Friday, 16 September 2016

Blog Hiatus

As the title suggests, I have decided to take a break from blogging. This was not a decision lightly made. In fact, I've grappled with it for some time. Even as I write this, I don't actually want to take a break, but I think that I need to.

This year has been very full. I finished my PhD and finished editing an anthology. I moved countries and lived in existential visa angst for three months in between. (The first three quarters of this year year were/will be spent in 3 month blocks in different countries.) Surely that's enough?

Things are finally settling down (I hope) but I strongly feel like I need to spend some time not being plagued by guilt about the review books I'm behind on. Yes, obviously, this is just going to make me more behind, but the alternative is me not reading or reviewing, which is close to the current situation (you may have noticed my reviews have slowed to a trickle).

I also want to spend some time on my own fiction-writing without tempting distractions like review-writing. I've hardly written anything over the past few years, generally using my PhD as an excuse. But now my PhD is over, I would rather make a concerted effort to actually write regularly, instead of coming up with another excuse. So let's see how this blogging hiatus experiment goes.

Arbitrarily, I've decided this break will last until the end of the year. After that, I'm not sure what will happen, but I am hoping that by that time I will know.

See you in 2017, probably!

(And in the meantime, I have no intention of leaving Twitter.)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Hogwarts an Incomplete & Unreliable Guide by JK Rowling

Hogwarts an Incomplete & Unreliable Guide by JK Rowling is a short collection of essays about the Harry Potter universe, which I believe were mostly taken from material posted on the Pottermore website. It's one of three such short collections, each grouped according to a different loose theme. I had long been hoping that the original stuff Rowling posted on Pottermore would be collected in some sort of Harry Potter almanac (like the Discworld guides) because I couldn't be bothered reading it in website form. These books are almost the answer to that desire, aside from the part where they're split into three ebooks rather than a fancy print edition, alas. (One day…)

Pottermore Presents is a collection of J.K. Rowling’s writing: short reads originally featured on These eBooks, with writing curated by Pottermore, will take you beyond the Harry Potter stories as J.K. Rowling reveals her inspiration, intricate details of characters’ lives and surprises from the wizarding world.

Hogwarts An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide takes you on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You’ll venture into the Hogwarts grounds, become better acquainted with its more permanent residents, learn more about lessons and discover secrets of the castle . . . all at the turn of a page.

This was a fun read. A collection of essays about various aspects of Hogwarts. Although they're not proper stories, they still evoked the world of Harry Potter very convincingly. Nowhere was this more evident than in the brief interludes/introductions written by the Pottermore editor, between Rowling's essays. Never more than a few sentences long, they were so jarringly inferior to Rowling's writing that I cringed every time I read one.

But that was really the only bad thing about reading this booklet. It was otherwise filed with interesting information, some of it familiar, most of it fleshing out details that didn't come up in the Harry Potter series. My favourite tidbit was about what wizards used to do before they copied Muggle plumbing. Which really raised more questions than it answered, especially for a parenthetical in the Chamber of Secrets entry.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of the Harry Potter books. Don't go it expecting stories though, this is strictly background world- and character-building stuff.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2016, Pottermore
Series: Pottermore presents, one of three standalone volumes (so far) that can be read in any order
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased from Pottermore website

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Sex Criminals Vol 3: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Sex Criminals Vol 3: Three the Hard Way written by Matt Fraction and illustrated Chip Zdarsky is, obviously, the third volume in the ongoing Sex Criminals comic book series. It collects issues #11–15 and pretty continues the story where Volume 2 left off. I don't particularly recommend reading this volume if you haven't already read the earlier volumes/comics. The blurb below and this review will also contain some spoilers for the earlier volumes.

So it turns out Jon and Suzie aren't alone ― other people around the world, like them, freeze time when they climax. A self-appointed group wants to regulate and control them through fear and intimidation. Jon and Suzie are falling in love and want their freak flags to fly, but if they're going to fight back they can't do it alone.

And really, isn't that a metaphor for the whole series? That we might all be alone but we're all alone together? I think so. 

