Monthly Archives: April 2016

Alex Scarrow: Re-made (Review)

Alex Scarrow used to be a rock guitarist.

After ten years in various unsuccessful bands, he ended up working in the computer games industry as a lead games designer.

In 2006 his first adult novel A THOUSAND SUNS was published by Orion. Since then he has been a full time writer. To date he’s had 5 thrillers published by Orion.

He is also the author of the bestselling TIMERIDERS series published by Puffin, which has been sold into over 30 foreign territories.

TIMERIDERS was a RedHouse Awards, Catalyst Awards, Hampshire Book winner and a finalist for Galaxy Children’s Book of the Year.

Alex lives in in Norwich with his family. In his spare time he snowboards, sails, writes music and walks his yappy jack russell, Max. He is also very active on twitter and Facebook.

Alex is represented by Veronique Baxter at David Higham Associates

Author web site

Remade (2016)
(The first book in the ReMade series)
A novel by Alex Scarrow


Leon and his younger sister, Grace, have recently moved to London from New York and are struggling to settle into their new school when rumours of an unidentified virus in Africa begin to fill the news. Within a week the virus hits London. The siblings witness people turning to liquid before their eyes, and they run for their lives. A month after touching Earth’s atmosphere the virus has assimilated the world’s biomass.

But the virus isn’t their only enemy, and survival is just the first step . . .



Re-Made the new title from Alex Scarrow, I for one have been looking forward to the next new book from this author. Not that i have not thoroughly enjoyed his fabulous TimeRiders series. But I’m a huge fan of his adult thrillers, so when I learned that this latest book would be the start of a new Young Adult series i didn’t know if i was disappointed or pleased. Alex Scarrow clearly has an affinity for writing Young Adult fiction so its not like its not going to be an excellent series, but would it work for both Adult and YA markets?

I was very intrigued with the concept of Re-Made, an extraterrestrial virus, one so aggressive it turns people to soup in hours. But the virus is so much more than that. Told around the attempted survival of one family trying to travel to a safety zone, to survive. We follow Leon and Grace and their mother as they encounter various stages of the virus, avoiding its attempts to take over the planet. The inevitable touch points with other survivors is where Alex can introduce his observations on society and its inevitable melt down in the face of adversity. This element of the book is very reminiscent of his Last Light series.

As ever Alex excels at his characters, these alone will keep the reader hooked, i do feel that the younger kids may have a few disturbed nights with this plot, but that’s the idea isn’t it?

For a first book in a series i think he does an excellent job of building the plot and dialing up the tension of the viruses planet wide assimilation and knowing Alex’s books some of the seemingly innocuous elements will come back later and turn out to be highly important, the end of the book is as ever where it gets really interesting, left on the edge of a cliff ready for book 2, as to be expected from this author.

I’m not sold on the book being an adult thriller, i felt that too many elements are toned down to meet the YA market, if he were to really write a grown up version of this then he could cause some very sleepless nights. But i know many teens (and some pre teens) who will love this, it very much has the appeal for the gamers who love the apocalyptic plot lines and the drive for survival.

Knowing the huge hit Timeriders was with the kids i have no doubt that this book will go down a storm as well, spreading among the YA population like a Re-made virus….

I’m looking forward to what happens next.



Last Light
1. Last Light (2007)
2. Afterlight (2010)
1. TimeRiders (2010)
2. Day of the Predator (2010)
3. The Doomsday Code (2011)
4. The Eternal War (2011)
5. Gates of Rome (2012)
6. City of Shadows (2012)
7. The Pirate Kings (2013)
8. The Mayan Prophecy (2013)
9. The Infinity Cage (2014)

Ellie Quin
1. The Legend of Ellie Quin (2012)
2. The World According to Ellie Quin (2012)
3. Beneath the Neon Sky (2013)
4. Ellie Quin in WonderLand (2014)
5. Girl Reborn (2015)

1. Remade (2016)
A Thousand Suns (2006)
October Skies (2008)
The Candle Man (2012)
Series contributed to
Doctor Who : Eighth Doctor
Spore (2013)
Doctor Who (with Holly Black, Malorie Blackman, Eoin Colfer, Neil Gaiman, Charlie Higson, Derek Landy,Richelle Mead, Patrick Ness, Philip Reeve, Michael Scott Rohan, Michael Scott and Marcus Sedgwick)
12 Doctors 12 Stories (2014)

