The Dresden Files Reread: Books 11 – 15

And so we’ve reached the end of my Dresden Files reread (and I still blame Tumblr!). It’s been fun reconnecting with Harry and Co. Even though many of the novels were still reasonably fresh in my mind, going back to the very beginning gave me a chance to spot the clues Jim Butcher has been leaving as he builds his series.

The Dresden Files just keeps on getting better, and I look forward to the new book, Peace Talks, which should be out in January 2016 according to Jim’s recent Reddit AMA. To help time pass before my next dose of Chicago’s finest, I’ve already preordered Jim’s latest venture, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, first in his new steampunk Cinder Spires series.

The last five books on my Dresden list are both incredibly action-packed (but hey, it’s Harry, what’s new?!) and push the stakes up even more. There are some seriously intense stories in this next batch, and I think the only reason the encroaching darkness doesn’t become unbearable is that the fast pace doesn’t give us time to think too hard until it’s over and then it’s all, ‘wow’ and ‘I can’t believe he did that to them’. Fast and furious, and Harry just keeps getting more and more interesting as Butcher adds facets and depths to his character.






Turn Coat, Book 11 of The Dresden Files

The story kicks off with Warden Morgan, who has always hated Harry, staggering up to his door half dead and seeking help. From then on the plot thickens with Harry racing to figure out the traitor among the ranks of the White Council. When his brother, Thomas, is taken by a super-powered shapeshifting naagloshi, Harry performs a Sanctum Invocation and bonds with Demonreach, the spirit of the island he visits in Small Favor.

After rescuing Thomas with the help of a number of Council members and House Raith, Harry confronts the White Council and unmasks the real traitor.

Highpoints of Turn Coat include Mouse having to intervene multiple times when Morgan and Molly keep trying to kill each other (basically every time Harry leaves them alone!), seeing the Senior Council members working alongside the Raith ladies, and wizard Listens-to-Wind’s awesome shapeshifting powers.

Changes, Book 12 of the Dresden Files

One of the most heartbreaking Dresden Files novels and, for this reason, one of the hardest to reread. Seriously. I had to mentally steel myself to dive back into this one, knowing how much I was going to suffer alongside Harry.

In Changes, Harry finds out that he’s a father. He and half-vampire Susan Rodriguez have a little girl, only six years old, who has been taken by the Red Court in order to fuel a blood ritual that will take out little Maggie, Harry, and all his relations. Meaning Thomas, and Ebenezar, who in this book is revealed to be Harry’s maternal grandfather.

Harry gathers a taskforce to take back his daughter at the ritual site in Mexico. However, shortly before they are scheduled to depart, Harry is badly injured and crippled from the waist down. He makes a deal with Mab: he’ll take up the mantle of Winter Knight she’s been offering him since he helped take down Lloyd Slate in book 4, Summer Knight, if first she lets him save Maggie.

Harry’s group storms the ritual site with the help of some last-minute assistance from Vadderung (Odin) and Ebenezar McCoy. But he ends up killing Susan, who sacrifices herself for her daughter’s safety. When they get back to Chicago, Harry is shot. The story ends with Harry falling into the cold depths of Lake Michigan, dead.

Wow, right? This is arguably the most intense of Jim Butcher’s novels so far. Not only does Harry gain a daughter and a grandfather, he loses Susan, who he still loves, and loses himself too, first to Mab and then to a bullet. Way to leave us on a cliffhanger, Jim! But seriously, it’s an incredible book, although a very dark and painful one, too.

Ghost Story, Book 13 of the Dresden Files

This one comes very close to Skin Game as contender for favorite in this batch of novels. Harry is a ghost! And he can’t touch things, or do magic! Well, at least at first. To see an all-powerful wizard such as Harry having to deal with the baby-steps frustration of suddenly knowing nothing about how the world works was a refreshing break.

By isolating Ghost Harry and making him deal with things on a different plane of existence, albeit within the world he used to know, Jim allows us a much needed breather from all the rest of the drama. It was an unusual direction to take, and in my opinion it totally works.

In Ghost Story we see Harry strengthening ties with archangel Uriel as he returns to Chicago in spirit form to discover the person behind his murder. He gets caught up in the dead Corpsetaker’s attempt to gain a new magic-compatible body by taking over ectomancer Mortimer Lindquist. To save Mort, Harry teams up with a legion of ghosts as well as his old buddies Murphy, Molly, Butters, and Co. The story ends with Harry concluding his mission and returning to life to find himself on Demonreach, being tended to by Mab and the island’s spirit.

Although there is a lot of potential darkness here, with revelations about what happened to Chicago and the world after the Red Court was destroyed and Harry died, Jim keeps it from being too heavy a subject by focusing on Ghost Harry and his activities, leaving a Chicago under siege as background to the story. Highlights include spirit Harry hanging out in Bob’s skull, a visit to Molly’s brain, and Uriel’s seven little words.

Cold Days, Book 14 of the Dresden Files

Harry’s first mission as the reluctant new Winter Knight! Great training scenes at Mab’s fortress Arctis Tor as Harry is not-so-gently nursed back to health by Mab. In this novel, Harry gains a deeper insight into the true work of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, and an eye-opening look at the ages-old battle being waged to keep the Outsiders from breaching the gates to the world.

But Harry’s battle is on ground dearer to him: his Sanctum, Demonreach, which he now discovers is actually a sort of high-security prison for all sorts of terrible creatures. Worse: someone is trying to break in, and the island’s defense mechanism is all set to blow Chicago and a large portion of the surrounding area to bits.

As if that’s not enough, he also has to figure out why his new boss has ordered him to kill her daughter, Maeve the Winter Lady. Is Mab really insane, or is there something else going on? In true fae fashion, Harry is kept going around in circles by both Summer and Winter, trying to dig through the layers of deceit and find the truth before the island explodes.

Highlights include quality time spent with old Mother’s Winter and Summer, and Harry’s interactions with Demonreach. Oh, and an adorable brotherly bonding scene between Harry and Thomas, who hadn’t seen each other since Harry had himself killed at the end of Changes.

Skin Game, Book 15 of the Dresden Files

My absolute favorite out of these five novels. In fact, my absolute favorite Dresden Files book, period. I’m a sucker for a good heist story, and it doesn’t get any better than an attempt to burgle the Lord of the Underworld himself, Hades. And in service to none other than Nicodemus Archleone himself, the centuries-old Denarian bonded to the fallen angel Anduriel, by order of Mab, the Winter Queen.

Of course, Mab has her reasons for loaning her hard-earned Winter Knight to a villain like Nicodemus, and Harry eventually figures out the story isn’t quite as straightforward as he thought, and that powerful forces are actually conspiring to give him the leverage he needs. The only question is, can Harry make it alive through the heist, successfully double-cross Nick at the end, and make it out in time before the parasite in his head is born? A parasite that he soon finds out is actually the brain-child of Lasciel’s departed shadow, Lash, and his own self. Yikes!

This book is just so much fun. Really, there’s nothing much to say except well done, Mr. Butcher. Oh, and lightsabers. And parkour! *happy sigh*

Interestingly, I finished my reread of Skin Game this week, and the same day I got a certain package from Worldbuilders. Nice timing!


Personal ranking from favorite to less favorite (because there ain’t no such thing as a bad Dresden novel!):

1- Skin Game

2- Ghost Story

3- Cold Days

4- Changes

5- Turn Coat

Personal top five secondary characters introduced (in addition to those mentioned in last installments):

1- Binder

2- Uriel (who has appeared before, but now gains momentum)

3- Goodman Grey

4- Mortimer Lindquist

5- Donar Vadderung aka Odin aka Santa Claus

And because this is the last segment of the Dresden Files Reread, here are my all time top five Harry Dresden novels:

1- Skin Game (light saber! Parkour!)

