Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Supernatural Freak by Louisa Klein - Cover Reveal

The Lost in Fiction* team proudly announces its first fiction project: Supernatural Freak, to be released on the 8th August 2012 in Ebook format.

The first of a four-book series, Supernatural Freak is written by 25 years old Louisa Klein who is Lost in Fiction's Editorial Manager and a freelance book publicist and editor. The book is set in London and it's an urban fantasy for readers of all ages, but especially aimed at a young audience. It tells the adventures of Robyn Wise, a girl in her twenties who has a number of inborn supernatural abilities no one can explain, not even the most powerful wizards living in England. Below, the amazing cover and the blurb:

“When paranormal expert Robyn Wise is offered an outrageous sum  of money to cure a boy who is turning into a dead tree, she's very sceptical. A politician ready to pay that much to make his son stop growing branches instead of hair? Come on! She's more likely to be  abducted by aliens. This is a trap. Or much worse. And, of course, it's much worse.

The child is turning into a dark portal, created by a powerful entity determined to absorb Fairyland's power. This means that not only queen Titania and her court are in danger, but the very balance of the magic fluxes.

Robyn'd rather stick a pencil in her own eye but, to learn how to  destroy the portal, she has to sneak into the Wizardry Council, a place full of wizards who are hiding something—though it’s certainly not their
dislike of her.

There, she discovers a terrible secret that could help to overthrow Fairyland's enemies for good, but puts her in the midst of an ancient and deadly war, and not as a bystander, but as the main target.”

Supernatural Freak stars a cover created by Harper and Collins digital artist Regina Wamba, who recently  joined the Lost in Fiction team, bringing to the table her amazing talent and over ten years of experience.

"I came up with the story, but the rest was a lot of team work," Louisa Klein explains. "My colleague, national journalist and development editor Paul Antony Harvison, gave me priceless advices on how to improve the plot, while our proofreader Ceiron Hughes made sure there were no typos (he has laser eyes, I swear!). I have planned the book campaign with Bruce Clark, who currently works as a freelance marketing consultant for BMW in Germany. We all know what we are doing: for example, I'm only 25, but got my first internship in a publishing house when I was only 15, so I can well say I have a bit of experience! It was a lot of work but we all had a great time, since we are a bunch of professional geeks enthusiastic about fiction and fantasy!"

"When Louisa came up with the idea for her first novel, we were all thrilled and excited," adds Lost in Fiction Marketing Manager Bruce Clark . "Brainstorming with her about her campaign was hard work but also good fun! I pointed out from the start that a good, even an excellent marketing plan is useless if the product doesn't meet the market's expectations, so the editorial guys worked like crazy to deliver the best possible product and I think they've succeeded, our output being comparable to the one of a small, yet serious and solid, indie publisher."

To get copies for review, interview the author or simply to know more, please contact Bruce Clarke at:  info@lostinfiction.co.uk putting “Supernatural Freak” as the subject of the email. 

* Lost in Fiction is a British online magazine run by a team of young, enthusiastic freelancers. It counts over 20000 unique visitors per month, reaching peaks of 100000 during particular online events such as “Lost in Romance” or “Lost in Young Adults”

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Discovery Writers and A Memory of Light

So often a writer is asked if they are a plotter or a pantser. But what about someone in-between?

Apparently there is a name for this in the industry and it is ‘discovery writer’. This is a writer who plots a basic outline, but then isn’t afraid to follow the characters and the story wherever it might lead.

I came across the concept when I attended a Brandon Sanderson book-signing. As those of us who are Wheel of Time fans know, Brandon is responsible for finishing the saga following Robert Jordan’s untimely demise, and Brandon spoke to us a little bit about Robert Jordan, and used the term ‘discovery writer’ to describe him.

The story goes that when Robert Jordan first pitched The Wheel of Time to his publisher, he had a planned trilogy. His publisher said he loved the idea, but knew Robert Jordan tended to let his stories get away from him, and suggested a six-book deal, thinking that would be enough to get him the whole series even if it blew out. 