Following on directly from the events in the previous issues, Volume 3 of Sex Criminals deals with John and Suzi investigating and coming to terms with other people who have their time-stopping powers. Of course, like the first group of time stoppers they met, not everyone automatically wants to be friends with them, so things get a little hairy for them.

My favourite thing about this volume was the introduction of a new asexual character, which is especially interesting and cool given the basic premise of "having orgasms stops time". The character didn't get a huge amount of page time, but I'm hoping that will change in the future, especially given the cliffhanger ending. We got a decent amount of backstory, though, and I appreciated the overall way in which the character was introduced.

I didn't hate but was less fond of the meta-commentary that popped up every so often. Issue 14 in particular broke a fourth wall a little bit too hard for my tastes. Not so much because it was bad commentary (it was funny too) but it did slow down the story and, well, even admitted to being masturbatory. So there's that.

On a more positive note, I found the characters more likeable too, especially John. We also see the relationship between Joh and Suzi growing and becoming more meaningful and less based on "oh, hey, you stop time when you orgasm too??! Let's go rob a bank!" Presumably this will be a trend that continues in subsequent comics.

Overall, I would recommend this volume to people who have read the earlier Sex Criminals issues/volumes and want to continue the story. This is definitely not a good place to start and if you hated the earlier books I don't see this one changing your mind unless you really like fourth-wall-breaking commentary or were hanging out for the sensitive introduction of an asexual character.

4 / 5 stars

First published: June 2016, Image Comics
Series: Sex Criminals volume 3 of ongoing series containing issues #11–15
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Real life comic book shop (although I've forgotten in which country)

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

The Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee is the author's first novel. It grabbed my attention because I had heard good things about the author, but hadn't gotten around to trying any of his short stories.

To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.

I went into this book without any particular expectations beyond "science fiction". What I got was more creative worldbuilding than I expected and a relatively character-driven narrative, although there are also a lot of battle scenes. The interstellar society — the hexarchate — is very regimented, with people split into six different factions with specific roles. The main character, Cheris, is a Kel captain, which means that she's a soldier in a moderately standard sense of the word, but with some unusual additions based on the science/magic of the civilisation (science/magic in the Clarkian sense). The method of both fighting and societal control is particularly interesting, based on calendars with other cultures/rebels that follow different calendars being heretics. I also liked that the space ships are called "moths".

The opening of The Ninefox Gambit was a little confusing at first. The opening battle scene complete with weird maths as a weapon was a little difficult to get into, but the story quickly shifted to being more about the characters than about the maths or the fighting. That said, I should note that it probably fits most definitions of military SF and that the maths is basically all fictional and you certainly don't have to understand it in the way some of the characters do. A Greg Egan book this is not.

The interaction between the two main characters, Cheris and the ghost (sort of) of the mad general Jedao, is one of the most interesting parts of the book, along with Jedao's backstory. Jedao is an insane traitor who the Kell have kept alive because he has also never lost a battle (if you ignore the one where he slaughtered both sides). Cheris, with Jedao attached to her, has to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles (pictured on the cover, how cool does it look?) from heretics without letting Jedao do anything detrimental or omnicidal. Jedao's powers? He can talk; but he's that good.

This was a surprisingly enjoyable read. The opening made me think it would be a bit impenetrable, but on the contrary, I was soon hooked and didn't want to put it down. (Also, I think I was primed for reading this book at this point in my life: it contains references to board games and Kdramas, both rabbit holes I've recently fallen into.) I recommend this book to fans of far future science fiction and military SF.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2016, Rebellion
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3, The Machineries of Empire trilogy
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 4 September 2016

T.I.M.E Stories: Asylum

T.I.M.E Stories is not a book or a comic or even a short story. It's a board game. More specifically, it's a choose your own adventure story with pretty pictures, a couple of puzzles to solve and a selection of characters for two to four players to control. Or, if you prefer a computer game metaphor, it's a point and click adventure translated to cards and a board. In any case, I'm reviewing it here because it's primarily a story and something I expect many SFFH people will enjoy.

