- - February 11th, 2015
We have two Butcher-tastic* announcements to share with you today!
The first is that Jim Butcher will be coming to the UK – he will be a Guest of Honour at Eastercon, Dysprosium, which is taking place in London from 3rd-6th April. In the days following he will be touring the country with exact dates yet to be announced. Watch this space!
We can also announce the publication date for THE CINDER SPIRES: THE AERONAUT’S WINDLASS, the first book in Jim’s brand new series of airborne adventure and mad sorcery. The book will be released in hardback and ebook on the 29th of September 2015 and it’s available to preorder now from major retailers.
In Jim’s own words, it’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Sherlock meets Hornblower. There are goggles and airships and steam power and bizarre crystal technology and talking cats, who are horrid little bullies.”
For all the latest updates on the new series and the UK tour, become a fan of Orbit UK on Facebook, and sign up to our newsletter.
I have a confession to make — I like characters that are flawed. I like them bitter and acerbic, and as capable of evil as they are of goodness. I particularly like those who are a little…unhinged. Not so much crazy-dangerous as crazy-reckless.
In the Immortal Empire series, I created Xandra Vardan who I think is a delightfully twisted character. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, so I’ll say only that Xandy is a monster — even amongst the werewolves and vampires that populate her world. She’s a good-hearted person (for the most part). She’s loyal to those she loves and would do anything to protect them. She’s also snarky, petty and sometimes a raving bitch. And sometimes, she’d like to eat your liver — maybe open a vein. It would be entirely too easy for Xandra to kill, and she’s pretty certain she’d like it. In most stories she’d probably be the villain. In Long Live the Queen (and the first two books in the series, God Save the Queen, The Queen is Dead), she’s the hero.
I don’t think I’m alone in this preference for slightly mad characters. There’s a reason why Faith was so popular with Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. She was predictable only in her unpredictability — a wild card. I loved it when Willow went dark, or when Spike and Dru came out to play.
A common mistake amongst authors — new and experienced — is to make our main character(s) so ‘good’ that they lack depth. That depth tends to then go into secondary characters who end up stealing every scene they’re in because they’re much more interesting and complex than the hero. In other cases, it simply doesn’t make sense for the protagonist to be that twisted. Buffy was a little of both. She didn’t have the luxury of being mad. Buffy had to be responsible and strong and righteous. That doesn’t mean she was always good, however. After all, she seem to have a thing for emotionally unstable men… One of my favorite episodes, though, is the one that had you wondering if Buffy really was a vampire slayer, or a poor delusional girl in a mental hospital. Either way, she’s screwed.
The bottom line is that characters need a balance of unpredictability to go with that predictable behavior. Everyone has a code by which they live, but we’re all capable of horrendous things. However, in a protagonist, that balance needs to be really clear — your narrator needs to be at least a little bit reliable. The most fascinating characters are good people capable of terrible things.
Or not so great people capable of great things. A great example of a recent character who made being twisted work is Captain Jack Sparrow. Not the most heroic of men, but when it comes right down to it, he can usually be depended on to do the right thing — or something that will lead to the right thing.
Xandra tries to be a good person, but sometimes she falls short. She’s not really that nice — she’s selfish and petulant, and sometimes she’s a raving bitch. There were times when I worried for her sanity, and those were the times I loved her most. The monster in her wants blood and violence and maybe a little song and dance to go with it. In the movie Con Air Steve Buscemi’s character Garland Gray is an absolute nutcase — a psychopathic killer who once wore a victim’s head as a hat. He’s twisted. He’s also the most compelling character in the whole movie, and when he walks away in the end, you’re rooting for him even though you know he’s a monster. In fact, if you want a great example of twisted characters, watch ‘Sons of Anarchy’ — almost every one on that show is exactly the sort of character capable of both good and evil. I think Xandra would feel right at home.
