New review!

In case you’d forgotten, The High King’s Vengeance is on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award this year. (I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, really.)

(It’s also eligible for the British Fantasy Awards, if you enjoyed it and are that way inclined, but you need to hurry because the extension for voting runs out tomorrow.)

And because you should always start the week the way you mean to carry on, there’s a wonderful, gosh-I’m-embarrassed review of HKV on Goodreads from Teresa Edgerton, whose Goblin Moon and Hobgoblin Night set the high standard for elegance and Regency-style fantasy of manners back in the 1990s (and which are now available once more from Tickety Boo Books, and yes you should buy them). The full review is linked here, but this paragraph is probably why the cat is looking at me funny right now:

But what makes this book special, I believe, is the characters, who are well-drawn, many-sided, and believable. Even those we thought we knew reveal new sides of themselves under the press of circumstances, and Poore handles these developments so well that none of it seems too convenient or too contrived, but rather the inevitable outcome of who these people truly are, their past experiences, and the choices they face.

No pressure for the ongoing project AoT1 then, eh? 🙂


Kind Words – and Critical

Because the first review of High King’s Vengeance came in over the Fantasycon weekend, it kind of slipped under the blogging radar somewhat, so I’m going to take the opportunity to point you to it now.

Paul at The Eloquent Page was kind enough to read Heir to the North last year, and also to say nice things about it. I wondered what he would have to say about the sequel – would it live up to his expectations?

Viewed on its own, The High King’s Vengeance is a well-executed epic fantasy that is bound to please many a genre fan. As the second part of a much larger story, it is something far better. Seeds that were sown way back at the beginning of the first book suddenly become relevant, and there are a host of splendidly brain-melting revelations.

I get the distinct impression that though Cassia’s story has drawn to a close, there are other tales of Caenthell, Hellea and Galliarca still to be told. I do hope so, I’d be more than happy to read them.

I think that’s a “yes”. 🙂

You can read the full review over here, and I respectfully submit that The Eloquent Page is very worthy of your time if you’re looking for opinions on something new to read.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, this review came in for Heir to the North:

I do wish, however, that this novel didn’t join the apparently infinite ranks of “Gender-as-Obstacle,” in which the female lead is oppressed/undervalued/underestimated chiefly or entirely because she’s female. That Cassia is very much a Smurfette, with never a single meaningful interaction with another woman, only makes this worse, as it gives me a depressing impression of the world she inhabits.

OK, with hindsight, guilty as charged. It wasn’t something I even thought about when I wrote HTTN, and I suspect that’s rather the point. Other people have made the same point in passing, though not as bluntly as this reviewer. (And that bluntness isn’t a bad thing either. Nor am I quoting the review here so that others can pile on the reviewer. Don’t ever do that. Seriously.)

I’d like to think that I’m a slightly wiser person now than I was when I wrote Heir to the North. I’m certainly more aware of what I have written and how I wrote it. You may not find too much of a progression in High King’s Vengeance (it was written before HTTN was even signed by Kristell Ink), but you will in future projects.

And so I respectfully submit that Kelley Ceccato is very worthy of your time if you’re looking for opinions on something new to read.

Heads Up!

It’s been awfully quiet on here for a while. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nowt going on – like the proverbial duck, there’s a lot of movement under the surface.

High King’s Vengeance has been pummeled with the red pen of actiony action, which is to say that the editing process is well underway. I keep getting that “did I really write this?” sensation, and I should point out that this is a good thing. You’re going to like this.

The audio mastering of Heir to the North, narrated by Diana Croft, is about one-third done, and sends shivers through my skin every time I go and listen to it. Seriously, you’re going to like this.

I’ve just submitted a short story for a prospective anthology from a new small press next year, assuming all goes to plan. It’s a nicely brutal slice of grimness with a couple of twists that really ought to hurt. Yeah, I think you’ll like it.

Fox Spirit Books are lining up the last few in their series of Fox Pockets – the mini anthologies of themed short stories. Take Me With You and Full Compliance will be on the ToC of those books – I’m particularly proud of Take Me With You, but Full Compliance also introduces South Yorkshire’s last superhero, Johnny Silver, who (as the old tagline goes) will return… guess what? I reckon you’ll like ’em both.

And if you fancy winning yourself a signed copy of Heir to the North – and why not? – get yourself to Goodreads next weekend, because from 15th May there’ll be one up for grabs! You have to be in it to win it, so why not add it to your TBR list now? 🙂


The Long Road to The High King’s Vengeance Starts Here!

The best thing about Heir To The North (apart from all the other things, of course!) is that the story doesn’t end there. Baum’s quest is completed, he has won, Malessar’s Curse has been broken, and now Cassia can see the enormity of what she has done.

So, what’s next? That’s what all the cool folks want to know. And, as it happens, there is an answer. That answer is The High King’s Vengeance, the second half of the story. This is the one with dragons and princes. This is the one with armies of stone and desperate duels. This is the one with romance and revelations. This is the one where Cassia comes to terms with herself and returns to Caenthell and the North.

Now all I have to do is let my editor beat the actiony action into it.

And all you have to do, for now at least, is add it to your TBR lists on Goodreads.

And soon – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon – we’ll be revealing the finished cover art for The High King’s Vengeance, and you’ll get your first look at Cassia’s new companion for this second half of her journey…

Close to the Edit

Wow, it’s looking a bit old and dusty around here, isn’t it? Sorry about that – as you might imagine, with Heir To The North looming on the horizon like great Leviathan rising to the surface, my attention has somewhat inevitably been focused elsewhere. edit2

The editing process. Now there’s a mystery that sets all authors to trembling with fear. It’s the first time that I’ve had to hand over a full novel-length manuscript to an external editor, and I wasn’t certain what to expect. To make matters more complex, HTTN was written over a couple of years, and my own style changed between the first and last chapters (though not to the extent that I stopped over-writing. Heavens, no).

But now Heir To The North is slimmer, quicker, meaner, and actually a darn sight easier to read. Here’s what I learned during the process.

Change is not a bad thing. Likewise and conversely, editing is not a dictatorial process. At the end of it, your book is still your book. The point is that the writer’s tired eyes may not have seen problems with structure, continuity, verbosity etc. If you thought you were killing your darlings in the second, third (and seventeenth) drafts, then this will hurt a bit (a lot), but seriously it’s worth the pain. For example, here’s something I totally missed on my reads… badwriting1

The editor does not hate your book. Far from it. The editor wants to make your book better, because s/he loves it and takes great pride in their work, just as much as the author does in their own. The trick is to realise that these first two points take your book to the next level.

Weasel words must die. At least, possibly, it seems to be that way.

Not everything has to be described as “old”. Or “great”. Or “great” and “old”. Some of the secondary characters in the book used to belong to Guhl’s Company, a band of Hellean soldiers. In the unedited version of the manuscript, they’re all described with the same phrase: “old soldiers”. When one talked to another, it became difficult to know who was talking to whom…

Make your action more actiony. Yes, really. Joanne Hall talks a good fight over here.

You are not a columnist for Fantasy Homes & Garden Magazine. This comes back to killing those darlings. It’s all very well lovingly describing Rann Almoul’s town house and the changes he made to it over the years, all to illustrate the man’s avaricious nature, but – really? Did I really need all that? Are we ever going to see that house again? (SPOILER: no.)

It’s easier to fix over-writing than it is to fix under-writing. And in this case a picture eloquently speaks a thousand words…..badwriting2


Last, but not least – It’s not all bad. Far from it. Editing doesn’t have to be an attritional process and, indeed, nor should it be. Turns out, see, that I write good. Long, but good.goodwriting1



Heir To The North, by the way, is scheduled for release around October of this year. If you’re on Goodreads, you can add it to your TBR shelf over here.

