Category Archives: Martha Wells

The Raksura Return

Stories of the RaksuraStories of the Raksura, Volume 1
Martha Wells
Night Shade Books
trade paper, $15.99
ebook Kindle $9.99 Nook $7.49

Have you ever had one of those books that took you forever to read?  Not because the book isn’t interesting, but every single time you try to read it, you can’t get more than a few pages further along before something interrupts you.

That was my experience with this book.  It seemed the Fates were conspiring to thwart me every time I picked the book up.  But I persevered.

And I can say it was nice to revisit this world.  I would also like to thank Lauren Burstein of Night Shade Books for the review copy.  There are two novellas and two short stories here plus a couple of appendices.  Here’s what you get. Continue reading

Worldcon Report, Part 1

This is going to be the written report, mostly without pictures because I haven’t had time to sort through the ones I took and see what I want to post.  It’s been one of those weeks at work and it started on the way down to San Antonio.  I spent more time than I would have liked dealing with a couple of problems that waited until I was on the road to arise.  I post some pictures in the next few days.


James Gunn at his reception.

I had to teach class Thursday morning, so by the time I got to San Antonio, checked into the hotel and hoofed it over to the convention center to register, I just made it before registration closed.  I wandered the dealer’s room and familiarized myself with the layout before grabbing a bite.  At least I intended to.  I ran into Adrian Simmons, editor of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and ended up accompanying him to a private, invitation-only reception for James Gunn.  Adrian had been invited, and I went along as his guest.  It was a great event, and I took advantage of the opportunity to speak with him.  He’s 90, and critics are calling his new novel his best.  I picked up a signed copy before the weekend was over.  There’ll be a review going up at Futures Past and Present sometime in the next few months.  Learning of Fred Poh’s death made me extra glad I grabbed a signed copy, in spite of being a little overbudget.


What would you eat for a book?

Later I attended the Bookswarm party, which was packed.  I got a chance to talk to Martha Wells for a few minutes, and I walked away with two free books.  The theme of the party was Eat a Bug, Get a Book.  The bugs were sanitized and freeze dried.  (I ate a mole circket and a dung beetle and got The Other Half of the Sky edited by Athena Andreadis and Exile by Betsy Dornbush.)  The highlight of the party was getting to meet Brad Beaulieu, Douglas Hulett, Courtney Schafer, and Zachary Jernigan.  If you haven’t read them, you should.  Other than a glimpse of Jernigan from across the street, the only one of that group that I saw after that night was Courtney Schafer.

The next day was one of those where there was about twelve hours of programming I wanted to attend, all of it in a three hour block.  I went to most of the Robert E. Howard panels, of which there were many.  Most of the hanging out I did with friends was with members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation or chatting with folks at parties.  Saturday was much the same, but Sunday was a little more relaxed.  Among the non-Howard panels I attended were a discussion of C. L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”, the history of firearms in the 1800s, a discussion on writing that included Michael Swanwick and James Patrick Kelly, a panel of Texas writers who have passed on, and readings by Jack McDevitt and Howard Waldrop.  I only caught part of the panel on sword and sorcery since it was up against one of the more interesting Robert E. Howard panels.  The autographing lines were either nonexistent or ridiculously long, so I only got a few signatures.


Sword and Sorcery Panel: (l. to r.) Stina Leitch, Lou Anders, Sam Sykes, Saladin Ahmed, Chris Willrich

I went to the Alamo Saturday morning with Bill Cavalier, editor of REHupa.  He hadn’t seen it, and it had been a while since I had paid my respects.  Next to the Alamo is the Menger Hotel.  Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders in the bar, and it’s something of a mini-museum.  I’ll do a write-up of it on Dispatches From the Lone Star Front over the weekend.

I didn’t try to attend the Hugos.  I wasn’t impressed with the slate of nominees for the most part.  But it’s a popularity contest, and currently my tastes and those of the field are in a state of moderate divergence.  The Legacy Circle of the REH Foundation went to dinner Saturday night.