The T.I.M.E Agency protects humanity by preventing temporal faults and paradoxes from threatening the fabric of our universe. As temporal agents, you and your team will be sent into the bodies of beings from different worlds or realities to successfully complete the missions given to you. Failure is impossible, as you will be able to go back in time as many times as required.

T.I.M.E Stories is a narrative board game. Players will live adventures in various worlds, through the eyes and characteristics of their character. They will have to fight, search, discuss, and be clever and convincing to the characters they meet… and sometimes even the other agents.

Each player will be able to include the dose of “roleplay” they want into the character they’ll have chosen. But they will also need to optimize their actions.

Each scenario contains a new world, new characters, new rules, and new surprises.

The basic box contains the T.I.M.E Stories system and the Asylum scenario.

T.I.M.E Stories is the series and, I suppose, architecture for the game. The basic premise is that you are a team of new recruits that the T.I.M.E Agency is sending on missions to prevent temporal faults. When you are sent back in time, you basically possess a contemporaneous character (a bit creepy) and use them to explore the past and fulfil your mission. The game presents you with scenic images and narrative text that guides you through the world and presents you with choices and occasionally puzzles to solve.

Asylum is the story/scenario that comes with the base game of T.I.M.E Stories (and you need the base game to play other scenarios). It's set in 1921 Paris, in an asylum, as the name suggests. The characters you play as are all patients with different abilities and strengths depending on their personality and condition. The other characters you interact with are staff (doctors, nurses, orderlies) and other patients. You finish/win the game by going to enough places, finding clues and hence preventing the creation of a temporal fault. Because there's time travel on the one hand, and a limited amount of time in the past to get things done, you can (or, basically, need to) go back in time more than once to complete the mission. This allows you to try mutually exclusive options on subsequent run-throughs, which I enjoyed.

The theme of Asylum is, of course, inherently ableist, and I was a little apprehensive going into what I knew was a horror scenario set in a psychiatric facility in a time period when mental health care wasn't exactly great. But really it could've been worse. The horror elements weren't based in being afraid of the patients, but rather various non-human creatures and the non-patients behind the evil plot.

It took me and my husband three runs to finish the game, which took about two and a half hours. But that was with us solving the puzzles pretty quickly and your mileage may vary (there are only two puzzles though). We then went back and played through from scratch (not keeping the items you're allowed to keep between runs) to test some of the actions we didn't take the first time, but that only took about half an hour because we didn't to reread or think too much about the places we'd already visited.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of T.I.M.E Stories: Asylum and I look forward to playing other scenarios. From some of the minor details in Asylum, I gather there will be some more of the overarching story revealed in future scenarios, which I am particularly looking forward to. The only really disappointing thing, for me, was how quickly it was over. We are hoping that the future scenarios are longer or more complex, but the internet is unclear on this point (without clicking on the spoilers, anyway).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Space Cowboys / Asmodee
Series: T.I.M.E Stories, the first scenario in an ongoing series (3 more currently out, one more about to be released)
Format read: Er, board game
Source: An online tabletop game shop

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Bloody Quarrel by Duncan Lay

The Bloody Quarrel by Duncan Lay is the second book in the Alabaster Trilogy, following on from The Last Quarrel which I read and reviewed last year. The first line of the blurb is a major spoiler for book 1, and my review will also contain other spoilers for the first book. A lot of significant things happened in the latter part of book 1, so if you want to be surprised and unspoiled, don't read this review. Really. Leave now. Don't even read the next sentence.

The prince is dead.

Fooled by the treacherous King Aidan, Fallon has shot down the one man he trusted to save his beloved nation of Gaelland. And yet, when the King could grind Fallon underfoot, he draws the simple farmer and fighter closer, making a hero of him.

Embroiled in plots beyond his comprehension and weighted with the guilt of the prince's murder, Fallon must tread carefully if he is to accomplish the task that first brought him to the cursed capital: rescue his wife, Bridgit, and the rest of his village from Kottermani slavery. If he and his hopelessly ensnared men can survive, they may yet find redemption.

