Love & Fantasy: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

  • Posted by Nova on Feb 15 2017
by Pam J.
Source: amandabouchet.com

Source: amandabouchet.com

Every now and then, we get to take a mini-vacay from Nova’s incessant fiction addiction, and read outside the Voyager pantheon. (gasp!)  So this starts one of a few new readings series on the blog, with bookish musings, pulled from our own personal bookshelves. Because reading = escapism = important!

Long before binge watching was a thing (thanks, Netflix), I’ve been a serial binge-reader.  Series at a time, over and over.  More often than not, I’ll return to fantasy with romantic elements (the “Kate Daniels” and “Mercy Thompson” series are chronic re-reads; Sarah J. Maas’ novels are newer, but no less tattered for multiple re-readings at this point); strong female protagonists are a must.

My latest indulgence is Amanda Bouchet’s “The Kingmaker Chronicles” (a Rothfussian reference?).  I loved the first book, A Promise of Fire, so much, that I ran into an editor’s office and basically forced her to buy a copy, just so I’d have someone to gush with.  Then came the second book, Breath of Fire, and I had…issues…so I immediately re-read the first, and maybe we’ll just start there.

What’s not to love about A Promise of Fire? It incorporates (albeit loosely) elements of Greek mythology.  There’s a fantastic cirque.  Our heroine has a dark, tortured past.  And a wicked sense of humor.  (Which comes out more frequently when she’s not jammed into a pair of ill-fitting leather pants. C’mon. Haven’t we all been there?)  Hero is a warlord, with, er, barbarian tendencies.  Yassssssss.  Big, burly, gruff.  Oddly into personal hygiene and has a thing for the heroine’s citrus soap, which is decidedly un-barbaric.  But…he can be a bit of a Neanderthal.  Like abduct woman first, ask questions later, Neanderthal.  I definitely have some issues with consent, and the extent of his alpha male-ness; he’s intent upon binding Cat to him, in varied fashions, but Cat seems to have him well in-hand.

Heh.

Now, we spoke about Cat’s dark and mysterious past, briefly. She is actually Catalia Fisa, second in line for the Fisan throne.  Her mother, a.k.a. Alpha Fisa, is “mommy dearest” in the scariest sense of the reference.  This queen is bloodhungry as hell, and so determined to keep her throne that she continually throws her eight children at each other in battles-to-the-death.  (About half of them remain, at least midway through A Promise of Fire.)  Cat got the heck out of Fisa, travelled across the kingdom of Tarva, to finally find sanctuary and anonymity in a circus in Sinta, the southernmost country on this continent plagued by power-hungry magical despots.  Sinta is the only one of the three countries ruled by Hoi Polloi. (Look it up; it means just what you always thought it might.)

The definition. In case you were curious... (Thank you, Google.)

They won the throne by might, not magic.  So, the new ruling family are basically….Muggles in a land filled with Slytherins.  (Sorry for the cross-series lexicon pollination.  It just worked.) Presents problems….especially since Cat is a magical vacuum, who can absorb power from any “Magoi” she comes in contact with.  Our Hulky hero is her opposite: his secret is that magic bounces right off of him.

(Unofficial) Footage of the new ruling family:

Source: Giphy

Source: Giphy

Source: Giphy

Source: Giphy

So, the warlord.  He is, of course, Beta Sinta.  I love that she calls him that, instead of by his first name, Griffin (mythological beast, half lion, half eagle, totally top of the food chain), just to piss him off.  Griffin conquered the heck out of Sinta, sent the magic-users packing, and popped his lovely older sister on the throne.  He is thus free to go about his business, which one might think is plundering and pillaging, given his propensity towards kidnapping innocent circus folk.  But he’s a noble sort, and immediately bonds with Cat, who is certainly NOT going to tell him she’s just as Beta as he is.  In a totally Alpha way.  (These two are the original power couple.)

So, they adventure. There are dragons and drownings and fireworks (metaphorical) and, for the most part, it’s just amazingly romantic and wonderful and epic.  The gods make appearances.  Cerberus shows up, and is a pretty cool guard dog.

Source: Giphy

Source: Giphy

The book is definitely filled with difficult consent issues, and it’s something that numerous GoodReads users have groped with in their reviews.  He’s a soap-stealing barbarian, all tough on the outside with a melting softspot in his heart for Cat (which doesn’t excuse the “magic rope” incident).  She’s intent on saving/redeeming him, a validation of her Alpha nature.

