Archive for July, 2014

Angus Watson was kind enough to take some time and answer a few questions about his debut, Age of Iron, the idea of ‘grimdark’ and British sense of humour.

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For those yet to read Age of Iron, could you give a brief outline of the novel?

The trilogy rewrites how the ancient Britons defeated Roman general Julius Caesars’ unstoppable legions and his druid’s dark magic (which actually happened, possibly without the dark magic bit). In book one, a skilled but lazy warrior, a beautiful, revengeful archer, a weird mystical child and others unite to defeat the evil forces of southern Britain’s tyrant king.

I’ve heard that the novel was born from a newspaper article you wrote, could you explain how your debut came about?

I wrote an article on Iron Age hillforts for the Telegraph. There are loads of these gigantic forts – ditches and ramparts dug around the flattened top of a hill – all over southern Britain. The Iron Age was a busy, massive, but totally unknown part of British history despite being relatively recent (Age of Iron is set just over 2000 years ago. Egypt’s pyramids that still sit next to KFC in Cairo are 4500 years old). Walking on a hillfort with an expert called Peter Woodward, I asked him if the British Iron Age was like Conan the Barbarian, full of muscle-bound warriors rescuing virgins from snake temples. He said that as far as we know, yes. I decided to write a novel set in the period there and then.

Whilst there are obvious differences, how did your journalism background feed into your novel writing?

Economy. My hillforts article for the Telegraph, for example, was 800 words long but I could have written 30,000. I learnt to cram everything I wanted to say into fewer words without it feeling crammed. At least that was the idea. The Age of Iron trilogy is about the same length as famously long War and Peace, so some might disagree.

The Iron Age is an intriguing setting for a novel – how much research was involved and what was it like to infer and extrapolate from the little available history to create your background?

Because the ancient British didn’t write and any oral histories have since disappeared, there is very little research that can be done. So I read all the available books, went to three museums, climbed a load of hillforts and that was that. Then I very much enjoyed building a world within the parameters of known history.

I’ve described Age of Iron as ‘grimdark’ what are your thoughts on this type of classification?

The book is grim and dark in parts but I don’t think that is the overall feel, considering that the real centrepiece, possibly, is the platonic relationship between a jaded man and an enthusiastic child. However I realise that books need to be categorised, and if Age of Iron is being put into the same category as Joe Abercrombie’s excellent novels (which aren’t that grim or dark either) then I’m very happy.

However, your novel (and many of the characters) displays a fantastic sense of humour – what were the roots behind that?

I think there’s an amazing prejudice against people in the past. We see them as one dimensional and stupid and I think that’s utterly wrong – they were as passionate, clumsy, manipulative etc etc as we are. So, if you go into any office or factory or school or army barracks or wherever today, you’ll find witty people making funny jokes. I think it was the same in the past, so that’s why many of the characters have senses of humour. As to the book itself having a sense of humour, I think you can either cry or laugh at the world and I choose the latter.

There is some great scepticism and discussion around religion and the Druids – could you unpack your thoughts on why your characters have such reactions in what was, seemingly, a religious age?

See previous answer. People in the past were the same as us. Today we have a new religion called climate change. Some believe fervently and will scream hatred if anyone says a word against it, some defend it passionately but still drive Range Rovers, politicians and business exploit it to make political capital and money, and some people, while not necessarily denying that climate change exists, observe the others’ behaviour and mock it. Christianity got the same treatment when it was big, as did the Roman gods, so think it’s safe to say that the Iron Age gods provoked the same reactions.

I was also intrigued by the very modern attitudes of the British women and your strong female leads – would a Lowa have existed back then?

I’ve got a half-baked, badly-researched idea the Romans subjugated women through their own culture, then by changing Christianity into the form that’s been passed down. Before the Romans conquered Europe and the Roman version of Christianity conquered the world, women were seen as equal to men. It’s a theory, it would probably fall apart if someone who knew what they were talking about debated it with me, but I like it and I believe it. The theory is slightly backed up by the most famous British rebel against the Romans – Boadicea – being a woman.

The mix of historical fact and fantasy was inspired and your magic system was fittingly subtle – what was the thinking behind the magic and those who wield it?