2- Ghost Story (Ghost Harry rocks. Or wails, or…something…)

3- Dead Beat (zombie t-rex!)

4- Fool Moon (because werewolves)

5- Blood Rites (bro power. And Puppy Mouse!)

The Dresden Files Reread: Books 6 – 10

And the Dresden Files reread continues… In the next five books of the series, Harry’s still snarking it up, collecting allies and enemies willy-nilly with no thought of self-preservation, dishing out punishment to anything that dares to cross the line in Chicago, and taking a fair beating himself, as usual.

The stakes slowly grow higher, the battles harder, and Harry’s personal life becomes more and more entangled with the war he’s chosen to wage against the dark of the night. But he’s still Harry, the wisecracking wizard we love, and I honestly think that this ability to bring a sense of humor and perspective to his dealings with the supernatural is what keeps Harry human above all things.

So the last installment brought the Denarians into the game… How on earth could Jim Butcher top that one? Maybe by bringing back the vampire courts in book 6, both Black and White? Yeah, I guess that’ll do the trick!






Blood Rites, Book 6 of The Dresden Files

Harry Dresden, Professional Wizard, is back, and this time he’s been hired by White Court vampire and sometimes ally Thomas Raith to discover who is aiming a killer entropy curse at the cast and crew of a porn film production. To further complicate matters, the Black Court of vampires is involved, and Harry plans to take vampire boss Mavra down for good.

This is our first proper introduction to the White Court, and brings the big reveal that Thomas and Harry are half-brothers, children of the same mother. Thomas is one of my favorite Dresden Files characters, so I definitely remember fist pumps of joy the first time I read this novel. It also gives us our first taste of Lara Raith, Thomas’ sister and, by the end of the book, de facto leader of the White Court. Oh, and one of the best villains/allies ever.

In Blood Rites Harry pretty much sacrifices his hand to protect himself and his friends, a sober reminder of the consequences of magic use. The novel ends with Thomas moving in with Harry and marking a whole new level of personal involvement for our hero.

Saving best for last – Mouse! Yes, the Tibetan temple dog that adopts Harry as a puppy in Blood Rites and eventually over the next few books becomes my favorite animal sidekick ever. Ok, maybe barring Robin Hobb’s Nighteyes. But close!

Dead Beat, Book 7 of the Dresden Files

Also known as the one with Butters and the zombie dinosaur.

That’s probably enough of an explanation as to why this is one of my favorite Dresden Files novels, right? This is totally Butters’ book. We’re introduced to the geeky, polka-loving medical examiner earlier in the series, but until now his role has been pretty minor, either as Harry and Murphy’s contact in the morgue, or as unofficial doctor for Harry and his friends.

This time Butters is right in the thick of things as he and Harry attempt to stop a group of rival necromancers from teaming up to complete a Halloween rite that will turn one of them into a minor god. Harry and a handful of White Council wizard Wardens have a zombie-fuelled fight on their hands, and Harry and Butters literally gallop to the rescue on a zombie dinosaur.

Seriously. Zombies, a t-rex, and polka. Only Jim Butcher could pull that one off!

Proven Guilty, Book 8 of the Dresden Files

Harry helps out Knight Michael Carpenter’s teenage daughter Molly when murders take place at the horror convention she’s working at. When she gets snatched and taken to Winter’s stronghold in the Nevernever, Harry teams up with Michael’s wife Charity, Thomas, and Murphy to storm Winter and recover Molly.

By then Harry’s discovered that Molly is in fact a wizard, and she’d already broken the laws of magic. He steps in and takes Molly on as his apprentice to save her from execution by the Council.

Highpoints in the book include getting to see an armor-plated, ass-kicking, war-hammer wielding Charity in all her motherly righteous fury. Oh, and Harry getting auctioned off on eBay by Thomas’ renegade cousin Madrigal. Because nothing beats getting sold off to the highest bidder out for your blood.

White Night, Book 9 of the Dresden Files

More revelations for Harry in this one when he finds out that Elaine, the orphan who was fostered with him as a teenager and was his first love, is still alive. Harry and Elaine work together to help a group of small-time magical practitioners from being targeted by White Court vampires. Along the way, they uncover a plot to take down House Raith, current leaders of the White Court.

The whole thing falls apart in the Raith Deeps, a huge cavern system under Lara’s lands, when Harry and Warden Carlos Ramirez, who we first meet in Dead Beat, challenge the two vampires responsible to a duel. All hell breaks loose, and even with an awesome mixed bag of allies that include his brother Thomas and mobster Marcone, Harry only survives because the shadow of the fallen angel Lasciel, who’s been camping out in his brain, steps in and sacrifices herself for him. Oh, and because of Lara Raith’s kiss that powers Harry’s getaway spell.

Small Favor, Book 10 of the Dresden Files

The book starts with Mab, Winter Queen of the Sidhe, calling in one of the favors Harry owes her. Mobster Johnny Marcone is missing, and she wants Harry to get him back. Harry finds out that the Denarians are behind the abduction, but when he sets up an official meeting, to be overseen by the 11-year-old Archive, he quickly finds out that what the Denarians really want is the Archive herself, and all the power she holds.

The Denarians set up an exchange on a secret, cursed island in the middle of the lake. Harry and his team manage to free Marcone and the Archive, although Michael Carpenter gets badly injured. At the hospital, Harry talks to archangel Uriel, who has gifted him with the ability to use soulfire.

All in all, this is a rather dark novel, although just as action-packed as usual. The capture and subsequent torture of Ivy the Archive is just heartbreaking, although I do understand that it prepares Harry’s mindset for later events in book 12, Changes. One of my personal highlights is the exchange with a janitorially-clad Uriel at the end.

Personal ranking from favorite to less favorite (because there ain’t no such thing as a bad Dresden novel!):

1- Dead Beat (seriously, zombie t-rex!)

2- Blood Rites

3- Proven Guilty

4- White Night

5- Small Favor

Personal top five secondary characters introduced (in addition to those mentioned in last installment):

1- Mouse!

2- Butters

3- Lara Raith

4- Carlos Ramirez

5- Molly Carpenter

The Dresden Files Reread: Books 1 – 5

The other day I found a Tumblr page that posts loads of Dresden Files quotes. Ever since I ‘met’ Harry Dresden back in 2012 I’ve been a big fan. I love Harry’s wry, often childish sense of humor, his daft comebacks to bad guys galore, his selfless heroism, his absolute lack of social graces, and his downright niceness. He’s one of my favorite characters, and I’m thrilled that Jim Butcher has kept Harry ticking this long. In fact, Jim has not only kept the series ticking but positively thriving, constantly beating himself at his own writing game and raising the bar each time just that little bit higher.

Anyhow, like I said, I found a Tumblr page. And soon I was looking up the quotes on my kindle, because I kept remembering great scenes and then had to read them over again. It didn’t help that I’d just ordered this awesome Dresden Files inspired t-shirt from the Worldbuilders charity*. Next thing I know, I’m pulling up book number 1 and diving into it again, ‘just to refresh my memory’.

By the time I hit book 3 I knew I was in full-on reread mode, and nothing was getting between me and all 15 Dresden Files novels. Now, I love the feeling you get when you’re about to dive into something new as much as the next fiendish reader. But, equally, there’s nothing quite like getting into something beloved and familiar. Rereads are tea and a chat with an old friend, they’re beer at the pub with that long-lost college roommate, they’re a stroll in the afternoon sunshine with the family dog. I may be losing the plot here a little, but you get my point, right? Or do I have to bring the dog into it again?

Anyhow, here’s my first installment, books 1–5. In my defense, I blame Tumblr.

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*(Please contribute to Worldbuilders by getting the official t-shirt, not a rip-off from somewhere else!)





