With the fantasy community strongly divided upon announcements of George R.R. Martin’s new book, Fire and Blood, everyone seems to be expressing their feelings on the subject, whether that might be joy or disappointment. Indeed, I’ve seen comments ranging from childish excitement to calling for other readers not to buy the book until The Winds of Winter is finally out. Some declared that they lost interest in these books altogether and that they can’t be bothered to buy it.

I can’t deny I had mixed feelings myself when I saw the first post about it. It was a mixture of curiosity, sadness, puzzlement and hope.

I hadn’t actually picked up ASOIAF until I’d seen the first season of Game of Thrones, and really wanted to know what happened next. Then I remember loving the second book so much that I actually went back and got the first one, even if I’d seen the film version already. The first few books were pure delight and I loved them. By the time I reached the fifth however I became a little disillusioned. So many characters I loved died or seemed to have been moved out from the centre of the story and so many new characters were introduced instead I didn’t strongly care about at that point, that my initial enthusiasm faded. For this reason I can’t say I’m too bothered about the next book not being out yet. Of course, I will read it when it’s ready, but in the meantime I’m not going to howl my pain and disappointment into the world.

So what about this new book then? Knowing nothing of the author and basing my decision purely on his writing talent I would probably give it a go. But having actually met him and adding this experience into the equation, I would say I will definitely support him and buy it when it’s out. Hell, I’m even looking forward to doing one of these Funko Pop book photos I became so fond of lately.

The fantasy community is a friendly one. Yet, I’ve experienced my fair share of negativity. I’ve seen a lot of rivalry, jealousy, I met authors and publishers who looked down on me, or ignored me, or grew a dislike toward me without even knowing me, simply because I love and promote Mark Lawrence’s books. Yet, George R.R. Martin, who is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) names out there, has shown me nothing but endearing kindness and generosity, without even knowing who I was. On top of this, while I never found out if he liked any of Mark’s books, I know he loved his short story, The Visitor (due to appear in the Wild Card series this year), which is such a wonderful piece and I’m so pleased that he finally got to enjoy Mark’s writing. (Not that I didn’t tell him it was good. Trust me with being the only person on the planet who wasn’t going to talk to him about Game of Thrones upon a rare occasion of meeting him, but Prince of Thorns by some other guy instead.) I do hope he will read Power Word Kill (or One Word Kill) at some point, too, because if he loved The Visitor, he will love this new series, too.

Anyhow. So of course, I will buy his new book. The only question remains whether I should get the US version with the Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme cover (who is the US cover artist for Red Sister) or the UK cover, which is also nice, but apparently isn’t the final cover yet… I’m tired of winter. I want summer now and give me these promised dragons already! 😀

 

Below I ramble a bit about beta-reading. If you found this article by googling Holy Sister and were hoping to read about what happens in the last book you’ll be disappointed. I promise I’ll post the blurb on ThatThornGuy.com as soon as it’s written and I’m allowed. But I imagine the below might be more interesting to writers and beta-readers, if anyone, at all.

Someone last year asked me how anyone becomes a beta-reader. Is there a course? In my somewhat limited experience this happens when an author asks you. You can occasionally see them posting an open request on the internet, on forums or in discussion groups, so keep an eye out for opportunities. Most often it’s a private thing though, because for many writers it’s important that they sufficiently know you and trust you. I don’t often see posts from other beta-readers though, so the confusion is understandable. In fact, for many readers I shall undoubtedly remain the woman who sends Mark wine and chocolate, gets to read his books early and has nothing but praise for him. In reality there is a little more to it though, which I’ll be talking about here to anyone interested.

I spent the beginning of April going through Holy Sister with a focus on a few things that had been slightly changed since the publisher’s edit. Re-reading a book two years after the first time, but one year before it gets published is pretty much like walking on no man’s land. There’s no one in sight but the author to discuss my findings with and we have very different perspectives.

I write, too, and can call myself lucky to have a few great beta readers who give feedback on my chapters. In theory I know how beta-reading goes from both sides of the process. You tell the author what works, what doesn’t work, what you like, what you don’t like, what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense, what intrigues you, what bores you. You point out any inconsistencies you spot. Maybe even any typos you spot. If you’re very dedicated you might even come up with some suggestions on how to make improvements. Then that’s it. Your work is finished, thank you very much. The author takes a look at your notes and decides what to action and what not. If they work closely with you they might even show you later how they implemented some of your suggestions.

As a writer this is pretty much what I’m hoping for from my betas and anything more would likely make the relationship awkward. Luckily beta-readers are usually not fanatics though and won’t pursue things further than reasonably expected. They have already spent a good amount of time and energy on your work, the rest is up to you. In turn, they learned from the process, which should benefit their own writing.

So anyhow. I have enough experience to know how it should work and how it shouldn’t. The way we run this ship with Mark is strongly in the second category. It really shouldn’t work. But somehow it does.

