December book log

Three books this month, so slacking a bit. The first was the free ebook of Paul Cornell’s Human Nature (New Doctor Who Adventures),
which was later used as the basis of the New Who story Human Nature/Family of Blood. There are obvious differences, as the book was written before the revival and features the Seventh Doctor rather than the Tenth. The free ebook available from the BBC website includes some interesting commentary by Cornell written in hindsight, which is worth reading. Good book.

Also on the Cybook, Jane Austen’s Emma. Lots of fun, even if I did want to slap the heroine on more than one occasion.

And an advance review copy of a friend’s new book, Daniel Fox’s “Dragon In Chains”, review posted earlier this evening. Summary, go buy this book, and I’m not saying that because it’s a friend’s book.

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Book review: Daniel Fox — Dragon in Chains

This gorgeously written book is the first part of a new fantasy trilogy which draws on medieval China for its inspiration. It’s an alternate universe China, of course, and one of the ways in which it’s alternate is that magic is real, if largely subtle. Subtle enough that some characters do not realise that the magic is there. Even the dragon of the title is a background menace in this first book, thought of as myth by the people who don’t live in her territory, although she’s a key part of one of the main plot threads.

That’s plot threads, plural. One of the joys of the book is that there are multiple plot threads, skillfully balanced by a writer who knows how to use them to create a complex story with several distinctive characters. All of these threads converge on Taishu, a remote island on the edge of empire. On the physical edge, at least. Taishu may seem remote and insignificant to most, but it is the source of the jade that underpins the power of the Jade Throne and the Emperor who sits on it. He who holds Taishu holds the empire, in a very real sense, and Taishu is about to become the centre of more than one conflict.

Scribe’s apprentice Han is enslaved by the raiding party of pirates who kill his master. They are not local men, and their leader Li Ton pays no heed to his frantic warnings against their next raid — upon a monastery whose monks’ magic keeps the chains bound tight about the dragon held under the sea. After all, everyone knows that dragons haven’t been seen for hundreds of years, if they were ever real in the first place. As Han and the monastery’s sole survivor fight to hold the bindings in place, the dragon senses freedom, and Han senses her.

Fishergirl Mei Feng finds her life changed one night, when her grandfather’s boat is commandeered by generals, by the emperor himself. The boy emperor is fleeing from a rebel army, his own loyal troops not enough to stand and fight, or so his mother and his generals say. They have one hope, to hold the Jade Throne and the jade mines that are the true source of imperial power. In the end the Hidden City is wherever the throne is, and so the Hidden City moves to a remote island, along with as much of the army as can find boats to cross the strait. But the Son of Heaven finds one unexpected resource on the fishing boat that carries him to safety — a local girl to be a friend his own age, someone who is loyal to him both as emperor and as lonely, isolated boy. And in particular, is loyal to him, not the mother and generals who see him as too young to be anything other than a figurehead.

The jade miners have heard that the emperor himself has come to their island, and what they hear is a chance to break free of the middlemen who offer them a pittance, a chance to take his jade to him themselves. It is his jade, they know that; but perhaps he will give them a better reward for their work in mining it than do the jademasters. And so one clan of miners breaks the law and sends one of their young men with the fabulous new piece they have unearthed. Yu Shan is prepared for bandits in the hills, but even so he has a more twisted path to the emperor’s notice than he imagines. For he is young and does not know the secret of the jade, why it is so tightly controlled.

These could all easily become a cliched story, but here they are in the hands of a master storyteller. Fox weaves them together to make a multi-layered story where subtle clues are laid well in advance, creating an “oh, of course!” as the hints finally slot together to make the full picture. It’s no surprise that this works so well, as “Daniel Fox” is the pseudonym of an award-winning writer with a depth of experience in both crime fiction and fantasy. The world he has created is strongly grounded in reality, but has magic added, and the consequences of that are woven into the world he shows, rather than the magic being thrown in with no thought for how it might affect things. This world and its characters are described in beautiful and beautifully controlled prose. The result is a richly detailed fantasy that explores new ground rather than treading well-worn paths.