And as we sit here awaiting the fourteenth and final book in the series, we all laugh.

Evidently Robert Jordan was a discovery writer to the extreme, taking what was originally only a planned three book series and turning it into the epic saga we all know and love. The ideas must have flowed thick and fast as he wrote, and kept flowing for a good long time.

I don’t think a writer needs to turn a three book series into a fourteen book series to be a discovery writer, though. All it requires is a balance between plotting and pantsing, a need to outline the basic bones of the story, and then the desire and the willingness to follow where the characters lead.

I admit to being rather enamoured of the concept, because it seemed a fairly accurate description of my own writing process. I always outline my books these days, but the finished product may only bear a passing resemblance to that original outline at the most basic level.

So with Robert Jordan’s ‘discovery writer’ tendencies in mind, do you think Rand will die in A Memory of Light

Here’s what I think:
  • Maybe Rand was originally intended to die, but somewhere along the way that plan (if it ever existed) changed;
  • Sure, we know Rand has to bleed all over the rocks of Shayol Ghul, but that doesn’t mean death. Hey, a paper cut bleeds like hell;
  • Rand thinks he’s going to die – therefore it’s too obvious for him to do so;
  • You’d have to be one son of a b*tch to keep your readers waiting twenty years only to kill off the hero.
OK, you might say some of that is more wishful thinking than hard evidence, but that’s my line, and I’m sticking to it. Earlier in the series I was far more convinced Rand would die, but after The Towers of Midnight, I started to think he had a real chance. 

So what do you think? Is Rand going to live happily ever after, or do you think he’s going to get the sword?

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Monday, 16 July 2012

Review of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Set in a fantasy world that mirrors our own, the story is recounted in the first person by Phédre no Delaunay. The worldbuilding is exquisite, and the principal action takes place in Phédre’s home kingdom of Terre d’Ange, or what would be France in our world. The mythology behind this land is that Jesus had a child, Elua, with Mother Earth, who went forth with a handful of angels who turned their back on God and mixed their blood with mortals, creating the D’Angeline race.

Terre d’Ange is bordered by the Skalidic lands (Germany) and the city-states of what remains of the empire of Tiberium (Rome), with Hellene (Greece) referred to more distantly, and Alba and Eire (The united Kingdom and Ireland) across the Straits. Although borrowing heavily from our own mythology, Kushiel’s Dart takes it and puts a beautiful and compelling twist on it, at once both comfortingly familiar and astonishingly fantastical.

Phédre, the unwanted get of a whore, is an anguissette – marked by a red mote in her eye, the sign of the long-passed angel, Kushiel, Phedre takes pleasure in her own pain, despite herself. Taken in by Anafiel Delaunay, and trained to be his spy, Phédre is swept up in the events of great kingdoms, her feet set on the path to change her own life and the lives of others. 

Phédre suffers much throughout the course of the book, beyond the mere physical pain inflicted upon her by her clients as a Servant of Namaah (or very high-class and almost sacred prostitute, in service to the angel Namaah), and one cannot help but be compelled by her character. Her voice is strong and unique, and if the language is slightly ornate and flowery, it fits the formality and the beauty with which this world of Terre d’Ange is etched. Not once did I feel the language bogged the story down; instead it sets the stage for the use of euphemisms and less explicit language in the sexual descriptions. 

As spy for her master Delaunay, Phédre uncovers treachery of the worst kind, and her knowledge catapults her into extreme straits and risks everything in her life she holds dear. In the company of Joscelin, the Cassiline warrior-priest sworn to protect her life, she must struggle to save two kingdoms and reclaim her own life and freedom. Pitched against her wily adversary, Melisande Shahrizai, whom she both hates and yet finds irresistibly compelling, Phédre must reach into the very depths of her strengths and commitment to win through. 