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Filed under Alex Scarrow, Young Adult

James Douglas : The Samurai Inheritance (Review)

James Douglas

James Douglas's picture

A pseudonym used by Douglas Jackson
James Douglas is the pen name of an author of successful historical fiction novels.
Douglas Jackson was born in Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders in the summer of 1956. Educated at Parkside Primary School and Jedburgh Grammar School, he left three weeks before his 16th birthday with six O levels and no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
Doug now lives in Bridge of Allan, a lovely village on the doorstep of the Trossachs and is married to wife Alison. They have three children who never fail to make him terribly proud.
He enjoys watching rugby, and finds life at its most relaxing by the river with a fly fishing rod in my hand, although he seldom disturbs many fish.

Author web site

book cover of The Samurai Inheritance

April 1943 – A Mitsubishi transport plane plunges from the sky over the island of Bougainville. On board is Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In a document case chained to his wrist is the greatest secret of the Second World War – a revelation with the potential to change the world if it is ever revealed.

December 2011 – Art recovery expert Jamie Saintclair celebrates the return of a Vermeer painting to its rightful owner, and the day turns even better when he’s offered a lucrative commission. Not much can surprise Jamie, but he blinks when mining tycoon Keith Devlin reveals the object he wants him to find. How did the preserved head of a Solomon Island warrior end up in a German museum? And how is he supposed to discover what happened to it in 1945?

The search takes Jamie from Berlin to Tokyo and with every turn the significance of the Bougainville skull becomes ever greater. Soon he realizes he’s become involved in something much more important than finding a lost piece of history. Three thousand miles away, the answer lies in airless jungles that have already swallowed up one terrible conflict and are now being torn by a war the world isn’t meant to know about . . .


I have to admit that i have held on to this book for a couple of years. As soon as i discovered it would be the last Jamie Saintclaire i decided to save it for a rainy day thriller, when i needed something special.

I wasn’t disappointed, James Douglas just got better and better with this series, a series that had so much more scope. This time our hero is dragged into danger unwittingly, a small job that turns out to be not everything he was told. Jamie is a little older a little wiser and less wet behind the ears, the extra calmness plays well in the plot of this book.

As always there is the time hope element to the plot which pulls you back and forth in time, and drives the plot forward at a furious pace as you the reader try to race to the next element of the story in each timeline.

Ultimately the pace and the brilliant characterisation means that the book is over before you know it or want it, and with a satisfying dramatic conclusion, and yet not once does the plot or action lean to the impossible or unbelievable as many action books can.

I shake my head in despair that this series stopped…. truly a massive shame and loss. But for those that have not read any, this is a set of 4 books to not miss.




Jamie Saintclaire
1. The Doomsday Testament (2011)
2. The Isis Covenant (2012)
3. The Excalibur Codex (2013)
4. The Samurai Inheritance (2014)

As Douglas Jackson
1. Caligula (2008)
2. Claudius (2009)
Gaius Valerius Verrens
1. Hero of Rome (2010)
2. Defender of Rome (2011)
3. Avenger of Rome (2012)
4. Sword of Rome (2013)
5. Enemy of Rome (2014)
6. Scourge of Rome (2015)
7. Saviour of Rome (2016)

Glen Savage mystery
War Games (2014)

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Filed under Action/ Adventure Thrillers, Douglas Jackson, James Douglas

James Rollins and Grant Blackwood : War Hawk (review)

James Rollins

(James Czajkowski)
USA (1961 – )

aka James Clemens

James Rollins was born in Chicago, Illinois, is 1961. With his three brothers and three sisters, he was raised in the Midwest and rural Canada. He graduated with a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Missouri and went on to establish his own veterinary practice in Sacramento, California. An amateur spelunker and a PADI-certified scuba enthusiast, he’ll often be found either underground or underwater.

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Former Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and his war dog Kane are thrust into a global conspiracy that threatens to shake the foundations of American democracy in this second exciting Sigma Force spinoff adventure from New York Times bestselling authors James Rollins and Grant Blackwood.Tucker Wayne s past and his present collide when a former army colleague comes to him for help. She s on the run from brutal assassins hunting her and her son. To keep them safe, Tucker must discover who killed a brilliant young idealist a crime that leads back to the most powerful figures in the U.S. government.From the haunted ruins of a plantation in the deep South to the beachheads of a savage civil war in Trinidad, Tucker and Kane must discover the truth behind a mystery that leads back to World War II, to a true event that is even now changing the world . . . and will redefine what it means to be human.With no one to trust, they will be forced to break the law, expose national secrets, and risk everything to stop a madman determined to control the future of modern warfare for his own diabolical ends. But can Tucker and Kane withstand a force so indomitable that it threatens our very future?”