Storm Front, Book 1 of The Dresden Files

This is our first glimpse of Harry Dresden, Professional Wizard. The only wizard who advertises his services in the phone book. As the intro novel, this is, inevitably, the lightest book in the series. But there’s just enough darkness lurking at the corners to give us a taste of things to come, with hints of Harry’s troubled teenage years as orphaned ward and apprentice of a dark wizard, and the Doom that hangs over him, threatening him with the death penalty if he steps out of line.

As Harry races against time to uncover the murderer behind a series of gruesome killings we are introduced to some of the recurring characters such as Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, Director of Special Investigations of the Chicago PD, mobster boss Gentleman Johnny Marcone, reporter Susan Rodriguez, and my favorite magical sidekick ever: Bob the skull. Among several others. In fact, I had forgotten that this first novel sets up so many building blocks for the series, with introductions to the White Council, the laws of magic and the fae world. It was certainly a lot more complex than I remembered, and all in all, a great kick-off for all the books to come.

Fool Moon, Book 2 of the Dresden Files

Fool Moon doesn’t just kick things up a notch, but blasts them into a whole other high-octane wavelength. Jim hands us the perfect werewolf thriller on a platter, but is he content with giving us one, run-of-the-mill werewolf? No. Oh, no. We have four types of werewolf in action here.

We have classic werewolves, humans who use a spell to transform into wolf shape, represented by college student Bill and his vigilante Alpha pack. We have hexenwolves, humans transformed into wolf form by outside magic, represented by a rogue group of FBI agents. We have lycanthropes, who channel spirits of rage, turning beast-like in their own heads without actually shape-shifting. Like Viking berserkers. This group is represented by the Streetwolves gang. And finally we have the loup-garou, closest to the monster-movie version of the werewolf. The loup-garou, in this case businessman Harley MacFinn, is the recipient of a curse that causes its victims to become a wolf like demon at full moon.

Oh, and then there’s MacFinn’s fiancée Tera, who turns out in the end to be a wolf in human form. A were-human, I guess?

So yes, a lot of wolves. And a deliciously twisty plot, full of red herrings and deceptions. This is my absolute favorite among the first five novels. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it also introduces the RPG-playing, pizza-loving, greatly geeky Alphas, one of Jim’s nicest minor character inventions so far.

Grave Peril, Book 3 of the Dresden Files

This novel introduces yet another great recurring character, Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross and bearer of Amoracchius, one of three mystical swords. Not only that, but we get our first look at Harry’s fairy godmother, the Leanansidhe, and of Thomas Raith, the White Court vampire.

With Grave Peril, Jim Butcher starts digging deeper into fae, vampire, and wizard politics, with the hunt for a demonic ghost nicknamed the Nightmare tangling with the start of an all-out war against the Red Court of vampires. In this novel, Harry is substantially weakened by an attack from the Nightmare, but true to form he never gives up, and keeps on going, refusing to admit defeat. This is one of Harry’s best traits; this dogged determination to do the right thing, no matter what.

Summer Knight, Book 4 of the Dresden Files

Leaving the vampires to one side for a moment, Harry is plunged into fae politics by taking on a case for none other that Mab, Winter Queen of the Sidhe. With a war looming between Summer and Winter that can hold big repercussions for the mortal world, Harry has a tight deadline in which to unravel all the complex threads of fae relations and motives and figure out who stole the mantle of power of the Summer Knight, where it’s being hidden, and why.

This book is a dive into the world of the fae queens and their courts, and as a bonus we get to see the Alphas in action again, along with a group of fairy changelings, and the wyldfae Toot-Toot and his gang of dewdrop fairies, whose unwavering loyalty Harry gained in the first novel with gifts of pizza. We also meet White Council member Ebenezar McCoy, the mentor who took the young Harry under his wing when he was under Council probation.

Death Masks, Book 5 of the Dresden Files

Book 5 pitches Harry against the Denarians, fallen angels attached to human hosts. In this, he has help from not only Michael but all three Knights of the Cross: Shiro, bearer of Fidelacchius and Sanya, bearer of Esperacchius. While Harry is busy chasing the stolen Shroud of Turin and attempting to stop the leader of the Denarians, Nicodemus, from setting off a plague curse that would kill thousands, he also has to prepare for his upcoming duel with Duke Ortega of the Red Court of vampires.

This novel introduces one of Harry’s creepiest adversaries so far, the Denarians. Not only are they horribly powerful and utterly evil, but the power they tempt Harry with is one he has to steel himself against or risk taking it up with the best intentions, only to fall with the rest of them. Bonus Gandalf-refusing-the-Ring quote.

Personal ranking from favorite to less favorite (because there ain’t no such thing as a bad Dresden novel!):

1- Fool Moon

2- Summer Knight

3- Death Masks

4- Storm Front

5- Grave Peril

Personal top five secondary characters introduced so far:

1- Bob the skull

2- Thomas Raith

3- Michael Carpenter

4- Billy and the Alphas

5- Ebenezar McCoy

Spotlight on Small Press Publishing with Gary Compton

Tickety Boo Press is on fire! Well, not literally, since that would be tragic and not something to celebrate here on the blog. Launched on 30th January 2014, the UK-based publishing house is quickly becoming a busy, busy hive of all things speculative. Do you like science fiction? Try Ralph Kern’s Endeavor. Maybe a little space opera? Have a peek at Jo Zebedee’s Abendau’s Heir. Prefer fantasy? No problem. Teresa Edgerton can tickle your taste buds with Goblin Moon and its sequel, Hobgoblin Night. How about a dash of romance, or even gaslight? Give Indigo Heartfire by Jo Marryat or Oracle by Susan Boulton a try. And if you’re looking for darkly delightful, then the Biblia Longcrofta by Simon Marshall-Jones may be your cup of tea. TBP isn’t afraid to tackle any sub-genre.

The brave and motivated guy behind Tickety Boo Press is Northumberland native and proud basset owner Gary Compton, who juggles the roles of acquiring editor and graphic designer far more skill and aplomb than I could ever dream of. And Gary, himself a speculative fiction writer, is getting ready to add author to that list of achievements. Tickety Boo is very much a family business, with Gary’s daughter Emma taking charge of author royalties and the selection of US and UK-based editors, among other tasks.

I’ve followed Tickety Boo’s journey from the very start, and have always thoroughly admired Gary’s openness in discussing his ideas and plans, his sensitivity toward his authors, and his willingness to consider suggestions and constructive criticism. So when I decided to tackle small press publishing in my Spotlight series, my thoughts naturally turned his way. With 12 published novels and anthologies in 18 months, Tickety Boo is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Juliana: You’re probably tired of answering this by now, but why start your own press? What were your personal motivations?

Gary: I have always run my own businesses since 1983 and feel I am virtually unemployable in the real world. I could not just be satisfied being a kitchen fitter. I had to have my own kitchen company. Once I had that, I wasn’t satisfied just buying the cabinets, I had to make them – hence a fully operational, innovative cabinetworks where we machined the rawest of materials into beautiful bespoke cabinets. I am very much hands on, so that’s the reason I do as much as I do.

Juliana: In this world of big corporate publishing, where do you feel that small presses like Tickety Boo fit in? What is the role of the independent publisher among all the big fish?

Gary: Good question. I think publishing is changing and I think Tickety Boo has some ideas that if successful will shake it up a little. But to answer your question – quality of the words/books and sales are the only things that matter. There is no point in creating activity just to massage mine and the author’s ego. So every book is taken on with the goal of selling a lot and making the press and the author some hard-earned cash

Juliana: TBP has chosen so far to stake out a spot in a particular market niche, that of speculative fiction. Do you feel it’s important for the smaller independent publisher to specialize, or do you have plans to eventually branch out into other genres?