There were some free books, including NESFA’s three volume Chad Oliver set.  I found the first two of the Heinlein juveniles I was missing, and picked up an extra copy of Glory Road.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of that novel.  I read it when I was about 14, and it’s about time for a reread.


It’s good to be the king.

Some overall thoughts.  First, this was the first time I’ve been able to attend a Worldcon.  It wasn’t quite what I expected.  I’ve attended World Fantasy twice, and the density of pros in that venue is high, but then that’s a convention that’s aimed at pros.  Worldcon is more geared for fans.  I never saw some of the bigger names, although I know they were there.  Most of the ones I did see, I only saw once or twice.  The convention center is a bit too spread out for this sort of event.

I was surprised at crowded it wasn’t.  I was also a little surprised with how old the average attendee seemed to be.  While people seemed to be having a good time, I didn’t detect a great deal of excitement.  Maybe that’s because I’m getting older, but everything seemed more laid back than I was expecting.

I’d certainly attend another Worldcon, but only if it wasn’t at the same time classes started.  And only if it wasn’t too far away.  While I enjoyed it and am glad I went, I wouldn’t travel halfway around the world, or even the country, to repeat the experience.

I’ll post some more photos later in the week.

Martha Wells’ Death of the Necromancer to be Serialized

Black Gate has announced that starting on Sunday, June 2, it will begin serializing The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells.  This book was nominated for a  Nebula Award in 1999.  It’s part of a series but is a stand-alone.

Martha Wells is one of the best fantasists working today.  I’ve reviewed the following works by her (links are to reviews):  The Cloud Roads, “The Forest Boy”, The Serpent Sea, and Emilie and the Hollow WorldThe Siren Depths is in the queue.  Martha was also gracious enough to submit to an interview last year.

If you’ve not read her work before, The Death of the Necromancer is an excellent place to start.   It’s a great adventure story with depth, three dimensional characters, and a whole lot of fun to read.  Read it and see why I and the good folks at Black Gate think so highly of her.

And just for the record, I’m not associated with Black Gate.  I’m posting this announcement because this is a fantastic book.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Read it for yourself.

Update:  The first chapter is now live.

With Emilie, in the Hollow World

Emilie and the Hollow World
Martha Wells
Strange Chemistry, an imprint of Angry Robot Books
US/CAN Print
ISBN: 9781908844491
Format: Large Paperback
R.R.P.: $9.99
UK Print
ISBN: 9781908844484
Format: Medium Paperback
R.R.P.: £7.99
ISBN: 9781908844507
Format: Epub & Mobi
R.R.P.: £5.49 / $6.99

Once upon a time there was a form of popular fiction in which a band of intrepid explorers ventured into new and uncharted lands.  Often their adventures were of a somewhat fantastic nature, involving lost worlds and forgotten civilizations, the Professor Challenger novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle being a prime example of this type of fiction.  Since much of it was written during Victorian times, the subgenre tends to have a Victorian and/or British Empire feel to it.  For whatever reasons, the arbiters of taste and sophistication considered these adventures to be essentially for boys.

This subgenre has fallen from the heights of popularity it once enjoyed.  The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this review.  What is within the scope of the review is that Martha Wells has come along, dusted off the subgenre, given it a heroine to broaden its appeal beyond just boys, and shown us all how it’s done. Continue reading

Tales of the Emerald Serpent is a Great Start to a New Anthology Series

Tales of the Emerald Serpent
Scott Taylor, ed.
Art of the Genre
tp, 180 p., $14.99
ebook, $4.99
Illustrated by Janet Aulisio, Jeff Laubenstein, and Todd Lockwood

I don’t remember where I heard about this project (probably over at Black Gate), but it was a Kickstarter project I told you about earlier this year.

Well, the project was successfully funded, although the stretch goals weren’t met.  More on that in a bit.

I finished the collection over the weekend, and I can say it was money well spent.  There are nine interrelated stories by Lynn Flewelling, Harry Connolly, Todd Lockwood, Juliet McKenna, Mike Tousignant, Martha Wells, Julie Czerneda, Scott Taylor, and Rob Mancebo.

