Book Review: Making Peace by Adam Lane Smith

A romance writer gets embedded as a journalist with a group of peacekeepers on a brutal, technologically stunted though strategically important planet and has to deal with a war between the two most powerful ruling trade families? And there’s magic, assassin’s guilds, and lots and lots of sword fighting? Sign me up.

Making Peace is the debut novel from Adam Lane Smith, and he enters the burgeoning indie author market with a splash. Or given the nature of Making Peace, should I say explosion.

The framing device Smith uses is particularly unique: Belkan Candor is a famous romance novelist from the lush, civilized planet Garden. For some reason, a mysterious and wealthy benefactor pays a lot of money to Belkan’s publisher to send him to the city of Tiers on the planet Sivern to write about the Peacekeepers, a group of dedicated warriors tasked with investigating the crimes among, and preventing a war between, Sivern’s ruling houses.

Sivern is an interesting place, particularly for a foppish dandy like Belkan. Technology is artificially suppressed, leading to a world that’s quasi-medieval, though nano-mages are still allowed. Sivern is also the galaxy’s sole producer of the super-strong ceramic called Sivernite, as well as a decorative plant called Ripplewood. And commerce rules everything, with power held firmly in the grasp of the trade houses. The planet is so vital  and powerful, the fact that slavery exists is tolerated for the sake of commerce.

The houses are constantly jockeying for power, status, and influence, as well as the sweet profits of trade, and this competition tends to grind down the poor and powerless of Tiers between its grinding gears–and in Tiers, “poor” and “powerless” means nearly everybody else. This is where the Keepers come in.

It takes Belkan a while to warm up to his new companions, but slowly he learns about their backgrounds, how they ended up in a place like Tiers in a group like the Keepers, and grows to like and trust them. Which is good, because although he’s supposed to be a mere chronicler of events, Belkan ends up becoming an integral part of the Keepers’ investigation into a string of brutal murders in the First House.

Continue reading “Book Review: Making Peace by Adam Lane Smith”

Learn Or Die: Criticism, Setbacks, and Process

If you’re not learning, you’re dying. If you’re not willing to seek out and take criticism, you’re not learning.

And if you take criticism personally, you’ll never learn.

It’s a lesson I wish I learned fifteen years ago. Who knows where I would be? Instead I let my ego get in the way, imagining that I already knew everything, and thereby stagnating. Hey, at least I felt good about myself!

This lesson hit home when I got edits back from Brian Niemeier on one of my many works in progress, The Rust Man.

Brian, an author I greatly admire, was brutally honest, frank, and helpful. You can tell he wants to help.

Anyway, after reading his edits and his notes, I’m going back to the drawing board on the book. The funny thing is that I stared writing The Rust Man (name subject to change) before I started getting into the PulpRev and it’s ethos.

What ethos? How about clarity over cleverness and short and punchy beats “epic” and bloated. A lot of his suggestions, I’d say 85% or so, are things I was planning on doing anyway as I thought about the book in the months since I wrote it, edited it myself, and sent it to him. My goal is getting it down to 450 or so pages from its current 850.

This also ties into process, which we’ll get to later.

See, I was weaned on epic fantasy, brick-sized tomes by authors like Robert Jordan, Tad Williams (a highly underrated author) and George R. R. Martin. Sure I loved Tolkien and Lewis and even enjoyed Lloyd Alexander, but Big was where it was at. More = better.

But you know something? People generally aren’t buying doorstop-sized books, especially on Kindles and other devices, and especially not in fantasy and sci-fi. And if you want to sell books and build an audience, you do have to give them what they want. There is no shame in this. Continue reading “Learn Or Die: Criticism, Setbacks, and Process”

Book Review: The Witch’s Gift: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 4 by Morgon Newquist

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Yes, I review books by other people who don’t have the last name “Newquist.” It just so happens that I’m a pretty fast reader and I like to pass along the word about good stuff I think readers of this blog might enjoy. Which brings me to the fourth book in Morgon Newquist’s The School of Spells & War series, The Witch’s Gift.

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Morgon Newquist

The Witch’s Gift is another of those interstitial character pieces like book two that seem to fall between the more weighty adventuresThe Witch’s Gift picks up after the wizard Alis and the warrior Cahan return from successfully ridding the remote village of Ashfern from the spirit of a malovelent witch. Alis is testing her new powers out on the titular school’s ground when–BOOM!–she causes a gigantic explosion.

It turns out that the witch from Ashfern imbued Alis with her power, and the results are hard to control. Not only that, they’ve caught the attention of the school’s headmaster . . . Continue reading “Book Review: The Witch’s Gift: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 4 by Morgon Newquist”

Book Review: The Cinder Witch: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 3 by Morgon Newquist

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A haunted town, an enchanted mirror, ghosts, hidden dimensions . . . book three of Morgon Newquist‘s episodic School of Spells & War series, The Cinder Witch, has a little bit of everything.