‘So, what poses the difficulties?’ you might ask. Well, first of all, as you can probably guess, someone who runs a fansite all alone (despite several people believing it a whole team), is pretty passionate about these books. Mark’s books always meant a lot to me and since I have the opportunity to help with making them even better if I can (which is for the last three-four years or so), I take these duties very seriously.

Then, if you follow Mark’s interviews and blogposts you might already know that he doesn’t really like making changes. His view is once it’s written it’s done and unless something is very clearly an error his preference is to leave it as it is. (He can also be a little lazy. Shhhh! You didn’t hear that from me!). Whereas unfortunately I’m a perfectionist. I’m sure you can already see where this all leaves us. ‘Again’, ‘I told you’, and ‘honestly’ are just some of the most common phrases popping up here and there.

Luckily, we had a little practice to adjust to these ‘extreme’ parameters before starting on Red Sister. I read The Liar’s Key before it was published and pointed out a few things to him that I felt could have been better, or thought were inconsistent. It was too late to make changes on the manuscript by then in any case, but still it was good practice. I read The Wheel of Osheim straight after and provided feedback on it in a similar manner. We also discussed most of his short stories within a few days they were written. By this time I believe he had more trust in my opinion, while I learned to let some things go and only put up a fight where I felt changing something was absolutely necessary. At times we both compromised.

Even so. During writing The Book of the Ancestor trilogy there were a few instances where arguments got a little out of hand and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had stopped asking for my opinion altogether. Instead, we managed to work through them and come up with something in each instance that eventually received a positive feedback later, most often from readers, but sometimes even from the publishers themselves.

More pleasant time was had when it came to brainstorming, albeit these happened less frequently. Mark is usually quite good at coming up with ideas on his own (as you’d expect from someone who earns a living from making things up). My biggest claim can most likely be to be “the one who sent Nona into the caves”. In fact, she became quite the explorer as the story went on, not unlike her dad. I also remember insisting that there absolutely had to be a library at the convent. And despite having worked at a wine company for years, as those who know me might remember, no, the winery wasn’t my idea. *Points.*

All in all though, now that my little part in the creation of this amazing trilogy has come to an end I feel proud and satisfied. The first book, Red Sister was for me the most work. And perhaps for that reason, feels the most important. The next two installments went much easier. I won’t spoil what is yet to come for you, but know this. The way the first two books tie together in the last one is truly special. Mark has always been a master of timelines, but I believe the way the prologues connect and flow into the conclusion in the third book is an art in its own right.

Next year war is coming. “There is in every delicate thing, no matter how precious, nor how beautiful, a challenge. Break me.” It’s time to face that challenge. Be strong. Be ready.

 


Photo by Raulla Merhej

 

So first of all, apart from a few notable exceptions, I’m not a huge fan of traditional epic fantasy. I much more prefer character-focused stories with epic prose, and for that reason it took me a while to get around to this book. Even at the beginning I struggled to make myself focus, to take in and remember who’s who and what exactly is going on in this world. But I really wanted to like the book, because of all those lovely people involved who I just adore: John Gwynne, of course, and helping him among others his absolutely amazing wife, Caroline, the very cool Edward and Will, whom I got to chat with on a number of occasions now, and even the mighty Kareem Mahfouz! So I marched on, because I really wanted to like this book and … damn! I LOVED it! I did not see that coming! In fact, I’m quite disappointed now that the book finished where it finished and I can’t just go on and find out what happens next!

John Gwynne is such a natural and talented storyteller. His world draws you in and makes you feel part of it. As if you listened to the tale while sitting around the fire, sharing dinner with folks from the Banished Lands. It’s flawless. Everything about it fits together perfectly and feels just right. I was also quite impressed by how gradually the book darkened and just how dark it got, the dread descending over me just as much as over the characters, their pain and loss affecting me deeply.

I look forward to reading the next volume.

 

“By the third day the rumour can no longer be contained. It is whispered in the black tents, shared like smokes among the men on patrol, murmured in the drill yard before the bellowed morning prayer. It is weird and horrific and yet a curse no one can fail to understand. Someone’s mind has been stolen, and the thief still walks the camp.”

 

This opening paragraph told me everything I needed to know about the novel in advance. It was going to be intriguing, exciting, beautifully written and I was going to love it. And oh my gosh, how I did. Even now that I finished reading it a few days ago, sometimes I just get this urge to re-open it and read on, to lose myself in the adventure again, only to remember that… bollocks! I already finished it!

 

In a harsh land, quarantined off from the rest of the world due to a deadly plague, ruled by a psychopathic tyrant who wields terror with practiced ease, two brothers run for their lives. They run from the wrath of their ruler, chased by their entire nation, hunted by elite forces, bloodthirsty monsters, and creatures darker, deadlier and more sinister still, through barren fields of devastation, towards the great desert called “The Land That Eats Men.”

