Book Review: The Timekeepers’ War

81C6jQyqOVL._SL1500_The Timekeepers War is the debut novel of Saskatchewan based writer, S.C. Jensen, but you wouldn’t know it. Skillfully written and edited, there is no hint that this book is written by anyone other than an author at the top of their game.

.
We are taken to a disconnected and post apocalyptic world, some hundreds of years into the future. There, people like the protagonist, Ghost, scrabble a hand-to-mouth existence amongst the ruins of the City, living in fear of one another, and of the burning rays of the Sun. Some have moved underground entirely, and these scenes did have resonances with Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ for me.

Unknown to many of the City’s inhabitants, others, considering themselves an elite, moved up, into a guarded luxury undreamt of by those below. This is the Elysian Empire: a dictatorship, run by the tyrannical Ursaar.
The Elysian Empire is a skilful and nightmarish blend of the worst of all worlds – think of Nero’s Rome with unbridled genetic engineering, and you’ll have something of the flavour of it. Psychologists would delight in picking apart the various conditions of the Ursaar, who is plagued by paranoia, megalomania, and best of all, a substitute Oedipal complex.

.
It is hard to write about this book without including too many spoilers, but I can say that Jensen has created a believable and complex world, peopled by strong characters. Many of them are not beauties, either physically or morally, just as most of us are not in real life. One thing I did love was the way that the book avoided painting anyone as entirely black or white – no-one is an angel, and motivations are mixed and sometimes obscure, again, truly reflecting society. Written as the first part of a series of books, you are often left wondering what people’s real aims are, and I’m sure that will provide ample fodder for the next books.

In the same vein, it was refreshing to have a kick-ass heroine who is strong, and can look after herself, and yet acknowledge that she has doubts and fears just like everyone else. Ghost is no superhero, but perhaps a woman steeled by the hardships of her existence.

There is plenty of action, guerrilla warfare, and even spirituality in The Timekeepers War, which will lead you through a rich world of secret societies, secret passages, steamy townships and impossibly rich gilded imperial gardens. A lengthy but necessary section of explanation and back story in the middle of the book is kept flowing well with intrigues and a deepening of the relationship between the main characters, Ghost and the mysterious Lynch.

Overall, The Timekeepers War is a highly accessible book, which deserved to be widely read. It would make a fine film, and I look forward eagerly to the sequel.

Five stars from me.

five-stars

 

 

I received a free ebook of The Timekeepers War, in return for an honest review.

Advertisements

Book launch!

MOFK COVER front finalI’m very excited to announce the launch of our new Anthology about honest motherhood – The Milk of Female Kindness!

It’s out now on Amazon and Createspace, with The Book Depository to follow.

Terrifically proud of the 28 women from all around the world who have shared their thoughts, creativity and time to make this book. It’s wonderfully diverse, with artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews, from women at all stages of motherhood. Many are established writers and artists: others are new to the world of publishing. Some of them have been featured in Writer’s Block already, and more are to come.

So – if you are a mother, know someone who is, or have a mother (and let’s face it, most of us have at some point ;)), then this book will touch you, challenge you, confront you, and best of all, make you rethink the role of motherhood.

If anyone is looking for a book for the holidays – this could be the one for you. 🙂

Guest post at the ‘Writer’s Shack’

1378419904

Guest post at the ‘Writer’s Shack’

I’m Guest Posting today over at ‘The Writer’s Shack‘ which is Riley Banks’ blog, with a bit of a grumble about Amazon. Riley makes a very pertinent comment on the post, about how non-US authors are treated. If enough people grumble, could it result in some changes to Amazon? You never know the strength of people power….

Book Review: Descent

713UwgkcxOL

Click here to reach the Amazon page for ‘Descent’

Descent is the first in the Rephraim series by Cheri Roman, and I have been lucky enough to read it hot off the press!

I should preface this review by noting that my tastes in fantasy tend to run to the flippant, and also that being an atheist, I was not as comfortable as many others would be with the religious references in Descent, although I’m sure that would be no impediment to most readers.

Descent is the story of seven angels, who under their military commander Fomor, decide to desert and plead neutrality in a heavenly war. To avoid the conflict, they come to Earth, and this is the tale of their exiled adventures and entanglements with humans – and the Fallen.

This is the first in a series of books, and as such Roman does a great job of strongly establishing the characters and setting in motion a chain of events which will make you eager to read the next book in the series.