I like the idea that there was a bit of magic around at the time. Plenty of people believe that Jesus could do a few tricks less than a hundred years after the events in my books and I don’t think Spring, Drustan’s or Felix’s magic is any weirder than his. There’ll be more about what that magic is and why it’s gone in the next two books.

Dug and Spring are wonderful characters with a funny and touching relationship – can we expect to see more of them?

There will be more of both of them, but they’re going to face challenges that make the Monster look like a baby rabbit (there were no rabbits in Britain during the Iron Age, so they won’t face any actual rabbits until one of them goes to Gaul (France) in book three).

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I’m not sure what I was expecting from a movie tie-in novel but I wasn’t thinking that it would be such a well written, thought provoking, down-right sheer entertaining read. Author Greg Keyes has done a brilliant job, not only in getting me excited for the forthcoming film but in also producing a fantastic and balanced story.

The blurb doesn’t really say much but here it is: The official prequel novel to the brand-new movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes bridges the gap between the events of the box-office smash Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the much-anticipated sequel, as well as offering fans the full story that leads into the action on screen.

The novel focuses on a cast of characters, two main leads on the ape side of the story and a few more on the human side. What quickly becomes apparent is that, in stark contrast to the original 1968 film where the apes are the ‘baddies’, Keyes portrays a more nuanced landscape of greys. In fact, the book really tends toward Caesar and his troop of liberated apes, chimps and orangutans as the ones in the right.

Leading off from the franchise’s reboot and the ending of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar is leading his troop into the redwood forest, eager to escape from human society. Gen-Sys are attempting to clear up the aftermath of the ape’s escape but, more importantly, are also trying to cover up the extent of this strange uprising. Drafting in a young and naive primatologist, Clancy, and an old hunter from the Congo, Malakai, Gen-Sys are also using their paramilitary branch Anvil to capture and kill Caesar and his gang. Clancy and Malakai soon realise there is more to this operation than meets the eye as they become, effectively, prisoners of Anvil with no contact to the outside world allowed.

In the meantime, a virus has broken out and is rapidly claiming lives. It is against this background that the novel picks up the pace as panic sets in and society unravels into rioting, looting and mayhem. A group of characters, from a doctor to a reporter and the ex-chief of police are all trying to piece together what is happening. With humanity on the verge of extinction the picture becomes clear. The deadly virus is directly connected to the apes increased intelligence and Gen-Sys are to blame.

What Keyes does exceptionally well is tell the story from multiple view points, pairing seemingly contradictory characters together. Clancy, with her naïveté, is in direct contrast to Malakai, a former child soldier, ape hunter and mercenary with a terrifying past. Equally, Koba and Caesar’s dichotomy is just as stark yet all have come to the same conclusions about life and equality. It is in the telling of these histories, through flash-back memories that we are exposed to humanities many horrors, from the injuries we inflict on each other to the abuse we dole out to animals and those deemed less than us.

In the end, it is the best of humanity that saves Caesar and his troop allowing them to inherit the Earth. Keyes’ novel is a fast, fun read but it also takes to task some pretty hefty ideas. Malakai and Koba’s histories are very effective tools and add serious weight to the story. It paints the whole franchise in an intriguing light and, whilst not essential to the enjoyment of the movies, is a brilliant book that adds gravity and context to the whole Planet of the Apes enterprise.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

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As someone who has spent the best part of a decade writing and reporting on mixed martial arts, this latest from Rebellion has me intrigued.

The blurb sounds interesting and, if you wanted to give your protagonist a tough background, MMA fits the bill (I met my wife at a MMA gym and, lord knows, she is tough). Here’s hoping Tricia Sullivan’s YA novel lives up to the internet hype and does the sport proud…

Mixed martial arts, international crime, celebrity and mythical creatures combine in this masterful new tale of a young female fighter, from award-winning author Tricia Sullivan.

No-one messes with Jade Barrera. In the ring she’s a champion with an unbeaten takedown record, but Jade’s got a temper and one day it’s going to get her in trouble.

