell you what I think might be different, or perhaps what I hope is different:

I think I hit a nice mix. I have a tendency towards graphic violence in my work (hard not to when dealing with ancient warfare) but I think it is tempered by my general avoidance of sexual content beyond suggestion, my sparsity with bad language and the general idea that my books are suitable for all ages, so long as they don’t mind a bit of blood & guts. They’re also tempered with a bit of humour. I do feel that Historical Fiction is often lacking a sense of humour, and I like a little lightness of mood in my work.

Is that a good answer? I’m afraid it’s the best I have. 🙂

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3. Why do I write what I do?

Ye Gods! Because I love it. Anyone who reads this blog will be aware of what I read from my book reviews. If you note the sort of books I read, you’ll be left in no doubt as to why I write what I do. I am inspired to ever greater heights by people like Guy Gavriel Kay, Manda Scott, Anthony Riches, Ben Kane, Angus Donald, Giles Kristian, Doug Jackson and so many, many more. And, of course, I am obsessive over ancient history. I cannot spend enough hours wandering among ruins or visiting the most far-flung and exciting archaeological sites. And when I’m not visiting, writing, or reading other people’s novels, I am reading non-fiction. Incidentally, in that regard check back early next week for a mega-review of one of the giants of Roman non-fiction, Mike (MC) Bishop.

Marius Mules I Italian Cover

4. How does my writing process work?

Ha. Like a gaudily-painted runaway steamroller!

Actually, I start with an idea, often based upon a specific tiny event. These are usually unknowns, such as the event at the heart of the Thief’s Tale (no spoilers.) Equally often it is because I just want to write about a certain place that fills me with awe, or a character who fascinates me.

ThenI pick a concept. A theme. Brotherly strife. Irreconcilable political divides. Civil war. And then build a plot based around the concept and the hook. It rarely takes long. Terry Pratchett in his Discworld novels explained the concept that inspiration sleeted through the universe like shooting stars. Most people get pelted occasionally, but the really lucky (unlucky) ones get battered by them like a soggy cardboard box left out in a rainstorm. I am the latter. If I wrote every hour the Gods sent and subcontracted to four people I would still end up with ideas backing up!

Once I have my basic plot, I write it out, change it, tweak it, alter it, hate it, change it, rewrite it, bin it, start it, alter it, write it out, spill coffee on it, change it, give up on it and eat cake, have a beer, have an epiphany, have another beer, and then at 2am with a mad glint in my eye, I have the story.

The I break the plot down int0 sections, and then into subsections and turn it into a chapter plan. Then I assign a rough word count to each part based on its content.

Then… I drink several coffees, crank up the volume on a little Pink Floyd or Anathema in my office and…. WE’RE OFF!

I write each chapter and – I know this is unique to me, so here’s a helpful hint – at the end of every chapter I run a close edit of that chapter. Then, periodically, I go back when I reach critical moments and run another edit. I also have grammar nazi’s running edits for me throughout. Then, when I’ve finished it, I have one final edit and then send it out to a few trusted test readers. Then it’s a last edit based on their findings, and then it’s ready.

Tales of Ancient Rome

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Ok folks. I’ve given you an insight into the randomness and craziness that is my process. Now, the next part of this tour I am supposed to recruit 3 others to pass on the torch to. However, due to time constraints and the fact that I was abroad for a chunk of the planning of this, two of the people I have asked simply did not have time to take part. I can sympathise with that, in truth. But I have managed to secure for you two more writers to investigate. Go check out their blogs now and watch for their own responses on Monday.

ELAINE MOXON:

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Elaine Moxon is a Birmingham-based Historical Fiction writer and former Holistic Therapist. Her grandfather’s tales of his youthful adventures in rural Italy gave her a love of storytelling, inspiring her to write from an early age. She has a passion for languages, travel, art and history, her favourite eras predominantly the Saxon and Viking ages. She has contributed articles, short stories and poetry to online magazines ‘Birmingham Favourites’ and ‘Crumpets & Tea’. Her Grime-Noir Thriller short film ‘Deception’, produced and directed by Lightweaver Productions, has been nominated for the 2014 American Online Film Awards in New York. She is also a frequent speaker at Letocetum Roman Museum in Wall, Staffordshire, giving historical talks and readings from her forthcoming debut novel.

On a personal note, I have read a large chunk of Elaine’s forthcoming Saxon epic, and it’s a tale with style and oomph. I look forward to the full thing, and I urge you to keep an eye on her. Her responses to these prying questions will go live on Monday 14th on her blog at: http://elainemoxon.blogspot.co.uk/

 

aaaaaannnnnddddd….