James Rollins is one of my go to reads when i need a break from Historical Fiction, something that is certain to provide a fast paced action filled read, i cant think of a time he has ever let me down…. Tucker Wayne is no exception to that rule, where it is different is in style, because one of the main characters is a dog. When i first heard this i was dubious, but Rollins has such an innate knowledge of animals that it even caries over to how they potentially think. producing a high level, intelligent persona for the dog, one which is highly believable and readable.

The story its self is another success, i powered through the whole of this book in a day, with his usual page turning style reproduced in conjunction with Grant Blackwood and delivering what all fans have come to love and expect. Im not shocked at this continuity of style and quality having really enjoyed the series Rollins produced with Rebecca Cantrell (a truly wonderful series).

The book description above gives a great background for the plot, the cyber war, terror and power hungry conglomerate combination is powerful and works so well in this modern day world of greed and distrust of the ruling elite. The name of the main protagonist while a little jarring for UK audience should be no hindrance, Clive Cussler after all has made a career from Dirk Pitt.

So for thriller fans, or those looking for something fun to break from the norm, this is well worth a read.




Sigma Force
1. Sandstorm (2004)
2. Map of Bones (2005)
3. Black Order (2006)
4. The Judas Strain (2007)
5. The Last Oracle (2008)
6. The Doomsday Key (2009)
6.5. The Skeleton Key (2011)
7. The Devil Colony (2011)
7.5. Tracker (2012)
8. Bloodline (2012)
9. The Eye of God (2013)
10. The Sixth Extinction (2014)
10.5. The Midnight Watch (2015)
11. The Bone Labyrinth (2015)
The Doomsday Key / The Last Oracle (omnibus) (2013)
Sigma Force Novels 1 (omnibus) (2014)
The Seventh Plague (2016)


Jake Ransom
1. Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow (2009)
2. Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx (2010)
Jake Ransom Complete Collection (omnibus) (2014)


Order of the Sanguines (with Rebecca Cantrell)
0.5. City of Screams (2012)
1. The Blood Gospel (2013)
1.5. Blood Brothers (2013)
2. Innocent Blood (2013)
3. Blood Infernal (2015)


Tucker Wayne (with Grant Blackwood)
1. The Kill Switch (2014)
2. War Hawk (2016)
Subterranean (1999)
Excavation (2000)
Deep Fathom (2001)
Amazonia (2002)
Ice Hunt (2003)
Altar of Eden (2009)

The Devil’s Bones (2014) (with Steve Berry)
Series contributed to
Indiana Jones (Films)
4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull(2008)

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Filed under James Rollins, Thrillers, Uncategorized

Stella Gemmell: Immortal Throne (review)

Stella Gemmell

Stella Gemmell's picture
Stella Gemmell has a degree in politics and is a journalist. She was married to the internationally acclaimed and bestselling fantasy novelist David Gemmell and worked with him on his three ‘Troy’ novels, completing the final book, Troy: Fall of Kings, following his death in 2006. She lives and writes in an old rectory in East Sussex. The City is her first solo novel.

book cover of The Immortal Throne

The Immortal Throne (2015)
(The second book in the City series)
A novel by Stella Gemmell

No one is safe, and no one is to be trusted as the bloody war that began in Stella Gemmell’s The City continues…

The dreaded emperor is dead. The successor to the throne is his nemesis, Archange. Many hope her reign will usher in a new era of freedom and stability. Soon however, word arises of a massive army gathering in the shadows of the north. They are eager to lay waste to the City and annihilate anyone – man, woman, or child – within it.

Yet just as the swords clang in fields wet with the blood of warriors, family feuds, ancient rivalries, and political battles rage on within the cold stone walls of the City. A hero must rise up and restore the peace before anything left to fight for is consumed by the madness.


One of the hardest things to do when reading this series is to put aside the name Gemmell, Stella Gemmell is a writer of her own type, her own status and skill and a style unique to herself. Once i absorbed that fact and stopped looking for David Gemmell in the writing i truly found the wonder of this new writer.

As with Book one of this series i have mixed opinions of this second book.