Following her disqualification for dirty tactics in the cage – and her run in with one of Hollywood’s hottest stars – Jade’s trainer, Mr B, is left with no choice: Jade needs to cool it down if she’s ever going to reach her full potential. Luckily Mr B’s got contacts, and soon Jade finds herself out of New Jersey and into a brutal new training camp in the heart of Thailand.

Mya is a young refugee, placed under the protection of the shadowy custodianship of Richard Fuller. But is Fuller’s benevolence all it seems, and why is he so interested in her link to the mythical forest of Himmapan?

As their lives collide, can Jade channel her rage and fight for her – and Mya’s – survival?

Shadowboxer is nuanced and evocative YA title with huge crossover appeal from hit author Tricia Sullivan, which seamlessly ties together the mythical and the contemporary to create a beautiful coming of age story for a new generation

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I was sent this a while ago but never got around to reading it…until last night and I couldn’t put it down. The writing style and first person narrative lends itself to a quick read whilst the plot was, literally, addictive. Though I’ve been on a bit of a zombie horror binge of late, I’ve been very lucky with my choices. Most are recommendations from great and trusted sources; Fiend was a stab in the dark that struck gold.

When Chase Daniels sees the little girl in umbrella-print socks disemboweling the Rottweiler, he’s not too concerned. As a longtime meth addict, he’s no stranger to such horrifying drug-fueled hallucinations. But as he and his fellow junkies soon discover, the little girl is no illusion. The end of the world really has arrived. And with Chase’s life already destroyed beyond all hope of redemption, Armageddon might actually be an opportunity–a last chance to hit restart, win back the love of his life, and become the person he once dreamed of being.

The opening gambit is a pure drug fuelled hypnotic hallucination that doesn’t stop. Chase, the protagonist and the most self-serving junkie in literature, and his friend Typewriter John have been on a meth smoking bender for a week. Thinking the dog chomping little girl is at first imaginary and, then, a substance induced hallucination of a child who they just murdered by mistake, the pair go on the run. However, it dawns on them that the abandoned streets and Chase’s dead neighbour may be connected to something greater.

Drug addled and at their mental breaking point, Chase and Typewriter not only have to dodge a bunch of reanimated corpses intent on eating them, they have the even greater worry of their crushing addiction. After some hair-raising adventures, Chase manages to save his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend and the gang head out to a dealer’s cabin in the woods to set up the good life, away from the zombies but mainly, and more importantly, with the man who can cook meth. Things go typically pear shaped as the junkies lose perspective and control and the happy gang are soon losing members in their strange struggle to survive the apocalypse.

Chase works out that it’s the meth that has saved them from the disease which has claimed the rest of the population. But, whilst the addiction that has ruined them becomes suddenly condoned, it changes nothing. The book is a gripping and heart-wrenching meditation on the vile and desperate need of drug addiction; the pointless and self loathing constant, the ceaseless and unsatisfied itch, and the weird zen like moment of self-destruction of the hit that never lasts or does all that it promises to do. Fiend is a powerful read.

The writing style sucks you in to the conniving and selfish world of Chase and his friends. The desperation for meth and the dirty, consuming highs and lows pour from the page, creating an entangling and hypnotic narrative. The horror of chasing the next hit is almost worse than Stenson’s super creepy, giggling version of the zombie.

It’s like Breaking Bad mashed together with The Walking Dead, told from the perspective of the most scabby, greasy dishonest junkie available. But, Stenson’s novel is so much more. It picks away at what’s underneath the addiction to the heart of these very damaged characters. It is there that the book does so much. It highlights the lose of innocence, the desperation and loneliness and the deep desire to return to a place of happiness; to rewind the clock and never make that first, damning mistake. Fiend is a zombie horror on its surface, a strung out meth novel underneath but, at its heart, a polemic on the human condition and it is fantastic.

Review copy
Published by William Heinemann

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There’s a debate in fantasy about the category ‘grimdark’: Joe Abercrombie seems to embrace it (just check his twitter handle) whilst Mark Lawrence thinks it pointless. I’ll not argue with either of those titans of fiction. Angus Watson’s debut, however, fits the criteria for that category well as his novel is definitely grim and, at times, very dark. Set in the less than understood Iron Age of ancient Britain, Watson may not have created a new world but he has been brilliantly inventive with the sparse information historians have of that period to produce a superb fantasy story.