A J (ANTHONY) ARMITT

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A fab fella, engaging writer and sometime partner in crime of mine, here’s Tony’s bio in his own words:

‘I live in Manchester, England with my wife, three kids and two cats. In our household hierarchy, I figure just beneath the felines.

On moonlit nights I can be found looking under the bed or checking the back seat of my car. I have an over-active imagination.

I write dark, twisted fiction, and have an irrational fear of zombies, and, thanks to Stephen Spielberg, I’m also terrified of sharks. My biggest fear would have to be zombie-sharks. (Damn that over-active imagination!)

My first book ‘Entwined – Tales from the City’ has been the #1 bestselling horror anthology on numerous occasions. I hope the follow up book ‘Entwined – Tales from the Village’ will do equally as well when I finally get around to finishing it.’

… Tony is a man with a cruel, vivid, stunning imagination and when he puts his tales into words they will shock and thrill you. Look his work up on Amazon, including his many contributions to the ‘Inkslinger’ compilations from which the funds go to charity. Tony’s responses will also be up on Monday 14th, and his blog can be found here: http://ajarmitt.blogspot.co.uk/

Written by SJAT

April 11, 2014 at 8:00 am

Han, but far from Solo

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An alternative title for the blog that I was toying with was: I’ll have a Shifu Cloth with Fried Rice and Special Ribs.

eirie

A few years ago I first became acquainted with the writing of Prue Batten, as she happened to be a member of the same peer review site as me. I got to read a sample of her fledgling work there and became a fan.

Prue’s portfolio has somewhat exploded since then, with four books in her Chronicles of Eirie fantasy series now available as well as a work of medieval historical fiction.

I read the first book (The Stumpwork Robe) and the second (The Last Stitch) in close order but, due to lack of time and other commitments I somehow missed A Thousand Glass Flowers. Recently, having had book four brought to my attention, I delved back into the world of Eirie and I’m thoroughly glad I did. The series follows the fortunes of an extended family that share mortal and faerie blood but the bonus for me is that although they create a definite series, the books work quite well as standalones, with only a little loss and a few gaps to bridge, and not having read the third in no way damaged my comprehension or enjoyment of the fourth.

So: about the world. In her chronicles, Prue has created a whole world that is almost a shadow of Earth. There are fantastic replicas of Medieval western Europe, Renaissance Venice and exotic India which all form the settings of earlier books. The style of her creation is to me reminiscent of Guy Gavriel Kay’s world and I find it enthralling. This latest foray opens up a new part of that world to explore: The Han. Clearly influenced heavily by Imperial China and with perhaps Japanese influences, it is a rich setting to become involved in.

About the writing. Prue is a wordsmith par excellence. Her use of unusual and oft archaic terms combine with her skill at sentence structure and description to provide a rich, heady read. I noted once that reading her work is like reading silk and now, five books on, that description holds all the more true. Prue’s concentration on character, motivation and feeling shows through and really brings the characters to life.

And finally, about the story: The Shifu Cloth is a story of siblings cruelly torn apart by kidnapping and slavery. Isabella, snatched from her native land, finds herself a slave of the mysterious and insular Han. As she begins to plan her escape and a journey back home, she is drawn into a web of strangeness wher she meets emperors and spirits, warriors and nobles, and her true potential gradually comes to the fore in the face of adversity. At the same time, her distraught family begin to fall apart as the search for Isabella produces no result until a bolt of strange cloth shows up bearing a hidden message and her half-brother Nicolas begins a dangerous journey in search of his lost sibling.

The whole thing is beautifully done. I would recommend you go have a read of the sample on Amazon here and see what you think. Currently most of the series are only available in eformat as the paperbacks are due, I believe, to be re-released soon.

This is highly recommended reading, particularly for those fantasy lovers out there, especially ones who like works in the vein of Guy Gavriel Kay.

Written by SJAT

February 6, 2013 at 6:07 pm

City of dreams and dust

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Now that blog title deserves to be the title of a novel if anything ever did.

Today I bring you a dream once again; not a funny post this time, but I think you’ll like it. Only occasionally do I remember a dream well enough to detail it hours after waking. But this? This was was fab and one day will likely be a location in a book I write. It’s so vivid and fantastic. I’ll give you the background to begin with.

In this dream I was on holiday in Tunisia and exploring an ancient city (still inhabited, but with many ancient things) alongside my dad and several other people. So the scene is set. I don’t know how vividly I’m going to be able to paint this, so bear with me.

(Note. I see, reading back before publishing, that I seem to leap tense an viewpoints a few times. I thought about correcting this, but this is not a novel. This is a dream, and should be a little disjointed and confused, so I leave/left/will leave this as it is, with all its faults.)