I just said last week that Warbreaker was the first book to truly compel me in some time, but Kushiel’s Dart surpassed it. I completely neglected all my writing, blogging and critiquing responsibilities while I was reading this book, and justified it on the basis that the sooner it was read and finished, the sooner I got get back to work on the things I should be working on. My mind was only half-focussed while not reading this book, I was so desperate to know what happened next. I haven't bought the sequel yet, even though I badly want to - because, well, because I have writing commitments I have to meet!

The beginning of the book has been described by some as ‘slow’, and by comparison to the rest of the book, it probably is, but I nevertheless found it drew me on in a compelling fashion, hooked by the magnificent worldbuilding, Phédre’s voice, and the secrets hinted at, yet not revealed. I should mention, too, I am not usually a fan of first person POV, but this book obsessed me in a way no other first person ever has.

The book was recommended to me as erotic fantasy, but I don’t think I’d categorise it that way. According to Worlds Without End, erotic fantasy means a typical fantasy storyline ‘but there is far more graphic content, and sexual scenes are numerous and/or described in detail’. To that extent, I can’t deny it meets that definition, but really, the sexual content was important to the story, and there were plenty of opportunities for gratuitous sex scenes that were not taken. That said, this book is not for readers who are squeamish, judgemental or who prefer to avoid graphic sexual content.

For everyone else, go and buy this book. Now! Why are you still here?

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Monday, 9 July 2012

Vampiric Lore: The Deep, Dark Truth – and No Sparkles!

Lugosi as Dracula
It’s that time of the month again – mythical creature time! This is part of a series of posts on mythical creatures. Previous posts  can be found here - dragons, fantastical horses, mythical creatures of the sky, saltwater spirits - Part 1 and Part 2freshwater spirits, and spirits of the desert.

I have put off looking at undead due to the current popularity of everything lacking a pulse, including vampires, werewolves and zombies, because, quite frankly, some of us are a little over it. But today I’ve finally bit the bullet and we’ll take a look at vampires – and only vampires , because there is so much lore it’s difficult to meaningfully summarise even a fragment here.

Don’t expect any glitter or sparkle though – this is a look at the origin myths of vampires, not the Hollywood glitz and glamour of recent years.


The origin of the vampire myth is unknown, but probably derived from very old tales of the restless dead. If you go far enough back in time, many cultures had stories of the spirits of the dead passing to some vague afterlife, where they largely forgot their material lives. Such undead were sluggish and largely harmless.

Scandanavian Folklore and Celtic Myths

Over time, these myths merged with the tales of angrier, more volatile dead in other cultures, such as the undead of Viking mythology – or draugr. The draugr were corporeal revenants wandering the night to commit violence against the living. This eventually evolved into Celtic myths of hostile corpses leaving their tombs to attack the living.

Blood played a central role in these myths. Blood was recognised as a life-force and a source of warmth, and after a long time in the cold earth the belief evolved that corpses needed blood for a semblance of vitality.

Eastern European Mythology

The Blood Countess
The notion of vampires then took hold in the Slavic and Eastern European peoples, and the word ‘vampire’ may derive from the ancient Turkish word oubir, meaning a ‘witch or malignant sorcerer’. At the same, the belief grew that for every vampire there was born someone who could slay it. By the late 13th century, so many vampire hunters roamed around that the King of Bohemia forbade the digging up of graveyards to ‘slay’ malevolent corpses.

Scottish Vampire Tales

In Scotland, there were two persistent vampire tales. The first was the Bad Lord Soulis, of Hermitage Castle in Roxboroughshire, sometime in the mid-13th to 14th centuries. He was said to kidnap people (including children) and murder them. He reputedly used blood in his evil rites, and drank it too. Eventually the people stormed the castle and boiled him in lead.