 The setting is the city of Taux, a city made of stone.  Once a thriving metropolis, something happened the inhabitants which caused them to be imprisoned in the stone.   Since that time, humans as well as a number of other races have moved in and tried to make the city their own.  They’ve not been completely successful.  It’s a city of sorcery, swordplay, and intrigue.  There are the Razors, professional duelists who are deadly in all styles of sword fighting.  There are the Sturgeons, the name of the constabulary.  There are thieves, scoundrels, and ne’er-do-wells.  Much of the action centers around the Emerald Serpent, a tavern in the Black Gate district.  All of it is exciting, fresh, inventive, and a whole lot of fun.

Most of the stories in this volume take place over the period of a few days or weeks, although some, like “Namesake” by Lynn Flewelling, occur across a span of a few years.  Some of the tales contain references to other stories and characters in the book.

There’s not a bad story in the lot, and some of them, such as “Between” by Todd Lockwood and “Charlatan” by Scott Taylor tell of the same events from completely different points of view.  The overall effect creates a book that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Along with reading some good fiction by old favorites, I’ve discovered some more writers whose work I’ll be reading.

I highly recommend this anthology to fans of good, exciting fantasy, especially fans of the short story.  The stretch goals of this anthology would have funded the second and later volumes in the series.  The first stretch goal didn’t quite make it.  That’s a shame, because I’m really looking forward to reading the next volume, especially after the events of “Footsteps of Blood” by Rob Mancebo, the final story in the book.  I’m hoping Scott Taylor produces the second volume anyway. (Pleeaasee!!!)

If you are old enough to remember Thieves World or have read similar books, Tales of the Emerald Serpent is patterned after that series.  If that’s your thing, then show your support by ordering a copy today.

