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A.J. Smith: The Black Guard (Long War Book 1) Review + Q&A

The Author

aj smith

AJ Smith has been writing stories set in the lands of The Long War since he was at university. Defining the world and adding detail became an excellent distraction from his degree (which was in psychology, philosophy and sociology) and has remained equally distracting ever since. Interestingly, the maps came first, and then the world and its characters began to take shape in the writing. Since graduating, Tony has been working with troubled children in a high school in Luton and has had various articles related to counselling and youth work published. Fantasy fiction has always been his own version of therapy and a place where he can make up what happens next rather than waiting for the real world to decide.

Book Description

Buy it on kindle for the bargain 99p

Buy a signed copy £20

Buy Hardback from Amazon £15.99

 

Black Guard

The city of Ro Canarn burns. The armies of the Red march upon the northern lords. And the children of a dead god are waking from their long slumber… The Duke of Canarn is dead, executed by the King’s decree. The city lies in chaos, its people starving, sickening, and tyrannized by the ongoing presence of the King’s mercenary army. But still hope remains: the Duke’s children, the Lord Bromvy and Lady Bronwyn, have escaped their father’s fate.

Separated by enemy territory, hunted by the warrior clerics of the One God, Bromvy undertakes to win back the city with the help of the secretive outcasts of the Darkwald forest, the Dokkalfar. The Lady Bronwyn makes for the sanctuary of the Grass Sea and the warriors of Ranen with the mass of the King’s forces at her heels. And in the mountainous region of Fjorlan, the High Thain Algenon Teardrop launches his Dragon Fleet against the Red Army. Brother wars against brother in this, the epic first volume of the long war.

Review

2013 seems to be a year for Début fantasy novels for me, and they have all been fantastic books so far (Luke Scull, Stella Gemmell, Nathan Hawke), so how does the Black Guard stand up against those other débuts?

Like The City by Stella Gemmell it took me a little while to get into this book, maybe its the risk of a début author landing such a hefty tome in my lap, at 640 pages its a serious expression of trust from the publisher Head of Zeus, and an announcement that they think they have a real winner on their hands, and for me a big time commitment with so many great books out there.

So how did it shape up? For me, I felt the style was on the epic fantasy scale, Brandon Sanderson, Tolkien style. Where my personal preference is more Gemmellesque. But at the same time the characters are very much to my liking, they are realistic, likeable and natural rather than the average OTT fantasy drone. So has AJ Smith hit his own niche part Gemmell part Sanderson? I’m not 100% sure, I don’t think I read enough fantasy these days to be totally sure, I need more maybe when I see book 2?

The story however is very clever even though it takes a bit of time to get there, but when it does get going it keeps you turning the pages at a rapid pace, so much so that you will hardly realise the size of the book, and when the book ends it leaves you slightly bereft, needing more and knowing while there will be, its not going to be for at least a year.

There are clear signs in the book and writing of a true fantasy geek (not an insult) a man who has spent time becoming passionate with his genre and then building a world in his mind. Its that passion and desire to get his world down on paper I think that slows down the first third of the book, but it really is called for, that description pays off, that world building is key and I feel we will reap more rewards from it as this series continues.
In Summary read this book, you will find a book of subtle writing skill, with deep, careful world building and colourful real characters, written in a style all of his own.
I for one recommend this book and look forward to the next book in the series.

(Parm)

Questions & Answers

1) Why Fantasy?

I’m always thinking “what happens next”. With contemporary stuff (and the real world) there are hundreds of things telling you what should or must happen next. With fantasy, there are admitted tropes and accepted rules, but on the whole you can do what you like. What happens next is entirely dictated by the world laws you’ve created.

2) Was this the first world, or are there some lost hidden gems that have not seen the light of day?

The world is massive. There are nations and empires – some pretty extreme – still to be discovered by men. I’ve got a truck-load of maps from roleplaying games and short stories that explore some weird-arse places to the east of Tor Funweir. Volkast to the north and Jekka to the east are at least as big as the lands of men.

3) Give us some background on your fantasy geekage (yes… go on admit it… it will make you feel better)?

I’m all about geek-chic, baby!

I’ve been roleplaying for years – Shadowrun, World of Darkness, Cthulhu, D&D – being a geek is just embracing a need for escapism. I say to you, my brothers and sisters, freak freely.

4) What led you into writing?

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s the only thing I do that doesn’t make me feel like a should be doing something else. Weirdly, I only started writing fantasy a couple of years ago – although the world was already in place from roleplaying and my pathological love of drawing maps. Before that I tended toward surreal black comedy. I always wrote short stories and thought that, when I “worked out” how to write a book, I’d write loads. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to write more fantasy and non-fantasy.

5) Who is your fav author (to read)?

Big question. It’s largely mood dependent, but Douglas Adams, Michael Marshall Smith and H.P Lovecraft are probably my favourites.

