Category Archive: Books

Jessa Russo: Divide

Jessa Russo: Divide (and Ever)

Jessa Russo asked me to help her promote her new novel Divide, which comes out tomorrow, and I suggested dragging my review for her debut Ever out of the archives. It’s something of an anomaly among her reviews, since I decided to wax pretentious and treat its protagonist as an unreliable narrator.

Jessa Russo - Ever

Jessa Russo – Ever

I should mention from the outset that I tend to avoid reading YA (young adult) fiction. I didn’t like being a teenager, so reading about them isn’t exactly appealing. I tend not to read romance, either, for reasons I can’t even pretend are reasonable.

First, the plot: seventeen year old Eleanor Van Ruysdael (whose nickname, Ever, is derived from her initials) has a dead boyfriend named Frankie, who died in a car crash which she survived. She isn’t over him yet, but it might be difficult to get over a teen crush who insists on haunting you.

What begins as a tale of unrequited love becomes a love triangle when twenty-two-year-old Toby and his father move into the house where Frankie and his family once lived. Though Ever tells us she’s stuck on Frankie on numerous occasions, she is instantly smitten with Toby — to the relief of her friend Jess. After some courtship between Ever and Toby, the arrival of Toby’s ex Ariadne further complicates matters.

Ariadne’s arrival kicks Ever into high gear by introducing an interpersonal conflict halfway through the novel. Ever can’t stand Ariadne, but the feeling isn’t mutual because Ariadne doesn’t regard Ever as an equal worthy of her enmity.

I won’t comment further on the plot, lest I spoil the ending. Instead, I will shift my attention to the mechanisms driving the story. In particular, I wish to consider Ms. Russo’s choice of viewpoint. Ever is told exclusively through the viewpoint of its protagonist. We only know what she tells us. We have no choice but to believe Frankie is real, because Ever tells us other people can see him. When Ever learns that Toby and Ariadne are “soul collectors”, we can only take her words at face value, but Ever doesn’t tell us what exactly soul collectors are, or how they do what they do, because she herself doesn’t know. We remain ignorant of Toby’s motives and those of Ariadne, because we’re limited to Ever’s viewpoint.

A cursory glance at the reviews on Goodreads suggests that this limited perspective frustrates a great many readers to the point where they end up despising the novel. I consider it Ever’s chief virtue. While I might praise Ever’s verisimilitude by virtue of its characters, who are annoying enough to remind me of the teenagers with whom I used to do time in high school, the real value of this novel lies in its unreliable narrator.

An unreliable narrator, according to Wikipedia, is “a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised” (emphasis mine). Ever’s youth and inexperience alone might compromise her as a narrator, but it’s her psychological issues which push her over the top. Her unresolved grief and survivors’ guilt are both obvious from the first page of the first chapter. Furthermore, because we have to take her word for the fact that others can see Frankie, the ghost himself might be a figment of Ever’s imagination — or a delusion. Even the events culminating in Ever`s cliffhanger ending might only be a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy we must accept at face value, because we only know what Ever tells us.

I don’t know if Jessa Russo intended for Ever to be an unreliable narrator. I could be overthinking a novel which is nothing more than solidly written young adult paranormal romance. Or, Jessa Russo might have infused her material with unexpected literary sophistication through her choice of viewpoint and the care with which she feeds the reader information.

Pick whichever interpretation you think is most flattering.

ruleDon’t forget! Divide comes out tomorrow.


Wilbert Stanton: The Artful

I’m helping out first-time Curiosity Quills Press novelist Wilbert Stanton with the cover revelation of his debut: The Artful. It’s the first part of his Shadows of the City series, and will be available on 27 May 2013. The blurb suggests a sci-fi tale reminiscent of Oliver Twist.

Wilbert Stanton: The Artful

Wilbert Stanton: The Artful

New York City, 2025: Everything is changed. The city that never sleeps is now a land of death and decay. A rampant virus has taken over and the survivors have become carriers, quarantined from the rest of the world.

Twist and Dodger grew up in the streets, the sewers and underground tunnels – their playground. They aren’t heroes. They just like attention; and stealing meds from the rich and giving them to the poor is their golden ticket.