Following the self-reflexive and humble warrior Dug, we’re soon introduced to the way of the Iron Age from the everyday village full of crafts people to some very nasty and power drunk Druids and Kings. After finding himself on the wrong side of a battle (more accurately a slaughter) against the very King he was hoping to enlist with, Dug’s simple plan for an easy life becomes very complicated. He first meets Spring as she and her companions scavenge for treasure amongst the battle’s dead. Spring turns out to be an extremely strange ten-year old girl with some impressive talents. After deciding and failing to mercy kill her and then deciding to abandon her, Dug soon finds himself entangled in helping Lowa, an archer from the very army responsible for the earlier slaughter.

Lowa, once a heralded soldier in King Zadar’s army is now on the run after narrowly escaping an execution that claimed her sister, and hell-bent on revenge. Dug, enamoured by the young warrior, decides to help. Spring tags along being equally hilarious and helpful exactly when needed. After numerous scraps, treacherous encounters and betrayals, the gang find themselves fulfilling Lowa’s plan though not in the way any of them thought. From Dug’s opening ruminations, the story gathers pace and momentum becoming more complex and intense until the fantastic set piece conclusion.

Age of Iron is a brilliant tale of vengeance packed with action and a tumble of vibrant and canny characters. Watson’s novel is also highly informative, showing how ancient Britain and it’s people lived (who apparently held some fairly modern attitudes). There’s some great chapters on the notions of power, religion and mysticism and even a little digression on the pleasures of long distance running. Coming in at well over 500 pages, the novel is hefty but what it does is allow Watson to wonderfully describe and uncover both his setting and his collection of actors. The book never feels slow or ponderous but reads at a decent pace as it gathers steam for the big finale.

From the intriguing blend of historical fiction and fantasy elements to the engaging sense of humour that underpins his main characters and their interactions, Watson has created a brilliant and confident debut. At turns the book is equally funny, thrilling, horrifying and informative. Dug and Spring are a truly fantastic duo bringing light to the dark and grim setting of an ancient Britain in the throes of tribal warfare and the threat of an approaching Roman invasion. If you like your fantasy packed with blood thirsty Druids, hammer-wielding heroes, strong female leads, action, intrigue, betrayal, and a brilliantly conceived world then Age of Iron is for you.

Review copy
Published by Orbit

Solaris and Abaddon have recently been producing some great anthologies of late and Autumn 2014 will see them print three more collections. Check out the blurbs below.

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Following its critically well-received and continuingly popular predecessors Solaris Rising 1, 1.5 and 2, Ian Whates returns to curate this latest collection of cutting edge SF short stories in Solaris Rising 3.

With an exciting line up of authors that continues Solaris Books trademark of mixing bestselling, award winning and emerging authors to break new ground in SF publishing, Solaris Rising 3 is a beautiful executed SF anthology that resonates far beyond the known boundaries of the universe

Solaris Rising 3 pushes the boundaries of current SF publishing and hammers home, story after story, Whates’ mission statement to prove that SF is the most exciting and inspiring of all the fiction genres; offering the poignant reflection of humanity – often funny, often dark and always surprising – that sits at the heart of all great fiction writing, and stretching it across time and space.

With contributions from Ken Liu, Rachel Swirsky, Gareth L. Powell, Aliette de Bodard, Tony Ballantyne and many, many more, Solaris Rising 3 is a diverse collection of ground-breaking stories that will be essential reading for SF fans everywhere.

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From under the mirror balls of Studio 54 to the heart of a bloody Wizard war, this is Holmes and Watson as you’ve never, ever seen them before. In Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets Abaddon Books editor David Moore has brought together the finest celebrated and new talent in SF and Fantasy writing to create a new generation of Holmes stories that will confound everything you ever thought you knew about Doyle’s most famous characters.

