book log: 56) Chaz Brenchley — Light Errant

Re-read of the sequel to the stunning dark urban fantasy Dead of Light. Ben Macallan fled abroad at the end of the first book, away from his gangster family and away from any temptation to use his supernatural abilities. But even so he finds himself in a situation where he has to intervene or watch a friend suffer. His promise to himself broken, he gets on his motorbike and heads for home.

But home isn’t what it was. The city has finally found a way to defy the Macallans and their uncanny powers of life and death. Only the Macallan men have power, and their women are now hostages. Ben is sick of death and destruction, but a rescue, never mind a peace deal, may be beyond even his extraordinary talent.

It can be read as a standalone if need be, but I think is much better read in sequence with Dead of Light. That way you get a full appreciation of the growth in Ben, as he not only learns to deal with his own newly discovered talent, but convinces key members of his generation of the family to find another way to use theirs. It doesn’t have quite the same impact as the first novel, because you don’t have the suspense of wondering just how the Macallan clan control the city, but it’s still an intense ride with a book that’s well out of the usual run of urban fantasy.

Light Errant is out of print in its original paper editions from NEL, but has been re-released in ebook format by Book View Cafe, along with Dead of Light. You can find samples of both books at the BVC website. And maybe if enough of us buy them, Chaz will write a third…

book log 61) Ben Macallan — Desdaemona

61) Ben Macallan — Desdaemona

A welcome return to dark urban fantasy for Chaz Brenchley, writing under the name of Ben Macallan. If that pen name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Brenchley previously used it for the lead character in a much earlier novel; and his usage here is more than whimsy, because this is exactly the sort of novel that the hero of Dead of Light would write. Jordan’s a runaway teenager who makes a habit of helping the lost, both other runaways and those who’ve simply strayed into the world of the supernatural. Jordan’s clinging to an existence somewhere on the border between the mundane and the magical, moving on to the next town whenever the hunters on his trail get too close. He’s doing pretty well at it, until Desdaemona tracks him down and drags him into her quest for her runaway sister Fay. Desdaemona’s something of a mystery herself — she’s a Daemon, a human who has been rewarded with occult power for contracted services to a Power, but she’s barely more than a teenager herself. How and why Desi contracted herself so young is just as much of a puzzle for Jordan to solve as is the mystery of Fay’s whereabouts.

Fay’s got good reason to have hidden herself as well as she has, and Jordan and Desi aren’t the only ones hunting her. As they search for Fay, they find all too many enemies amongst the world of the supernatural — the hunters on Fay’s trail, the hunters on Jordan’s trail, and the enemies Jordan and Desi make along the way. The result is an ever-increasing escalation of power and Powers they have to defeat or escape from, and a roller-coaster ride through a sharply crafted world where the supernatural can be found down any alley.

What makes this book so good for me is that Macallan/Brenchley takes British and Irish mythology, polishes new facets on it, and sets it to perfection in a contemporary urban English landscape. And he does it with strong characters and snappy social observation, in a story that unfolds to show rather than tell exactly who and what Jordan and Desi really are. It’s often very funny, and sometimes terrifying, and occasionally heartbreaking; all the more so because it shows how the monsters can be only too human.

The ending begs for another novel, and indeed there are the concepts for two more living inside the author’s head, though whether they see the light of day is another matter. But the book is complete in itself, a fabulous modern twist on old fables.

ISBN: 978-1-907519-62-8
First chapter as free sample at Book View Cafe
LibraryThing entry
Desdaemona paperback at Amazon UK
Desdaemona Kindle edition at Amazon UK

Out Now: Jade Man’s Skin by Daniel Fox (aka Chaz Brenchley)

Remember that Chinese-inspired fantasy series I’ve been so taken with? The name on the cover is Daniel Fox, but the man behind the pen name is Chaz Brenchley, noted fantasy and crime writer, and the middle volume, “Jade Man’s Skin”, is now on sale. If you’ve read the first volume, “Dragon in Chains”, you’ll already know why I’m so taken with it, but if you haven’t, that’s still available and you should start with that one first.

buy ebooks or trade paperbacks direct from Del Ray

Jade Man’s Skin
ISBN: 978-0-345-50304-6 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-345-51911-5 (ebook)
My review of Jade Man’s Skin (volume 2)
LibraryThing entry
at The Book Depository
Jade Man’s Skin at Amazon UK
Jade Man’s Skin at Amazon US
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise

Dragon in Chains
ISBN: 978-0-345-50305-3 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-345-51346-5 (ebook)
My review of Dragon in Chains (volume 1)
LibraryThing entry
at The Book Depository
Dragon in Chains at Amazon UK
Dragon in Chains at Amazon US
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise

(n.b. — yes, those are Amazon links you see before you. In general, Amazon links are Going Away. However, I received ARCs of these books, and I feel that if I asked for an ARC, I have some obligation to make it as easy as possible for people to buy the book.)

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Dead of Light

Benedict Macallan doesn’t share his family’s talent — nor their taste for power and violence. He turned his back on them; walked out of the family, if not out of the town that they control. But when a cousin is murdered in a manner that promises danger to the whole family, he’s pulled back in against his will. Only for the funeral, only for long enough to say goodbye to a cousin he loved in spite of everything — but then the body count starts to mount, and whatever Ben may feel about his family, they’re his *family*.