Gary: We will be branching out. We have an imprint planned for crime and thrillers. You heard it here first. It will be called Homicidium. That’s Latin for murder. So watch for an announcement on that. Also Romance is being discussed between the team.

Juliana: Are there rivalries among smaller independent publishers?

Gary: I haven’t come across any rivalries. Ian Whates helped me immeasurably in the early days, and Simon Marshall-Jones at Spectral and Graeme Reynolds at Horrific Tales have also helped a lot.

Juliana: And following on from the last question, how important are partnerships and networking?

Gary: Massively important! You are building a brand and you need friends and acquaintances to buy the books and hopefully share your news as well.

Juliana: Starting out from scratch must have meant a pretty steep learning curve. What do you feel have been your biggest hurdles so far?

Gary: Yes for sure. I could write a book on my mistakes. I think getting the systems in place so authors have access to their sales data and to make sure royalties are paid on time. My daughter takes care of that but I watch over it on behalf of the authors who can message me at any time with queries or requests for updates. You have to remember, I am doing a lot – covers – formatting, editing – marketing etc. It’s a lot of work so if I have forgotten to do something I prefer it if the authors give me a nudge rather than festering on my incompetence. So lots of mistakes, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Juliana: What are the best things about running a publishing company? The stuff that makes it all worthwhile?

Gary: My most favorite job is doing the covers. I love that. It satisfies my natural desire to be creative. I also like finding new talent.

Juliana: Would you like to tell us about some of Tickety Boo’s upcoming projects?

Gary: Well, in October we have Erebus, which is the second of the Sleeping Gods novels. Endeavour, the first, has been our most successful title in terms of revenue. Ralph is great to work with. He’s tough but honest. We also have the second book from Ian Sales: his first book, A Prospect of War, has done very well too so I am looking forward to that. Also a previously unannounced Space Opera: coming out in October/December is Uncommon Purpose by P.J. Strebor. There are ten books in this series and so far the editorial team have waxed lyrical about it. There was a virtual fight between the editors to get the job. Thankfully, it has just been edited by J. Scott-Marryat so it’s in great condition, and Teresa starts on it 1st September, so hopefully she will add value.

Juliana: Who are some of your own personal favorite authors? Not Tickety Boo authors; I’m not that cruel to make you choose among your ‘children’!!

Dan Brown is my favorite and Martina Cole not far behind.

Juliana: Thank you, Gary, for giving us a tiny peek behind the curtain. I look forward to all the new releases, and to continuing to see Tickety Boo Press grow and expand.

You can find more information on Tickety Boo Press books on their website,, as well as submission guidelines for both novels and anthologies. Follow Tickety Boo Press on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GarySCompton) for launch and submission updates and sales promotions.

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Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out July’s Spotlight on Writing Local Flavor with Jo Zebedee and Anna Dickinson. Next up in September: Spotlight on Imagining the Future.

Have Book, Will read #5

The little corner of Connecticut I call home has been swamped by a heat wave of the most horrid and muggiest sort. I’ve been cowering inside, hiding from the heat and the spider webs, which seem to have been blasted with some sort of magic-gro potion and appear to be intent on dominating the world. Or at least my garden.

The severe lack of sticking my nose outside means I’ve been catching up on my reading. It’s a relatively bug-free selection, so don’t worry, arachnophobes.

Recent Reads: Maps, ahoy!

There’s been a common theme of maps threading through my recent reads. First off was Stephen Palmer’s Beautiful Intelligence. The story is set in a distant future where world resources are dwindling, Europe and the USA are an economic wasteland, and everyone is connected to the nexus, a vast, sprawling interactive information web. In this setting, two teams of scientists race to become the first to create true artificial intelligence, while they try to stay a step ahead of the technology mogul who is hunting them down.

I was entranced by the different approaches to mapping out human intelligence and attempting to recreate it in machines. At the same time, the story is fast-paced and exciting as the teams are forced to constantly uproot their labs and move on to avoid leaving identifiable trails in the nexus. This was my first time reading Stephen’s work, and I was definitely impressed.

After that, I took a break to dive into some middle grade fiction. My current writing project is middle grade, and it was time to catch up on some of the best of 2014. First out of the gate was The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill. This is the tale of Ned, the son of a witch tasked with caring for the last magic left in the world. When bandits invade, Ned becomes the unwilling guardian of this magic, carrying voices and spells mapped out on his skin into the enchanted forest. There he meets the Bandit King’s daughter Áine, and together they struggle to avoid capture and save Ned’s land from war.

The Witch’s Boy is not only a charming tale, but beautifully written in prose that often flows like poetry.

The next book I picked up was The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove. I’d seen this compared to Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and it definitely has a similar feel. But at the same time, it also reminds me of a favorite of mine, Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist. After the Great Disruption of 1799, time broke apart, flinging countries, and sometimes whole continents, into different Ages. The protagonist Sophia lives in Boston, in the New Occident. The daughter of two explorers who have gone missing, she lives with her mapmaker uncle, Shadrack. After Shadrack is abducted by a faction seeking an important map, Sophia is forced to cross the border into the Baldlands, helped by pirates and a bandit boy.

For me, the maps were the true stars of this tale. And not just paper and ink maps, but maps on clay, water, metal…even onion maps. Besides the all-important glass map Sophia must keep from enemy hands. A fun read.

Next, I took a breather from middle grade fiction to read Inish Carraig by Jo Zebedee. I know Jo from an SFF forum we both belong to, and she’s a superb writer. You can read my review of her first novel, space opera Abendau’s Heir, here on the blog, and Jo was also a good sport and talked a little about the settings for Inish in my Spotlight series.

Inish Carraig is a post-alien-invasion thriller set in present day Northern Ireland. When Belfast teenager John Dray inadvertently helps release a compound that wipes out the alien invaders, he ends up in a high-tech prison run by the Galactic Council. Together with police officer Henry Carter, he uncovers a conspiracy that could mean the end of all humans. Now the race is on to get the word out and save the world.

Inish is one of those fast-and-furious reads, the sort of book you pick up for a look and only put down hours later with a satisfied sigh. One of Jo’s strengths is character building, and both John and Carter are a testimony to this. And yes, there are maps: John’s personal, visual mapping of the ruined streets of Belfast, as well as the maps of the prison itself, crucial to the plot.

Now Reading: Or hey, more maps!

I’m back in my middle grade list with The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis. When homeschooled adventurer Marrill stumbles upon the Pirate Stream in the middle of an Arizona parking lot, she gets swept up in a quest to find the map that controls the very Stream itself. This has pretty much everything a younger me would have wanted in a book: great characters, fabulous world building, pirates, adventure, and magic, lots and lots of magic. Because the Pirate Stream is literally liquid magic, and everything it touches is wonderful and mysterious, and sometimes downright scary.

I’m almost at the end of this, and I can say for sure that Carrie and John do a lovely job of introducing their madcap world without unnecessary explanations. The reader just slips into the Stream along with Marrill and her ship, the Enterprising Kraken, and is swept away. Perfect.

To Read: Probably involving more maps…

I still haven’t got around to The Last War by Alex Davis, which I mentioned last month, although that’s next up on my list. There are also new releases by Robin Hobb and Joe Abercrombie, and I’ve been carefully avoiding reading reviews and spoilers for both Fool’s Quest and Half a War, though all the tantalizing tweets and random facebook comments have been driving me nuts.

So many great books to read… I should probably take advantage of the last lingering bit of summer, with heat and spiders keeping me inside. After all, eventually the weather will cool down and I’m going to have to go outside and face the rampant garden weeds and webs. Perhaps I should take a map. After all, you never know to which labyrinth a spider’s weave will lead!

Ultimate Mage Battle: Urban Fantasy

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus, and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse.

*SPOILER ALERT* may contain mild or not-so-mild spoilers for all three book series. Many spoilers. Many, many spoilers.