In LONG LIVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS) Xandra comes up against a character even more twisted than herself. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Ally was incredibly fun to write. She was also heart-breaking. The more whacked I tried to make her, the more attached I became. My favorite characters in the series are the ones that are monsters and accept it — maybe even like it. At the very least, they make no excuses.
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN is out now! Look for it online and in stores everywhere. If you’re new to this series, check out the first book GOD SAVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS).
For the Spiritwalker project I wanted to write a multicultural world in which a mixing of cultures and people was the expected, the norm. I happen to think that when cultural change is considered across time, mixing is the norm. It is going on all the time throughout history. Interaction and influence are what keep cultures dynamic. A closed, static culture is a dying culture. In addition, these processes are not one-way. Cultural change happens in many directions, some of them exploitative and coerced and others subtle, subversive, and unexpected.
Certainly living in Hawaii since 2002 has influenced my choices in this regard. My earlier Crossroads Trilogy is influenced by although not specifically based on the Asia-Pacific cultural mix of Hawaii. COLD MAGIC (US | UK | AUS) and the other Spiritwalker books do not use any specific local-to-Hawaii cultural influences; however, they do incorporate ways in which I perceive that local culture has found to keep the cultural integrity of varying cultural groups (not always easily, and certainly the Native Hawaiian culture has fought a tremendous battle against colonization and erasure) allowing a unique syncretic local culture to arise that incorporates elements from all the different ethnic and cultural groups that co-exist here.
In Spiritwalker the cultural mixing is a bit different but the process is similar: an immigrant Malian culture meets and mingles with northwestern Celtic Europe while old imperial Rome and merchant Phoenicia retain a strong influence, just to name the four most prominent cultural groups in the book (the second novel, COLD FIRE (US | UK | AUS), adds the Taino culture of the Caribbean to the mix). I admit that I wanted to highlight the immense and too-often overlooked power and richness of the West African Mande traditions and civilizations, specifically the Malian Empire. Western media and narratives too often and too easily dismiss sub-Saharan Africa (as if it is all one thing) with a few words: famine, civil war, guns, blood diamonds, slavery, and so on, and in doing so miss, denigrate and outright disappear the significant history and culture that was present historically not to mention the actual life and culture and history-in-the-making that is there right now. The history and culture of Mali is not my story to tell but I did feel I had a story to write about how we TELL history. Read the rest of this entry »
- - June 25th, 2013
Kate Elliott was one of my favorite authors growing up. I wrote a gushing letter in the front of COLD MAGIC (US | UK | AUS) that she still tortures me about to this day. Let’s see if I can find it! Ah. Here it is:
I was 13 years old when I first fell head over heels in love with Kate Elliott’s Jaran. I still remember sitting on the floor of my local library one minute, and being transported to another world the next. Over the years, I’ve gone back and read the series again and I still love it as much today as I did then. So it is an absolute privilege and a pleasure for me to welcome Kate Elliott to the Orbit list.
Kate is known for her enormous epic fantasy tales, full of brilliant characterization, in-depth politics and mind-blowing plot twists and turns. Now, in Cold Magic, she’s created an alternate Victorian England where airships rule the skies and Cold Mages will do anything to keep technology from getting into the wrong hands. It’s a world where magic rules the day and science hides at night, and where one young woman must discover her destiny.
Kate has outdone herself, creating an intricately detailed and lavish world where technology mixes with magic, and our own history is rewritten in an alternative world.
Many readers spend their adult lives trying to rediscover the feeling of the books that first transported them as readers. I can safely report that this book did just that for me, and I hope it does the same for you.
And to think that I wrote this three years ago! A whole series has passed! And with it, comes the conclusion of this fantastic series that everyone has been raving about. Mysterious men? Check. Airships? Check. Steampunk? Check. Kate Elliott tells a wonderful story that culminates in COLD STEEL (US | UK | AUS). It was many years in the making and when you reach the end, it is everything that a satisfying series should be. Plus just a bit more. I love the experience of working with her on this series — and I can’t wait to tell you more about her new one! Though that will wait for a bit. But here’s a bit about COLD STEEL:
Trouble, treachery, and magic just won’t stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother’s murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren’t even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.
Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue.
Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them.
I hope you have as much fun with this series as I did.
With THE RED PLAGUE AFFAIR (UK|US|ANZ) released so close to the birthdate of Arthur Conan Doyle (that’s today!), and its two Victorian sleuths owing much to Sherlock Holmes (after all, which fictional detectives do not?) we asked the author, Lilith Saintcrow, to tell us a bit about Doyle’s influence on her work.
THE RED PLAGUE AFFAIR is the second of Bannon and Clare’s adventures and the follow up to THE IRON WYRM AFFAIR. Listen to the audiobooks here.
Bannon and Clare – ready for action.
For a long time, I didn’t even know Sherlock Holmes existed. Instead, I loved another boy.
His name was Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown.
I had two battered, ancient Encyclopedia Brown collections when I was a kid, probably from some garage sale or another. Most of the stories have receded into the mist that is my bad memory for everything before I was 20, but I remember a particular story where Leroy figured out an ambulance was the getaway vehicle because the stupid criminals put someone in it feet-first.
I was completely enchanted by the idea that a regular kid could, just by observation, change the course of events. This seemed a superpower anyone was capable of acquiring, with enough stubborn persistence and attention to detail. I mean, flight and superstrength are pretty badass, but I think most kids start suspecting neither are truly available outside their imaginations pretty early on.
I am not sure when I first began to suspect that my dear Leroy was an homage to someone else. It was probably at the point that Young Sherlock Holmes blazed into my consciousness, and I immediately marched into the library and started looking for “based on the stories of.”
Imagine my surprise upon meeting Holmes and Watson, two middle-aged men decidedly less attractive to the twelve-year-old girl I was. Arthur Conan Doyle’s prose style gave me a little difficulty, but much less than Shakespeare and only a little more than Louisa May Alcott. Plus, there were murders. Chases. A network of street kids bringing information. Cocaine. Music. Horses.
Irene Adler. Read the rest of this entry »
- - May 16th, 2013
The sorceress Emma Bannon and the deductive genius Archibald Clare will return for a second steampunk adventure this month in THE RED PLAGUE AFFAIR (UK | US | ANZ), released next week on 21st May!
With the RED PLAGUE audiobook coming out on the same day, and the audiobook of THE IRON WYRM AFFAIR (UK | US | ANZ) – Bannon and Clare’s first adventure – also coming to the UK and Australia on the 21st, we thought we’d share a treat with you to whet your appetite for some Victorian mystery-solving, magic-wielding action!
For newcomers to the series who want to stay spoiler-free, here’s the prologue to THE IRON WYRM AFFAIR . . .
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And for everyone who’s read IRON WYRM, here’s the first chapter of THE RED PLAGUE AFFAIR. Enjoy!
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- - March 15th, 2013
Airships have somehow ended up becoming the ultimate symbol of steampunk fiction. But as much as we love their appearance in established steampunk classics such as Gail Carriger’s fantastic Parasol Protectorate novels, Cherie Priest’s BONESHAKER and Stephen Hunt’s COURT OF THE AIR, I’m making a plea that we remember the humble airship does not have to remain in the domain of steam – and the punkification thereof!
I think it’s really time to claim back the airship for epic fantasy. What got me thinking about this was Terry Brooks’s new Dark Legacy of Shannara series, starting with WARDS OF FAERIE (UK / ANZ) and continuing with the recently released BLOODFIRE QUEST (UK / ANZ).
Airships have been in Terry Brooks’ novels for a while, ever since ILSE WITCH I believe, but it’s in his brand new series The Dark Legacy of Shannara that they’re really coming into their own. I couldn’t help thinking – I really, really want to own one of these airships.