The publisher calls it a horror novel, but it’s more of a story about a Mafia-like family, seen through the eyes of a dropout member who understands how they look from both the inside and the outside. The horror element comes in the weapon used by the family to maintain control of their territory, one that’s only hinted at initially, and gradually revealed during the first half of the book. Power corrupts, and the Macallan clan has held power for a very long time. Now someone is reflecting that power and threat back at them, killing Macallans as casually as they’ve killed others. Ben’s left trying to protect a family he despises and that mostly despises him; and the outside friends who are afraid of him now they’ve been reminded exactly who he is; and himself. But Ben has no power of his own…

Brenchley deftly interweaves a coming of age story with a murder mystery, gradually building a picture of a strange but only too human family, and Ben’s love-hate relationship with them. There’s some fine world-building and character development to back up the rising tension as Ben tries to solve the lethal riddle. And the use of language is superb, making the book a joy to read for the pure pleasure of the prose. It’s not exactly your traditional whodunnit, but the magic elements are never used to cheat the reader, and the clues are there for those who want to play the game. Dead of Light is both lyrical and a gripping, fast-paced read.

Dead of Light — hardback at amazon uk
Dead of Light (New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton).) — paperback at amazon uk
Dead of Light (New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton).) — paperback at amazon us
Hardback and paperback direct from the author

Book Review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer series

I’ve been reviewing the individual books of the Outremer series as I finished each one, but the series could be considered as one long novel, and now I’d like to look at the series as a whole. A quick bit of background from when I asked Chaz about whether I should get the UK or US edition — the series was originally conceived as a quadrology, but part way through the UK publisher asked for it to be done as a trilogy, which led to the final volume being paced a bit differently to the original intention. When Ace bought the US rights, they chose to split the original three books into two volumes each, and issue the series as six books. Chaz took the chance to tidy up the third book of the trilogy, so apart from the splitting into two, there’s also a significant difference in the actual text. If you read the US edition, as I did, it’s worth bearing in mind that each pair of volumes is really a single book, and paced as such.

read more on The Books of Outremer

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 6/6: The End of All Roads

I still need to write an overview of the series as a whole, but here’s the review of the final volume in the US edition:

Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 6/6: The End of All Roads

Over the last five volumes, Brenchley has laid out a large number of plot strands. Now he weaves them together in a final volume that sustains the tension almost to the end. The folded land of Surayon is folded no more, and has become a battleground for multiple warring armies, not all of them human. The different human armies are at war with one another, but face a greater enemy — if they can recognise it in time. The central characters of the series face their own battle to protect the many people and things they love, not all of which are on the same side. Marron’s battle is particularly harsh, for he has sworn, with good reason, to never again use the power of the Daughter to kill.

Even in the midst of battle, this is a character-driven story, and there’s some beautiful development of character, as each of the surviving main characters is tested to the breaking point. That’s “surviving”, because right the way through this has not been your fluffy fantasy where only the redshirts die. There’s no gratuitous gore, but that’s not because the author flinches away from showing the reality of a land at war. As a result, there’s genuine suspense right to the last chapter.

At the end of the battle for Surayon, there’s one last conflict to resolve. The King of all Outremer has until now been an off-stage figure, shown only through what others say about him, and the effects of the magical power he wields. And the survivors from various sides have questions they would like answered about his failure to intervene in their war at an early stage. They get their answers, but answers that pose more questions.

While Brenchley answers the reader’s questions, it’s far from a neat and tidy ending. A satisfying one, with Julianne, Elisande and Marron pragmatic enough to be content with what they’ve got, but certainly not a tidy one.

As a whole then, this is a wonderful and unusual fantasy series, with this volume providing a fitting conclusion. And while romance isn’t the be-all and end-all of the plot, the series is definitely one for fans of unconventional romance, so long as they don’t insist on all parties getting an unambiguous Happy Ever After.

Outremer #6: The End of All Roads (Outremer, 6) 6/6 at Amazon US
Hand of the King’s Evil (Outremer) 3/3 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 5/6: Hand of the King’s Evil

The middle two volumes were focused purely on the desert, but this volume opens in Outremer, showing something of what happened to the people who were left behind. Magister Fulke is still intent on war against Surayon, and when he marches out, Sieur Anton marches with him — still hoping to find his errant squire Marron.

Those of the desert have a more pressing concern — finding and rescuing Julianne, who was abducted on her wedding night. They follow the trail to a trade city on the border between Outremer and the lands of the Sharai.

That’s her second wedding night. She ran away from her first husband on her first wedding night, hating to leave him but following a more urgent promise. Imber hasn’t giving up hope of finding her, and joins a march to the trade City in search of the coming war.

Then there’s the mysterious preacher and his flock of the not-quite-healed; an army, perhaps, for someone who chooses to use it that way.

And they’re all aimed at Surayon, with one tiny and personal battle near the end of this volume paving the way for a much larger battle in the next and final volume of the series.

This is only the first half of what was originally published in the UK as a single volume, but stands well on its own as a prelude to the final twisting together of the various plot strands that have been laid out over the course of the series. Even now it is impossible to predict how events will play out and whether any of the characters will find what they desire. It’s beautifully written, as ever, and shows us still more of the characters and their world.

Hand of the King’s Evil (Outremer Series, Book 5) 5/6 at Amazon US
Hand of the King’s Evil (Outremer) 3/3 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website