 

Robert V.S. Reddick expertly weaves many threads back and forth into a rich, colourful and epic tale of rivalry, adventure, friendship, mystery and love. Kandri and Mektu, the two main characters find themselves in one extraordinary situation after the other, yet it’s their troubled relationship that make their story even more absorbing. In some instances, the bond they share reminded me of that between Thor and Loki from the Marvel universe. Kandri, a bit like Thor, is valiant, thoughtful and caring, while the younger brother, Mektu is selfish, mischievous and careless. He annoys Kandri no end with his continuous troublemaking, who in turn is worried for him half the time and wants to kill him himself the other half. Unlike their Asgardian counterparts, they are far from being Gods. They are flung into the heart of danger by chance rather than face it by choice. Yet the harshness of their world, the threats they need to face, the choices they have to make, sets the bar impossibly high. They must clear it or die.

 

And as if all this wasn’t enough to make a great book, the level of mystery surrounding the half-brothers, their past, their families and the world around them impressed me greatly. I very much enjoyed the way the secrets slowly untangle as the story flows through the pages, satisfying many of my questions, yet leaving enough unsolved to make me eager for the next volume.

 

On the first page of my copy there is a note from the senior editor, in which they say Talos Press is proud to present this novel. They have every right to be. I wouldn’t be surprised to find in the future that Master Assassins was just the beginning of a masterpiece in the making.

 

 

Many thanks to Mark Lawrence for gifting me his own advance copy for Christmas. I hope he will be able to acquire a hardback soon, I know how much he enjoyed it, too! 🙂

When it comes to talking about Mark Lawrence books my choice is either to wait a few years until they get published, and say something when some of my initial enthusiasm faded, or talk about them while the experience is still fresh, pulsing inside and risk looking like a show-offy buffoon.

So no, I won’t blame you for looking away, rolling your eyes. But I have to say, slowly nearing the end of Limited Wish, the second book of his science-fiction trilogy I think it might be some of the strongest writing I’ve seen from him yet, and that’s saying a lot, considering the works he produced so far. It doesn’t just have a fascinating, gripping story and great characters, it also makes you think, question your own choices in life, it moves you in ways you don’t even see coming. It’s science-fiction, yet at its core it’s very much about family, friendships, love, things for which we face our biggest fears and threats, things we live for, fight for or sometimes even die for.

It’s easily shaping up to be one of his best books, putting up a fierce competition against another strong contender in the category, The Girl and the Star. The latter being the working title of the first book of his new fantasy trilogy, set in the same world as Red Sister. TGATS has a more complex plot to Red Sister, a wonderful, rich tale and an even more fascinating world building. On a personal level it also claims the title of the book with my most favourite opening, ever. All that, combined with incredible writing brings the book well in line with Red Sister, if not making it slightly superior to it.

Mark is such a genius. I truly believe he’s one of the great masters, capable of humbling us with his skills, making it look easy. I think we’re incredibly lucky that he’s so prolific. He doesn’t just finish his series, his writing just keeps getting better and better. You can always rely on him and know: the best is yet to come.

 

 


Art by Valin Mattheis

I attended the Grim Gathering once again last month, this time in the picturesque Bath! Some of us went and had lunch with Mark Lawrence in Bistrot Pierre on George Street prior to the event, which was really lovely and visited The Roman Baths afterwards. The event itself was organised by Fantasy-Faction and was held at Waterstones. The panel featured Peter V. Brett, Joe Abercrombie, Anna Stephens, Mark Lawrence and Peter Newman. I supply a few photos here, but you might find this Facebook life streaming I did in the evening more interesting. It starts off a little shaky, but steadies afterwards. Hope, you’ll enjoy it! 🙂 (You can watch it even if you’re not on Facebook) https://www.facebook.com/mitriel/videos/10155730808927156/

 

Following up on Michael Miller’s recommendation I went to check out the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club tonight in Central London. It was hosted by Hachette (their headquarters impressed me greatly – see photos).

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For the first half an hour I felt like a complete outsider, seemingly unable to join in any of the conversations around me and was depressed by the thought of how much of an introvert I must be if I can’t even socialise in a “SUPER RELAXED Fantasy Club”! As the evening progressed however I did manage to talk to a few people who were very nice. One of them as it turned out writes a comic called Red Thorn! (Because who else would Mark Lawrence’s beta-reader talk to if not someone writing Red Thorn!)

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The first guest (“reader”!) of the evening was Francesca Haig, who was absolutely lovely and very witty. She read for us from her upcoming book, The Forever Ship, and to avoid spoilers she renamed the character being buried in the scene using a name of someone she said she wouldn’t mind being buried in the character’s place. She called him “Boris”.

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The second guest was Mike Carey, who I was lucky to have met on a few occasions previously (a great guy & true gentleman!). He also read for us from his most recent title, “The Boy on the Bridge”, and just like Francesca answered questions from the audience. He was there with his wife, Linda, who co-authored several novels with him and with their daughter, Louise.

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Unfortunately I had to dash off early and couldn’t stay for the pub session afterwards, but I think I’ll come along next month again. There’s a possibility that it will be held on the roof terrace and since it’s only five minutes walk from work I feel like I really should give it another try.

 

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