Saturday 16 November 2013

Book Review: Prince of Lies...

Night’s Masque Volume 3.
By Anne Lyle.

Mal is back in London with Sandy, although daily it seems his twin is becoming more skrayling and less the brother he knew and loved. But there are bigger things to worry about. The guisers must be driven out of England. Mal will have to warn the skraylings of the trouble his actions in Venice brought and seek their help to rid the land of threat. Unfortunately the guisers are not easily identifiable, so before they can beat them, they will have to find them.

Coby and Sandy are still guarding the precious soul they picked up in Venice and keeping the secret very close to their chests. The separation from Mal while he is on his next mission, however, is taking its toll on Coby; she longs to be part of the action just as much as she longs to keep them all safe from it. Magic, romance, Shakespeare and disguises all play a part in this conclusion to the Night’s Masque trilogy.

Prince of Lies picks up slightly farther on than the end of book two with the characters back in England, and overall there is a more settled feel to the narrative throughout. Like its predecessors the essence of the book relies on tension and the sense that danger is constantly right in front of the characters or just around the corner. The fight sequences in particular are detailed and well portrayed.

Since her in-depth development earlier in the series, in this volume Coby feels very much relegated to the background, playing the part of Mal’s distant companion and Kit’s keeper rather than being particularly core to the action and story herself. Mal is certainly very much back in the centre of things, and though he is an entertaining and exciting protagonist, the gap left by Coby’s back step is noticeable.

The large focus on relationships in this volume – in particular that of Mal and Coby, and of Erishen’s place in all their lives – whilst increasing the reader’s emotional connection to the characters in general does slow the pace. A new point of view character introduced in part two changes the dynamic of the story and opens the narrative to aid this for the latter part of the book. The conclusion is no means lacking in pace or action and delivers a satisfying finish to the story whilst very much leaving the possibility of future adventures.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 9 November 2013

World Fantasy Convention 2013, Blog Two…

Day two kicked off with a panel on worldbuilding “The Best of All Possible Worlds” with Robin Hobb, Hal Duncan, Patrick Rothfuss (who has the most awesome laugh by the way), Adrian Tchaikovsky and Robert Silverberg and moderated by Ellen Kushner. The essence of worldbuilding is that the devil is in the details, and there is a balance to achieve between providing the reader with enough details to bring the world to life around them whilst not ‘data dumping’ them with enough details to bore them senseless.

The key is to establish those things such as economic situation and currency, class, politics, geography and so forth in the world so that none of these aspects inadvertently become a hindrance to the story because they have not been considered. The basic necessity of worldbuilding is to make it believable and plausible and leave enough space for the reader to fill in aspects that are unnecessary to the story themselves.

Next I went to some readings and as it turned out they were all extracts from forthcoming pieces. Trudi Canavan gave us the enticing opening of her new series due to come out May 2014 and told us a little about the worlds and characters in that. Then onto Scott Lynch with a brief, animated performance from Wes Chu to begin with. Lynch’s extract was from a short story which will be in a forthcoming anthology and he gave us a glimpse of a world and characters as rich as those in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence. After that it was Joe Abercrombie’s turn to read an extract from his forthcoming book, which is aimed at younger readers though is evidently no less lacking in conflicts and shocks.

My final panel of the day was hugely entertaining – “Elvish has Left the Building” with Trudi Canavan, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Tad Williams, Adrian Stone and moderated by Stan Nicholls.

This panel discussed just what epic fantasy is and established that its key tropes will never change – scale, complexity and depth of story, for example. There was a lot of discussion about Tolkien’s domination of fantasy vs. ‘quieter’, smaller, sword and sorcery books. Interestingly the panel did also delve into the accessibility of science fiction to a wider audience through different media (you can be a science fiction fan without having read any SF books) compared to fantasy whose fan base has pretty much always come from avid readers.

And so the discussion ended and my motivation level shot up as it always does at these events – it is great to be surrounded by likeminded people and talented people who enjoy what they do and remind me why I want to be part of this industry. This was the best convention I’ve been to so far and well worth the cost of the trip and braving the terrible weather in Brighton for. 

Now, books to read and books to write… back to life.

Elloise Hopkins.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

World Fantasy Convention 2013, Blog One…

Division appeared early on and seemed to be the theme of the convention, though all in a light-hearted and intelligent manner. First up was during a panel entitled “All But Actors on a Stage: Creating Memorable Characters” with Fiona McIntosh, Robin Hobb, Stephen Gallagher, Suzanne McLeod, Jasper Kent and moderated by Thomas F. Monteleone.

The opinion that science fiction is driven by plot and fantasy by character was raised and bandied about a bit before Robin Hobb provided several strong examples of character led science fiction that pretty much blew that argument out of the water, although it was an interesting way of looking at the perceived differences between the two.

A panel with diverse beliefs certainly led to an animated discussion that was worth watching. You can make your own decision about which side of the argument you are on but it was fascinating hearing about how the panellists begin their approach to a story and how a character forms for each of them. Fiona McIntosh describing how her characters in The Lavender Keeper grew from a sprig of lavender was an excellent way of reminding us that we all approach writing differently and can take inspiration from anywhere.

From there I went straight into “The Play’s the Thing: Style or Substance in Fiction” with more division becoming evident from the offset. This time it was genre fiction vs. literary fiction with Jack Dann, Ian R. MacLeod, Geoff Ryman, Lisa Tuttle and moderated by Ellen Kushner.

The two sides of this argument were boiled down to plot vs. no plot, good characters vs. good prose, with literary fiction being hailed as having enviable, beautiful prose and genre fiction being way ahead on narrative and characterisation. The panel discussed which was more important. Well, both of course. What’s the point of having beautiful prose if it does or tells nothing?

My first day at wfc13 ended with the mass signing which – though not something I have ever attended before, and with full lighting in the hall, lots of cramped bodies and white tablecloths it did feel a little more academic than atmospheric – was a great opportunity to chat briefly with authors, get books signed and meet randomers in the many queues I found myself standing in.

More than anything the mass signing was a reminder of how friendly and approachable the authors and the other people who attend these events really are. It may not seem like it to newcomers; at times it may feel daunting and cliquey, but just put yourself out there and go for it. It’s also a great reminder that the authors love to hear that people enjoyed their work – after all, they have sweated, toiled and battled the dreaded writer’s curse over it.

Elloise Hopkins.