6) Can you give us a some book two hints?

It’s called The Dark Blood. It was finished straight after The Black Guard and I’m nearly done with the third one – called The Red Prince. I write pretty quickly (much to my editor’s dismay).

As for hints: Rham Jas goes on a killing spree with an old friend. The battle for Ranen continues and we see more of the dark denizens of the world.

7) If you could have written any book in history which would it be?

Pretentious answer: Das Capital by Karl Marx.

Truthful answer: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

In a different life: Anything by Christopher Hitchens.

 8) In your own words sell The Black Guard…..

I have five children who are starving and I’m massively in debt… please give generously (None of this is true).

I want people to become immersed in the world. I hope that it grows and grows from page one, unveiling sections of the world and plot as it goes. It’s the first part of a (probably) four book series and they should all build from this, giving the world more depth and the reader more immersion.

If there’s not a kind of fantasy called “Immersive Fantasy”, I want to invent it.

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Ben Aaronovitch: Broken Homes (Review)

About the Author

Bens-dust-cover-0201-300x387

Ben Aaronovitch was born in 1964. He had parents, some brothers, some sisters and a dog named after a Russian cosmonaut. He also had the kind of dull childhood that drives a person to drink, radical politics or science fiction.

Discovering in his early twenties that he had precisely one talent, he took up screenwriting at which he was an overnight success. He wrote for Doctor Who, Casualty and the world’s cheapest ever SF soap opera Jupiter Moon. He then wrote for Virgin’s New Adventures until they pulped all his books.

Then Ben entered a dark time illuminated only by an episode of Dark Knight, a book for Big Finish and the highly acclaimed but not-very-well-paying Blake’s 7 Audio dramas. Trapped in a cycle of disappointment and despair Ben was eventually forced to support his expensive book habit by working for Waterstones as a bookseller.

Ironically it was while shelving the works of others that Ben finally saw the light. He would write his own books, he would let prose into his heart and rejoice in the word. Henceforth, subsisting on nothing more than instant coffee and Japanese takeaway, Ben embarked on the epic personal journey that was to lead to Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot as it is known in the Americas).

At some point during the above, the most important thing in his life happened and he became a father to a son, Karifa, whom he affectionately refers to as ‘The Evil Monster Boy’. The Evil Monster Boy will be reaching university age soon, so all donations will be gratefully received.

Ben Aaronovitch currently resides in London and says that he will leave when they pry his city from his cold dead fingers.

Authors Web Site

Buy a signed Copy of Broken Homes

Buy a copy from Amazon

Product Description

Broken Homes

Ben Aaronovitch has stormed the bestseller list with his superb London crime series. A unique blend of police procedural, loving detail about the greatest character of all, London, and a dash of the supernatural.

In the new novel DC Peter Grant must head south of the river to the alien environs of Elephant and Castle. There’s a murderer abroad and, as always when Grant’s department are reluctantly called in by CID there is more than a whiff of the supernatural in the darkness.

Full of warmth, sly humour and a rich cornucopia of things you never knew about London, Aaronovitch’s series has swiftly added Grant’s magical London to Rebus’ Edinburgh and Morse’s Oxford as a destination of choice for those who love their crime with something a little extra.

Review

When Rivers of London came out in 2011 it was in my opinion ground breaking, each book in the series has built upon the last in a unique, witty and captivating style (Broken Homes, takes it to a new height). Peter Grant the main protagonist could be a guy you went to school with, well if you forget the fact that he can do magic, and is often as confused about it as you or I. Nightingale (his boss) is the mentor, some would say the Dumbledore, I would say the Doctor Who, the man with the past he doesn’t share, the knowledge he drip feeds, and the personality of the irritable professor.

What I love about the series is the total unpredictable nature of the story/ Series, the topsy turvy contrary nature of the River spirits/ Gods and other magical beings. The twists and turns and machinations of the faceless man leave you guessing constantly as to where things will go next, what risks Peter will take next and powers he will try and use. Broken Homes introduces a new form of magic and takes us further into the political/ magical landscape of London and the Rivers. It throws up some serious surprises for the established characters, and delves deeper into the past, with more hints at the geo-political/ Magical landscape of Europe during WW2 and before.

In this series there are always some fantastic side plots, the boy meets girl plot lines, the boy runs from crazy girl, or  girl from boy who does magic. Always the story arc and the small incidentals will leave you smiling or laughing out loud.

This truly is the most interesting, uniquely funny series being written. Its a must read, no matter what genre you like.

Highly Recommended

(Parm)

Peter Grant

1. Rivers of London (2011)
aka Midnight Riot
2. Moon Over Soho (2011)
3. Whispers Under Ground (2012)
4. Broken Homes (2013)
Rivers of LondonMoon Over SohoWhispers Under GroundBroken Homes
Doctor Who 
Short Trips: Repercussions (2013)
Short Trips: Repercussions

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