The pace is slow, the direction is often flighty, and you need to be committed to get to the end. (my advice is set aside a weekend to read this)


The prose is fantastic, the characters imagined in such intricate detail and realism that you cannot fail to be sucked in, the world drawn in such colorful and dramatic sweeping majestic intricacy  that as a reader you are transported to the city.

What truly sets this series apart for me is the utter lack of any side for good, the whole tale of the city is told from multiple POV, from threads in a tale, each with an individual perspective, but lacking a hero and a villain, each with a motive and a drive to achieve a personal aim or ambition. The book is personal to each and every character giving it a sense of realism missing from to many books in the genre.

Stella Gemmell with Immortal Throne has solidified herself as a major new voice in the Fantasy genre, there is more to come from this world and i for one with be at the front of the queue to read it.


Troy (with David Gemmell)
3. Fall Of Kings (2007)
1. The City (2013)
2. The Immortal Throne (2015)

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Filed under Fantasy, Stella Gemmell

Paul Fraser Collard (Guest Blog) Shades of Grey

Guest Blog: 

Shades of Grey

Paul Fraser Collard

The debate around the accuracy found in historical fiction novels has been going on for so long that it would appear that the argument has pretty much been settled. If you are in any doubt as to this, then read Professor David Starkey’s comments on the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (

Historians discover the truth of past events. They never say a thing happened unless they can prove it. They inhabit a world of footnotes and references, every fact crosschecked and verified. Theirs is a world of black and white, where opinion matters little and the evidence speaks for itself.

Writers of historical fiction are little more than plagiarists who steal the stories of the past and take them for their own, twisting and distorting the truth along the way so that facts become blurred with fiction. Theirs is a world of grey and shadow, where interpretation and imagination play as much of a role as research and investigation.

So far, so simple. Historians deal in fact. Historical fiction writers peddle stories.

But what are these facts? The truth is that for every known fact there are a dozen gaps in our knowledge. It may be inconvenient, but there are enormous swathes of the past that are simply covered with shadow. Historians work hard to discern the truth, but they cannot base everything on evidence. Where the details are lost in the murk, they do their best to interpret what they know and what they don’t know. They use logical construct to discern the truth and they do so through their own bias and experience.

Unsurprisingly, historians do not always agree. Those with differences in background, religion, ideology, race and experience will all interpret the past in different ways. This is what makes history so fascinating. It is alive. It is changing. And a lot of it is grey.

That is the key. The past is not all black and white. If it were so, then we would need just one historian per period to discern the truth and then write it down for future generations to enjoy. Simple. Job done. But like many things, it is just not that straightforward. Historians are individuals with their own ideas and complicated prejudices who discern historical events in their own way. They layer known facts with interpretation. They discover as much black and white as they can and then do their best to work through the grey. The result is their own, personal take on what happened.

But layers of grey do not make black. They just make grey.

Let us look at the area that fascinates me the most – war. Wars dominate history. They are the great, cataclysmic events that shape whole generations and, as such, they are often the places where historians congregate.

I have read a hundred accounts of battle. Resources abound for these major events, with dozens of plans, schematics and charts available for every military encounter I have ever researched. They all share one important trait: they were constructed after the battle.

It is only after a battle that some sense of it can be made. When two armies clash there is really nothing but chaos; a bloody, swirling confusion where no one, especially the generals ostensibly in charge, have little more than a vague idea of what is going on. Only when the killing and the maiming is done, can black and white be discerned from grey.

This interpretation of a battle will only ever tell us so much. We will know what the victor thinks happened, and perhaps what the loser thought too. We will know which regiment was ordered where, and maybe what it really did once it had received those orders. This is all fascinating stuff, but once it has been worked out, and a general consensus reached on what happened, the accounts quickly become dusty and dry. Although we have decided pretty much why one side lost and why the other was defeated, we have lost a sense of what happened in the murky, grey world of combat.

This is where I step in. I want to know more than just the strategy and the tactics. I want to know what the battle was really like. What did the soldiers feel as their general ordered them to march straight into the enemy’s guns? What was it like to go bayonet to bayonet with a foreign foe? What did a redcoat feel, as he looked another man in the eye and gouged out his life with seventeen inches of bare steel? I want to look into the grey and see what happened.

I attempt to do so by weaving a story around the events. I want my readers to know what the soldiers went through. I want to make them smell the powder smoke and to feel the thunder of the cannon fire. I attempt to immerse them in my story so they can feel something of what these soldiers endured when they did their country’s bidding.