The Adventures Fantastic Interview: Martha Wells

Martha Wells is the author of nine original novels, two media tie-ins (Stargate Atlantis), and various short stories and essays.  Her latest novels are the first two Books of the Raksura, The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea (reviewed here and here).  You can find her online at  She recently took a few minutes to sit down and answer a few questions. 
AF:  Why do you write?
MW:  I think it’s a need for communication because when I was a kid there was that feeling that no on listens to you.  I felt very isolated.  There was organized fandom, but it was very difficult to find.  The internet didn’t exist then, so it was very hard to find people who also liked science fiction and fantasy.  I found science fiction and fantasy sections in bookstores and libraries but I never seemed to find any other people who read it.  I think it comes from a need to communicate and express yourself. 
AF:  Why science fiction and fantasy as opposed to some other genre?
MW:  I don’t really know.  I always was attracted to it.  One of the first books I tried to read as a kid was The Time Machine because it had our name on it.  My parents had an old paperback copy with a pulp cover and it had our name on it.  And also the library I grew up in had a children’s section and you were supposed to make a turn into the shelves for the rest of the children’s section.  The science fiction and fantasy section was there along the rest of the wall, and I just went along it instead of taking the turn.  So I ended up reading a lot of even though I was too young for it.  Even so I think there were a lot of children’s books back then that were fantasy.
AF:  Are you willing to say when “back then” was?
MW:  I was born in 1964.
AF:  Then we’re about the same age.  I was born in 1966, so we probably read a lot of the same stuff.
MW:  The one thing back then, I remember there being very few female characters.  They were either the baby sitter type person or the person who had to be rescued or the person preventing the protagonist from going on the adventure kind of thing.  So I think one thing in science fiction and fantasy, especially in Andre Norton’s books, there’s a lot more female protagonists.  Even if there’s a male protagonist, there’s usually a woman or women to go along on the adventure, so I was probably looking for something like that.  I like the boys’ adventure books, too, but I was feeling like this is not something you’re part of, this is something you’re looking at the outside of. 
AF:  So other than Norton, what writers have influenced you?
MW:  Judith TarrF. M. Busby, who is a science fiction writer.  Robert Heinlein.  I read all the Heinlein juveniles.  I read a little bit of Anne McCaffery, but not as much.  I think she was coming in later for that period.  There was a lot of children’s authors that I read that I’ve never seen anything by, I found them in the library, science fiction and fantasy authors that I never saw much of later.  A whole bunch of those.  I run into one of those, you see them in the used bookstore, and say “I loved that as a kid.”  And Lord of the Rings, and Dune, too.  I read those when I was way too young.  A lot of the languages in my work comes from reading Lord of the Rings and getting the idea early on that yeah, there should be different languages here.
AF:  That’s not the first time I’ve heard you say “I read that when I was too young.”  How does going back and rereading some of those later as an adult, what’s that experience like?
MW:  Sometimes you don’t really know why you liked the book, and sometimes you    went right over your head.  Like Malevil by Robert Merle, He wrote The Day of the Dolphin, I think that’s his most famous book.  It’s a post apocalyptic novel set in France about a man who owns a small medieval castle.  A few people are living there, and a nuclear bomb hits Paris.  It’s about them ttrying to survive and recreate civilization   It’s not one of the easy post apocalyptic novels, either.  When they come out of the castle, everything is just burnt.  They’ve got to try to get crops, and they’ve got just a few animals that have survived.  At first they think they’re the only people, and later they find there’s another walled medieval they’re eventually able to get to.  People survived in there.  It was one of my parents’ books, and all I had was the Reader’s Digest condensed version, which they bowdlerized.  I knew they were shorter, but I didn’t realize how much they bowdlerized.  When you go back read the real book, you go, “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff in here.”  It’s like 200 pages longer.  They’ve taken out all the sex and a lot of other stuff.  There’s a large section at the end.  The book is told from the point of view of the man who owned the castle, Emmanuel, and there’s a guy who becomes a really good friend of his, who after Emmanuel dies, he’s got Emmanuel’s diary.  He goes back through Emmanuel’s diary and puts in all the stuff that Emmanuel left out.  That’s an interesting storytelling technique I’ve not see before.  That was left out of the condensed version for sure.  The other shoe hasn’t dropped on the rest of the story.  That’s almost an illustration; you read the book and so much goes over your head.  All the parts that would have gone over my head had been taken out.  I didn’t see them until I got a copy years later. 
AF:  Congratulations on selling the third Raksura book.
MW:  Thank you.
AF:  I’m looking forward to it.    Like I said a minute ago before we started recording, it’s going to be a long year because I really enjoyed those.  I know you’re going to have edits and stuff to do.  Are you working on anything now? Are you planning another book, or are you going to take a break?  What can we look for from you or with your name on in the next few years?
MW:  I can’t really afford to take much of a break.  I have a young adult novel that’s been going the rounds for about a couple of years now.  It’s on a new round of submissions, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for that.  I’m trying to decide what book I want to write next.  I’ve got a short story I’ve been asked to writer for an anthology, so I need to write that.  At this point I’m kinda trying to figure out what I want to do next, if I want to do another Raksura book or if I want to do something different.  Right now my head is in that world, so I’m kinda interested in doing something there, but I have another set of characters that I came up with for a short story I could work with.  I’m afraid people will be really disappointed.  It’s like when you go back to a series set in a world but with different people.  So I’m debating what I want to do. 
AF:  In a post on, I think it was The Night Bazaar, you talked about trying to get several novels started.  And you talked a little bit about almost quitting, and I’m glad you didn’t.  Thank you for not quitting.  What were some of the other novels, and do you think you would ever go back to some of those, or previous series, or previous works, not necessarily series, but other novels.
MW:  Parts of them went into The Cloud Roads.  Not really parts, but actual elements.  And elements of some of them went into Emillie and the Hollow World, which is the young adult novel I haven’t sold yet.  There’s one part, it’s about 25,000 words, I’d really like to do something with it, but so much of it is now part of other books, it had to be thrown out.  Some of them never developed very far.  There were only three that did, and they ended up in different books.
AF:  Shifting gears just a little bit, Adventures Fantastic tends to focus on heroic fantasy, historical adventure, and barbarians tend to be central characters in a lot of those stories.  What qualities do you look for in a barbarian?
MW:  In a barbarian?  I don’t know.  I dislike characters that are too unlikable.  I mean the character can be snarky and obnoxious to a certain extent, but if they’re actually a bad person, I don’t tend to like that.  I respect people’s right to write it, but it’s not something I care for too much.  That’s why I like the Imaro books by Charles Saunders.  I like that feel.  Imaro is one of the few barbarian quote unquote characters who is actually a nice person.  That’s what I like about those books.  I guess I look for someone who is more like a Robin Hood type character who is sort of outside the law but whose actions I can read about and support and  like.  The gritty fantasy and stuff doesn’t grab me.  It’s too much like reality.
AF:  Last question:  If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask that I haven’t?
MW:  That’s a hard one. 
AF:  Some people think it’s hard; some people think it’s easy.
MW:  I’m not terribly good at self-promotion.  That’s why when I write a blog post, I often have people ask me question.  I don’t know what to write about.  Give me a topic, and I’ll write.
AF:  Okay, let me ask you this, and we’ll make this the last question.  Who are the up and coming fantasy writers do you think people should be reading?
MW:  Oh, Ben Aaronovitch wrote, it’s called Midnight Ride in the US, but the British title is  Rivers of LondonMoon Over Soho is the second one, and there’s a third one.  I think it’s Whispers Underground that’s coming out in a few months.  I really enjoyed his books.  They’re kind of labeled as urban fantasy, but they’re more like fantasy and British procedurals like Frost and Morse.  It’s a great combination.  I really enjoyed them.  I thought his take on mythology and the supernatural elements in London was really neat, and I had not seen that before.  Saladin Ahmed.  His book has just come out,   Throne of the Crescent MoonN. K. Jemisin.
AF:  I was expecting you to say that because I knew you really liked her stuff.   
MW:  Yeah, the first trilogy has come out, and a duology is about to come out.
AF:  Is it set in the same world, because I’ve not read her work.
MW:  No, it’s a completely different world.  I really liked Courtney Schafer’s book.  I gave her a blurb for her fist novel called The Whitefire Crossing
AF:  I loved that one.  It was one of the best I read last year
MW:  It was really different.  I’m really interested to see what she does later.  And there’s a bunch of people I have on my stack that I haven’t read yet.
AF:  Thank you very much.
MW:  You’re welcome. 

