Category Archives for Fantasy

Hymn of the Pearl – BOOK REVIEW

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Last Friday, an unexpected gift appeared in my e-mail inbox: Brian Niemeier’s new novella, Hymn of the Pearl. Full disclosure: in case you didn’t guess from the previous sentence, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. As a longtime friend, this flew straight to the top of my reading list.

Unlike most of Brian’s previous work, this one is short. It’s also a quick, easy read. Given my current schedule, I liked that. Other readers might find it disappointing. Then again, at $2.99 its price reflects that.

Brian’s use of fate as the mechanic for a magical system utterly fascinated me. Given how much fantasy work is out there that I haven’t read, this may not be truly original. But it was new to me, and I really enjoyed it. It drew me in and left me with a lot of unanswered questions. The author, however, clearly understood the system and had it all mapped out. That made it function well in practice.

Even more, the interplay between the two competing “classes” of wizards made for some interesting thought. It carried the weight of an honest religious argument, but without the baggage of real world religions to bog it down.

The author also skillfully weaves personal character struggles with sweeping political entanglements, and the threat of an actual war hangs over everything.

This book kept me fascinated from the beginning. If you’re a fan of Brian’s earlier works, you’ll definitely enjoy it. If you haven’t read his others, Hymn of the Pearl is a great place to start. Highly recommended. 5 out of 5 stars.

Sea of Skulls – BOOK REVIEW

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A few weeks ago, when I included A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day in my Dragon Award nomination list, I promised to have a review out. Events on the ground caused things to shift around, but today I can finally share that review with you.

Before delving into the book review itself, I should point out a few things. First of all, this is not quite a complete book. The author released it in its current form, promising to follow up with a finalized version when it’s actually done. It’s an interesting experiment in the digital world, and I’m curious to see how that works out for him in the long run. Second, unlike many books that I review, I did not receive a free copy from the author. I paid full price for my copy.

This series is, to me, one of the most interesting things happening in the current science fiction and fantasy landscape. Book one kind of blew my mind. Book two continues in that tradition.

The author has stated that he intended this series as a deliberate shot across the bow at George R.R. Martin for a) his inability to finish his epic master series and b) the fact that Martin has clearly lost the plot in later books. As a reader, my belief is not only that Mr. Day has succeeded, but that he’s also created a substantially better series than Mr. Martin’s.

The series share much in common. The books are long. The story is epic in scope – very epic – spanning a huge fictional world. The world feels lived in, with a great deal of history, and included many diverse cultures. Massive battles and dirty politics are the order of the day.

But the Arts of Dark and Light series has two things dreadfully lost in A Song of Ice and Fire: hope and humanity.

When Martin killed Ned Stark at the end of his first book, it produced a shocking effect. It roped me in – and many others like me. But at the current point of A Song of Ice and Fire, there’s nobody left to really root for. All of the honorable characters are long dead. Even the semi-honorable characters have now met their demise. Only the disgusting remain. Westeros has become a bleak and desolate place. The current state of the story leaves us wondering if it can be saved – but that’s normal storytelling. It also leaves us wondering if it should be saved, and that’s where it’s losing me.

Mr. Day, on the other hand, has kept a ray of humanity in his characters even as they face a world of darkness around them. Some characters succomb to the evil. But others do not, and we still have champions worth rooting for.

One interesting thing about this series is the way Mr. Day has developed a world based so heavily on the Roman era. This is an unusal setting for contemporary fantasy writers, and that helps it stand out. More interesting, however, is the way he weaves religion into the story. Unlike most fantasy worlds that present a “psuedo” Catholic church – ie, Catholic in all of its trappings but none of its actual theology – Mr. Day presents what basically is the Catholic church. The beliefs are more or less complete.

To me, this provides a level of verisimilitude that other fantasy worlds can’t compete with. Most authors seem to assume that the trappings of the Catholic church are inherent in organized religion in general. They’re not. They’re distinctly Christian in character, which is why you basically only see them in the real world in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Mr. Day recognizes that these features didn’t evolve in a vacuum. In his world, they belong. And one can’t help but think, given the story’s hints, that the church will come back to play a major role.