I shall now give you the guided tour of this mysterious dream city as I experienced it. Approaching along the gorge, the first impression is amazing. To either side the cliffs rise to impressive heights and there is a wide area before the town. The valley floor descends from a saddle, so you are looking down a slope at this. Like a giant low cylinder, inaccessible rocky cliffs rise in the centre with a city nestled on top. Just visible down the gorge to the left of it is an area of raised ground, like a step on the side of the cliff, on the top of which a well-preserved Byzantine theatre sits in dusty ruined glory. Getting to it will involve some climbing, but we are determined.

So. A is the first approach. Imagine a cross between these three but all jammed in a deep ravine.

Hopefully you’re getting something of the impression that I had. Imagine it now very brown and dusty, as one might imagine such a place in the mountains of central Tunisia.

We then make our way round the left ravine beneath the cliff upon which sits the town itself towards the theatre (B). I’m finding it hard to find a way to describe the theatre. Most of you will know what an ancient theatre looks like, I’m sure. So, to help, the closest I can picture in the real world to this monument is this:

After exploring the theatre, we travel round the back of the town, ignoring for now the narrow ascent, and to what you might consider the ‘opposite corner’. Here there is a waterfall (C). The water pours out of a hole in the cliff above, as though from an underground passage higher up than we are. Ther waterfall flows from here as a narrow river down the side of the ravine that we haven’t yet seen and disappears out into the valley However, at the base of the waterfall is a covered walkway that goes beneath and behind the waterfall. Here is the best impression I can manage of this:

And this is when it got kind of breathtaking. Behind the waterfall (D on the map) was a massive cave (there may have been a small hole in the centre high up open to the light now that I think about it) but mostly it felt like being in a cave, though it was quite bright inside. And the best bit? The cave was a huge, calm lake formed from the waterfall. Clear and glassy, it reflected and made gently lapping noises. And from the waterfall, the covered walkway continued across the lake on stilts until at the centre it became a wide, circular wooden covered pavillion surrounded by blue, almost glowing water. I give you the following to try and help create the impression:

Not, of course, meant be accurate, but to give you the feel and nudge you in the direction of the right impression. The interior of the pavillion was lit by lanterns and was decorative and beautifully peaceful. I was sort of sad to leave, while being excited because there was so much still to see.

We make our way back out past the waterfall and into the barren, brown, dusty heat. Now we backtrack, ignoring the narrow river, and to the ascent (E) that we passed on the way to the waterfall. This ascent is narrow and rocky and stepped. Clearly there were never any vehicles in the town. Nothing could reach it except on foot. It was a heck of a climb. Fof some reason my vertigo is not an issue here. This is as good an impression of the path as I can manage

Once at the plateau, we finally reach the town itself. Because the top is uneven, it is a maze of narrow streets and alleys with roofs sticking up between trees. The path we are (F) on appears to follow the top of a wall from where the ascent ends. There are numerous ways off this high path and down into the town. Sadly, we do not descend into the place itself. I’m not sure whether this was because of time constraints. I have the feeling it was possibly because of the danger of getting lost in the maze of paths and not being able to find one of only two exits from the town.

We stop briefly above the roofs to look down on G. G is a massive roof of Byzantine date, which is, in fact a great cistern that stores the rain water (and probably water carried by bucket and rope mechanism from the river below) and that feeds the entire town. This cistern is our only side trip from the wall, as it can be reached without going into the streets and we go to examine it before climbing back up to the wall. This is a composite collection to give you an impression of the town, its buildings, the wall, the cistern etc. Just gaze at them and let the feeling settle over you. Nice, isn’t it?

Sadly, once we reach the end of the wall-walk, what lies at the far end is another precipitous descent(H); the other exit from the town. Bidding a fond farewell and with a last, longing, glance across the rooftops, we begin to climb down. Once we reach the ground level once again, close to the narrow river, which we follow out of the ravine and back into the wider valley.

As dreams go, this one ranks up among my absolute all-time favourites. And I can still remember every last detail so clearly. Amazing.

Don’t you want to go there for real? When I have finished Dark Empress, and then likely Marius’ Mules III, I have several possible projects lined up, including a children’s book and one called Legion 23. However, I may have to shoehorn in another project in order to use this place. It’s just too amazing to waste. This is the third day in a row when my unconscious mind has told me I need to travel again. Wanderlust is now invading my dreams also.

Hope you enjoyed your virtual tour. Have a good weekend everyone.

For reference, the locations used to give impressions here include many that I just don’t really know, but also Constantine’s Basilica in Trier, Istanbul’s Cisterns, a ruined Armenian Cathedral, the walls of Girona, the paths at Masada, the Meteora monasteries, Petra’s theatre, and the Casale Rotondo near Rome.

Written by SJAT

January 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm