TL;DR It’s pretty good, thought provoking, but I’d only give it 4/5 stars.

From Amazon:

Ken Liu is one of the most original, thought-provoking and award-winning short-story writers of his generation. This is the first collection of his work – sixteen stories that invoke the magical within the mundane, by turns profound, beguiling and heartbreaking.

Included here are: The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary (Finalist for Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Awards), Mono No Aware (Hugo Award winner), The Waves (Nebula Award finalist), The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), All the Flavors (Nebula Award finalist), The Litigation Master and the Monkey King (Nebula Award finalist) ,and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, The Paper Menagerie (the only story ever to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

The Long Version:

I’d actually read the title story “Paper Menagerie” before, and quite enjoyed it, which is why I decided to read this collection. As you can see from the blurb description above, these short stories come highly recommended by the award committees. And they’re good… but… and I know traditional critics would probably skewer me for this… I don’t think they’re that good.

In fact, I found a couple of them downright frustrating. They didn’t have ends. The last one in the collection in particular felt like it was setting up for a proper novella/novel, but then after the intro chapters for multiple characters, it just ended. Really unsatisfying.

Of course there are exceptions. The title story The Paper Menagerie for example is a bit of a tear-jerker, and a couple of the others I quite enjoyed. But unfortunately the experience was dulled by the incompleteness of some of the other stories (and of course, the last one you read sticks with you, so it’s that one that has really shadowed my experience).

These stories are strongly influence by (I assume) the author’s own experience of eastern/western culture and this brings a good and original flavour to them. We get to see characters and cultures that I at least don’t often read about. I also learned some interesting history. However, I think the author’s desire to showcase some historical/cultural elements means that some of these shorts slip more into historical/literary fiction, rather than sci-fi/fantasy. For example “The Man Who Ended History” was good. But the time-travel element felt very much like a means to an end, i.e. a way to tell a certain part of history that most people probably aren’t aware of (I know I wasn’t).

SO, if you like a little more literary fiction or history with your sci-fi, then you’d probably really enjoy this collection. If you’re looking for wizards and space-ships, this is not the collection for you.

I’m giving it four out of five stars, because while many of the stories were enjoyable, I felt ripped off by the half-finished feeling of others.

If you’d like to check it out, you can get The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories from most major retailers: https://books2read.com/u/38E2Zr

If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below. Or, if you’ve got a book recommendation, please let me know. I’m always looking for things to read!

This is the second installment of an ongoing book review series (one a month(ish)). If you’d like to receive the reviews straight to your inbox, then sign up for my mailing list. Even cooler, you’ll get free books and all it will cost is your email address! Sign up here: https://www.subscribepage.com/d8d1y4

*I use affiliate links (e.g. to Amazon) and so may occasionally get about 3 cents if you buy something…If you don’t want me to get 3 cents, feel free to go to your preferred vendor and search for items manually. But really… come on… I need that 3 cents. To, you know… feed my pet rock.

TL;DR – It’s good, five stars, go and read it.

“Stunningly good. Stupefyingly good.” —Patrick Rothfuss

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which lawyers ride lightning bolts, souls are currency, and cities are powered by the remains of fallen gods, Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence introduces readers to a modern fantasy landscape and an epic struggle to build a just society.

The long version:

I’ve been looking for a GOOD fantasy novel for a while. Of course, with the rest of the world I’m waiting for the next Brandon Sanderson release (or… spirits be calm… the final book in the Name of the Wind series), but until that happens, I felt lost in a sea of mediocre. So I did what any sane person would do: I did a Google search for ‘Cool Magic Systems’ and Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead came up. It sounded intriguing, so I dived in.

And aren’t I glad I did!

I mean… it even has a recommendation from Patrick Rothfuss, so there wasn’t much chance of it going wrong.

Yes, it lives up to the google search requirement for a ‘cool magic system’, but it has a lot of other things going for it. The characters are three dimensional, the story is well written, with twists and turns, and believable villains.

The setting is almost steampunk, not quite traditional fantasy (medieval Europe), which also added a fresh flavor. The story had a solid arc, but also left a lot of potential for future books.

There’s not much to critique; no major proofing problems, no characters that made me want to claw my eyes out… just solid story-telling with fun magic. I guess sometimes the magic was a bit… convenient, or hand-wavy. Given that it’s meant to be based on legal contracts, I think the very concrete aspects of that could have been emphasised a bit more. But then again, maybe most readers don’t want pages of legal contracts in their fiction???

If you too are looking for your next fantasy read, I highly recommend you pick this one up. It’s available on all major retailers for a more than reasonable price. Get it Now: https://books2read.com/u/bow5dv

If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below. Or, if you’ve got a book recommendation, please let me know. I’m always looking for things to read!

This is the first in an ongoing book review series (one a month). If you’d like to receive the reviews straight to your inbox, then sign up for my mailing list. Even cooler, you’ll get free books and all it will cost is your email address! Sign up here: https://www.subscribepage.com/d8d1y4

*I use affiliate links (e.g. to Amazon) and so may occasionally get about 3 cents if you buy something…If you don’t want me to get 3 cents, feel free to go to your preferred vendor and search for items manually. But really… come on… I need that 3 cents. To, you know… feed my pet rock.

Wow… what a ride! It’s been a little while since I read a fantasy that I enjoyed this much. (Eagerly awaiting the final book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, AND the next book in Songs of Radiance).

Fair warning, this story is dark–really dark–so if you’re easily disturbed, it might be best to stay away. But, if getting a bit of a glimpse at the darkside doesn’t worry you, then I highly recommend you check this series out.

There are three books (all published!!), that follow the life of a young man as he goes after his dreams (nightmares?). The main character–Jorg–is memorable, if not entirely likeable. He knows what he wants and he goes after it, full-throttle, so you can’t help but respect him.

I also really enjoyed the setting. At first, it seems like a normal medieval fantasy, but there are hints that not everything is as it seems (don’t want to spoil anything for you).

New takes on magic, a new kind of hero and characters that had me glued to the page, I’m giving this whole series 5 out of 5.

My only gripe (and you have to try to come up with something, don’t you?) was the ending. It was strong, it was different, but perhaps not what I was hoping for. That might just be me though. What about you? Have you read it? Did you like it? Favorite part?

If you haven’t read it, and would like to check it out, it’s available from most good retailers:

Amazon (Affiliate Link)

Kobo

Scribd

And of course, if you like this sort of fantasy, then you might want to check out my very own Blood Mage Chronicles:
https://saffronbryant.com/books/shadow-of-a-slave/

Are you looking for free books?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

For quite a while now you’ve been able to get The UnConnected for free from this site (if you haven’t taken advantage of that offer yet, go here).

But now, to celebrate the release of my new fantasy series, I’m also giving away a fantasy novella: The Waters.

Don’t Cry. Don’t Spill a Drop

Valda Farkost risks her life every day to cross the Waters and bring supplies to her people.

The Drubs are slaves, forced to live and work in the middle of the Waters by the Aeonis, but they have hope. If they save enough, they can buy freedom, or at least that’s what they’ve been told.

The Waters Come For Everyone.

When Valda is refused freedom she must fight back and free the Drubs, but the Waters are hungry, and they don’t take sides.

Get your copy now: https://saffronbryant.com/free-fantasy/

“What new fantasy series?” I hear some of you cry.

This is The Blood Mage Chronicles. I am very excited about this release, and I hope you are too. It starts with Book 1: Shadow of a Slave, but you can get all three in a box-set and save yourself a lot of money.

Check it out here.

This is what one early reader had to say:

This is one of the best books I have read in some time. The end had me hook line and sinker. Cant wait to read the next one.Amazon Reviewer (Gary)

The Blood Mage Chronicles

In the Known Kingdoms, Twins are killed at birth. Blood Mage Chronicles

Twins harness energy in an unpredictable and dangerous way.

Twins almost destroyed the world.

Ash and Rae have always claimed that he is a year older to hide themselves from the ruthless Faceless Monks. An order who’s apparent benevolent mission to keep the world safe, is a mask for nefarious intentions.

Energy can’t be created or destroyed… but it can be harnessed…

When Ash and Rae’s secret is discovered, Rae is taken by the monks. Ash must learn to harness his natural ability to manipulate the energy of his world to save her.

Two rules must always be observed. Two rules everyone knows.

Do not use energy from the living.

Do not reanimate the dead.

Ash will do anything to get Rae back…even breaking their sacred laws.

Get the Blood Mage Chronicles here.

What were they thinking?

*Spoilers ahead*

 

Anyone who has heard my interviews or seen me talk about Doctor Who before probably already knows that I’ve been less than impressed with Capaldi’s episodes. It’s not Capaldi’s fault so much as the terrible writing.

Now to be fair, this season and the one before were better than his first season, so I had high hopes for this finale – my mistake.

Part 1 was brilliant, incorporating the concept of time distortion caused by a black-hole on a huge ship is just fantastic (I wish I’d thought of it), and knowing that so much time was going by for Bill while the Doctor was talking was nail biting. I loved it! At the end of part 1 when the Master is revealed I was on the edge of my seat and couldn’t wait for part 2.

What a let down.

I’ll start with the positives. The interplay between Missy and the Master was great. Bill’s inability to accept her Cyberman form was brilliant. Capaldi’s speech and Nardol were all fantastic.

But…

The plot.

What plot?

As I said, part 1 had great promise. You’ve got two versions of the Master, you’ve got Cybermen attacking AND with the time difference, they’ve got years to evolve and plan before they attack the primitive solar farm filled with children, plus Bill is trapped as a Cyberman-how’s the doctor going to fix this one?

In my opinion, none of it was handled well.

Firstly, the doctor just explodes a level of the ship, kills some of the Cyberman (at the cost of his own life), but really he hasn’t solved the problem. They’re still on the ship and they still have the time differential, he’s only delayed the problem. So point one, the big bad Cybermen are still a threat.

Secondly, Bill is miraculously saved by Heather, the water girl from episode 1. Please tell me I wasn’t the only one who saw that section and just said WTF. I’m sorry, but I did not get the impression from that first episode that she was some kind of magical cosmic being who can control the existence of atoms. But suddenly she can recreate Bill in her human form, teleport them all to the TARDIS, and then go with Bill on some kind of star-travelling romp? Not to mention this hasn’t been foreshadowed AT ALL. Okay, fine, Bill had some tears in her eyes at the end of the first episode, but that does not warrant some kind of deus ex machina in the final episode. Do you know why season one’s deus ex was okay? Because throughout the entirety of Eccleston’s season there was mention of Bad Wolf, it was everywhere. Or, what about Saxon in Tennant’s episodes? Or Rose reappearing? Those things were all foreshadowed throughout the entire season and so when they came up in the finales it made absolute sense. Please correct me if I missed it, but Heather’s sudden appearance here felt like the biggest cop-out in screen-writing history.

Then Bill just leaves with her? Leaves the Doctor lying dead on the floor of his TARDIS and wanders off into the universe? They don’t even go to check on Nardol and the children from the solar farm. Considering how much I’ve enjoyed Bill’s character this was an extremely disappointing exit.

Then we have the Missy/Master issue. Doctor Who, as with most shows of this type, usually have an overarching plot line that goes for the whole season, then smaller arcs for each episode. For this season the overarching plot was the vault. Then it’s revealed that Missy is inside (twist!) and the season then becomes about her redemption. Brilliant, wonderful. Then in this final episode… Missy has pretty much no role at all. Go on, imagine the episode if Missy wasn’t there. NOTHING WOULD CHANGE. Her character evolution didn’t make a spec of difference to the plot. Sure, her final scene with the Master, and the juxtaposition of their two characters was fine and really, stabbing/shooting each other in the back is a perfect end for this character but it should have MEANT something. Missy was the main plot arc of this series and she meant nothing to its finale. How disappointing.

After being so excited after part 1, I am thoroughly and completely let down by part 2 and I can’t even bring myself to get excited for the Christmas episode-I can only hope that it’s not as bad.

I don’t think I’m alone in looking forward to a new era next year, with hopefully a new show-runner and writing that can actually adhere to the basics of plot, like foreshadowing and character development. Fingers crossed, I’m a big Doctor Who fan, and I’d hate to have to let it go.

I’d love to hear what everyone else thought – hit me up in the comments below.

[Writing Update – I am nearly finished Book 2 in Aart’s series, so make sure you’re signed up to the newsletter for the release note!]

About Saffron Bryant: Saffron is a scientist and a science fiction and fantasy author. Find her books here.

 

This last week I discovered a genre that I didn’t even know existed: LitRPG and I’ve pretty much had my nose buried in books ever since.

It’s a hard premise to explain, and I think people would either be super into it, or they’d be like ‘why on Earth would someone read that?’ … bare with me: LitRPG is about characters in RPG-like games. They’re fiction stories (usually fantasy, but the possibilities are endless) where instead of just describing what happens, there’s mention of leveling, skills and health points.

At this point you probably have one of two thoughts A) oh yeah! Like an MMORPG, only written down. (keep reading). or B) What is an RPG? (This genre probably isn’t for you… but feel free to keep reading anyway).

I’ve read quite a few books in this genre over the past week, some good, some less good. Most of them have some kind of framing story e.g. why the character is playing the game in the first place (usually related to super-intelligent AI technology), whilst the bulk of the story is in-game, following the character as they complete quests and gain levels and defeat the ultimate bosses.

To help you discover this genre for yourself, here’s my thoughts on the ones I’ve read so far:

Viridian Gate Online     4/5 Stars

This one has a fantastic premise and framing story and was extremely well edited. I would recommend you DON’T read the summary at the start, it spoils a lot of the surprises and twists.

The game mechanics etc were pretty good. Perhaps a little contrived and convenient but well laid out and fun to read.

Realm of the Nine Circles    4/5 Stars

This was the first LitRPG book I read and I’m glad it was because it was good fun.

The framing story was fun and original and made the stakes in-game much more real and meaningful.

It could do with a proof-read though, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t read it.

Awaken Online    4.5/5 Stars

I’m only about 50% of the way through this one so far but I’m pretty confident in giving it a review.

It’s extremely well edited, with pretty much no typos or errors and a reasonably good layout for the character statistics etc.

The framing story is good, although perhaps too much focus is put on it for my liking (saying that, some people would enjoy that aspect of it!)

I’m really enjoying the personalised game mechanics and how the character’s personality influences the in-game play. This is my favourite in terms of skills and game mechanics etc.

Soulstone: Awakening    2.5/5 Stars

Tread cautiously with this one. It has a good premise and the skills etc are pretty good. but it had a lot of problems.

It needs a MAJOR edit. There were so many typos and mistakes that it distracted me (and I usually don’t even notice those kinds of things). Unfortunately the poor editing took away from what could have been a good story and if it had been the first LitRPG book I’d picked up… well I probably would have been turned off the genre.

In addition there was a LOT of unnecessary swearing. I’m not a prude, I don’t care about swearing in books, but at the start it was just too much and took away from the dialogue.

I also found this one had a bit of a sexist overtone. I’ll admit it seems to be a common thread in this genre, like in the games, the female armour isn’t quite as practical as the male versions (as anyone who plays MMORPGs will know), and most of the books seem to have a host of male characters and one female – a classic trope in books and movies trying not to be sexist by having a ‘token’ female character. I can let it skate most of the time but it was worse in this book – the language and jokes and behavior just turned me off.

Finally, I found the motives and behaviours of the characters inconsistent, moods jumping all over the place, unrealistic or disproportionate responses.

It’s a shame, I don’t like giving bad reviews but this one just didn’t make the cut for me. Perhaps if it went through a solid edit the problems would be fixed and the underlying story could shine. As it is, I would NOT recommend this as your first foray into LitRPG.

What’s next?

There are several more LitRPGs I want to try, like The Land Founding by Aleron Kong (how gorgeous is that cover!). But in addition I definitely want to try my hand at writing this genre. Being the super-nerd that I am, I already write RPG adventures for playing DnD as dungeon master, so it’s only a small hop to turn that into a novel.

Do you read LitRPG? Would you give it a go or are you on the side of the fence that says ‘why would you read that!’?

If you want to be notified when I release it, make sure you sign up the Bounty Hunter mailing list to the right.

UPDATE: I have released a GameLit book with fellow author Mikey Campling. You can get it on Amazon now: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N12JY67

Prison Quest

The Man in the High CastleI really should be more consistent with my reviews…
Anyway, today I’m reviewing a book which is very popular at the moment; The Man in the High Castle. It’s set in America in the 1960’s, but in an alternate world where the Nazi’s and Japan won the World War.

Not only is it a fantastic premise but it’s carried off beautifully with characters from all sides of the conflict. It brings up some hugely insightful questions about how things might have gone differently. But more than that, I think given the world’s current political climate it’s a good way of examining how perspectives and beliefs have evolved.

In terms of typos etc. the book was pretty much spotless, so nothing to critique there. I think my only concern was with the ‘reveal’ at the end. I felt it was too… fuzzy? (I’m not sure what word to use for it, if you have a suggestion, please feel free to comment below)… especially given how hard-lined and practical I found the rest of the book.

Other than that, it was beautiful.

I read it close on the heels of 1984 (which I see is rapidly climbing the charts – no big surprise given how the world is right now). While this was a fun story, and I loved the ‘what ifs’ raised, I don’t think it quite has the same depth that 1984 carries. If you haven’t read 1984, please do, even if it’s just so you can laugh (and cry at the same time) over how closely ‘alternative truths’ resemble ‘doublethink’.

But that’s enough politics! Overall, I’d give The Man in the High Castle 4.5/5 stars and strongly recommend it.

Have you read it, what did you think?

 

NovaChronicles_3DHopefully by this time next week Hero will be here… I’m overjoyed and sad at the same time by that. I’ve been writing Nova for a few years now and I’ve really become attached! But as I’ve said previously, it’s time to move on. So, to celebrate the end of the Nova Chronicles, I thought I’d answer some frequently asked questions about the series (and writing). If you  have any more questions, just let me know in the comments and I’ll reply!

 

Is this really the end of Nova’s story?

I won’t give any spoilers… but suffice to say there is room for Nova’s adventures to continue. Yes, I’ve left it open so that if I want to come back to Nova in the future, I can. However, ten books is quite a lot for a series and I think at some point Nova has to go on her own way.

Having said that, the universe of The Nova Chronicles is massive. Those of you who have read The UnConnected know there’s a lot more going on than was covered in Nova’s books. So, it’s possible that in the future you may see “The Tanguin Chronicles” or “The Aart Chronicles”…. or maybe a series about the first outbreak of HAV. (If any of these especially appeal to you, tell me in the comments! – I won’t know if you don’t tell me!)

But for the moment… yes, Nova’s story has come to an end.

 

What will you work on next?

I mentioned a little while back that I was working on a fantasy series. Well I’m pleased to say that that’s now more than 50,000 words long and still going full steam ahead. Keep an eye on the Bounty Hunter Bulletin for the release of that towards the end of the year.

I also have a couple of sci-fi stand-alones in the works which should be out before too long.

 

Why don’t Nova and Aart ever get together?

I made a solemn vow when I started this series that I would not contaminate my sci-fi adventure with romance… and I’ve held to that for 10 books. I’m afraid that romance elements never appealed to me, and they always seem to get in the way of the sci-fi/fantasy that I read. So, no… no romance. Besides, Aart and Nova were always more like brother and sister to me (feel free to disagree in the comments section :p ).

 

How did you first come up with the idea for Nova?

I took three things I enjoy and my brain mushed them together:

Dr Who + Firefly + Tomb Raider = The Nova Chronicles

 

Are their hidden ‘Easter Eggs’ in The Nova Chronicles?

Yes. Some of them I think only I will get, but they made me laugh at the time, others hopefully the perceptive reader will find. Some are quiet references to other books that I’ve enjoyed, and some of them reference previous events in the series, or my other books.

 

But what are they!?

Okay, okay, I’ll give you a hint to one of them… Did anyone find the bird skull in Stranger hauntingly familiar? Nova does have a weird connection with time after all…

 

Why doesn’t Nova use her powers more?

A tough question. But I think it boils down to this;

1) It’s incredibly dangerous. She genuinely could fall through time/space, never to be seen again. So after the events of Survivor she did everything she could to lock that part of herself away. Sure it sneaks out every now and then, but mostly she’s got it under control.

2) Nova’s encounter with the Ancients really scared her (I know it’s hard to tell because she’s so tough, but it did), so she avoids everything to do with it – as evidenced by her never telling any of her friends about her experience on Archalon.

3) How could the bad guys possibly win if Nova was as awesome as she is AND had super powers??!! (just kidding, but still…)

 

I want to see more of Cal!

I hear from so many people saying that Cal is their favourite character. I didn’t expect it when I first wrote him, but the more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I like him too. He’s so fun to write, it’s like writing a character who says exactly what everyone is thinking, but is too polite to say. And yet, you can’t hate him for it because he’s a robot!

Unfortunately Cal’s history before he met Nova is very dull, so he probably won’t have an origin story. After all… it was the crash landing on Tabryn that shook a few wires loose and gave him his special personality that we all know and love 😉

 

I have more questions…

Just write them in the comments section and I’ll answer ASAP!

Thank you all for being such wonderful readers, I hope you enjoy the last instalment of The Nova Chronicles!

 

Hey Readers!

Exciting news – Hero is in the final round of editing so it won’t be long until it’s released. Make sure you’re signed up to The Bounty Hunter Bulletin so you get an email as soon as it comes out! –>

I’m also working on a new fantasy series which I’m really enjoying (and hopefully you will too when it eventually comes out!)

TresspassOther than that, there’s nothing exciting going on in my world right now so I thought I’d share a book review with you. I recently had the opportunity to read a fantastic book from Mikey Campling; Trespass.

This is a thrilling read which, especially at the beginning, very much had the feeling of a Stephen King novel. There are three main time lines, although most of the focus is on a modern day boy who finds himself injured and stuck inside an abandoned quarry. The story focuses on the Darkeningstone; a mysterious slab of black stone that definitely has an air of the supernatural about it. I loved the way the stone was portrayed, it took on a life of its own and I could almost feel it coming through the pages.

I liked how the three timelines wove through each other and interconnected, it had me turning the pages to find out what happened next. Trespass is just the first in the series and I’ll be looking forward to picking up the next book and following the rest of the mystery of the Darkeningstone.

Buy it Now: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01GENAT4I/

 

 

As you all know, the Nova series will soon be coming to an end (at least temporarily) – it’ll be sad to say goodbye, but it does mean we can all look forward to some new and exciting things.

Aside from a couple of Sci-Fi stand-alones, I’m also in the process of outlining an epic fantasy series. I want this to be big. I want this to be, Game of Thrones, Name of the Wind, get people hooked – epic. But I have to admit, that’s a pretty daunting goal and it’s slowed me down a lot by thinking in those sort of terms. It’s hard (even after so many Nova books) to get the pressure out of my head and just write. So I’ll admit to suffering a bit of World-Builder’s disease on this one. I’ve drawn a map, I’ve answered hundreds of world-building questions, I’ve done monologues for my characters… and finally I’ve done an outline. But I think I’ll edit the outline before I actually write the book. It’s a pretty long process, and I know I should just write, but sometimes I think it pays to take your time, and I want this one to be memorable.

Some of you may not know that the first books I released were actually fantasy. Three epic fantasies about a race of people who were paired at birth with a dragon companion. Lots of people liked those books but I decided this year to unpublish them. The reason being that I’ve grown a lot as an author since I first wrote those and I know I can do better. Maybe I’ll go back and edit and re-release those at some point, but for now I’m happy to move on to bigger and better things, which brings us to this current project. It doesn’t even have a title yet, so I’ll just be referring to it as ‘Fantasy Project’, but I’ll be keeping you guys updated on how it’s progressing, and I promise to actually start writing it soon, like in the next week or so. I’ll also reveal sneak peak details about the project so make sure you keep checking back for new posts!

In the meantime, what are some amazing, epic, unforgettable books that you’ve read recently?