Featuring witch trials, fanfiction and a host of grisly murders Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets is a contemporary look at the world of Sherlock Holmes that will go far beyond just delighting fans of the books, television shows and films, and provide a challenging new world for genre lovers to explore

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Award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan takes up the mantle once again for the latest edition of Fearsome Magics: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy – the new generation of the acclaimed fantasy anthology series from Solaris Books.

With the incredibly warm public and critical reception of his SF based anthologies Reach for Infinity and Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 8, alongside two Hugo nominations (including Best Short Form Editor), 2014 really has been the year of Jonathan Strahan, and it looks set to continue with his final Solaris anthology release of the year: Fearsome Magics: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy.

Continuing the legacy of George Mann’s original Solaris Book of New Fantasy series with finesse, Strahan’s latest Fearsome Magics collection brings together some of the brightest and best names in fantasy writing and allows their imagination to run riot in an out-pouring of awe, wonder and – of course – magic.

From the creeping corridors of ‘Dream London Hospital’ (Ballantyne) to the omniscient tower of ‘The Safe House’ (Parker) and across into the archaic rural of ‘The Changeling’ (Bradley), Fearsome Magics paints a vivid tapestry of the fantastical worlds that sit just outside our reality; one in which mathematics and magic are interchangeable and where the wildest dreams of our imagination are realised.

Fearsome Magics: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy includes new short stories from Tony Ballantyne, Genevieve Valentine, Justina Robson, Robert Shearman, and many more

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The third instalment in Ian McDonald’s Everness series, Empress of the Sun pushes the notion of YA literature to its boundaries. I’ve only read two young adult series before: the ubiquitous Harry Potter novels, devoured whilst completing my Masters, and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, enjoyed whilst recovering from a broken leg. Ian McDonald’s series deserves to be mentioned alongside those other brilliant YA, coming-of-age type adventures. However, there is a certain darkness and a certain budding adulthood that is maybe lacking in either of those mentioned.

Both Rowling and Pullman’s novels feature struggle and hardship, loss and the battle of good against evil. But, where McDonald diverges is in his ability to make grey those hard choices, to muddy the moral waters of his young protagonist. He also does this against a background of youth as it exists today, particularly in London. The obsession with phones, computers, fashion and football all mingled in with teenage angst that even made this ageing beard hark back to those awkward times.

The Everness series follows Everett Singh as he attempts to track down his father, a scientist kidnapped by a shadowy organisation and taken to a parallel world. Everett is, himself, a bit of a maths wizard and discovers that his father has given him the ‘infundibulum’ – a map to understand and conjure portals to anywhere I’m the multitude of parallel Earths. The series is one long, fantastic thesis on brilliant world building as Everett discovers more worlds, more alien Earths and more strange and intriguing characters – some alternatives to those he knows on his own Earth. It’s on these adventures that he becomes a crew member on an airship (think Zeppelin) as he jumps around the multiverse, battling those who took his father, a version of himself cruelly made into a cyborg, an unrelenting swarm of nanobots intent on total sublimation along with his own angst and fears.

Empress of the Sun does two things brilliantly. It shows the development of Everett as he loses his innocence and idealism and takes on tough, horrible choices. It shows the change from boy into teenager and the struggle it can be. But, importantly, it places Everett firmly in a world (or worlds) where nothing is black or white. The other thing it does is provide a thrilling adventure in a stunningly creative setting where dinosaurs are super evolved beings with millions of years in advanced technology. Everett and the crew are being hunted, their backs to the wall, but still needing to save the known worlds and stay one step ahead of their enemies.

Ian McDonald manages to weave a number of themes and stories brilliantly into his series. His science is believable and deftly handled, his characters (especially the teens) crackle with life, his multiverse is fascinating and the plot is driven with intrigue, emotion and conflict. The Everness books are wonderfully and beautifully written, epitomising what YA literature should be; hugely entertaining yet thoughtful and intelligent.

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I was very lucky to get to ask authors Nik Vincent and Dan Abnett a few questions about their latest book, Fiefdom. Scroll down a few posts and you can check out my review or, even better, grab the book and read it!

For those yet to read Fiefdom, could you give a brief explanation of the book?