There is drama here in aptly biblical proportions – birth, death, love and loss, and lots of action to keep you turning the pages into the night. It is moderately gory in parts, which does establish an appropriate level of revulsion towards the Fallen and their offspring.

Overall, a gripping read from Cheri Roman, and well worth a look.

Selling the Man (or Woman)

I read an interesting article in ‘The Age’ recently about the strange cult of celebrity which has risen up around writers. You can have a squizz at it here.

You could argue that there is a strange cult of celebrity around practically anyone (with a large enough voice and publicity machine) for no very good reasons, but in this case I’m fascinated by two ideas: firstly that people are genuinely interested in writers as people; and secondly that part of this interest seems to focus around the writing process itself.

I don’t know about you, but what interests me about my favourite authors are the things they write, rather than the people behind the stories. I’m happy to hear a tidbit of two if there is something genuinely fascinating about them, but if they are normal, middle class people, with a normal family and a nine to five job, well, that’s fine, but I’m much more interested in the strange and exotic fruits of their imagination. Frankly, even if they live in a commune, work as a bear trapper and moonlight as bellydancers, I’m still only going to be impressed by their writing if it strikes a chord with me. That said, I suppose one of the reasons many writers blog is presumably to feed the thirst for more information. 🙂

tumblr_m4rkm3yp5H1qlvmrio1_400

The second issue, that of trying to find out what “is the mysterious alchemy that transforms a hazy idea into 300 pages of gripping prose,” seems to be grasping at straws a little. It’s a kind of magic, and the best part about it is that it is a magic that’s unique to every individual. I understand that Thomas Wolfe wrote his work standing up, leaning his paper on the top of the fridge, but funnily enough, that’s not going to work for everyone. The wonderful thing about writing is that it is something wrestled from your own subconscious, and we need to find ways to make that wrestling as productive as we can.

I’d love to hear what you think about this. Are you curious about the people behind story? Does knowing more about them make you more likely to read their work? And have you found inspiration in hearing how others go about it?

Shedding skin

My novel, ‘The Artemis Effect’, is now out there in the big bad world, and ever so slowly, reviews have been trickling in. Some have been good, a few great, and one or two stinkers. I’m really grateful to all those people who have taken their time to read it, and to those who didn’t enjoy the experience, I’m sorry.

Thankfully, there have been far more drop into the good basket than the bad. I suppose that that’s about par for the course: when you look up reviews of any of the books you love (or hate), there will be other people with different opinions. Obviously people are entitled to have their own thoughts about a work. Sometimes it just isn’t their cup of tea (or whatever other warm beverage) : sometimes it seems as if they haven’t really understood it.

However, I have found that my attitude to these reviews has changed. When the book was newly born and still damp and fragile, I confess that I was gutted if I got a less than glowing review. Call me overly sensitive perhaps, but when you spend that long writing something, polishing and honing until you think it is as good as you can make it, then when someone comes along with their boots on and gives it a good kicking, it hurts.

Thayers_or_variable_king_snake_shedding_its_skin

Now, however, I won’t say that I’m overjoyed with a dubious review, but for some reason it is less painful. I think it’s because my focus has moved on to other projects, which are absorbing all my intellectual energy. I’m working on my own short story collection, and also on compiling a themed anthology. The anthology will hopefully be very diverse, with short stories, essays, poetry, interviews and artwork from women around the world. Both these projects feel intense and demanding of my time, glowing bright, where my novel feels more like cooling embers. It is fading more into the past, finished rather than growing.

The best way I can to describe it is rather like a snake shedding its skin. I can feel that the skin used to fit tightly, that I filled it to the best of my ability at that time, but now I am growing into another. Hopefully it will be more intricately patterned and intriguing than the last.

The faulty magic of spellchecker

magic wandIn my limited free time, I’ve been reading a novel by an Indie author on my Kindle, and although the story is fine, I have to say that I am finding it just a tad irritating. Although we turn out books often with no budget and very limited returns, I think Indie authors still really need to do their best to make sure that the book reads just as well as one produced by a commercial publisher. In this case, the spelling is driving me bonkers! It really interrupts the flow of a passage when you have to stop and decide whether the author is getting a bit funky with a metaphor, or if they have just bungled the spelling.

This book has not only the ubiquitous ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’, but also walking across a sandy ‘dessert’, and lifting his ‘shinning’ knife. Ouch! I can understand how the proofreader would have missed ‘mummer’ for ‘murmur’.