By the final turn of the page, we are well aware that Cat is the original empowered heroine…but one who is riddled with angsty self-esteem issues.  Those issues of worth come into play in the opening salvo of Breath of Fire, but that is a story for another day…

Reading these books like Source: Giphy

Reading these books like ^^^
Source: Giphy

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Nicky Drayden’s THE PREY OF GODS — cover!

  • Posted by David Pomerico on Dec 21 2016

Summer 2017 is going to be an amazing time for Harper Voyager, and it’s not that far away! One book we’re really excited about is Nicky Drayden’s debut, The Prey of Gods. And now we have an brilliant cover!

The Prey of Gods (c) 2016 Brenoch Adams

The Prey of Gods (c) 2016 Brenoch Adams

 

With art by the extremely talented Brenoch Adams, and designed by HarperCollins designer-extraordinaire Owen Corrigan, we think this cover perfectly encapsulates how awesome and bad-ass Nomvula is, get a feel for the South African near-future landscape, and have a really cool robot (because, you know, robots!).

Here’s more about The Prey of Gods:

In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

 A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country…

An emerging AI uprising…

And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

Fun and fantastic, Nicky Drayden takes her brilliance as a short story writer and weaves together an elaborate tale that will capture your heart, even as one particular demigoddess threatens to rip it out.

And more about Nicky Drayden:

Nicky Drayden’s short fiction has appeared in publications such as Shimmer and Space and Time Magazine. She is a Systems Analyst and resides in Austin, Texas, where being weird is highly encouraged, if not required.

You can follow her on her website, http://www.nickydrayden.com/, and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nickydrayden.

The Prey of Gods is out June 13, 2017, and you can pre-order at your favorite bookstore!

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Free SFF Reads If You’re Missing Phoenix Comic Con!

InstaFreebie Books
  • Posted by CPerny on Jun 02 2016

InstaFreebie Books

Pick your favorite flavor of science fiction and fantasy this weekend whether or not you can attend Phoenix ComicCon 2016! Harper Voyager has you covered this week.

If you feel like you’re missing out on great SFF reads because you couldn’t make it to PHXCC, Harper Voyager and Instafreebie have your back. Enjoy one of these 15 amazing science fiction and fantasy titles (while supplies last). Please claim one book so everyone may get a chance to enjoy this wonderful content.

Download your free copy by clicking on the links below, and stay connected with Harper Voyager through our newsletter!

Dark Alchemy  by Laura Bickle

Metrophage by Richard Kadrey

Dissension by Stacey Berg

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

By the Blood of Heroes by Joseph Nassise

Wings of Sorrow and Bone by Beth Cato

Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne

Stonehill Downs by Sarah Remy

A Fairy-tale Ending by Jack Heckel

The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr

The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt

Woodwalker by Emily B. Martin

Dark Transmissions by Davila LeBlanc

Shadow of Empire by Jay Allan

The Oldest Trick by Auston Habershaw

Download your free copy and go to fantastic places–without actually moving!

voyager tshirt v3 (4)_Page_1

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Free SciFi Reads from Harper Voyager with Playcrafting, and instaFreebie

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  • Posted by CPerny on Apr 19 2016

Enjoy 15 different titles of science fiction and fantasy content whether or not you can attend PAX East! Harper Voyager has you covered this week.

voyagerblogpostimagesmaller

“Playcrafting empowers the game development community through education, networking, and collaboration. They help gamers and enthusiasts learn from and connect with developers and give more established developers the tools to succeed as businesses.”

 

We are excited to share this joint promotion powered by Harper Voyager and Playcrafting, which aims to share science fiction and fantasy content with readers to inspire them to be creative and connect with amazing authors. Thanks to Harper Voyager and Playcrafting, enjoy your free copy from 750 available copies across 15 different titles! Please claim one book so everyone may get a chance to enjoy this wonderful content.

 

Download your free copy by clicking on the links below, and become inspired to create your own game with Playcrafting!

HarperVoyagerPost

Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle

The Oldest Trick by Auston Habershaw

The Veiled Empire by Nathan Garrison

Zeroes by Chuck Wendig

Shadow of Empire by Jay Allan

7 Sykos by Marshelia Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte

Black Dog by Caitlin Kittredge

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne

The Book of Forbidden Wisdom by Gillian M. Kendall

The Tides of Maritinia by Warren Hammond

The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt

Earth Strike by Ian Douglas

Chosen Soldiers by R.H. Scott

The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel

 

Download your free copy here and become inspired to create your own game with Playcrafting!