Report on ConDFW XI

Author GOH Cherie Priest

ConDFW XI was held over the weekend, beginning on the afternoon of Friday, February 17 and ending, as these things tend to do, just over 48 hours later, on Sunday February 19.  The author Guest of Honor was Cherie Priest, and the artist Guest of Honor was William Stout.

I wasn’t able to get away as early as I’d hoped Friday morning, so I missed the afternoon panels.  I visited with friends, kibitzed with Mark Finn during his signing, then went and grabbed some food.  The Opening Ceremonies were held after dinner and only lasted five minutes.  Since I was five minutes late, I got there just as everyone was leaving. 

I visited with some more folks, confirmed the time for an interview, and generally hung out.  Mark Finn hosted a panel on talking during the movies, a sort of live Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I only sat through part of one of the movies, but it was baaaddd.  I visited the Fencon party, the only one on Friday, and called it a night.

Self-publishing panel

There were a couple of panels on electronic publishing Saturday morning. The first was really good and consisted of advice from Tom Knowles, Carole Nelson Douglas, Nina Romberg, Kevin Hosey, and Bill Fawcett.  This was followed by a panel on scams aimed at authors looking to self-publish.  It consisted of P. N. Elrod, Lillian Stewart Carl, Melanie Fletcher, Mark Finn, and Bill Fawcett.  I snuck out of this one part way through to stick my head in on a panel about breaking writing rules.  Panelists included Kevin Hosey, Chris Donahue, K. Hutson, A. P. Stephens, and Rhonda Eudaly.

I had lunch with some former students.  When I returned I attended a reading by Martha Wells and Sue Sinor.  Afterwards, Martha was gracious enough to answer a few questions for an interview.  I’ll post it after I’ve transcribed it.  I poked around in the dealer’s room, then ended the afternoon with a couple of panels.