Meanwhile, if you want an example of me writing short but good, look no further than the recent release of Under The Waves, the latest in the series of Fox Pockets from the wonderful Fox Spirit Books. My contribution, That Sinking Feeling, is a small but perfectly-formed piece of shaggy-dog fantasy fiction, even if I do say so myself.

Heir to the North update….

Just a quickie this time. HTTN is still taking final published shape – with rather lovely cover art that will be revealed soon! – but now you can add it to your TBR pile on Goodreads, and that is a very good thing indeed!

Click this way folks, for there is a blurb to be read…

I’ve joined the Greatcoats!

Sebastien de Castell’s rollicking adventure, Traitor’s Blade, made its way onto my Kobo ahead of release last month, courtesy of the excellent folks at Jo Fletcher Books. And rather fine it is too – I reviewed it here on Goodreads (full text also appended below for the click-wary).

Being a clever sort of chap, Mr de Castell has given his readers the opportunity to design their own Greatcoat seals in the same way that folks were able to create their own Game of Thrones house sigils (House Chopper really should be a thing).

Naturally, mine (see above) involves an axe. The Kraken hidden in the green depths, meanwhile, symbolizes my great intellect. With a great axe comes great responsibility. Mr de Castell plainly knows me far too well.

But hush – here’s the skinny.

Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)Falcio val Mond was the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, passing the King’s Justice across the land. But the Greatcoats are no more, disbanded by the venal and power-hungry Dukes, their symbolic – and armoured – coats reduced to tatters along with their reputations, and the King himself is dead. And Falcio, along with his friends and fellow Greatcoats Brasti and Kest, have just been framed for murder…

The debut from Sebastien de Castell, as well as the first in the Greatcoats series, Traitor’s Blade sets up a world of betrayed ideals and dreams gone sour quickly, and then proceeds to make Falcio’s life progressively worse. It’d be very easy to say “It’s like Mark Lawrence writes the Musketeers!” – and even though that’d be a brilliant book in itself, Traitor’s Blade is even better than that. This is the fantasy genre channeling Clint Eastwood – in particular, The Gauntlet (as Falcio takes responsibility for an orphaned girl in a city that wants her dead) and A Fistful of Dollars (the armoured coats themselves, as well as the scenes featuring Ugh).

The more familiar fantasy tropes are for the most part taken care of in a fresh style (gloriously OTT bad guys, wannabe Greatcoats who aren’t what they seem, hard-bitten caravan guards won over with derring-do), and thankfully glossed over where they threaten to bog the fast-moving story down, though the overly helpful priestess who gives Falcio his post-torture pick-me-up is just a little too old-school wish-fulfillment for comfort. And the reader does need to ignore the nagging question of exactly how the Tailor can get to where she needs to be so damned fast. The solutions to the mysteries riding on the tails of Trin, Aline and Valiana – the three main female characters pushing and pulling Falcio to the journey’s end – are signposted quite early on, but the characters themselves are fleshed out so well that it doesn’t actually matter. Plus, they have progression – they ain’t just there to look pretty.

And the sword-fights. Yow. It’s not often a writer can get away with putting so much detail into his sword-fights, but de Castell is actually a fight choreographer – and he can make it work on the page as well as in the imagination. Damn good fights. The only fight he doesn’t detail is the climactic one between Kest and a summoned opponent, and that one is best left to the imagination. Speaking of summoning, the use of magic is kept on tight reins, as much as are pistols. Magic isn’t allowed to spoil or overwhelm the story, instead allowing the swords to do their work.

Conclusions? A good start, promising much more, and a delightfully fast and thrilling read. If Goodreads let me give 4.5/5, or 9/10, Traitor’s Blade would get that mark. Because it doesn’t, I’m rounding down, but this is a heck of a debut.

As is my wont, I recommend you buy it from Waterstones, WH Smiths, or your local independent book retailer.