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Childhood Reading and the Adult Writer, or, Popular Fiction Ate My Kid-Brain

  • Posted by David Pomerico on Apr 11 2016

by Gillian Murray Kendall

kids-reading-in-the-dark

I used to read at the dinner table.  And in my room.  And, when I wanted no one to find me, in my closet—with the door slightly open for light to read by.  Writing comes from reading; writing is when we join the great storytelling tradition that has gone before.  When we join that tradition, we already have the patterns of childhood fictions in our brains.  All the books I’ve read, then, influenced my fiction—but it’s the books I read when I was 8 or 10, obsessively, over and over, that have probably laid down the basic tracks of plotting and theming and imaging that hold me in good stead now.  Like Ray Bradbury’s tattooed illustrated man, I carry the marks of stories past, and I am shaped seemingly down to the level of DNA by their power.  In particular, the fantasy and science fiction classics of the ‘50s and ‘60s exerted their spell, years after they were published, and I was helpless before their indelible prose.

Books from childhood are like talismans from a far off land. They have shaped my understanding of what a book is.  Good or bad, what fascinated me about fiction when I was 8 or 9 or 10 or 11 still holds sway.  Sure, I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, and, yes, it has great story power, but Robert Heinlein’s Starman Jones was what I read under the covers.  And while I read John Steinbeck’s The Pearl (perhaps before I was ready), it was heavy going next to the entire Tarzan canon and the Black Stallion series.  Best not to tell my Shakespeare or literature students any of this.  And now, here are 5 ½ of the books that invaded my kid-brain and hard-wired me as a writer.

Beware:  if you allow your children to immerse themselves in the following books, they may not be the same again.


 

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis, 1950

 

Four children hide in a wardrobe and find themselves in a whole world called Narnia, which appears to be at the back of this venerable piece of furniture. Narnia is ruled by an evil witch who makes it always winter there; the children must defeat her so that spring, and Aslan, the great good lion, can come again.  Oh, yes, and the animals in Narnia can talk.

Luckily I didn’t recognize, at the time, that this was a Christian allegory.  Instead I saw the mundane world of the probable, and even the exciting world of the possible, displaced by the Otherworld of the incredible.  This is one of the books that made me determine, as a child, to be a writer.  Because, after reading this book time and time again, I was well aware that I wasn’t going to find a Narnia by looking in wardrobes or closets or cupboards.  I knew that, while I might have to wait a while before I could do it, I needed to build my own wardrobe. The Book of Forbidden Wisdom (Harper Voyager, 2016) is that wardrobe, and within it lies a fantasy world.  No actual furniture proves to be necessary.

Here are some caveats about my fantasy world in The Book of Forbidden Wisdom:  C.S. Lewis-like allegory is checked at the door.  No talking animals.  And the text has moved into the young adult realm, where my characters seek power in a book—only to discover that the real power lies in love.

 

2. The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham, 1951

 

There were post-apocalyptic novels before The Day of the Triffids (Mary Shelley wrote the first one, The Last Man, in 1826), and there are, heaven knows, plenty after—including my own, The Garden of Darkness (Ravenstone, 2014).  When I was a child, however, The Day of the Triffids impressed upon me the loneliness of a group of survivors in the face of global disaster.  Those Triffids, deadly walking plants, may not now sound more threatening than rutabagas on the move, but to me, they terrified.  Later, when I read George Stewart’s great book, Earth Abides—perhaps the best post-apocalyptic book ever written—I realized that it didn’t always take lethal vegetation to end the world.  But John Wyndham could make Mr. Potato Head a sign of End Times.  His plot laid down significant tracks in my mind—patterns that surely assert themselves when I write.  Again, as in the high fantasy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I was seduced by genre.

 

 

3. The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury, 1951

 

At a time before tattoos were sported casually—now even my oldest son has one (okay, more than one)—a man completely covered with tattoos might well be a carnival side-show freak. The marks on the illustrated man’s body, however, were placed there by a time-traveler, and, as the narrator gazes at the tattoos, they come to life and act out stories.