To do this, I use a made up character, in my case the roguish Jack Lark, and throw him into my choice of historical event. Of course, my Jack did not really exist, but he is my device, my bridge into history. I use him to show my readers what it was like to cross the Alma River and march into the face of the dug-in Russian guns, and what it felt like to ride with the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry as they destroyed a square of Persian infantry at the Battle of Khoosh-Ab. It is through Jack’s experiences that we can understand the terror felt by the men ordered into the breach at Delhi, and it is through his eyes that we can witness the wholesale slaughter found at the Battle of Solferino.

Jack is fictional, but the events he lives through are not. His experiences are based on the first-hand accounts, and the words, of the men and women who really experienced them. I am not working in a world of black and white; I am firmly in the grey, but I would argue no more so than anyone else. I am interpreting what we know and what we don’t, and using a story to bring it all to life.

I am doing what historians do, just presenting it a different way. I tell a story rather than write an account, and there are dozens of brilliant writers out there doing the same. Together we are giving our all to make sure that the events of the past are not forgotten. Our novels can be as accurate as the best historian’s work, whilst being as exhilarating as watching a blockbuster movie.

We take the black, the white and grey and we fuse it all together. Entertainment and education in one scintillating package.






‘Enthralling’ – The Times


Paul Fraser Collard


The fifth action-packed Victorian military adventure featuring hero Jack Lark: soldier · leader · imposter

Paul Fraser Collard’s Jack Lark series continues with The Last Legionnaire,

which sees Jack marching into the biggest battle Europe has ever known.

Fans of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow’s Britannia will delight in

the fast pace and vivid storytelling of Jack’s fifth adventure.

Jack Lark has come a long way since his days as a gin palace pot boy.

But can he surrender the thrill of freedom to return home?

London, 1859. After years fighting for Queen and country, Jack walks back into his mother’s East End gin palace a changed man. Haunted by the horrors of battle, and the constant fight for survival, he longs for a life to call his own. But the city – and its people – has altered almost beyond recognition, and Jack cannot see a place for himself there.

A desperate moment leaves him indebted to the Devil – intelligence officer Major John Ballard, who once again leads Jack to the battlefield with a task he can’t refuse. He tried to deny being a soldier once. He won’t make the same mistake again.

Europe is about to go to war. Jack Lark will march with them.

Reunite with Jack as he fights in the war between France and Austria, culminating in the Battle of Solferino, the biggest battle fought in Europe which led to the establishment of the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention.



Bernard Cornwell


‘I love a writer who wears his history lightly enough for the story he’s telling

to blaze across the pages like this. Jack Lark is an unforgettable new hero’

Anthony Riches


‘It felt accurate, it felt real, it felt alive… Every line every paragraph and page of the battles had me hooked, riveted to the page, there were times when I was almost as breathless as the exhausted soldiers’

Parmenion Books

About the Author

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At school, Paul was determined to become an officer in the British Army and he succeeded in winning an Army Scholarship. However, Paul chose to give up his boyhood ambition and instead went into the finance industry. Paul stills works in the City, and lives with his wife and three children in Kent.


Headline │ISBN: 9781472222756 │ 7 April 2016 │ Hardback │ £19.99

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Paul Fraser Collard

Map of Bones : Blog Tour Competition.

The Map of Bones blog tour banner final


2015-01-24 17.17.36

Competition is open to UK only:

Question 1: Name the 2  Factions in the book?  (hint below)

Question 2: What is the name of the main female character?

There are 2 books up for grabs.

Names will be drawn out of a hat (April 20th … when im back from holiday)


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Sebastien De Castell : Saint’s Blood (Review) Blog Tour & Q&A

Sebastien De Castell

Sebastien de Castell ,

BLOG TOUR final (1)

Author Web Site

Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way.

Sebastien lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.

Saint’s Blood  (2016)
(The third book in the Greatcoats series)

Saints Blood
How do you kill a Saint? Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they’ve started with a friend. The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumours are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors – a move that could turn the country into a theocracy. The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he’ll still have to face him in battle. And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.


When Traitors blade was released in 2014 i have to admit to being totally wowed by the book, It introduced a great new voice into the fantasy world and really proved the cross over between the historical fiction genre and fantasy.  Since that book i have tried to be first in line to read the next release.