Meanwhile, across the ocean, Bridgit is rallying those around her to spring an escape. But who can be trusted? The ever-present danger of traitors and liars among the slaves, and even among her fellow Gaelish, is poison to her plans.

With an ocean between them and fouler nightmares looming, Fallon and Bridgit will be driven to their very limits to escape their prisons, find each other, and bring justice to Gaelland.

Somewhat unusually for my recent reading habits, I took a long time to read this book. (Goodreads tells me it was just under seven weeks, wow.) This is mainly because of other things going on in my life at the time, and also because, well, the book is kinda long. I didn't put it down because I was bored or annoyed at it, more because I needed something else — mostly something happier — in my life at the time. The Poisoned Quarrel is not a cheerful book, by and large. That's not to say that nothing good happens, but the overwhelming theme of the story is betrayal.

I'm sure I've said before that one of the themes Lay tackles well and consistently in his book is father-child relationships. This was true in the first book of this trilogy as well, but seems to be a bit less prominent in the second book. Fallon still has a relationship with his son who is around for a lot of the book, but that relationship is a bit less central that it was in the previous book. Mostly, I'd say, because the father and son settled into a rhythm and roles that weren't overly disrupted by the plot. I suspect there will be some more disruptions in book three.

The Poisoned Quarrel was also fairly gory, not that that's new for Lay. But right from where it picked up after the cliffhanger at the end of book one, there was a lot of opportunity for violence and descriptions of said violence. It was all relevant to the plot but if you don't want to read about people's head's being caved in (to give a mild example), well, you've been warned. (Minimal sexual violence, though.)

I especially enjoyed watching Bridgit develop as a person while enslaved by the Kottermanis. Since the characters around Fallon were mostly male, with only a few relevant exceptions, it was nice to have the second storyline following a set of characters that were mostly female. That they kicked arse was also a bonus.

I am definitely going to read the last book in this trilogy (The Poisoned Quarrel, already out), but after a short break from epic fantasy. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who's read the first book. And how could you not want to read it after the cliffhanger book 1 left us on? On the other hand, if you hate cliffhangers, this didn't actually have one (I'm as shocked as you are). Most plot elements are left unresolved, but no one is in the middle of being shot of hearing a deeply significant reveal, to pick two examples at random. If you haven't read any Duncan Lay before, then a) I recommend his books if you like epic fantasy, father-child relationships and apparently grimdark (although I wouldn't've called his other books that) and b) definitely start with book one.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2016, Momentum
Series: The Alabaster Trilogy book 2 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Imprudence by Gail Carriger is the second book in the Custard Protocol series, following on from Prudence, which I have previously reviewed. It's also set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate series (which began with Soulless and ended with Timeless) and the Finishing School series.

London is in chaos.

Rue and the crew of The Spotted Custard returned from India with revelations that shook the foundations of the scientific community. There is mass political upheaval, the vampires are tetchy, and something is seriously wrong with the local werewolf pack. To top it all off, Rue’s best friend Primrose keeps getting engaged to the most inappropriate military types.

Rue has got personal problems as well. Her vampire father is angry, her werewolf father is crazy, and her obstreperous mother is both. Worst of all, Rue’s beginning to suspect what they all really are… is frightened.

When the Custard is ordered to Egypt, transporting some highly unusual passengers, Rue’s problems go from personal to impossible. Can she get Percy to stop sulking? Will she find the true cause of Primrose’s lovesickness? And what is Quesnel hiding in the boiler room?

This book was everything I've come to expect from Gail Carriger plus a bit more. The bit more being the nature of the romantic part of the storyline. Although the plot is mainly focussed on other things, like dirigible captaining and not being killed, there is also a significant romantic subplot that I enjoyed more than I expected to. You can probably guess who is involved if you've read the previous book, but I won't spoil it here. I should also point out, it's not that Carriger's other books didn't have romance in them, it was just handled and presented a bit differently in this one, I though. Initially, at least.