This book doesn’t feel like an incomplete book. You won’t miss what’s not there. However, if you get it now, you’ll also get the updates when they come. I, for one, look forward to that.

I do have three specific complaints about the book, however.

First, I really wish we’d seen more of the church again in this installment. I’m hoping for more of that in the update.

Second, the author (who has a natural gift for languages himself, and speaks several) has clearly developed rather involved languages for his elves, dwarves, and orcs. Unfortunately, he uses them just a bit too much in this installment. This makes some sections of the book hard to follow. I’m a long time fantasy fan and used to unfamiliar fantasy words. But I also don’t have Mr. Day’s natural gift for language – and this extensive use of them draws me out of the story as I struggle to understand what’s actually going on.

Third, and finally, this installment focuses a bit too much for my taste on a particular female elf. Her storyline is interesting, but the author spends time on it that I would rather have spent reading about the other characters. This isn’t as bad as it might sound, though. Had her chapters been broken up a bit more, it would’ve been fine. I hope that the updated, final version of the book will address this.

Even with these flaws, this is still a five star book. If you’re into epic fantasy, I can’t recommend Arts of Dark and Light highly enough. Give it a shot.

The Continuation of the School of Spells & War

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A few years ago Silver Empire launched its first major product – an anthology of short stories themed around “Manly Courage.” My wife Morgon contributed a story she’d had rattling around in her brain for some time. The story sprang in its entirety from a simple opening line she’d come up with after a panel at DragonCon one year:

There was a sword-wielding buffoon in the library shelves again.

The first draft of the story wasn’t that great. For one thing, it took itself far too seriously. And it carried a bit of a dour tone. So she reworked it. The new version came out fun and light-hearted and became the tale now known as Down the Dragon Hole. Frankly, I felt it ended up being the strongest story in our collection.

So she wrote some more. That spawned the School of Spells & War series. Currently, we’ve published three stories in the series. We have another three almost ready to launch. And with them, we’re launching a new way to get those stories.

Today, Morgon launches her new School of Spells & War Patreon. Now, obviously nobody has to support her on Patreon. But those who do will get several benefits:

  • Access to all new Spells & War stories a full month before they go live on Amazon.
  • Access to special bonus material: maps, world-building information, artwork, etc.
  • Extra stories not available anywhere else.

Her support tiers are set to pay out per story, so you won’t pay until and unless you get finished products. And as an extra bonus, we’re throwing in the first three Spells & War stories to all of her Patreon supporters, even at the lowest tiers. The lowest support tier is $1 per story – the same price we charge for the cheap stories on Amazon, and actually less than we charge for the longer, novella sized stories there. It’s a great deal.

Just in case you need some more encouragement, listen to her tell the story in her own words. Then be sure to drop by and support her.

2017 Dragon Award Nominations

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The nomination period for the 2017 Dragon Awards closes very soon. I waited until almost the last minute this year, but I do have a handful of recommendations.