Space Opera Panel

The first one on trends in space opera, a subgenre near and dear to the lump of coal that passes for my heart.  This panel was the most fun.  The panelists were Ethan Hahte, Lee Martindale, and Mark Finn (who always introduced himself differently on each panel).  Poor Bill Ledbetter tried to moderate.  Mark was drinking an energy drink, and the conversation was lively.  Since I’m friends with all the panelists, I tended to throw in my two cents a lot as well.

From there, I went to the opposite extreme, the panel on using Norse mythology in your fiction, another topic near and dear to my heart.  I got there a minute or so after the panel started and stood at the back.  It was in one of the larger rooms and well attended.  What I could hear of the discussion, which wasn’t much, was interesting.   Unfortunately the woman moderating spoke in just above a whisper, and at the risk of sounding sexist, so did all the other women on the panel.  The only panelist who even tried to project his voice to the back of the room (and succeeded) was the sole male.  After about ten minutes, I decided that if I had been sitting down, I would have fallen asleep, so I went and met friends for dinner.

That night was the traditional panel on pornography vs. erotica.  The conclusion was that erotica is what I like, and pornography is what all you perverts like.  If you want details, you’ll have to provide proof of age.  I went party hopping after that.  The best one was thrown by Tom Knowles, author and the publisher of Dark Star Books.  In addition to homemade corn bread and venison chilli, I scored a free copy of Morticai’s Luck by Darlene Bolesny.  Look for the review sometime this spring, probably April.

Sunday brought an interview with Brad and Sue Sinor, some readings, and a panel on how to fix terrible prose from Lee Martindale, Mel White, Lou Antonelli, and Adrian Simmons, one of the editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  Then I rode off into the sunset.  Literally.

Other than the whispering panel, I only had one frustration.  There was a late addition to the schedule, a tribute panel to Ardath Mayhar.  I had an appointment for an interview at that time, and when I got there (still within the advertised time), the room was empty.  While I applaud the con committee for adding the memorial, I I wish it had been emphasized more.  I hope someone attended.  Hopefully there’ll be one at Fencon.  Ardath was one of the guests one year.

The dealer’s room didn’t have as many books as in the past, mainly because Edge Books is in the process of shutting down and only had two tables.  Still it was good to see them there.  I was under the impression that had closed for good.

The hotel is a great venue.  It’s a triangular atrium style design, with the elevators in the middle of the place, facing each other.  It was fun to watch get off them and then try to figure out which way to go to get where they were headed.  The restaurant gave convention attendees a 10% discount, a nice first.

I’ve attended all but one of the ConDFWs.  I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable.

RIP, Ardath Mayhar

Ardath Mayhar, not afraid to use computer or gun

Martha Wells posted a notice on her blog a few minutes ago that Joe Lansdale is reporting Ardath Mayhar has passed away.  Mayhar was an SF/F author and SFWA Author Emeritus.  She was probably best known for her novel Golden Dream:  A Fuzzy Odyssey, one of several sequels to H. Beam Piper’s Fuzzy series. 

I don’t have any details other than what I’ve written above.  When more details become available, I’ll post them here.

I met Ardath a few times over the years at different Texas conventions.  I don’t recall all of them; the ones in the 90s are a little vague.  The first clear memory is when she attended the first Fencon in 2004, although I know I had met her previously.   She may have been at one or two other Fencons.  I hope there will be a memorial for her at this year’s event.

Ardath was a short, stocky lady who wore her hair in a tight bun, looking every bit like someone’s sweet grandmother.  She often had knitting in her hands, I suspect in part because the needles could be used as weapons.  For a while she allegedly carried a gun in her purse.  I don’t know if she ever actually did, but it would be consistent with her personality and makes a good story, true or not.  Ardath was the embodiment of feisty.  Until she was physically unable to do so, she would go for walks in the snake infested woods near where she lived in East Texas. 

Ardath was a blast to talk to.  The last time I saw Ardath was at the 2007 Nebula Awards in Austin, Texas, where she was awarded the title of Author Emeritus.  I sat in the lobby with several others and visited with her, mostly just listening.  I knew it was a rare opportunity I was unlikely to ever have again.  Someone else later voiced the same thought. 