Dan: A hundred years after Kingdom, the Aux tribes of Berlin survive in the old railway tunnels below the city. They scrap among themselves and tell the legends of their warrior forefathers and of Them. Evelyn War knows something that the others do not. She knows that the legends are real, that the mini-ice age is coming to an end and that Them are about to return.

Fiefdom is based on a comic book, what was it like moving the story from that medium into the novel?

Nik: I was a huge fan of Dan’s comic. It was spare, lyrical and beautifully realised in Richard Elson’s artwork. I also always believed there was a lot of room to reinvent it for long-form fiction. I liked the idea of taking that very limited language base and incorporating it into a long narrative. There were a lot of ideas and themes that could be expanded on. I also thought it would be interesting to leave the comic where it was so that strand of the story could develop organically. I really wanted to begin again in a new time and location with new characters, using the comic as the legend that is the root of this new incarnation.

How satisfying was it to extrapolate Fiefdom from the comic and what were the key moments you wanted to hit with the story of the Zoo Pack?

Dan: It was hugely satisfying to begin again and to take nothing for granted. Everything that the characters know in the comic book about their lives and their enemy, about their purpose is lost to legend at the beginning of Fiefdom. Everything has to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Nik: Balance was always the key. Balance between readers of Kingdom and new readers. Balance between characters imported from the comic book and reintroduced as legends in Fiefdom and the novel’s own protagonists. Balance between the very different landscapes of the comic and the novel. Ultimately, of course, the key moments were the revelations, whether they came in the forms of the legends or in the action. And Them… Always Them.

Could you explain a little what the process is like writing as a part of a team – how it happened and how it works?

Nik: It’s rare for Dan to work with another writer. His collaborative work is generally about other things, and then he completes the writing chores. Both of us write words on the page. Of course, we’ve known each other for over thirty years, and we share a writing room, whether we’re working on the same project or doing our own things.

Dan: We begin by working on ideas together. We assemble them into a plot, and break down chapters. Nik invariably starts the writing, and then we play tag. We work on each other’s words, and add more of our own, or ask each other to rewrite. Seamlessness is the key. We aim for something that works as a whole, so that it becomes hard to see where one of us has broken off and the other taken over.

Nik: I tend to do more research and I always do final edits. Dan tends to write more action sequences. That wasn’t necessarily the case with this novel. We generally buoy each other along. Enthusiasm, whether it is on the part of the reader or the writer makes the work easier. I tend to agonise more than Dan, but when he likes what I’m doing, the confidence boost keeps me going at times when it might seem simpler for Dan to step in and take over.

I’ve described Fiefdom as pulp fiction at its best – what was the motivation for the story?

Nik: Kingdom was one of my favourites of Dan’s comic books from the moment he told me about the idea for it. I’ve loved it from the beginning. There wasn’t much chance I’d ever write the comic, so I’ve been advocating for this novel for some time. When Abaddon Books started to talk about the possibility of writing a Kingdom novel I jumped at the chance. We like to work together when we can, and Dan was onboard very quickly.

The way that the ‘pack’ was slowly revealed to be hybrid warriors was, I
thought, brilliantly executed – how difficult was it coming from the comic
visual style to be so restrained with certain details whilst still conveying
such a rich world?

Dan: It was actually quite an organic process. I feel as if the Aux are old friends, but re-locating them in time and place gave me the opportunity to re-think their existence and give them new motivations. That made it much easier to think of them from the reader’s viewpoint and get to know them alongside the readership.

Nik: I think it helps that I really liked these characters. There’s a genuine innocence about them, and a very real threat to their existence that they don’t fully comprehend, despite having the historic tools for that understanding.

There’s lots of clever (almost tongue in cheek) elements to the story from the
names of the characters to the notion of hearers and ‘his master’s voice’ – what were the inspiration for those ideas?

Nik: Honestly, that was a mixed curse. Dan began it all in Kingdom. The character names were tricky, because there were very many more named characters in the novel than there are ever likely to be in a comic. We also wanted to switch from movie star names to names from Art and Literature, because we were switching hemispheres, moving to Europe. The names also had to resonate. We both have English degrees, but I also studied Fine Art, which came in very useful. There’s considerable weight behind many of those choices. Ezra Pound, for example, doesn’t just give us the meanings of ‘pound’ as in ‘to beat’ or ‘an enclosure where dogs are housed’; Ezra Pound was also a Nazi sympathiser, and this story is set in Berlin, so there’s that connection, too.