  • Best Science Fiction Novel – I’m going to have to go with The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier. Its predecessor proved worthy of last year’s Dragon Award, and the third book in the series only ratchets everything up further. Solid book. Read my review of it here.
  • Best Fantasy Novel – Hands down, A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day. I’ll have a review of this one up soonish, but this series continues to beat the pants off of A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • Best Young Adult NovelRachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland by L. Jagi Lamplighter. This book actually turned a 13 year old girl (horrible creatures!) into a lovable character, and deserves the award for that alone. But it’s a fantastic book on top of that. See my review for more details.
  • Best Military SF or Fantasy Novel – I’ve been too busy and haven’t read any this year. 🙁
  • Best Alternate History Novel – I’m biased because I published it, but Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key by S.D. McPhail is the clear winner here.
  • Best Apocalyptic Novel – No contest. A Place Outside the Wild by Dan Humphreys. Expect another review on this one in the near future.
  • Best Horror Novel – Silver Empire author Declan Finn’s Live and Let Bite is the winner here. Thankfully, Brian Niemeier’s “The Secret Kings” is very clearly in SciFi this year and not horror, so I don’t have to choose between friends – or two fantastic books.
  • Best Comic Book – Haven’t read any worth noting this year.
  • Best Graphic Novel – Ditto.
  • Best SciFi or Fantasy TV Series – All the ones I love went to crap this year. I’ve got nothing.
  • Best SciFi or Fantasy Movie – I’m sadly going to have to go with Doctor Strange, but that’s a disappointing answer. I wouldn’t normally nominate it, but nothing else in the nomination period is really better. I hear Logan is good, but I haven’t seen it yet.
  • Best SciFi or Fantasy PC or Console Game – Who has time for gaming anymore? Ditto for the rest of the gaming categories.

I put in my nominations earlier today. Have you done yours yet? Nominate here!

Silver Empire Submissions Update

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Submissions for our upcoming superheroes anthology are now closed. We’re still combing through all of the submissions we’ve received. If you’ve submitted a story and haven’t heard back from us yet, please be patient! We’re targeting a September release date for this project, and everything is looking good to make that happen.

We’re still accepting submissions for our upcoming Stairs in the Woods anthology, and will be until August 31. The target release date is October. We lined up a few authors ahead of time who should be turning in some very interesting stories! This anthology has very specific requirements, so please make sure you read them thoroughly before submitting.

We’re also accepting submissions for a space science fiction novel. Specifically, we’d really like to have either a pulpy space opera, a hard science fiction novel, or a military scifi novel. Submissions should be part of a series – bonus points if you have the second novel written or partly written already! Again, please be sure to see the submission guidelines.

And last, but certainly not least, we always need more short stories for Lyonesse. We’re looking for tales of wondrous, heroic adventure in the science fiction and fantasy realms. We run a new story every single week, so we burn through works rather quickly.

The Peluda Dragon

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Tales of the Peluda dragon come down to us from French legend. According to the tale, the Peluda terrorized the village of La Ferté-Bernard, France during medieval times. Its name comes from the Occitan language (still spoken today in southern France and northern Spain). It literally means “shaggy beast,” as if someone let a three year old Stark of Winterfell name his dragon.

They named the monster honestly, however. Although its basic shape follows the form of the traditional European dragon, the details meander a bit. Rather than scaly lizard skin, the legend tells us that hair covers the dragon (or, depending on the version, porcupine-like quills). The hair ends at the long, serpentine neck. The head resembles a snake more than the traditional lizard-like head of a European dragon, and the beast also carries a snakelike tail. It walks around on the stumpy legs of a tortoise when not in flight. The green creature grows to roughly the size of a large ox.

According to myth, Noah denied the Peluda entry on the ark. The beast toughed out the flood in a cave in France, where it hid for many years. Eventually it returned to terrorize the countryside. In addition to the typical fiery breath of a dragon, the beast could ruin crops with its breath, spit acid, or shoot a stream of water rather like an evil fire hose. Tales tell of at least one occasion where it flooded the region simply by stepping in a river, and it could shoot its poisonous quills at will. Its tail could kill a full grown man with a single blow, and beast proved invulnerable to all attacks.

One day the Peluda ate the wrong maiden, as dragons do. Her fiance tracked down the beast and, enlightened by the wisdom of an old crone, cut off its tail – attacking the Peluda’s only weakness. The beast died instantly.

I cropped the picture of the Peluda above from the cover of my forthcoming novel, Post Traumatic Stress. My cover artist, Andy Duggan, drew a wonderful representation of the beast. I flavored the creature a bit to fit my novel, choosing the hairy version rather than the quilled version. Also, the full powers of the beast don’t come to the fore in this novel. That tale is brewing in the followup novella, Vigil, due out in late 2017 or early 2018.