I’m not saying that my own work is perfect – every time I reread it I seem to find something which makes me cringe – but sometimes it seems as if people are relying on the computer’s spellchecker alone. Unfortunately, nothing replaces human eyes for picking up these bloopers. In an early draft of my novel, a character entered through the French ‘widow’ (window), which was rather unfortunate for both of them!

Enough ranting for now. I’ll calm down and keep reading, and perhaps you can join me in Visualising Whirled Peas.

All aboard the Omnibus!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about my next big project, which will be a collection of short stories. I’m probably at least half way through, with planning done for another 25%. I’ve been mistakenly calling it my Anthology, but apparently that term refers more accurately to a collection of works by different authors. What I’m working on is more properly an Omnibus, but that sounds rather cumbersome and lumbering to me.

Image

Could this be a Steampunk Omnibus?

A few things I’ve discovered so far:

  • It should be about the same word count as a novel (70K+)
  • Arguably, it should follow a ‘tent’ structure, leading and finishing with the strongest stories, and with another strong story in the middle like a tent pole.
  • The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts: stories should be organised to complement and bounce off one another.
  • Variety is a good thing, but there does need to also be some kind of unifying theme.

All well and good so far. The theme issues does bother me a little, in that my stories are sometimes scifi, sometimes bordering on fantasy, and sometimes just plain quirky (as you may know if you’ve read any of the free published works out there – see my Publications page for links). At the same time, I don’t particularly want to force the production of stories in a particular area to make them fit some contrived theme, so I think I’ll just keep writing the stories which I’d like to tell, and then perhaps discard those which are the sore thumbs of the collection.

I’d love to discuss with anyone out there their thoughts on short story collections.

Do you find it necessary to have a theme? Do you agree with the ‘tent structure’ theory? When reading short story collections, do you dip in, or read them from start to finish (the album vs. the single I suppose, in music terms).

Book Review: Embassytown by China Mieville

200px-Mieville_Embassytown_2011_UK

‘Embassytown’ is the first of China Mieville’s books that I’ve read, but based on this sample, I’d certainly be interested in trying some more of his work.
That said, at first I was far from convinced. It starts off with a lot of apparently made-up words and concepts without explanation, which is one of my pet peeves of sci-fi. Call me dull, but I don’t find this kind of thing intriguing. I’m torn instead between irritation that I don’t understand what the author is talking about, and a sneaking suspicion that they are doing it to seem clever.

Courtesy of xchd.com

Courtesy of xchd.com

However, in this case, once you plough on through the first few chapters, it is hard to see how Mieville could have written this story without the jargon, and remained true to the voice of his narrator, Avice. It is a slow seduction of a book. After a while, you realise that it is genuinely hard to put down, and that all the strange terms are second nature to you.
To give you some idea of the story, Avice comes from Embassytown – a place on the edge of the navigable universe. It’s a place very much locked within its own boundaries, both physical and political, as the human inhabitants are there only by the generosity of their very alien Hosts. Even the atmosphere is rigged up within the city to be breathable by humans, but it’s a tiny bubble of humanity in a very alien world. One oddity of the Hosts is that they speak with two voices simultaneously, and there must be a mind behind the words. Generations of Ambassadors – perfect human clones – have been bred to be able to speak to the Hosts with minds so close that they are effectively one soul. When a new Ambassador comes from their ruling planet and speaks Language, everything goes horribly wrong.
In fact, over and over again, just when things can’t seem to get any worse, they do. It does keep you on tenterhooks.
This is a highly political story, and also one which at its core has a fairly technical linguistic point. The story is not short of action, but it’s certainly not for dummies either. I think this would actually be a terrific book to study at school, although the act of studying it might kill the story, because there are so many aspects of society, empire, and political systems which could be studied, on top of the impressive world building and finesse of linguistics.

The scope of imagination which Mieville brings to this book is truly awe-inspiring, and I’d highly recommend it.

My rating: 5 stars

five-stars

Book Giveaway!

To celebrate some lovely reviews I’ve had lately (which I will reblog for those interested after this post), I’m holding a Goodreads Giveaway! There are five paperback copies of ‘The Artemis Effect’ up for grabs in many countries around the world, so if you’ve been tempted to give it a go, here is your chance!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Artemis Effect by Kasia James

The Artemis Effect

by Kasia James

Giveaway ends January 29, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

If you’re not yet a member of Goodreads, don’t despair. It’s free to join,and you may just meet some other people with similar reading interests. 🙂