The other was Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch and brother to King Robert III of Scotland, who was also reported to drink blood. Supposedly, he possessed the notorious Book of Black Earth, which later formed the basis of the Red Book of Appin used by Stewart sorcerers up until its disappearance in 1745. The book was said to contain spells involving the drinking of human blood. While these tales may have been invented by his enemy, the Bishop of Moray, they nevertheless influenced highland vampiric lore.  

Irish Contribution

Outbreaks of tuberculosis in Ireland contributed to vampiric lore, with sufferers of the disease sickening, wasting away, coughing up blood, growing pallid and sensing a great weight on their chest’, which were said to be the symptoms of vampire attack. Interestingly, Bram Stoker’s mother lived through such an outbreak in County Sligo in the early 1800s.

Vampires Travel to America

From the late 1700s onwards, stories abounded of families experiencing the sickness and loss of many members of the family. In particular, a raft of such stories existed in Rhodes Island in the American Colonies, giving rise to the tales of the Rhode Island ‘vampire ladies’. Four families lost a young daughter: Sarah Tillinghast, Nancy Young, Juliet Rose and Mercy Brown. 

After their deaths (decades apart and spanning a period from 1796 until 1892) members of each family dreamed of the dead girl, and thereafter became sick, wasting away until they died. Sometimes family members recovered when taken away from the area. In each tale, the dead girl was eventually exhumed, her heart (and sometimes liver) cut out and burned, or the entire corpse burned. In all cases, any sick family members then returned to health.

First Vampire Fiction

Buffy The Vampire Slayer
The image of a vampire as the cloak-swathed aristocrat didn’t arrive until the late 18th century. Dr. John Polidori published a work of fiction called The Vampyre, featuring an aristocratic vampire unlike the brutal creatures of Slavic mythology, and creating the seed of the vampire we all recognise today.

Dracula and Vlad the Impaler

This was followed by the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is likely the novel drew on some of the history of Eastern Europe in the 15th century, in particular Vlad Dracul, warlord of Wallachia, and his son. Vlad was so-called because ‘Drac’ meant dragon, and after he joined the Order of the Dragon he used the dragon on his coinage. His son was called Vlad Dracula, meaning ‘son of the dragon’. Wallachia was a tiny territory, located between Transylvania, Moldavia, Hungary and Turkey.

Vlad Dracula was a despot, and during the course of his reign destroyed the local landowner system as revenge against Hungarian backed landowners who burned his elder brother to death; arresting, torturing and eventually executing them. He earned the nickname ‘Vlad the Impaler’ from the unusually cruel practice of placing Turkish prisoners on high stakes and then watching them slowly disembowelled as gravity pulled them down. Supposedly, he solved the problem of the destitute by inviting them all to a banquet, sealing the doors and burning the building down. However, there is no record of him drinking human blood.

The Blood Countess

Michael Corvinas from Underworld
Also adding to vampire lore was the ‘Blood Countess’, Elizabeth Bathory, of Hungary. After her husband died, leaving her a widow, she fell under the protection of her kinsman, King Matthias Corvinas of Hungary. It was then she turned to the notion that blood had youth-restoring properties. Over a period of ten years, from 1601 to 1611, she murdered many local girls, and then bathed in or drank their blood as a means to restore her youth. Eventually these tales reached the ears of the king, who attacked her stronghold and, after many trials, sentenced her to be bricked up in the apartments where she committed her atrocities. The door was sealed, except for a small hole for food, and all the windows sealed, leaving her in darkness.

Late 20th Century and Early 21st Century

Some of the more recent manifestations of the vampire include Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, which stayed fairly true to the notion of vampires as evil and soulless, and drew on the myth that there is a slayer born for every vampire. OK, so she got a bit frisky with a vampire, but she also had the guts to ram a sword right through him when necessary. You can't fault her for that one. Yeah, OK, you got me - I own seven series of Buffy on DVD. 

Most recently we have Twilight, which has strayed a long way from the dark, gruesome origin of the vampire myth.