On their latest raid, they unknowingly steal a cure that puts them square between the ailing Emperor of Manhattan and the war hungry Governor of Brooklyn and forces them on a quest into the darkest shadows of their putrefying world.

Facebook Author Page:
Twitter: @wilbert_stanton

Ryan Hill: The Book of Bart

Ryan Hill: The Book of Bart

I’m helping out Curiosity Quills newcomer Ryan Hill today by spreading the word about his debut, a YA paranormal entitled The Book of Bart. Here’s the cover; the book comes out on May 22, 2014.

Ryan Hill: The Book of Bart

Ryan Hill: The Book of Bart

Behold! The cover for Ryan Hill’s debut YA Paranormal novel THE BOOK OF BART, coming May 22 from Curiosity Quills!

Only one thing is so powerful, so dangerous that Heaven and Hell must work together to find it: the Shard of Gabriel.

With a mysterious Black Cloud of Death hot on the shard’s trail, a desperate Heaven enlists the help of Bart, a demon who knows more about the shard than almost anyone. Six years ago, he had it in his hands. If only he’d used it before his coup to overthrow the devil failed. Now, he’s been sprung from his eternal punishment to help Samantha, an angel in training, recover the shard before the Black Cloud of Death finds it.

If Bartholomew wants to succeed, he’ll have to fight the temptation to betray Samantha and the allure of the shard. After an existence full of evil, the only way Bart can get right with Hell is to be good.


Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Facebook | Google+


Artwork by Ricky Gunawan

Meet the Cast of Starbreaker

Meet some of the cast of my Romantic heavy metal science fantasy series, Starbreaker, starting in part one: Without Bloodshed. All artwork is by Harvey Bunda.


Ashtoreth, by Harvey Bunda

Ashtoreth, by Harvey Bunda

Ashtoreth doesn’t have to remember the days when men knelt before her and called her a goddess, because some still do. Is she an ally to our heroes, or an enemy? Perhaps she has her own agenda.

Christabel Crowley, by Harvey Bunda

Christabel Crowley, by Harvey Bunda

Christabel Crowley blazed as the star violinist of neo-Romantic heavy metal act Crowley’s Thoth until a brutal murder stilled her song, but is her tale truly over?

Claire Ashecroft, by Harvey Bunda

Claire Ashecroft, by Harvey Bunda

Claire Ashecroft might act like an oversexed otaku, but few can match her ability to sweet-talk an AI, charm her way into a secured location, or wage electronic warfare on her friends’ behalf.

Desdinova, by Harvey Bunda

Desdinova, by Harvey Bunda

Desdinova‘s gravely digs may surely prove a sight, but this surgical wizard in grey carries secrets that might shatter the Phoenix Society.

Edmund Cohen, by Harvey Bunda

Edmund Cohen, by Harvey Bunda

Edmund Cohen is a man of few virtues, among them self-awareness; loyalty to friends who stand by him despite his drinking, drugging, and whoring; and deadly aim with a Dragunov.

Imaginos, by Harvey Bunda

Imaginos, by Harvey Bunda

Imaginos became a demon to fight demons. What sort of man becomes what he despises for the good of his people? Is such a man truly a villain? Could a man with thousands of megadeaths to his name be a hero? Either way, he proves you can’t trust a white-haired bishounen.

Morgan Stormrider, by Harvey Bunda

Morgan Stormrider, by Harvey Bunda

Morgan Stormrider never doubted his work as one of the Phoenix Society’s Adversaries until a duel with a rival in Shenzhen cracked his faith. He wants nothing more than to put aside his sword and dedicate himself to music, but learning the truth about the Phoenix Society did not set him free.

Naomi Bradleigh, by Harvey Bunda

Naomi Bradleigh, by Harvey Bunda

Naomi Bradleigh never looked back when she resigned her commission with the Phoenix Society and launched a musical career that led her to form Crowley’s Thoth with Morgan Stormrider and Christabel Crowley. When a dirty cop tries to frame Naomi for Crowley’s murder, she takes up her sword anew and fights beside Morgan.