Hearers came directly out of Dan using Masters in Kingdom. Did I mention that a lot of this process is organic?

The setting was fantastic – what made you choose Berlin?

Dan: We wanted to send the Aux underground. Originally we were going to use the Channel Tunnel, but it soon became clear that a more complex underground system would better suit our needs. London was too obvious, but we wanted to use Europe. We were riffing on World War II themes at the time, and Paris was too complete. Berlin was bombed extensively, and, of course partitioned after the war. It is a fascinating city with a long and enduring history, and, of course, it has the underground railway that we were looking for.

Nik: The more I researched the city, the more obvious it became that it was the perfect choice.

There’s clearly a great background to Fiefdom, will we get to see more of that history or can we expect to see more of the world post-Gene the Hackman next?

Dan: We’re hoping that there will be more Kingdom and more Fiefdom. We’d certainly love the opportunity to revisit both incarnations of this particular universe.

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Whilst the postie around our way delights in cursing those of us who deign to have parcels delivered, I missed the wrath and colourful language of her this week and had to make do with a trip to the post office. But what a great trip.

The very wonderful people at Little, Brown Book Group (who publish Orbit books in the UK) sent me a couple of fantastic titles. I am truly a very lucky reader and can’t wait to get stuck in.

First up, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan. It’s a book that’s been on my radar for a while and I’m really looking forward to getting to read this very soon.

We have fought battles that left more than a hundred corpses on the ground and not a word of it has ever been set down. The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners. Vaelin Al Sorna is the Sixth Order’s newest recruit. Under their brutal training regime, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly – all in the name of protecting the Realm and the Faith. Now his skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if he is to survive the coming conflict. Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.

Next is D.J. Molles The Remaining – Refugees. Unfortunately, this is the third book in the series but, again, I’ve heard a lot of hype about this over the internet and I definitely want to read the author’s work. Hopefully, I’ll get my hands on the first couple of novels in the series soon.

He has fought the fight, and run the race.

But the enemies never stop coming, and the race has no finish line.

It has been three months since Captain Lee Harden found the survivors at Camp Ryder. With winter looming, Lee is on the verge of establishing Camp Ryder as a hub of safety and stability in the region. But not everyone agrees with Lee’s mission . . . or his methods. Growing tensions between camp leadership are coming to a head, and as Lee struggles amid the dissention and controversy, new revelations about the infected threaten to destroy everything he has worked for.

Lastly comes Angus Watson’s Age of Iron. The blurb sounds great and I’m really keen to check out the novel. I think this may get pushed to the top of the pile…

LEGENDS AREN’T BORN. THEY’RE FORGED.

Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar’s army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people.

First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar’s most fearsome warriors, who’s vowed revenge on the king for her sister’s execution.

Now Dug’s on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join ­- and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that’s going to get them all killed . . .

It’s a glorious day to die.

What are you reading?

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I don’t read much satire but I do appreciate the format (my wife and I have nearly every Terry Pratchett Discworld novel). Marie Phillips has already made a name for herself with her debut, Gods Behaving Badly. This, her second novel, takes Camelot as it’s focus for some funny bone treatment. Check out the blurb below.

Sir Humphrey du Val of the Table of Less Valued Knights – Camelot’s least prestigious table, with one leg shorter than the others so that it has to be propped up with a folded napkin – doesn’t do quests … until he meets Elaine, a damsel in distress with a secret to hide.

Meanwhile, Queen Martha of Puddock is on the run from an arranged marriage to the odious Prince Edwin of Tuft. But an encounter with the Locum of the Lake (standing in for the full-time Lady) leaves her with a quest of her own: to find her missing brother, long believed dead.

The two quests collide, introducing a host of Arthurian misfits, including a freakishly short giant, a twelve-year-old crone, an amorous unicorn, and a magic sword with a mind of her own.