Romance aside, there was a lot of other stuff going on in this book.

The plot structure of this book was a little bit unusual, probably because it's a book two. I don't mean to say it suffers from middle-book-syndrome (I'm pretty sure this isn't a trilogy, for a start), just that it's clear certain things needed to happen and that certain other things were setting up the next book more than happening for their own sake. The first half of the book involves a lot of Rue's family issues, while the focus of the second half is on something else entirely and more similar to the type of adventure she had in the first book. The main difference, I suppose, is that while the first book could stand alone, this second book is more firmly a part of a larger whole.

I don't mean, from the above, to imply that I didn't enjoy the book. I loved it. I haven't been reading as much as usual lately and Imprudence helped me get back on track. It's delightful and funny and continues to develop the world Carriger has created.

If you haven't read this series yet, I highly recommend it, especially if you've liked any of Carriger's other books. I definitely recommend starting with the first book, Prudence, since Imprudence follows directly on from it. You don't have to have read any of the other series set in the same world, however (but they are also good).

5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2016, Orbit
Series: The Custard Protocol, book 2 of ?
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased from Google Play

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now, written by Ryan North and illustrated by Erica Henderson, is the third consecutive volume of Squirrel Girl comics. Although they restarted the issue numbering, they thankfully left the volume numbering in tact. For now. It's also not a terrible place to jump into the comics, although I would recommend starting with Volume 1 because then you get more Squirrel Girl and more backstory to establish the other characters with.

New series, New Avenger! With her unique combination of wit, empathy and squirrel powers, computer science student Doreen Green - aka the unbeatable Squirrel Girl - is all that stands between the Earth and total destruction. Well, Doreen plus her friends Tippy-Toe (a squirrel) and Nancy (a regular human with no powers). So, mainly Squirrel Girl. Then what hope does the Earth have if she gets hurled back in time to the 1960s and erased from history? At least Nancy will never forget her friend, but what invincible armored Avenger can she call on to help, through the magic of social media? Decades apart, can they avert doom, or will everything go wrong forever? Howard the Duck hopes not... he has an appointment for a crossover!

The opening issue is somewhat introductory, (re-)introducing Squirrel Girl, Nancy and a few other key characters. There's a bad guy attack that, in true Squirrel Girl style, is more morally grey than you might expect from a monster-of-the-issue incident.

The main story arc of this volume involves time travel to the 60s and Doctor Doom. The Doctor Doom part, actually, is probably yet another reason to read the first two volumes of Squirrel Girl. It's not strictly necessary to follow this story, but I think it still helps to provide some useful context. I quite enjoyed the story arc, especially the way the new (temporary?) side characters were integrated into the story. And I approved of it being more Nancy and less Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk — not that I hate the latter two, I just find them a bit meh.

The final story arc was a two-issue crossover with Howard the Duck, with the Howard the Duck issue included in this volume. I haven't read any Howard the Duck before and this arc didn't especially encourage me to. It wasn't bad, and I didn't mind seeing a new character, but I didn't find him interesting enough to bother following up. Squirrel Girl was much more interesting to me.

I enjoyed this volume of Squirrel Girl and, as always, I am looking forward to reading more Squirrel Girl when it becomes available. I highly recommend the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to fans of humour, female characters, squirrels and computer science. If you're new to Squirrel Girl, this isn't a terrible place to start, but I think Volume 1 is an even better place to start.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2016, Marvel
Series: Volume 3 of ongoing series, containing issues #1–6 (and Howard the Duck #6) of the 2015B run of Squirrel Girl.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: A comic book shop. I think it was Orbital Comics in London\

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Interview with Allyse Near (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

Allyse Near’s debut novel, Fairytales for Wilde Girls, won Best Horror and Best Young Adult Novel at the Aurealis Awards, Honour Book of the Year at the CBCA Awards, and was shortlisted for the Norma K Hemming and Inky Awards. Near won Deakin University’s inaugural Judith Rodriguez Prize for Fiction in her second year of study, and was one of the Melbourne Writer's Festival’s 30 Under 30 in 2015. She will be hosting a workshop based around crafting fairytales for the MWF this year. Fairytales for Wilde Girls was recently released in Russian.