The Mage Cage is open for business and boy, do we have a fight on our hands. They’re filing into the octagon as we speak, ready to face off for title of Ultimate Urban Fantasy Mage.

Our first contender is heavyweight Harry Dresden. With 15 novels and the 16th on the way, besides a number of short stories, Harry has a hefty storyline to back him up. And the Chicago-based wizard isn’t done yet; with over 20 books planned, we’ll still be seeing a lot of the fire-toting, pentacle-wearing, wisecracking Dresden.

Contender number two is English-born-and-based Alex Verus. Mage Verus may lack Harry’s vast bibliography, but he’s working hard to catch up, with the 6th novel out this week. Cool where Harry is fiery, a calm and collected planner, Alex is a force to be reckoned with.

Our last contender, standing battle-ready and giving the menfolk her ‘simmer-down’ glare, is intrepid southern belle Sookie Stackhouse. Okay, I know the Sook is not technically a mage. But she is a telepath, and part fey, and that has to count for something, right? Plus Sookie is a fave gal of mine, and it’s my blog, so I say she gets to play. After battling vampires, evil fairies and weres of all kinds, she’s more than a match for a couple of overgrown wizard boys. And with a complete 13-book series, she’s the only one who can boast of a happily ever after.

The Mage Cage is locked and loaded, and they’re off, ladies and gentlefolk.

1. Main magical talent:

Harry’s main talent is a gift for fire. This is a raw, fierce, often messy skill which is really only good for offense. But wow, what an offense. Alex, now, well Alex is a diviner, which means he can predict future probabilities. Not particularly good for offense, but fabulous for defense, and for planning what, for lack of a better term, I’m calling defensive offense. Sookie is a telepath, which like Alex, is fabulous for defense and for planning ahead. But since she’s limited to what people are thinking right here, right now, I’d say Alex gets the edge on that one, as he can plan hours ahead. In fact, I think Alex has the edge all around here, despite Harry’s impressive fire talent. Sometimes thinking ahead really is a great advantage.

Winner: Mage Verus.

2. Secondary magical talents:

This one is a hands-down victory for Harry. He has a whole arsenal of other magical skills, such as scrying for locations, potion making, wards, and circles. Alex is great at using magical items, but he has to procure them from others, as his own magic is limited to his divination skills and his mage sight. And Sookie, resourceful as she is, also loses out to Harry’s arsenal of skills.

Winner: Wizard Dresden.

3. Magical sidekick:

Harry has Bob the Skull, my absolute favorite bone-based entity. Bob is not really a skull, he just lives in one, and he’s a sort of magical search-engine for all things arcane. He’s hilariously snarky and incredibly useful. And he lasts a great many books before he leaves Harry’s possession.

Alex has Starbreeze, a wind elemental who handily turns him to vapor and whisks him off to wherever he needs to go. She’s pretty awesome, but although she turns out to be a great fighter too, her main raison d’étre in the storyline is mode of transportation. Unfortunately, pretty quickly into the series Alex loses the means to invoke her.

Sookie doesn’t have a magical entity as a sidekick. Sorry, Sookie, you’ll have to sit this one out.

Winner: Wizard Dresden.

4. Key magical item:

Despite his useful charm bracelet and pentacle necklace, Harry’s main magical item is his wizard’s staff, which he uses to channel his abilities. It makes a pretty awesome flamethrower! Alex’s main item up until book 5 is his mist cloak, an imbued item (which means it has magic of its own) that helps Alex hide from sight and avoid magical detection. Pretty handy for a mage who relies on a non-combat form of magic. Sookie at first has no magical item. But wait, what’s that she finds in book 11? A Cluviel Dor, a pretty piece of fey magic which allows one honest-to-goodness wish, for your heart’s desire. And eventually (um, remember the spoiler alert waaay back there?) she uses it to honest-to-goodness bring someone back from the freaking DEAD.

Sorry, boys. That’s some powerful magic right there.

Winner: Miss Stackhouse.

5. Support crew:

Harry has a way of gathering allies that’s a treat to see. By now his backup team includes a former police sergeant, a forensics expert, a whole medley of different wizarding folk, several smallish fairies, a vampire half-brother, a werewolf pack, a couple of Knights of the Cross, and an entire island-based entity. Plus all the others I’ve forgotten. Not at all bad, Dresden. Oh, and Santa helped out a couple of times, too…

Alex’s allies are mostly a handful of other mages and his apprentice, Luna, although he also has a rather passive form of backup from Arachne the giant magical spider. His support crew is growing steadily, but the Verus series is still young and Harry’s had a lot of books to gather his impressive array. Sorry Alex. I’m sure you’ll get there eventually!

Sookie, however, can give Harry a run for his money. Not only does she have a couple of vampires and a shape shifter who take any attack on the Sook as a personal affront, she has backup from an entire were panther clan, and is a named friend-of-the-pack to an active werewolf group. Add to that a were-tiger, a witch or two, an all-powerful fairy king for a grandfather and a half-demon godfather of sorts, plus her vast contingent of human allies, and she packs a hefty punch on the support side.

It was a close thing between Harry and Sookie. A lot of very devoted friends and followers. But honestly? Sookie’s supporters are all extremely committed and ready to jump into any fray for her. I think she just scrapes by at the post…

Winner: Miss Stackhouse.

6. Antagonists:

Alex has some pretty nasty characters on his tail. But his world has few active magical creatures in it, and his interactions are mostly of the wizarding variety. Horrible as some of his antagonists may be, they tend to be of the human-with-magic sort…

Sookie has had some close brushes within the vampire community, and there was that nasty bit of fairy business. But her main antagonists – the ones gunning for her, personally – have mostly either been human (like the zealots of the Fellowship of the Sun) or shifter (Debbie Pelt, anyone?).

Harry, however, seems to have had everything under the sun on his case at some point of time. From werewolves to fairy queens, from the entire Red Court of vampires to fallen angels, his antagonists are a colorful and powerful bunch.

Winner: Wizard Dresden.

Total of wins:

That’s one for Alex Verus, two for Sookie Stackhouse and three for Harry Dresden. Dresden exits the Cage as champion, with the title of Ultimate Urban Fantasy Mage. Well done, Harry, and congratulations to all the contenders. Until next time, when a new fantasy subgenre brings a fresh batch of wizards to the octagon for another round of Ultimate Mage Battle.

skin game   veiled   dead ever after

Spotlight on Writing Local Flavor with Jo Zebedee and Anna Dickinson

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you’re sitting there with your laptop, or notebook and pencil, brainstorming ideas for your next novel or short story. Perhaps you’ve already got a rough idea of the characters, or the plot. But now you have to decide where your story takes place.

Maybe creating fantasy worlds or off-planet skyscapes is not for you. And you really like the idea of basing your story in your own small corner of the real world. How great would it be to include the pub down the road, or that funny-shaped hill in the neighboring state park? But how far can you go with your local descriptions and dialogue before you cross a line between authenticity and pure cheese? (Unless you’re purposefully writing cheese, which is awesome and I say: go for it!)

I’ve invited two talented writers to help me figure this out. From Ireland we have Jo Zebedee, author of the dark space opera Abendau’s Heir, first in the Inheritance Trilogy (Tickety Boo Press). Jo has a soon-to-be-released science fiction novel set in her local stomping ground, Belfast. Inish Carraig is a grim, futuristic thriller lightened by that dash of Northern Irish humor. “In post-alien invasion Belfast, humanity has been defeated. Pity no one told the locals.”

Anna Dickinson lives in Scotland, which trickles its way into most of her work. She is represented by Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch Literary, and writes fast-paced and hauntingly beautiful fantasy YA about witches, and cursed princes, and things that don’t go bump in the night because they’re too busy creeping silently across your bedroom floor, licking their pointy teeth.