Saints Blood was no different, as soon as the cover art was released my count down began, my harassing of the publisher to gain a review copy started, and they kindly didn’t tell me to go take a running jump. When the date finally arrived i did what i have only done 4 times in 12 months, i stopped reading the book i was reading to start this one.

It was to my great delight that this latest book in the series was a fitting next step in what has rapidly become on of my all time fav fantasy series. Our heroes (for want of a better phrase) have that great dialogue, a edge of dry wit and sarcasm and realistic rudeness that only true friends could have. The fighting skills clearly from the authors own knowledge of the sword, bring that hint of Dumas and the Three Musketeers.

But those parts of the book would just be gimmicks without the simply amazing plot-lines. Every book has kept me on the edge of the page from first page to last, guessing at the twists and turns ahead, who may or may not die, who from among the greatcoats will appear? who will turn traitor and what level of abuse Brasti will sink to.

The author has risen to the challenge of improvement with each and every book, but not incremental improvement, each book has made huge leaps ahead of the last. This latest book is simply stunning, when the plot needs it there is the absence of blade, then out of the blue you are treated to a Balesta of action leading to what you think is a barrage of plot culmination, only to find out it has been more progressive actions, the end of the book always elusive, ever in doubt, always leaving you questioning and wanting more.

I now have 4 of my top 10 books for the year, and this one is going to take some beating for the number one spot in Fantasy, it is simply brilliant.


Sebastian De Castell has kindly agreed to some questions…. i hope you enjoy.