You recently spent some time in Japan teaching English. How has this experience fed back into your writing?

I lived in Nakano-Sakaue, right on the edge of Shinjuku. I had visited Japan the year before and found it to be a really inspiring and beautiful place. I loved the strong sense of national identity and the clashing culture – the tremendously modern and the revered past. While there, I came up an idea for a novel that I’m hoping to expand into my first series. It’s inspired by the neon-soaked atmosphere and the ‘Mahou Shoujo/Magical Girl’ genre.

What’s your favourite place to write? 

Russian cover of Fairytales for Wilde Girls
It’s probably terrible for my posture, but I love to write in bed, balancing my laptop on my knee, with a big mug of green tea and some music playing. I also get my best work done fairly late at night. I also like to write at the local library during the summer.

What are you working on now? Can you tell us a bit about what readers can expect to see from you next?

I always have a couple of projects on the go. Currently I’m putting together a workshop for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival’s schools program. It’s about fairytales and how they can be twisted and made contemporary. I’m also working on my first screenplay, and two different novels – one the aforementioned Tokyo-set series, and the other a stand-alone YA. My agent has been very patient with me!

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I just powered through Fleur Ferris’ Black in a day, which is a big deal for me, as my reading speed could be described as ‘plodding’. It was quite thrilling and I’m looking forward to her book. For the most part, I get my recommendations from the @LoveOzYA twitter account and corresponding hashtag. There’s so many gems out there in Australian YA, it’s great to see these books and authors get all the love and support they deserve.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why? 

This is a difficult question! I think I’d like to sit beside Tolkien. I could order him a drink and get him to tell me a really long, winding story to pass the time. If I could have the middle seat, I’d like to have JK Rowling on my other side. I’d love to talk to her about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – I have a lot of questions!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Interview with KJ Taylor (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

K.J.Taylor is a cynical, world-weary 60 year old woman stuck in the body of a 30 year old. She went to highschool at Radford College, where she wrote her first novel, The Land of Bad Fantasy, and sold it to Scholastic without telling them she was 18 years old. She then went on to complete a Bachelor of Communications at the University of Canberra, where she wrote her second novel, The Dark Griffin. She now holds a Masters of Information Studies and has a part time job as an archivist. She once wrote a movie script which was rejected by an actual Hollywood agent, and currently lives in a yurt with the world's laziest rat as a housemate.

You had a lot of books come out last year (five of them!) — what was that like? Were you run off your feet doing promo all year?

I had a heck of a lot of publicity stuff to do, yes! Two blog tours in quick succession, with a short deadline to answer a bunch of interview questions or write a suitably entertaining blog post. Since they were e-book only I didn’t get to do any signings, sadly. I also had two audio trailers made, plus I commissioned some artwork (money well spent!).

True story: At the San Diego ComicCon in 2011 I sat on a panel with some other authors, and one of the questions was “what do you think about ebooks?” I answered that I was no problem with them, but joked that “only problem is you can’t autograph an ebook!” At the signing afterward three different fans asked me to sign their e-reader covers, and I did so saying “well, that shut me up”.

It looks like you have more books on the horizon. Can you tell us a bit about them? (And will their release be more spread out, or do you have more busy times ahead?)

I’m currently in the process of publishing the next three books of the Cymrian Saga – a series that began with probably my most well-known book, The Dark Griffin. The original publisher decided not to continue with the series because they’re changing their focus away from fantasy, but I was able to find a new home for it at Satalyte Publishing. The next book in the series, The Last Guard, is currently slated for release in late September this year – in hardcover, softcover, and ebook, with cover art and internal illustrations by the extraordinarily talented Sydney-based artist Amber Goodhart (

For those who have read the previous six books, the story now continues with the tale of Kearney “Red” Redguard, who made an appearance in The Shadow’s Heart as a boy. Now a grown man, Red must fight for his people, the Southerners, as King Caedmon Taranisäii of the North makes good on his promise to invade the South. And the massive dark griffin Kraego, son of the Mighty Skandar, has plans of his own. The sequels to The Last Guard are called The Silent Guard and The Cursed Guard, and their release dates have yet to be decided, but most likely they’ll come out sometime next year.