Dragon in Chains is quite definitely the first part of a single story, but there is enough plot, and intermediate resolution of various plot threads, to make the book a satisfying read in its own right rather than merely a cliffhanger designed to get you to keep buying the series. This is a complex and enticing dark fantasy that is well worth the wait for the next part.

Official release date is 27 January 2009, and the book is available for pre-order at Amazon UK and at Amazon US.

Fictionwise release: A Kiss at Midnight

Loose Id have been busy releasing their backlist through their distributors. And with perfect timing, the New year’s Eve themed anthology A Kiss At Midnight has just gone up at Fictionwise. This is an anthology of three sf&f romance novellas, from myself, Emily Veinglory, and Ally Blue. Here’s the blurb for mine. As usual, there are excerpts on my website, and short blurbs and excerpts for all three novellas on Loose Id’s website.

First Footer

They say that how you spend New Year’s Day will set the pattern for the rest of your year. Matthew Ryder was hoping not to be single by the end of the New Year’s Eve party, but the blind date promised by his matchmaking friend never showed up. Still, there’s always hope in the form of the old custom of First Footing. To bring good luck to the household, the first person across the threshold after midnight should be a tall dark man holding a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky, and in some places they still like to provide this service for neighbours.

A tall dark stranger does indeed knock on the door at midnight, and he’s the man of Matthew’s dreams. Intelligent, good sense of humour. Handsome too, if you go for fur, tail, and a very seductive purr. For the First Footer is a First Contact team member, with a bit of a problem. There’s making a discreet landing in an uninhabited area, and then there’s landing your spacecraft in a peat bog.

It’s going to be an interesting year for Matthew…

Book log: Daniel Fox: Dragon in Chains

My friend [info]moshui gifted me with an eARC of his new book, Dragon in Chains. It arrived late Christmas Eve; I finished it not half an hour since. I’ll have more to say about it when I’ve had time to digest, but for now, there is this: I would really, really like you all to go and pre-order it as encouragement to the publisher, because it is the first segment of the story, and I very much want to read the rest. This is fantasy as I like it, dark, complex, firmly rooted in reality but with magic laid thereon. And with a fascinating array of characters…

Full Syndicate series now on the website

I’ve just uploaded the draft page of The Syndicate: Volume 2, which means the whole series is now available as free downloads on my site. I haven’t finished updating the rest of the site to match yet, so you may need to use the links below for the moment to find the pages:

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Four Leaf Clover

Volumes 1 and 2 are actually parts 1 and 2 of a single novel constructed as a fix-up. Volume 3 is a sequel which follows on immediately from the end of Volume 2. Each volume is around 40,000 words. Four Leaf Clover is a novelette set some time after the end of Volume 3.

Here’s the blurb for the paperback edition of volumes 1&2:

When making life hell for the poor twitching users isn’t any fun for the sysadmin, what’s a geek to do? Run away to space, of course.

Allard’s current job is a nightmare. He’ll do anything to find another–including joining the slightly nutty crew of the Mary Sue, who have an even more malevolent attitude to traditional management structures than he does.

The crew and joint owners of the spaceship Mary Sue were looking for an IT expert who shared their political ideals. That’s not Allard, but that doesn’t bother him as long as he’s left out of it. He’s just looking for a working environment where he likes the people and the job. He’ll be pleased if they like him in return, although he’s not betting on it.

He gets all that and more. New friends, a non-organic quasi-son.

And then there’s Vaughan. Tall, gorgeous, inconveniently sexy, given to expansive gestures and talking far too much–which Allard plans to tell him as soon as he can get a word in edgeways.

Or at least as soon as he can get Vaughan’s tongue out of his mouth.

The Syndicate 3 and Four Leaf Clover now on the website

Apparently it’s “nag Jules about The Syndicate” week. Thus, I have dumped vol3 and Four Leaf Clover into HTML and uploaded them to the website for the benefit of those who bought the print edition of the first two volumes and didn’t get to the other two pieces until after they’d gone out of print. I will prettify it at some point, and tidy the links. And eventually do the first two volumes as well.

The Syndicate: Volume 3
The Syndicate: Four Leaf Clover