Terry Brooks’ airships are like the suped-up, turbo charged versions of the common airship we’re all so familiar with. They’re powered by the sun – using ambient-light sails, something called diapson crystals and radian draws. Light gets converted into energy, and then this energy is expelled through what’s called the parse tubes. They’ve also got sails to gather extra power from the wind. They can easily fly at 1000 feet, and they’re kickass.
In WARDS OF FAERIE, things only get more exciting on the airship front. You don’t have to have read any previous Terry Brooks novels to enjoy this brand new novel, and you don’t have to know a lot about what’s gone before in airship automobile history to appreciate just how cool Terry’s speed-demon designs are.
To set the scene, there are two twins, Redden and Railing Ohmsford, who are thrill-seekers, risking life and limb racing special modified airships of their own design called Sprints.
Now I’m not into fancy cars, superbikes or private jets, but there’s something about these airships that really gets me salivating . . .
Sprints were one wicked pair of machines . . . Painted black from mast to keel, light sheaths black as well to better absorb the power of the sun, they had long, narrow hulls stripped of everything that might slow them down . . .
The controls were set to either side of a shallow depression that served as a cockpit, all within easy reach of the pilot. The pilot lay on his back with his head slightly elevated, facing forward down the length of his body toward the bow . . . Inside the cockpit, the thrusters and steering levers were manipulated by a combination of hands and feet, the cords that ran from the levers to the sheaths, rudder, and fins drawn so tightly that even the smallest amount of pressure would produce a response in the vessel’s handling . . .
These slender black monsters weren’t designed as transports; they were built to race.
*HUMANA, HUMANA* . . . It would be pretty cool to pull up outside Orbit Towers in one of those.
Now Terry Brooks certainly isn’t the only author to be using airships in a fantasy setting. A number of other authors doing this in books that are just as much fantasy as pure steampunk (Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt books, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and Neil Gailman’s STARDUST come to mind…).
But I think that Terry Brooks really is one of the pioneers making airships truly sexy. If anyone can think of sexier airships then I’d be open to opinions!
But all I’m going to say for now is, to quote an Amazon reviewer, “Hold onto your diapson crystals – Shannara is back!”
THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS) releases officially today and if you thought GOD SAVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS) was good, wait until you read this next installment of The Immortal Empire series. If you’re new to these, get ready for a modern day London unlike our own in so many fun and mysterious ways. But you might be wondering how it got that way. To fill in the gaps, Kate Locke has written up an alternate timeline of notable events in the world of the Immortal Empire. So get ready. Get set. This is not your average history lesson, boys and girls.
February 5 2010 – Vex MacLaughlin spies a grown Xandra Vardan for the first time at a society function. Sources claim to have overheard Churchill telling the Scottish wolf to stay away from his ‘dear girl.’
March 27 1937 – The corpse of Human League activist and German painter Adolf Hitler was found in his home almost completely drained of blood. The killer was never found.
April 4 1968 – Popular British TV show ‘Coronation Street’ introduces it’s first Half-blood character, Nancy. The daughter of a working class couple who had no idea that both of them carried the plague from long-dead ancestors. Nancy’s look was based on model Jean Shrimpton, and her iconic violet hair was said to be inspired by an Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe.
April 16 2012 – Sid Vicious released his Frank Sinatra tribute album and dedicated it to his wife Nancy.
May 24 1819 – Her Ensanguined Majesty Queen Victoria was born. Her parents knew she was a vampire the moment she bit her nurse.
June 3 2001 – Bertie, Prince of Wales is named one of the world’s ‘sexiest men’ by People Magazine. His mother, Queen Victoria is not amused. Werewolf Alpha Vex MacLaughlin is also mentioned. He was decidedly amused.
June 3 1990 – Courtesan Juliet Claire is attacked and bitten by a were while pregnant with the Duke of Vardan’s eldest daughter.
July 13 1971 – A pink-haired half-blood named Locke was mistakenly admitted to Bedlam Asylum for the Insane when she began to rant about the voices in her head. The poor soul wasn’t mad, she was just an author. Though, some would say the two are synonymous.