Juliana: What are the advantages to working around real-life settings, whether they’re actual places like Belfast, or fictitious places based on existing locations? 

Jo: I think there are a couple of advantages – the topography is already in place and it’s easy for people to visualise the scene. Also, if you’re comfortable with the environment and lay out, that translates to a certain amount of confidence in the writing.

From a sensory angle, you know how the place feels. You know the sounds, the smells, the rituals. That makes it easier to translate and add some richness to the scene.

Lastly, the world is already built. There’s no need to plan out all sorts of political systems and make up whole cultures. That makes storytelling somewhat more straightforward.

Anna: For me, the main advantage is that you have a whole place laid out for you, with as much reality as you choose to include — that funny-shaped hill, and ice cream stall at the bottom and the factory chimneys in the background. Real life is usually mixed up and not wholly one thing or the other (or it is where I come from), and I like that contradiction.

A secondary advantage is that you borrow the rules of the place you’re writing about. If I write a story about a fifteen year old based in Glasgow, I already have lots of constraints set up for her life: she needs to go to school, she needs to have a guardian or parent (or, if not, to hide from the authorities), she needs money for food/ clothes. All the familiar things we already know about, or, if these rules don’t work any more, it’s potentially more shocking against the backdrop of somewhere real and familiar.

Another advantage, of course, is that the lazy among us can visualise things very easily without needing to make them up, and, best of all, can draw on existing legends, history and rumours, and mix them with our own. It’s a bit like telling a lie — good lies contain some of the truth (though I love stories that are based in completely fantastic places, I don’t have the concentration span necessary to develop a whole world and its geography. If I tried to build a world, I’m afraid I’d end up with rivers flowing uphill and cacti growing in the marshes).

Juliana: How about the limitations?

Jo: The topography already being in place. In my made up world, Abendau, if I need a mountain, I can stick it in. Sadly, if you’re remaining true to a real place, you can’t add features willy-nilly. And there’ll always be someone who catches you out if you do.

Also, point of view discipline. I write very close to my characters and they don’t walk past familiar features and stop to describe them to themselves. So finding a way to fit features you need the reader to recognise into the story, whilst not awkwardly shoving it in, can be challenging.

Also, in choosing somewhere like Belfast, with so much challenging history and differing views, there’s a sense of knowing you can’t please anyone.

One intention, when I wrote Inish Carraig, was to write a book about Belfast not about the Troubles or religion. To have it as just another great setting for a rip-roaring story. However, if someone chooses to read hidden meanings into the story – and it’s rare for a book based in Belfast not to be seen as making some kind of analogy – it will change the meaning of the book significantly. I have no control over that, and I am aware it may be reflected in some reviews.

Added to that, my pov character is a young lad scavenging after an alien invasion. The people he’s had to turn to for help hold strong political opinions, some of which he will have heard and, in a vacuum, absorbed. That needs to be reflected, even if they’re not my views. It will be difficult if people attribute those character opinions as my own.

Anna: I’m not especially worried by strict accuracy (mostly! See below for ranting) — if you want an extra street or hill or underground train station, go for it. Personally, I think the main limitation of using real places is the risk of overdoing it and coming over like a tour guide.

Of course, it’s very tempting: if you’ve researched somewhere thoroughly you want to put in lots of information, but sometimes it distracts from the story.

If your characters are pelting down a street, trying desperately to escape from a tentacle-flailing monster straight from the bowels of Hell, I don’t care what the street is called. I care that it’s long and straight and there’s no way to turn off it, for example. But I think this is a personal thing. I’m hopeless at remembering street names and locations — I can get lost anywhere (it’s my superpower) — so my intolerance for detail is probably a reflection of what interests me.

Books that are love songs to particular places rarely appeal to me. I remember skipping the first third of The Return of the Native because it was all a description of Egdon Heath. I got a bit sick of heathery romantic moorland in the work of the Brontes as well.

Juliana: How far is too far? How do you avoid falling into clichés and still give your work that authentic local feel?

Jo: It is a balancing act. There are certain things about Belfast people associate with it that are cliches – bonfires, and marches, flags, riots and petrol bombs. But those things do still happen. Cliches come from somewhere, even if we preferred they didn’t. So, it’s showing those things and trying to enact how they really feel, as opposed to some sort of distant pastiche.

I think the other thing that is a fine line is how far you go with dialect: ‘Ach, ye oul eejit, yer head’s a balloon’ doesn’t translate well, and gets wearisome. But if you keep key words like eejit and wee (I really do use it all the time) and make the rest comprehensible, it’s generally okay.

Anna: This is a really personal one and I think judging it probably comes down to the individual reader. As soon as a character says “Och” (or “Hoots!”), I put the book down, but I don’t think that’s a typical response.

However, since we can’t write for each person individually, maybe an authentic local feel is about avoiding the obvious things, and instead using flavour, not detail. You have to see your location through your story and your own eyes. It’s something Iain Banks (writing without the M) did brilliantly — he took familiar places or landmarks like the Forth Road Bridge, and turned them into something strange and new.

Picking too many of the big touristy bits, or the things everyone else thinks of, can make your story feel like a postcard. I think that’s when you risk cliché.

Juliana: Leading on from the previous question, what are, in your opinion, the most common mistakes writers make when dealing with real-life settings?

Jo: Either going into so much detail it reads like a travelogue, or so little you wonder why the writer even decided to use a specific setting at all. A sense of place is what I aim for, not a slavish description of everything and anything.

Anna: This is where I contradict myself. Shameless, I know. I think if you’re going to use a real location, it’s important to get it right (or, at least know when you’re taking liberties with reality). Recently, I’ve had an obsession with Regency Romance but I don’t know enough about the Regency to worry if someone gets their research wrong, so it doesn’t worry me. However, a few of the stories I read were based in Scotland. The errors in some of those make me wince. A random selection:

  • Clotted cream cannot be poured. It’s solid (one might even say, “clotted”).
  • Peat is cut to be burned, but you don’t send someone out to “cut some peat for the fire”. It’s stacked and dried before you can burn it.
  • Nowhere in the history of Scotland, ever ever, has a man been called “Tammy”. Yes, there are Robbies and Jamies and Charlies, but Tam is just Tam.

These are little things, and in most cases I managed to read the book anyway, but once I’d encountered an error like that, I knew I couldn’t trust the author to know what she was writing about. It made me feel like the Scottish Highlands were being used as a pretty backdrop by someone who saw them as, well, a pretty backdrop.

Juliana: Are there any writers who you consider do ‘local flavor’ particularly well? Who would you recommend as prime reading material?

Jo: Colin Bateman is excellent. Anyone who uses the immortal line of ‘up your hole with a big jam roll’ knows the Northern Irish. Also, there are a raft of detective writers coming through specialising in Belfast Noir – Adrian McKinty and Steve Cavanagh are two good examples.

Anna: I mentioned Iain Banks above; he did Scotland brilliantly.

In general, I prefer reading about places I don’t know very well. I love William Faulkner’s writing about the American South — especially Absalom Absalom! — and of course Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which has also got that hot and dusty thing going on.

I liked Sarah Rees Brennan’s portrayal of London in the Demon’s Lexicon trilogy — it made the stories feel situated in reality, but with a light touch so the emphasis was on the characters and the story, not the place. The same is true of Holly Black’s Valiant, which is set in New York but doesn’t feel like a guide book.

For me, the ultimate example is Susan Cooper. Her Dark is Rising series — written after she’d left the UK for the US — was a love song to the south of England and to Wales, but not in a way that got between the reader and the story.

Juliana: Moving off topic, could you share some of your own favorite authors?

Jo: Lois McMaster Bujold – I love Miles Vorkosigan. Neil Gaiman. Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I like a lot. Also, some of the classics – Heinlein, Clarke. Marian Keyes. I read widely, across many genres, and I think that’s a good thing, mostly.