Have you always had a passion for writing?
No, not at all.
I know that’s an odd thing for an author to confess, but my passion has always been for story—that ephemeral and ethereal magic that happens inside the mind of the audience—rather than for any particular medium. Some of the most vivid stories ever told are the ones told by some stranger you just met in a bar, or by an older sister to her younger brother. Storytelling is at its most magical when it feels personal. I often have to talk through my stories with friends or my editors in order to get that sense of what’s happening inside their heads when they’re hearing it before I can start typing.
I think it took me a long time before I could write in a way that felt that direct—that you were so close to the main character that what was happening on the inside was as important as the external events.
That said, the novel is, for me, feels like the perfect vehicle for story to me now. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What led you to write fantasy?
It wasn’t so much about writing fantasy as finding a place where I could tell the kinds of stories that are meaningful to me: stories about idealism and the romanticism of human beings and the strange, abstract things we create like laws and countries and systems of belief. What I care about is drama and that’s what occupies my mind as I’m writing: is this scene dramatic? Does it feel true? Will this make someone laugh or cry or get angry? Will this make someone see things around them differently or will it just drift away when the book is closed?
We often say that fantasy is the genre of wonder and enchantment, but those elements have to be in service to something beyond just creating imaginary worlds. My favourite fantasy stories are the ones which I can bring back to my own life somehow—stories that help re-enchant the everyday world.
Who are your inspirations in the genre?
The people who made me want to write were Roger Zelazny, who was my first exposure to what I’d call a noir style of fantasy writing, Steven Brust, who took that forward with flair and a more naturalist sensibility, and Charles de Lint, who can enchant the everyday world in ways that I can only dream of achieving one day. That said, if I ask myself whose books I could pick up and know that I’d enjoy it before even reading the first page and who can fearlessly interweave theme inside page-turning stories, it would be Robin Hobb.
You are pictured with a sword in publicity photos, can you tell us about you and how long you have trained? What types of sword you use? And what led you to become proficient?
I started out in the way that lots of geeks do: I wanted very badly to be a bard but discovered no such job existed. So I learned and did the things that a bard might do. I became a professional musician and toured around with bands, I told stories and wrote books, and, of course, I picked up the sword.
I used to fence epée and occasionally foil (no sabre, though—don’t get me started on modern sabrists.) I ended up learning theatrical fencing and stage combat and eventually worked choreographing sword fights for theatre productions. I always think my favourite weapon is the rapier, but in practice I’m probably more natural with the broadsword and more skilled with the smallsword.
I’ve been so busy these past few years, though, that I’m horrendously out of practice—something I plan to rectify this summer. En guarde!
Your characters are very simple and very complex at the same time, just like real people, have you framed them around people you have met? Or are they all constructs?
It’s never really a planned out practice for me, but I discovered long ago that I tend to view people when I first meet them in very blunt terms, fancying that I can sum them up quickly and efficiently. Of course, I’m always wrong. A person’s character is made up of a wide range of often contradictory desires, experiences, and beliefs. They rarely live up to our expectations and yet often surpass them in ways we never expected. So I tend to write characters that way in my books: people who you think you know early on but then keep discovering more and more depth as you read further.
I tend not to replicate people I’ve met inside my fiction. While it’s an easy way to create a sense of depth and realism, it doesn’t always give you what the story needs. Theme is vital to me in the books I write, so I’m often looking for characters who can fight for different ways of interpreting that theme. That’s why everyone is perpetually pissing off poor Falcio in the Greatcoats books.
I have often compared the concept to a modern day Dumas and the Musketeers, did you start out with the musketeers as a concept, or is this happy coincidence?
I love nothing better than when someone uses my name and Dumas in the same sentence, but the truth is, no, I wasn’t consciously trying to create a modern interpretation of the Three Musketeers. I wanted to start with three friends who’d come to a point where they realized everything they’d ever stood for had proven to have failed and then see what came next.
I actually think it’s incredibly difficult to tell Musketeer-type stories because the very nature of swashbuckling adventure makes it difficult to have genuine growth of characters over time or for the reader to really believe they’re in jeopardy. That’s why a lot of people were shocked by Knight’s Shadow and what Falcio goes through—they weren’t expecting to see a swashbuckling hero broken down so thoroughly. But it was absolutely necessary, both for the story and the series. You had to see that, while exciting and flamboyant, these were heroes who could be beaten, could be broken, and that their jeopardy was genuine. I needed that darkness to create a backdrop for the more light and fun aspects of the series.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out writing a fantasy series?
When someone asks me that question I usually answer as follows: you already know. You knowwhat you need to do. Just close your eyes and for five seconds, ask yourself this question: “What is the best advice someone could give me right now” and you’ll hear it.
The reason we all want someone else to say it is because that takes away our own responsibility for being accountable to our writing. But when you get down to it, it’s going to be you and the page or the screen, so you’re going to have to get comfortable with telling yourself what to do next.
Then, when they say, “great, thanks for nothing,” I say, “Okay, okay…look, if you really want some writing advice, here it is: fearlessly write the book you most want to read.” It’s pretty common advice, but the magic word in there is fearlessly.
What I’m seeing in the publishing business now is that there’s no room for ‘good’ books, only special ones. That means something that fires people up and takes hold of their imagination. You want to write a vampire romance? Write the most vampirey-romancey thing you possibly can. You want to write about elves? Make them everything you wish elves would be. Don’t aim for what others consider acceptable. Tell the story in your most authentic, uncensored voice. Write it so that you don’t dare show it to your friends or family. I promise, you can always use craft to make it ‘acceptable’ to people later, but you need to start like a train on fire, barrelling ahead and saying exactly what you want to say, in your voice, without regard to what anyone other than a person who loves what you love will think.
Give one reader—the one who’s just like you–the most amazing, personal story possible. You’ll be surprised at how many of you there are out there.
What do you currently read for pleasure?
I’ve been reading a bit of crime and horror lately, including Andrew Pyper, Gillian Flynn, and a little Mark Lawrence on the fantasy side. I’m dying to read the upcoming Guy Gavriel Kay book, “Children of Earth & Sky”, but I’m not famous enough yet for publishers to be sending me things before they’re released.
Which one book do you wish you had written, and why?
This is going to sound strange, but I wish I’d written the first Nancy Drew book. Just think about what that series has meant to so many people over decades. How many kids read Nancy Drew and thought about solving their own mysteries, about being their own heroes, about being at the centre of stories rather than at the periphery. It wasn’t the first of such stories, but to make something that has such a lasting impact…an author can only dream of such things.
I wish Carolyn Keene had been a real person instead of a syndicate of ghost writers. If she had been, she could have prevented the sanitizing of the character that happened in the 1950’s (there’s some really interesting history there for anyone who wants to look it up.)
I guess I want writer-heroes to look up to in genre fiction, authors who boldly create characters and stories that affect generations of people. Why is it only the literary folks get to construct mythologies around their writers?
You are given a soap box…yes a real one, dropped outside Kings cross station and told to sell your book to passers by… whats your pitch….?
“It’s about idealism, and friendship, and how to survive in a world where those things don’t seem to matter anymore. Also, there are some cool sword fights.”


Saint’s Blood (The Greatcoats)


Filed under Fantasy, Sebastien De Castell