Thagirion, by Harvey Bunda

Thagirion, by Harvey Bunda

Thagirion is the eldest of the Disciples of the Watch, and sworn to keep the Starbreaker from the wrong hands. She is the only one Imaginos acknowledges as his equal. What will happen when she decides Imaginos can no longer be trusted with the one weapon capable of killing gods?

Morgan Stormrider and Naomi Bradleigh - Alternate Without Bloodshed cover by Harvey Bunda

Morgan Stormrider and Naomi Bradleigh – Alternate Without Bloodshed cover by Harvey Bunda

This is where heavy metal, science fiction, and fantasy collide.


Keep Your Enemies Closer

I decided on a whim to put a rough cut of my most recent scene for The Blackened Phoenix on Wattpad, to see if I can’t pick up a bit of an audience there. You can have a look if you like. This is from Chapter Four: “Keep Your Enemies Closer”.

Blackened Phoenix Progress Update

Blackened Phoenix Progress Report

I really need to be better about reporting my progress on my books as I write them. I’m sure I have a few fans who would be interested in knowing I don’t spend all my time outside of work being a Sunbro and playing Dark Souls II. :)

So, here’s the current word count: 17713, with approximately 800 written today at lunch. One of these days I’ll write a shell script that generates time-stamped draft files and compares word counts by day so I can get a delta every time I run it. :)

The most recently completed scene is scene one of chapter four, “Keep Your Enemies Closer”. Munakata Tetsuo just paid Alexander Liebenthal a visit in his room at the Sonamura Psychiatric Hospital in Honolulu, and persuaded him to shut up and keep his head down.

Peace Cottage; or, Maybe I Should Stop Playing

Maybe I should take a night off Dark Souls II, because the first thing that comes to mind after seeing the cover to Lisa Kent’s upcoming inspirational/contemporary/women’s fiction debut Peace Cottage is, “Praise the Sun”. The cover reminds me of how Majula might have looked before the kingdom of Drangleic fell apart.

Oh dear. I may have OD’ed. Sorry. :)

Peace Cottage by Lisa Kent

Peace Cottage by Lisa Kent

About Peace Cottage

When tragedy claims the life of her dear husband, Lucy Cook packs up her two daughters and heads to the coast of Maine to start again. There, in a cottage in the woods, she looks for peace and renewal as she heals from the loss and alienation of her former life in Vermont. But her new home and the man who owns it are shrouded in mystery. And Lucy must learn to live without certainty. Follow Lucy as she navigates a fresh start for herself and her family in regard to matters of home, loss, love, and hope.

About Lisa Kent

Lisa Monique Kent is a librarian and first-time author of the novel Peace Cottage, a story about hope and new beginnings. She lives with her family and pets in rural Vermont, and is currently working on her second book, Vinehart Farm.

Find her online: Blog | Facebook | Goodreads

Orison by Daniel Swensen

Rereading Orison

Since Daniel Swensen had made a point of asking me what I thought of his debut fantasy Orison after my previous mention here, I figured some rereading was in order. I tore through it this weekend, in between being summoned to help other Dark Souls II players achieve victory through jolly cooperation. I didn’t want to go back to working on Starbreaker stuff right after reading Words of Radiance.

Orison is a short, fast-paced novel. At it’s core, it’s a crime caper. There’s a MacGuffin, the titular orison, that the dragon Penumbra has put into play for reasons the novel eventually reveals. She offers it to Ashen One-Howl, a Warborn retainer to the Queen of Calushain, who quite sensibly refuses.

His sensible refusal turns out to be a mistake. Others get their hands on it, and scheme to place Wrynn and Dunnac, a wizard-turned-gambler and a swordsman exiled by different countries, in a position which forces them to obtain the orison and transport it.

The last piece of the puzzle lies in Story, a young burglar who manages to get her hands on the orison during a fight between Wrynn and Dunnac against Ashen One-Howl. The stakes rapidly escalate from here with Penumbra and an opposing dragon stirring the pot, leading to an explosive climax and a denouement that does a solid job of wrapping up the novel and leaving room for sequels despite its relative brevity.