Aradath Mayhar was the type of character we don’t have enough of these days.  She was also an accomplished writer.  I have several of her fantasy novels I’ve never gotten around to reading, in addition to the things I have read.  I may discuss one of them here later this year.

Sailing the Serpent Sea

The Serpent Sea
Martha Wells
Night Shade Books
Trade Paper, 342 p., $14.99

If you’ve read The Cloud Roads, or my review of it, or just looked at the cover of either it or The Serpent Sea, you can probably guess that I’m using the term “sailing” in the title of this review somewhat loosely.

I’ve been looking forward to this book since I read The Cloud Roads last year, and Night Shade Books was gracious enough to send me a review copy.  It should be hitting store shelves any day now, if it hasn’t already.  I’ve not seen a copy yet, but that doesn’t mean the book isn’t available.  You should pick up a copy (of both if you haven’t read the first one).  That way you can join me in one of my New Year activities, looking forward to the next book in the series.

The story picks up shortly after the close of The Cloud Roads, with the Indigo Cloud court returning to their ancestral home.  This happens to be a Mountain Tree, and the name means exactly what it says.  It’s a tree that’s purt  near the size of a mountain, as we would say where I hail from.  There are entire forests of these things, and they have branches wide enough for herds of herbivores to live on.  The sequences with the Mountain Tree, brief though they were, reminded me of Alan Dean Foster’s Midworld, one of my favorite creations.

Unfortunately, Moon, Stone, Jade, and some of the others don’t get to enjoy their new home for long.  The tree is dying.  Sometime within the last turn, the Three Worlds equivalent of a year, someone broke into the tree and took the seed containing the life essence of the tree, and as a result the tree is dying.  Fortunately, the thieves left enough of a trail for them to follow.

What they find is more than any of them expects, with wonders and surprises outside the predictable.  Part of the story involves tracking the thieves, but the bulk of it involves trying to retrieve the seed once they locate the parties responsible for taking it.  Along the way they encounter a number of races, most we’ve not seen before.

Whereas much of the excitement and suspense in The Cloud Roads came from the threat of the Fell and some intense aerial combat scenes, in The Serpent Sea the suspense comes from the group’s efforts, especially Moon and Stone’s, to locate the seed and retrieve it.  The book is no less suspenseful.  It’s every bit as good as the first without being repetitive. 

Nor is this just a suspenseful novel.  The characters continue to grow, as do their relationships, and Wells makes it all look easy.  Even some of the characters who only show up for one or two scenes come across as individuals.

Of course, since this book is told from Moon’s point of view, his character development is where the emphasis is.  Much of this revolves around Moon trying to make a place for himself in the court, something that becomes harder after the group visits a neighboring court.  Moon commits a faux paus that results in Jade having to engage another queen in combat.  By the time the book is over, Moon will experience a number of things and will grow into a true leader.

A few weeks ago, Martha Wells wrote in a post on The Night Bazaar, that after her last contract ended in 2007 and five novels “died on the vine”, she was on the verge of giving up writing for good when the book that became The Cloud Roads resurrected itself.  I’m glad it did, and I hope those other novels come back and are published, either by Night Shade, someone else, or Martha herself.  There was a time, more in science fiction than in fantasy, where authors created detailed worlds or universes, such as Known Space (and especially Ringworld), Dune, or more recently Karl Schroeder’s Virga, places unique and filled with that sense of wonder that seems to be missing from so much of contemporary fantastic literature. The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea are brim full of sense of wonder.  It would have been a shame if Martha had given up before these books got published.  Kudos to Night Shade for publishing her, and the other new writers they’ve brought into print.  It’s one of the reasons I listed Night Shade as a publisher to read in 2012.

As I mentioned, there are a number of races in the Three Worlds.  I hope when Martha is done telling the story of Moon, or if she just wants to take a break, she’ll introduce us to more of them.  The Three Worlds is a fascinating place, and I, for one, am eager to explore more of it.  With these books Wells is writing at the top of her game, and given their breath, originality, and complexity, this series is showing indications it could become one of the landmark series of the genre.