I can’t think of this uncanny book without become at least a little unsettled. The Illustrated Man, it occurs to me now, although it didn’t, consciously, then, is about the writing process, of course, and the way that fiction gets away from us to enact itself to the reader.  Imagination may be the time-traveler that inscribes our stories in ink on a page, like a tattoo on a body, to be read and interpreted. Having one’s book read by those who may be complete strangers is a kind of act of intimacy.  And we, as writers, along with the illustrated man, become part of the freak show.

 

 

3 ½. The October Country, Ray Bradbury, 1955.

 

The Illustrated Man remains with me, reminding me of what writers do—to themselves and others.  In The October Country, it’s the tales themselves that are indelible.  I remember them vividly: a man fears the bones in his body; an impoverished man buys a jar with something amorphous floating in it, and—

And we’re in the October country, from whose bourn no traveler returns—at least not unchanged. This collection is powerful and was probably too macabre for someone my age to read.  Maybe that’s why I remember the stories so vividly:  they were things of trauma that invaded my life.  That is, they showed me just what fiction could do.  What, perhaps, on a good day, I might be able to attempt.

 

4. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911

 

If Hodgson Burnett had been forced to send her publisher a synopsis of The Secret Garden as a condition of its publication, we might be short a classic in literature (editorial alert: Spoilers–kind of).  Ten-year-old Mary Lennox loses her parents to cholera while the family is living in India.  Mary is shipped back to England to live in the crumbling estate of her Uncle, Archibald Craven.  While there, she discovers, hidden away, her ten-year-old sickly cousin, heir to the estate—and she also finds a secret garden.  Bringing the now-wild garden back to life brings Mary and her cousin to life as well, and they thrive as the roses bloom.

The End.

No kidding. That’s it.

But the plot isn’t the point.

Doors are the point. The mansion has 600 rooms, many of them shut up, and as Mary passes through them, she discovers more and more about herself and the world around her.  One of the great pleasures to be found in reading The Secret Garden is to be a silent onlooker (onreader) as Mary opens the door into the secret garden itself, a fairy tale place of what the children think of as magic.  Plot has its place, and this book is, indeed, well-plotted, but this beloved children’s classic is strong in theme, in mystery, in the exploration of the unknown.  Like all good books, it’s a door too.

 

 

5. The Chronicles of Prydain: The Book of Three; The Black Cauldron; The Castle of Llyr; Taran Wanderer; The High King, Lloyd Alexander, 1967.

 

The Chronicles of Prydain are books of high fantasy, of deep enchantments, high quests, prophecies and the clash of good and evil.  There’s an evil horned king, the Cauldron Born (think zombies) who are almost impossible to kill (because they’re dead), and, as hero, a young man who starts in life as an Assistant Pig-Keeper. The Book of Three opens with the eponymous hero yearning to join the battle for good and evil, while his mentor turns him to more practical matters:  “Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes.”  Taran’s hunger for the deeds of high fantasy (the sword) are made comic through the mundane reality of what he’s going to make (horseshoes).

Tolkien may be the king of high fantasy, but Lloyd Alexander, who writes for a young audience, has an ingredient to his work that Tolkien has only a small ear for: humor.  Lots of it.  The whole series uses humor as a kind of fuel for plot.  Hen Wen, the prophetic pig, sets the tone as she escapes her sty and takes to the woods, Taran following (and thus beginning his adventure).  From that moment, the distance between what Taran would be and what Taran is provides Lloyd with priceless moments of dramatic irony, until we are utterly ensnared by him.  The series ends well, of course:  “And thus did an Assistant Pig-Keeper become High King of Prydain.”

But it does not end before imparting to this child reader something I’ve never forgotten: the deeply serious carries within it great comedy.  High fantasy does not preclude humor—from wit to farce.  Alexander doesn’t take himself too seriously, and because of that, his prose charms.  To put powers of prophecy into a very piggy pig is high art as well as high fantasy.


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Gillian Murray Kendall is a professor at Smith College, where she specializes in Shakespeare. She is the author of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom (Harper Voyager, April 12, 2016) and The Garden of Darkness (Ravenstone, 2014). Gillian lives with her husband, Robert Dorit, in Northampton, Massachusetts and has two sons, Sasha and Gabriel.  You can learn more about her at www.gillianmurrykendall.com, or on Twitter:  @GillianMKendall

 

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