I’ve also recently been contacted by a University professor in Queensland, whose students are starting up a new publishing label. He asked if I had an unpublished short novel they could edit and publish. I sent him a book for younger readers I had written called The Price of Magic, and they’ve accepted it for publication. The Price of Magic is set in a world where the disabled have magical powers. The more severely disabled they are, the more powerful their magic is. The protagonist, a chirpy boy named Pip who has a gammy leg, is apprenticed to one of the most powerful mages in the world: a woman named Seress. When an rogue mage threatens the entire world, only Seress has the strength to stop him – but she suffers from severe clinical depression. How can you save the world when some days you can’t even get out of bed? It’s up to Pip to find the answer.

And yes I did my research! Not being depressed myself, I did plenty of reading up on the subject while also drawing on my own experiences in dealing with severely depressed people. I hoped that The Price of Magic would help to inspire people dealing with depression, as well as anxiety, physical disability, and terminal illness. The magic in the book was also intended as a metaphor for art – the idea came to me when I was sitting in the waiting room to see a counsellor (I had had a severe nervous breakdown) and found myself thinking “why are artists always such troubled people? It feels as if the more brilliant you are, the more screwed up you are”.

Broken Prophecy came out swinging hard against the idea of prophecies and destiny as seen in fantasy fiction. Last Snapshot, in 2014, you told us the anti-hero in The Fallen Moon trilogy came about because you had grown disenchanted with heroic characters. Are there any other fantasy tropes that you would like to subvert/punch in the face? 

Oh boy, here we go. I’ll just make a list.

  • Entire races/species classified as automatically Evil (honestly, this trope really smacks of racism)
  • Beautiful Princesses (or indeed, any female character) who only exist as cheap plot devices and/or love interests to be rescued by the hero
  • Endless chapters of the characters travelling somewhere, during which absolutely nothing happens (I find travel sequences really boring to write, so 99% of the time I just summarise it in a paragraph or two if nothing important happens along the way).
  • Big Evil Villains who are evil just because and have no motivations that actually make sense. Also villains who are evil because they’re “insane”, which is a cop-out and quite frankly offensive to the mentally ill. And by “insane” I mean that the bad guy is referred to as “mad” but there’s no further explanation or specific disorder shown. He’s just doing bad things to people because he’s crazy! Actually, if I had my druthers we’d get rid of Big Evil Villains altogether and write about three-dimensional human beings who happen to have opposing goals instead.
  • Chosen Ones. Most of the time this is just a cheap shortcut to getting your protagonist involved in the plot, especially when s/he’s the subject of an infallible prophecy. It removes your main character’s agency by forcing him/her to get involved, and makes them “special” when they haven’t done anything to earn it.
  • Giving characters new abilities as the plot requires it
  • The old stories/legends always turn out to be completely true and are never distorted by political or religious agendas (GRRM does a brilliant job of subverting this one)
  • The protagonist becomes an expert fighter/wizard in a very short timeframe without explanation. You can’t become a “master warrior”, or a master anything in three months. It simply isn’t possible. Imagine picking up a plastic recorder and being instantly capable of playing a solo with the London Symphony Orchestra.
  • Beautiful = Good, Ugly = Evil. You can tell if someone is Good or Evil just by looking at them, apparently
  • Horses and other beasts of burden treated like cars. They never get tired or act out or panic when they see a snake and throw you off 
I could go on, but I should probably leave it at that. :p

What Australian work have you loved recently?

When the World Was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach. I’ve never been keen on romance novels, but I really enjoyed this one. It’s not pure romance, mind you – it’s a sci fi romance!

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

William Horwood, so I could ask him endless questions about his Duncton Wood series. More people need to read that series. It’s definitely been a very big influence on me as an author.