Anna: One of my favourite authors is Diana Wynne Jones and one of my favourite books by her is Fire and Hemlock, which is a brilliant re-telling of one of the Scottish Border Ballads, Tam Lin, about a girl who falls in love with a man who has been captured by the Queen of Elfland (although my absolute favourite of hers is Hexwood, which is wholly original and fabulous).

I’m sure I’m forgetting hundreds of authors I ought to mention but, apart from those I talked about above, I’ve always loved Patricia Mckillip and Robin Mckinley. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed work by Melina Marchetta (her Lumatere Chronicles series, specifically. Froi has to be one of the best characters ever written), Cinda Williams Chima (the sexiest, most intense character interactions I’ve read for years), and Sara Raasch (her world, and the reversal of conventions of heat and cold, is wonderful).

Juliana: Thank you Jo and Anna for being such great guests and sharing such excellent pointers. Anna, I promise not to go pouring any clotted cream over my keyboard!

Jo’s newest novel, Belfast-based Inish Carraig, will be out August 21st; keep an eye on her Facebook page and website ( for updates on the launch, or follow her tweets at @joz1812. If you’d like a sneak peek, there’s a sample up on her blog, Those of you in Northern Ireland can catch Jo at TitanCon in September, where she’ll be making a guest appearance.

Anna has published short stories in On the Premises and the anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land (Crossed Genres Publications). In her own words, she reads voraciously and randomly generates opinions based on whatever she read last. She confesses her hapless parenting decisions, ranks romantic heroes from most to least evil, and records recipes for toasted puffin at

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out June’s Spotlight on Speculative Romance with Emma Jane and Jo Marryat. Next up in August: Spotlight on Small Press Publishing.

Have Book, Will Read #4

Summer means school holidays and a lot going on. Routines get turned upside down and appropriate bedtimes for children become something mythical; you’re sure they’re supposed to exist, but when you’re only halfway through introducing the kids to T2: Judgment Day at 10pm they’re clearly not going to be sleeping anytime soon.

With all this, I’ve been reading a lot less than usual. I’ve temporarily traded my fave pastime for snatching episodes of Daredevil and Orphan Black in between playing chauffeur and battling the weeds in the backyard. But with an upcoming international trip promising lots of in-transit hanging around, I’ll be back with my head in the words pretty soon.

Recent Reads: Blades and Bolt Cutters…

At the time of last month’s book report I had just started Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, a cyborg Cinderella tale in a futuristic setting. This was a fun read, and the protagonist, grease-stained mechanic Cinder, is my kind of girl. She knows she’s been dealt a bad hand in life, but she keeps her chin up and never backs down. And she’s never, ever afraid to get dirty. The love interest, Prince Kai, is a genuinely nice guy, which is refreshing, since so often it seems like you want to shake the female character and say, “What were you thinking?”

My only quibble with the story is that Meyer gives away her main plot twist far too easily. No spoilers, but by the time I was a quarter-way into the story I had already figured out which way the wind was blowing.

Another book on my list was Throne of Glass, a YA fantasy by Sarah J. Maas. Interestingly enough, this is also based loosely on Cinderella, although this time the protagonist Celaena Sardothien is an assassin, tasked with beating out a number of vicious competitors for the title of King’s Champion.

Celaena’s character was deliciously feral, a little wildcat pacing her gilded cage. There were enough twists and turns to keep me on my feet and Maas does a great job of delicate foreshadowing so that when events take place the reader feels vindicated, rather than led. Good summer fun.

Now reading: Divine magic.

I’ve been too crazy busy to want to invest my mind in something new, so I’ve been re-reading Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series in preparation for his upcoming sixth novel, Veiled. Verus is a Diviner, a mage who can walk the paths of the future. Jacka’s work is wonderful, and I just love his main character. If you’re an urban fantasy fan and are into the likes of Harry Dresden, you need to try Jacka.

To Read: Do androids dream of alien war?

On my immediate to-read list, waiting oh-so-patiently on my kindle, are Beautiful Intelligence by Stephen Palmer and The Last War, by Alex Davis.

The first takes us into Earth’s future, and the race to create a sentient machine. I haven’t had a chance to read any of Stephen’s work yet, so I’m looking forward to this one, his most recent release.

Also hot off the press, The Last War is the first novel in Alex Davis’ Noukari Trilogy, which delves the growing rift among the alien Noukari people as their civilization develops and they discover their telepathic abilities.

For later on in summer, I have a couple of upcoming releases on the horizon. The end of July (for the USA) brings us the concluding title in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, Half a War. The first two were excellent, and I’m excited to see how he’s going to end the trials of Yarvi and co. The other soon-to-be is Benedict Jacka’s aforementioned Veiled, out in August.

A pretty diverse line-up, but hey, it’s summer, and those long nights deserve a veritable fruity cocktail with teeny-weeny umbrella’s worth of words.

So here’s to summer. And tiny umbrellas.

Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne

*Gush Warning*

Extreme gushing is about to begin. If allergic to gush, step away from this blog post right now or deploy precautionary measures.

Right, well now that’s out of the way, I can begin. If you’ve had a peek at this blog before, you may have noticed I’m a prolific and enthusiastic reader (and re-reader) of all things fantasy, with the odd foray into science fictiony type stuff. In a nutshell, I read a lot. I don’t mention more than a fraction of it here, because otherwise you’d all be exhausted. And in need of chocolate. And I’m a bit stingy about handing out my chocolate rations willy-nilly.

I’m easily pleased and happily charmed, so it’s not too hard to get on my five-star side when it comes to books. But every now and then I read something that knocks my flip-flops off in a big way and makes me want to stand at street corners and shout to the masses. Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne series was one of these.

Tom had been on my to-read list for a while, so when I won a book – any book – in a flash fiction competition I asked for The City’s Son. By the end of the first page I was smitten. By the time I was halfway through I had ordered the second and third in the trilogy. Tom’s work is a headlong, gritty rush through London’s urban tangle, a world where scaffolding wolves, mirror people, and streetlight denizens dance and battle with the pavement-skinned son of the city’s goddess, and the graffiti artist he sweeps along in his wake.

As artist and school troublemaker Beth Bradley becomes more and more besotted with the hidden London she’s introduced to by goddess Mater Viae’s son, Filius, she’s drawn into the thick of his war against the Demolition God, Reach. Her gradual descent into Fil’s world and her absorption by the city closely mirrored my own experience as a reader, sinking deeper and deeper until I neither could nor wanted to get out.

The second book, The Glass Republic, once again surprises and enchants by pulling us through the looking glass into a different and distorted London, London-Under-Glass. Here, reflections are alive and rule by a bizarre assortment of regulations which at first make no sense at all to Beth’s best friend, poet Pavra ‘Pen’ Khan. Soon Pen finds herself in the thick of a bitterly cruel struggle, a fight that may already have claimed the mirror-sister she has journeyed to find.

In the trilogy’s conclusion, Our Lady of the Streets, we return to the London of the first book, but Tom yet again twists the tale brilliantly and serves us an utterly new city, one which contorts and warps and morphs until it is an unrecognizable warzone. Because Mater Viae has returned from London-Under-Glass and she is not a happy camper. Beth, Pen, and all their allies dig to the very depths of their ingenuity and endurance as they attempt to stop her from spreading her sick dominium far beyond London’s borders.

Why did I love this series so much? Perhaps for the freshness, and the strange menagerie of wild and wonderful urban creatures Tom serves us up. Perhaps for the characters, stubborn and proud, and fiercely devoted to each other and the causes they believe in. Or maybe because I have a sneaking suspicion that London will have changed so much since I last lived there, in the early 90’s, that it would be a whole London-Under-Glass if I visited now.