The Best Six Novels I’ve Read in the First Six Months of 2011, Sort of

Well, 2011 is about half gone, and while I’m not going to look at the New Year’s Resolutions I posted (because I’ve exceeded some considerably and failed at other even more), I thought this would be a good time to look back over the novels I’ve read during the first half of the year that I’ve written about and see which ones were the best.

One thing quickly became clear:  I need to read more novels.  Not all the novels I’ve read have appeared here for the simple reason that some of them were not fantasy or historical adventure.  I’ve decided to keep the science fiction separate (which is why I started Futures Past and Present), and after one review, I’ve not blogged about any mysteries or detective stories.

So here’s my list of the top six (very loosely defined, as you’ll see) of the best novels I’ve read so far this year.

6.  The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi and The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell.  Okay, if you want to get picky, these are two books, not one, and they’re novellas rather than novels.  I”m going to stretch the definitions a little because they were written in a unique collaborative manner, take place in the same world, were marketed together, and were published at the same time.  They discuss a world filled with something called bramble, which I described in my review as kudzu on steroids.  Bramble is the side-effect of using magic and is slowly taking over the world.  And it’s a world I want to see more of.

5.  Hawkwood’s Voyage by Paul Kearney.  This one is the first of a series of five.  It’s in print in an omnibus volume entitled Hawkwood and the Kings along with the second installment, The Heretic Kings.  I’ve read both of them, although I haven’t gotten to the remaining three yet (I will).  I think I prefer Hawkwood’s Voyage to The Heretic Kings simply because of the way it’s structured.  There are several viewpoint characters, and in the first book, the viewpoint alternates between chapters.  In the second, the book is divided into sections with each section telling the story from a particular character’s viewpoint.  This is epic fantasy on a dark and bloody scale, with action, intrigue, heroism, villainy, and mystery.  They’re both much better than average, and if you haven’t read them, you should.  My reviews of both are here and here

4.  This book will be discussed later.  You’ll see why.  Trust me.

3.  The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells.  This is the first in a series of at least three.  Martha Wells has been posting snippets of the next volume on her blog, but I’ve not had a chance to read them yet. This series could turn out to be science fiction at some point, but for now I’m considering it fantasy for two reasons.  One, Martha has only written fantasy so far.  Two, it reads like a fantasy.  But it has that sense of wonder you get with the best science fiction that seems to be missing these days.  It’s the story of a young man (but not a human man) you discovers who his people are and what his purpose in life is.  It has some of the best aerial combat sequences I’ve read in a long time.  Here’s what I thought of it in detail.

2.  Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick.  This one is a great novel about an honorable thief who finds himself trying to save his kingdom.  The sword fights go on for pages, yet Hulick, an accomplished fencer, makes them seem like only a couple of paragraphs, they flow so naturally.  Beginning writers should study him to learn how to write a fight scene.  Loads of fun.  The complete review is here.

4.  Thirteen Years Later, 1. Twelve by Jasper Kent.  Vampire hunting during the Napoleonic Wars. Evil, repulsive vampires, not the sweet, sexy kind meant to appeal to the necrophilic fantasies of teenage girls.  The vampires in these books are pure evil and not to be trusted at all.  This is vampire hunting for the intelligent reader.  I’ve put these two books together because they are part of a greater story arc.  While you can read Twelve as a standalone, Thirteen Years Later is very much dependent on the previous book.  I put them together on the list because I think of them as part of the same work.  How to rank them, along with The Cloud Roads and Among Thieves was tough.  I loved each of these four books, but for different reasons.  In the end, I decided to use the vampire books to bookend (so to speak) the other two.  This pair of books is intelligent, fresh, and surprising.  A high water mark in vampire fiction.  Reviews are here and here.

And that’s it.  The best six novels I’ve read in the first six months of the year.  If you’re looking for a good read, you can’t go wrong with any of these.  I’ve put a widget up at the top of the page in case anyone decides to take a closer look at one of these books.  It will probably stay up for the next month or so.

I’m looking forward to what the next six months will hold.