August 21, 1765 – The Duke of Clarence born the first goblin of the Royal Family. His mother, a strong woman by all accounts, fainted at the sight of him.
September 17 1982 – Miranda Windsor crowned the first aristocrat Miss America. She was also Miss Congeniality.
September 30st 1972 – American toy company Mattel introduces it’s ‘Vampire Barbie’. A half-blood Skipper and Werewolf Ken follow.
October 12 1905 – Exotic dancer Mata Hari becomes mistress to Bertie, the Prince of Wales.
November 8 1847 – Birthday of Bram Stoker, who would be exiled from the UK because of his scandalous depiction of vampires in his novel Dracula.
December 18 1990 — Alexandra Vardan born. Long may she reign.
Want to know more? Kate Locke elaborates in this article on RT Book Reviews.
- - January 25th, 2013
Xandra is back next month in the next installment of the Immortal Empire series! THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS) will knock your spats off when a new threat to kingdom and crown rises up and Xandra and her family find themselves again at the heart of the matter.
The first chapter can be found here, but if you haven’t read GOD SAVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS) yet, HOLD UP! There are some major spoilers ahead. So do yourself a favor and start with GOD SAVE THE QUEEN – a unique blend of urban fantasy and Victorian flare. Check out some of the great praise these novels have received.
Praise for the Immortal Empire series:
“Locke has developed an intricate and darkly political world that has various races on edge and on the verge of confrontation. Packed with knife-edged danger, treachery and murder, nothing is simple, as Xandra quickly learns. Although it certainly helps to have read the first book in Locke’s Immortal Empire series, readers can pick up the story from here. If you like your steampunk gritty and challenging, this is the series for you!” – RT Reviews on THE QUEEN IS DEAD
“Readers will be intrigued by the author’s original take on the origins of vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures and their interactions with “normal” humans. Rapid-paced action and an original interpretation of goblins (they are not J.K. Rowling’s cranky, clever, gold-centric goblins) add much to differentiate Locke’s fantasy from the rest of the pack.” – Library Journal on GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
“This is truly a book to sink your teeth into.” – SF REVU on GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
- - December 13th, 2012
The long-awaited day is almost here! In a few short hours, The Hobbit will be hitting the silver screen. To mark the occasion, we decided to ask several of our Orbit authors with recent and upcoming books what Tolkien’s The Hobbit has meant to them. We hope you’ll also share your own story in the comments below, and if any of you are going to the movie in costume, we’d love to see pictures!
I was introduced to The Hobbit and to Lord of the Rings in high school by the same friend who got me into Dungeons and Dragons (gee, think there was a connection?). While I had been a Star Trek and Star Wars fan for a while, and had read a few sci-fi novels, I had never read anything with the scope of The Hobbit and LOTR. I was totally hooked, and I credit it with giving me another nudge toward growing up to write epic fantasy.
Gail Z. Martin, author of ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS)
I have to admit a shameful secret — I was a late bloomer as far as Tolkien is concerned. While I knew of his work, I’d never read any of it until I was 25. I was introduced to the incredible world of Middle Earth by my then-boyfriend (whom I later had the good sense to marry), Steve. My older sister is a fantasy and science-fiction fan. Without her I don’t think I would have developed a love for either genre. She has in her possession, an illustrated, hard cover, gorgeous edition of The Hobbit that I … liberated from her library for a brief time. Steve couldn’t believe I’d never read it, so it then became a ‘thing’. Every night one of us would read The Hobbit to the other. Mostly he read to me, because he would comment on things characters did, make up voices, and basically make the entire experience wonderful because of his love for the story.