One thing I am sure of: The Skyscraper Throne is a trilogy well worth reading, and I for one will be keeping a sharp eye out for whatever Tom brings us in the future.


Look at these beauties… Love the covers!

Spotlight on Speculative Romance with Emma Jane and Jo Marryat

Somewhere in the spectrum between Romance and full-blown Paranormal Romance of the my-boyfriend-is-allergic-to-garlic-and-sunshine variety is a niche for those who like their protagonists human, but enjoy a few speculative side elements. And authors Emma Jane and Jo Marryat do this very nicely indeed. I’ve invited them to tell us a little about mixing that dash of fantasy in with the love.

Emma Jane is the author of Shuttered (Dreamspinner Press) and co-author of Otherworld (Torquere), along with Liz Powell. No stranger to speculative fiction, Emma also writes YA and adult fantasy under the name E.J. Tett. In Shuttered, photographer Daniel has a unique telepathic bond with his dog, Sasha: they can understand and speak to each other. When he meets and falls for con-man and medium Rowan, Daniel and Sasha get dragged into a hunt for a dead body to save Rowan from the thugs he swindled.

First in a brand-new series, Jo Marryat’s debut novel Indigo Heartfire (Tickety Boo Press) tells the story of widower Robert. Determined to make a fresh start five years after his wife died, Robert is shocked when a ‘guardian angel’ in the guise of a tiny fairy appears, but she’s there to help him, whether he believes in her or not. Jo is the penname of author James Scott-Marryat, who has been working in the speculative market for years, both as a writer and as a freelance editor, tidying up other people’s work for publication.

Juliana: Both Shuttered and Indigo Heartfire are romances with contemporary settings. Did you plan to include the fantasy aspects from the start, or did they just creep in?

Jo: The fantasy aspects were central to the story – the contrast between the magical fantastic and the everyday contemporary striving to achieve a balance where both were acceptable.

Emma: I’m trying to think of something I’ve written that doesn’t have any fantasy aspects. The only one I can think of is a short story called “Mr Stone.” That was published in a print magazine called Oblique Quarterly Magazine back in 2010, but has since been turned into an audio story.

Fantasy elements tend to creep into everything I write. Even the contemporary romance I’m working on at the moment has a tiny, tiny speculative element. You have more freedom when writing fantasy, it’s more of an escape.

Juliana: Do you find it hard to resist the temptation of letting the speculative elements take over the plot? How do you keep the contemporary story on track, without being completely derailed by the fantasy?

Jo: The speculative elements are definitely more fun to write, but I set the book firmly in the real world first, before introducing the fantasy element. Annabelle – “like Tinkerbelle, only better” – doesn’t appear until chapter five, and even then we’re not convinced she does exist for quite some time. So that allowed me to keep the contemporary story on track, and ‘bleed’ the fantasy in slowly.

Emma: With the story I’m working on at the moment, no. The speculative element is so small there’s no chance for it to grow or get out of hand — letting it would ruin the story. With Shuttered, I could’ve gone more fantastical — I could’ve had the main character understand all animals, and I could’ve had my medium seeing and hearing spirits all over the place, so I did have to be careful to keep it as realistic as possible. The story still appeals to non-fantasy readers.

You have to think about what you want from the story. With romances, the relationships are the focus. You have to keep these relationships at the front and let any fantasy elements complement and not over-power.

Juliana: In Shuttered, we have a telepathic dog. In Indigo Heartfire, a grown man finds a tiny fairy godmother. Those are pretty unique story ingredients. I know Emma is a dog owner; was your Beau the key inspiration for Sasha? And Jo, where did the fairy idea come from?

Jo: I was doing a writing course with Raindance a couple of decades ago, and as a writing exercise we were challenged to write a modern fairy tale, so it grew from there.

Emma: There are definitely bits of Beau in Sasha. He’s completely neurotic though! Sasha’s much more sensible.

Juliana: Both of you also dabble in more traditional speculative fiction. What are the specific challenges in writing romance? What drew you into the genre?

Jo: Making it believable, realistic even. Too much ‘hearts/flowers/stars’ and your writing becomes a parody. All the fiction I’ve written have love stories within them, even the darker material I’m currently producing – I like that, no matter what happens to a character, love will always give you hope, give you personal fulfillment, even if it turns out tragically. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, I guess…

Emma: I love how tragic romance is! Emotion is all so heightened and there’s a lot of overwrought drama going on, which I love. Character-based stories are my favourite and there’s nothing more character-based than romance.

I think it was probably the relationship between the characters Ste and Brendan in the UK soap opera Hollyoaks that got me wanting to write gay romance. My Otherworld co-author, Liz, was a big fan of those two too, so that’s what got us started.

The big challenge for me is not letting the characters jump into bed straight away. I failed miserably in both Shuttered and Otherworld! But they don’t get a smooth ride (pardon the pun), you can’t let things be too easy. In romance the big question is usually ‘will they/won’t they?’

Juliana: Could you share some tips for those who want to write romance with speculative elements? Where to start, what pitfalls to avoid…

Jo: When you have an idea, write it down, and then every idea that follows – carry a notepad with you at all times. Not all the ideas will make it into your book, but allow your imagination to run wild at this point – your inner brainstorming, if you like – and all those ideas will stimulate your creative mind as you reflect on them. Most importantly get the romance right. It doesn’t matter if it’s between vampires, fairies, aliens, orcs, humans, whatever, but you have to show the feelings/attraction/desire/love as realistically as possible, even when you’re choosing to have fantasy characters. Don’t cheat the reader by taking short cuts because it’s easier not to show the elements that drew the characters together. Write your first draft and put it all in, then go back and edit, edit, edit.

Emma: Read all sorts! Even non-fiction. I love real-life stories of unexplained incidents; they really get my imagination going.

Where to start? For romance you’d need to read some romance and see how it’s done. Romance readers are very particular in things they like and don’t like! Get involved in a fandom — the “Stendan” one (that’s Ste and Brendan, Hollyoaks) was very vocal in both its support and anger of the some of the couple’s storylines.

Cheating partners never goes down well, avoid that one!

Juliana: What are your main sources of inspiration for new stories?

Jo: Reading, day-dreaming (and I keep a dream journal by the bed for when I wake), and watching people when I’m out shopping.

Emma: Real-life events. TV shows. I think I’m inspired more by what I see than what I read, though I used to take pretty much all my inspiration from Brian Jacques’ Redwall books when I was younger.

Juliana: Could you share some of your favorite authors?

Jo: Patrick Rothfuss, Marian Keyes, James Clavell, Stan Barstow, Jim Butcher, Anthony Ryan, Mark Lawrence. I think that list gets darker the more it progresses…

Emma: Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix and Oscar Wilde for the fantasy side of things. Alexis Hall and Harper Fox for the romances.

Juliana: A big thank you to both Jo and Emma for taking part and sharing some of the writing process with me, proving that writing speculative romance is definitely not for the faint of heart.

You can find out more about Emma’s work on her website ( and blog (; look for an upcoming series of video posts on the blog. Recent work includes the romance short stories The Queen’s Guard (published in Torquere Press’s Men in Uniform anthology) and Compulsion (published in Dreamspinner Press’s Hot off the Press anthology), as well as the speculative short story Why I Hate The Seaside (Kraxon Magazine, May 2015).

Emerald Heartfire, the next in Jo’s series featuring Annabelle the fairy, should be out later this year (Tickety Boo Press, publication date pending). Recent work includes the short story Dog Valley, published in the Malevolence, Tales From Beyond the Veil anthology (Tickety Boo Press), writing as Jeff Richards. Jo blogs as James Scott-Marryat at and you can find info on editing services at

Shuttered                 indigo

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out May’s Spotlight on Short Story Writing with Nathan Hystad. Next up in July: Spotlight on Writing Local Flavor.