The adventuring duo of Alis the wizard and Cahan the warrior is tasked by their school to help the residents of the remote town of Ashfern, located in the perpetually cold and snowy Winterwood, with a little ghost problem. It seems like a spirit is haunting the mayor’s children, particularly his youngest daughter, and he’s hoping that Alis and Cahan can do something about it. While the threat of the Formless, first encountered in Down the Dragon Hole, remains a problem constantly on their minds, the duo knows that they cannot ignore their duties.

Magic is more Alis’ strongsuit, and she soon finds herself struggling with a malevolent spirit that has far more magic power than her . . . but also a past that is just as tragic.

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Morgon Newquist

And the mighty Cahan gets his butt kicked several times. Continue reading “Book Review: The Cinder Witch: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 3 by Morgon Newquist”

Book Review: Vigil by Russell Newquist

If pious, globe-trotting, gun-wielding demon-hunters aren’t your thing, this review won’t mean anything to you. But if the are, I think you’re going to enjoy Vigil.

Vigil by Russell Newquist continues the tale he began in War Demonsalthough is more of a side story than a direct sequel. Michael Alexander, the hero of the previous book, is nowhere to be found. Instead Vigil features Peter Bishop, the bearer of the sword of St. Michael, and his demon-hunting friends in pursuit of the dragon that terrorized Athens, Georgia in War Demons. This dragon absconded with Peter’s girlfriend Faith. Or at least the girl Peter wouldn’t mind being his girlfriend.

Tracking the dragon to a small village France, Peter and his friends discover that the church in town covers dark, ancient secrets. And I don’t mean the kind of dirty laundry that tends to pile up in small towns. I mean actual, literal dark and ancient secrets that threaten more than just the down. While Faith tries to keep her head in the dragon’s layer, Peter and his comrades fight a desperate battle while under siege in the church during the traditional Catholic Easter vigil. Unfortunately, the church’s old priest is not quite as Godly as one would hope, and threatens to sabotage the whole operation . . .

Author Russell Newquist
Russell Newquist

Yes, as in War Demons, Christianity plays a central part in Vigil‘s story. And like in that book, as well as the other Tales of Peter Bishop short stories, Russell is able to pull this off because the religious elements are a part of the story, and the book is not preachy.

And you know what? I see what Russell is trying to do here, or at least I think I do. And I approve: Continue reading “Book Review: Vigil by Russell Newquist”

Book Review: A Midsummer’s Party: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 2 by Morgon Newquist

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Not too long ago, I reviewed a book called Down the Dragon Hole by author Morgon Newquist. In that review, I discussed the way Mrs. Newquist both embraces and plays with traditional swords and sorcery conventions:

It sounds basic, but the set-up works for such a short story. And while there are plenty of genre tropes to satisfy your fantasy itch–mystical creatures, magical spells, swordfights, and magic battles–it’s the non-genre elements that give Down the Dragon Hole it’s heft. There are bigger themes at play than dragon-hunting, themes like expanding one’s moral and intellectual horizons, fighting off extinction, and what is lawful versus what is right.

Ms. Newquist also twists some genre conventions in the forms of Alis and Cahan themselves. They embody the stereotypes of their roles while at the same time breaking free of them, making both Alis and Cahan fun characters I’d like to read more about.

Well here we are, and I’m finally getting around to exploring the world of Alis and Cahan more.

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Morgon Newquist

A Midsummer’s Party is the second book in Mrs. Newquist’s School of Spells & War series, and while this is a short work focused on one night at the titular university, it serves as an interstitial character piece leading into the next volume, The Cinder Witch. The set-up is as simple as it gets: The warrior Cahan and the wizerd Alis have been adventuring partners since their adventure in the first book. During Midsummer break, when most students are partying outside, Alis is in the library studying. It isn’t until two of Cahan’s warrior friends, Saer and Elyas, and her own wizard friend Brien interrupt her that she learns it’s Cahan’s birthday. And she hasn’t gotten him a gift. Continue reading “Book Review: A Midsummer’s Party: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 2 by Morgon Newquist”

Creative Process Mash-Up with NaNoWriMo

 

National Novel Writing Month is upon us again, and I’m off to a good start: 2,296 words on day one. Not bad!

This year, though, I’m trying something different. Instead of going into NaNoWriMo by the seat of my pants like I did last year–and how I approach pretty much all of my writing–I actually did an outline!

Yeah, I didn’t outline the whole story chapter-by-chapter. I got about eight chapters in. But the overall arc, the world, and the characters were game-planned beyond merely existing in my mind. This is a big step for me, because I tend to view words as concrete:

I’m one of these weird people for whom, when something is written down, it becomes permanent. It’s almost totemistic. It becomes solid. Whether it’s words or music, I find it difficult to break out of a structure once a structure is made.

Even something like an outline, as opposed to the more free-flowing structure I keep in my brain, has a way of bringing things to life and even shackling me to the structure that it creates. This is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

I mean, how hard is it to just . . . change your outline?

Not hard. At all. Continue reading “Creative Process Mash-Up with NaNoWriMo”