Now, 25 wasn’t yesterday, but there are things about The Hobbit that linger for me. As a small-town (I’m talking mud puddle small) girl, I instantly related to Bilbo. In fact, I’m pretty certain my maternal grandmother was a hobbit. Poor Bilbo was so outside his comfort zone, but he found so much courage inside himself. Who wouldn’t love such a character? Of course finding ‘the’ ring was a big moment in literary history, but I remember the trolls more than the ring. I remember loving the character Beorn, even though I can never remember his name. And despite having a deep-seated crush on Richard Armitage, I think I’d love Thorin no matter who played him, because his character was just so… great. Of course, who can forget meeting Gollum for the first time? In the end, The Hobbit is — literally and figuratively — all about the little guy taking on seemingly insurmountable problems to triumph at the end. But there’s a cost. There’s always a cost. I think what I took away from The Hobbit are two lessons I try to remember in my own writing — 1: It’s the journey, not the destination, and 2: Bittersweet endings are sometimes better than happy ones. Oh, and I guess there was a third as well, though it doesn’t apply to writing — second breakfast is the most important meal of the day. :-) Thank you, Mr. Tolkien.
Kate Locke, author of THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS)
I can’t recall how or why I first picked up the Hobbit – I suspect one of my brothers left it lying around. I can recall how it inspired my son into reading voraciously, something he still does even now he’s a teen. It was the first proper book he’d ever read on his own, and it was that and the new and unexplored vistas that utterly captivated him.
For years afterwards, every book report that he could get away with was on the Hobbit. Every book he read was compared to it, and most often found wanting. He reads, I sometimes think, to try to rediscover that sudden realisation that the world is a different place, that things and people are strange. He reads because he wants to fall for a world, a story, the same way he did with Middle Earth. It was his first literary love.
As legacies go, I think that’s the best one to hope for – Bilbo and his friends inspired my son to read.
Francis Knight, author of FADE TO BLACK (US | UK | AUS)
The Hobbit is, more or less, the distillation of the purest, deepest of wish of the child (or of any adult who still has a spark of curiosity smoldering away in them, for that matter): the wish that one day, while you’re bumbling through your silly little routine, adventure will walk right up your front path, knock upon your door, and refuse to be turned away.
When I first read the Hobbit, I yearned so much for the leafy, cool shadows of Middle Earth that one summer, in an attempt to recreate that world, I carried a hefty bag of wax myrtle seeds to my grandmother’s house – for she had a much bigger yard than ours – and planted them all over her property, as well as the piney properties of the people on either side of her. Wax myrtles, as it turns out, can be wildly invasive, so within several years the damn things were popping up everywhere; but by then, unfortunately, I was a bit too old to enjoy them properly. I still hope that some child may come along, rest in their shade, and feel, for an instant, a bit more hobbity than before.
Robert Jackson Bennett, author of AMERICAN ELSEWHERE (US | UK | AUS)
In a word, what The Hobbit means to me is Fantasy, with a capital F, for the same reason that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy means Science Fiction in Bullingtonese—my parents had book-on-tape versions of those two novels when I was a kid, and long before I even understood most of what was going on in the stories, I adored the broad strokes and general cadence of the narratives. The Hobbit was actually a radio play version produced by the Mind’s Eye in the late seventies, and to this day I can’t talk about the book without imitating some of the silly voices that imprinted the text on my young brain.
When I was older and read the book on my own I was delighted to discover all the content which had been abridged from the radio play, but my progression to The Lord of the Rings was not met with the same enthusiasm—I found it a colder, less-engaging read. Although with age I’ve grown to appreciate a lot about the trilogy, its epic, fate-of-the-world action and dully black-and-white ethics can’t hold a light of Earendil to The Hobbit’s comparatively small-scale adventures and petty moral dilemmas, at least for this particular Sackville scribe. Like many of my peers, I owe a great debt to Tolkien; he still has a lot to teach, both by his strengths and his failings, and The Hobbit is the text of his that keeps pulling me back, even after all this time, and always with a smile on my face.
Jesse Bullington, author of THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD (US | UK | AUS), available now