I enjoyed Orison, and wouldn’t mind seeing more in the Lotus Throne setting. I found Swenson’s choice of “Penumbra” as a name for the dragon who set the novel’s events in motion interesting. A penumbra is a shadow cast by an object that partially occludes a light source, such as during a partial solar eclipse. I wonder if there’s some significance there, or if Swensen chose that name for other reasons.

Words of Radiance endpaper by Michael Whelan

Is it Shardplate, or Shartplate?

Instead of writing at lunch today, I read an exchange between Shallan Davar and Adolin Kholin in Words of Radiance that’s likely to make taking Shardbearers seriously a herculean endeavor. I’m sure Sanderson was drawing on history, but the notion of people wearing Shardplate shitting themselves on the battlefield because there’s no way to call a time-out in the middle of a battle so that everybody can use the latrine is absolutely hilarious to my inner problem child, who also has a thing for sharp objects and high explosives. That five-year-old living in the back of my head keeps asking, “Is it Shardplate, or Shartplate?”

If my wife Catherine ever decides to use her Audible account credits to check out the Stormlight Archive for herself, I am going to have to refrain from making such jokes. I’m just going to have to hold it in. Hopefully it won’t leak out.

Sorry about that. I had to get that out of my system.

I think I understand why Sanderson took the dialogue in that direction. The Alethi nobility use Shartplate and Shardblades as an excuse to lord it over not only darkeyed people, but light-eyed people who don’t have Shards of their own. He appears to intend to show that possessing this gear doesn’t make people special, or something other than the men they would be without it. They still shit — in their Shartplate.

In the meantime, I’m getting to like this new, more devious Shallan. I still don’t like what happened to Jasnah earlier on, but the results forced Shallan to grow, become her own person, and explore her own abilities. She’s proving to be a delightful young spy, and the flashbacks to her past offer interesting insights into the young woman she’s become.

She reminds me a bit of Claire Ashecroft from my own series. They’re both audacious, sassy young women. They’re both skilled in the use of subterfuge and social engineering in the pursuit of their goals.

Kaladin, on the other hand, is a demon-ridden idiot. Syl kept warning him, but did he listen? Nah.

Words of Radiance endpaper by Michael Whelan

Jasnah Kholin deserved better.

(Artwork by Michael Whelan)

I’ve been reading Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance since I finished Daniel Swensen’s Orison last night. It’s interesting so far, but I am not pleased with the raw deal Jasnah Kholin got in Part 1. I won’t spoil it for anybody, though.

Here’s the deal. Jasnah was one of my favorite characters in The Way of Kings. She was an intelligent woman, a scientist, and one of the few sympathetically portrayed agnostic atheists I’ve seen in fantasy that I didn’t write. I liked that she had a beef with the Vorin church because they whitewashed history in a manner that made her research unnecessarily difficult.

And what does Sanderson do? Take a guess.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to be one of those drama queen readers who stops reading because a character I liked got a raw deal from the author. I read George R. R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, for the love of Arioch.

Still, I think it’s rare to see atheist characters in fantasy. Hell, I think it’s rare to see a character clearly identified as an atheist in science fiction. Hemant Mehta even wrote about this for the Friendly Atheist and asked “Where are the Atheist Fiction Books?” back in 2012.

I’ll admit it: one of the reasons I started writing fantasy was that I want to create characters who believed in themselves and each other instead of believing in gods. I just don’t get supernaturalism. I don’t believe that it’s possible for anything to occur in our world which is supernatural, and therefore forever beyond the reach of human inquiry.

When you categorically reject the supernatural, you run the risk of writing science fiction instead of fantasy. Your work might not be hard SF, but it might not be fantasy, either.

Damn it. Here I am talking atheism when I promised myself I’d stop talking about that because it doesn’t change anybody’s minds and just alienates potential readers. Suffice to say, I’m a bit disappointed with Mr. Sanderson. I’m sure he had his reasons, and they’re probably good ones.

Regardless, Jasnah Kholin deserved better.