Post Traumatic Stress – CALL FOR BETA READERS

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The second draft of Post Traumatic Stress is DONE!

It took me a few months to get back to it, but once I did it took less than two weeks to finish the second draft. In a way, it’s better that it took me a while. A little bit of distance from the manuscript meant that I looked at it with very fresh eyes. I’m quite happy with the current state of the manuscript. The ultimate judgement lies, of course, with the readers.

I’m looking for an additional ten beta readers. Beta readers will receive a free copy of the manuscript in its current form sometime in the next week. Anyone can apply to be a beta reader, but I need a commitment to the following:

  1. You must be willing and able to answer the following two question survey:
    1. What parts of the book bored you?
    2. What parts of the book confused you?
  2. You must commit to leaving an honest review on Amazon.com or Goodreads.com – or preferably both – within 1 week of release day.
  3. You must be able to read the book and return the survey by May 31, 2017.

If you’re interested, send your request to betareaders@silverempire.org.

If you’ve already signed up to be a beta reader, thank you! There is no need to sign up again.

Lyonesse is LIVE!

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Lyonesse is now LIVE! Kickstarter backers should have already received their login information via e-mail. If you haven’t gotten yours, check your spam folder.

We have 23 stories live in our back catalog at the moment, all available in EPUB, MOBI, and PDF format – or readable for subscribers straight from the web site itself. Our first new story, The Dreaming Wounds by Anya Ow, will go out later this afternoon.

Base subscriptions start at only $6.99 per year, so don’t wait – get yours today!

Lyonesse Launch Date Nears

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Lyonesse launchLyonesse is very nearly ready. We’re formatting the launch content and uploading it into the system now. Next, we’ll be entering all of our Kickstarter backers into the database and enabling their subscriptions. And that’s it. At this point, the process is going very smoothly. The official Lyonesse launch date will be Tuesday, March 21, 2017. We’ll be going live somewhere around 8:00 AM Central Time. I’ll have to punch the button manually, so that’s about as precise as I can time it.

For those of you who ordered t-shirts, they will be coming soon. Stay tuned!

Superversive Superheroes – Submissions Still Open!

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Silver Empire is still accepting submissions for our upcoming Superversive Superheroes anthology! We’re still a few submissions short of where we want to be for this project, although the stories we have so far are quite exciting.

Submission guidelines are as follows:

  • It should be a short story of roughly 3,000 to 15,000 words. These are loose guidelines. If the story is strong, we’ll accept stuff outside of it. And I’m not going to quibble over a few words if it’s 2,998 or 15,011 words or something like that. But that’s about the size we’re shooting for.
  • It should be a science fiction or fantasy story.
  • We are looking for exclusive publication rights, and also the rights to republish the story in our upcoming Lyonesse project (republication will only make you more money, so don’t fear!)
  • Submissions are due by April 30th, 2017.
  • The theme of this anthology is “superheroes.”
  • The anthology is deliberately superversive. Thus, we’re looking for serious submissions. Satire and Parody are ok *IF* they take the theme seriously.
  • The superheroes should be heroic – or if they aren’t, the story should showcase this as a failing. We will not accept any “Captain America was actually Hydra all along” stories.
  • You must have the rights to the characters you use and be able to legally transfer them to us for the purposes of this anthology. Unless by some miracle you actually are DC or Marvel and want to let us use your characters, we can’t use them. Trust me – we want to use them as badly as you do. This is just how the world works.
  • Payment will be in royalties – no advances. The royalty rates will be relatively high, but our sales volumes will likely be relatively low. Exact rates will depend on how many stories end up in the anthology but will follow a simple formula based on word count (50% of sales sent to authors, prorated to each author based on the word count of the story compared to the word count of the anthology as a whole).
  • Stories that are part of a larger world or series that you’re developing are perfectly fine – even if previous or later stories are not published through us.
  • Submissions should be in Word format (doc or docx is fine).
  • Submissions can be e-mailed to submissions@silverempire.org.
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