It’s also worth mentioning the Underworld films, which while taking a fairly friendly view of vampires and werewolves, also appears to have drawn from the history of Vlad the Impaler. At one point in his life, Vlad fled to the safety of the Hungarian king – Matthias Corvinas. In the Underworld franchise, the Corvinas family were the origin of vampires (and werewolves) and their last living descendant, Michael Corvinas, became the first vampire-werewolf hybrid.

If you missed my last post, Miscommunication Is The Root of All Evil (except vampires, it would seem) check it out here.  

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Source Material: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Cannot Rest In Peace - Encyclopedia of the Undead by Dr. Bob Curran

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Review of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson has a real knack for creating high fantasy worlds from the ground up, including magic systems. This, the tale of two sisters, the God-King one of them must marry, a lesser god, and an immortal trying to atone for his sins, is set primarily in the kingdom of Hallandren, ruled by the God-King and a set of Returned (lesser gods) and filled with Awakeners. 

Every person is born with one Breath, and Awakeners collect Breath to reach different levels of power (Heightenings) and can create certain feats of magic. Breath cannot be taken by force, it can only be given voluntarily, and the more Breath a person has, the greater the feats they can carry out. The Returned, or the Hallandren pantheon of gods, are similar – having died heroically, they Return as gods, invested with only one mighty Breath granting them powers comparable to an Awakener of the Fifth Heightening. The catch: because a Returned only has one Breath, he cannot Awaken. His Returned nature means the giving of his one Breath would mean his death. And so the Returned await that moment only they will recognise – that moment when they should make the ultimate sacrifice and use their Breath for another. 

And so our cast of characters – the sisters Siri and Vivenna, from a kingdom holding Awakening abhorrent, one doomed to marry the Hallandren God-King, the other hell-bent to rescue her. The God-King himself, Returned, mighty, unknowable, and all-powerful. Vasher; who does he play for, and in whose interest? And Lighthope, a Returned who does not even believe in his own religion. 

The idea of a god who doesn’t believe in his own godhood or his own religion is one of the themes Brandon Sanderson set out to explore in this book, and I must say I easily connected with Lighthope very early in the book. His flippant nature and refusal to take his own godhood seriously conceals the fact that he, of all the gods, actually takes his duties with some importance. He says he is unreliable and a hopeless god, while at the same time actually trying to be a good one; his flippancy reflects his own dissatisfaction with what he perceives as a flawed government and religion. Why should he be trusted with power to govern? He has no clue what he is doing and believes this should be evident to everyone who sees him, but instead they stubbornly insist in trusting his divinity. His earnest uncertainty draws me to him. 

The sisters, Siri and Vivenna, are completely different characters with their own distinct voices. One, promised in marriage to the God-King, must offer herself to bear his child in silence, lest her words offend this majestic immortal, while the other, adrift in a barbarian city must decide who to trust to free her sister. But nothing is as it seems for either sister, and in the background looms the very real threat of war against their homeland – a war their kingdom cannot win. Each sister must battle in her own way, against the odds, to prevent that war and rescue all they hold dear, with neither knowing who they can trust and who plots against them. 

Warbreaker is a compelling story of love and a spider web of intrigue. It’s been a while since I tore through a book in less than a few weeks, but Warbreaker I read in three days – and that’s my pre-marriage, pre-child rate of reading! I crammed that in around a family. If I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about reading it. Every chapter ends with a hook, driving you on to know what happens next, and I assure you, what happens next is never what you think it will be. I often enjoy a book where I make the connections to guess what happens, but in Warbreaker I guessed but rarely and the surprise was a pleasure all of its own.

As always, the near-perfection of the writing is impressive, although I found the prose less-polished than The Way of Kings (bearing in mind this was written first). However, the occasional ‘saidism’ or telling sentence was not sufficient to spoil my pleasure in the read, and the foreshadowing is so masterful it’s enough to make any aspiring writer fall to the floor in worship. 

I simply cannot recommend this book enough. Original, exotic, unique, and compelling. 

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