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The Anubis Gates: A Review by Ciara Ballintyne

The Anubis Gates



1802 – the Egyptian gods are a diminished force, and the power of magic fades. Sorcerers, wielding magic only at great expense to their own bodies, attempt to restore the potency of their power by bringing the gods, in all their glory, forward in time. Instead, they succeed only in tearing rents in the fabric of time – the Anubis Gates.

Brendan Doyle, a minor American scholar specialising in a little known poet, William Ashbless, is carried from London, 1983, through the gates of time to 1810, ostensibly to serve as a Coleridge expert. The journey is organised by J Cochran Darrow, a wealthy recluse specialising in odd-ball projects, and funded by the ten guests, each of whom has paid a premium for the privilege of witnessing a lecture by Samuel Coleridge in the flesh. 

The plan consists of a straightforward there and back again journey of only a few hours, but it goes awry when Doyle is kidnapped by an Egyptian sorcerer, intent on learning who is using the gates in time, and how. Having missed his ‘return flight’, as it were, Doyle finds himself stranded in 1810 London, penniless and alone.

While not unlikeable, Doyle is stranded, destitute, and terribly desperate – a desperation which drives him to take ill-considered risks and make less-than-intelligent decisions. But it is his very isolation, his very desperation, that draws me to him – can the reader conceive of many worse situations than to be stranded out of time, in a strange culture, with absolutely no means of support?

I have very little concept of what London was like in 1810, but Powers paints a compelling picture with few words, creating less an image of the physical place, than a sense of the people who populate it; the desperation of its denizens, the danger they exude, and the grinding poverty that drives many of them. That sense, that feeling, creates a more visceral setting than any mere description of buildings could do. 

This is not to imply the book lacks description, for Powers describes events, and many settings, with phrases evocative enough to turn me green with envy. 

London is peopled with a host of characters – who can Doyle trust? Who might he rely on in his time of need? Knowing exactly where the poet, William Ashbless, should be, he hopes to appeal to that man’s generosity, but the poet is mysteriously missing. Has Doyle upset the events of history by returning from the future? 

What of the clown, Horrabin, who offers Doyle a job amongst his beggars? His very name hints at horrible unknowns. Is young Jacky more trustworthy? He warns Doyle away from Horrabin, and suggests a place amongst the rival beggar crew. Can Doyle use the Egyptian sorcerers to return to 1983? What does he have to bargain with, except his own life? What of Dog-Face Joe, a rumoured werewolf-type serial killer, to whom Doyle comes perilously close? 

And who, on the streets of 1810 London, is whistling Yesterday by The Beatles?

Events come dangerously to a head when the poet, Ashbless, reappears in a startling and unexpected way, setting Doyle’s feet on a path that takes him even further into the past, and then eventually to Cairo. Events now follow the course of history Doyle is familiar with, and he begins to anticipate what comes, thinking he knows how events will unfold – or does he?

The book careens from one disaster, to another ill-conceived decision, to bizarre and yet wildly appropriate plot twist after plot twist. The foreshadowing is impeccable – the clues are there if you know to look for them, but you won’t, until events come to pass. Instead, each new revelation, each new horror, each new clever outcome, will keep you turning page after page to find the answers until, before you know it, you’ve finished the book. 

If I were to tell you any more, I’d ruin all the surprises, and they are well worth the wait. They are many, and they are varied, and each new discovery delighted me at its appropriateness, at its suitability, at the way in which each of the puzzle pieces fit neatly together – until the picture, of which Doyle only has a vague outline from 20th century history books, becomes a complete illustration rendered in loving detail. 

I read this book in about two days – it was literally unputdownable. The story is exceptional, and the book well-written. The odd waver in the writing barely caused a hitch in my stride, so desperate was I to resolve each conflict, only to find I had dove headfirst into the next. 

If you didn’t read this book for Club Fantasci, then you must. 5 stars – I give this book 5 stars. Do you know how often I say that? 

Not very often at all. 
~

If you missed October’s Hangout and the discussion of The Anubis Gates, you can find it here.  Also, don’t miss the review of The Anubis Gates by my fellow Club Fantasci co-host, Dionne Lister.


Don’t forget to join us next month for Club Fantasci’s Hangout. November’s Book of the Month is The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice, so the Hangout will be limited to 21+. I expect discussions may get a bit scandalous!

In other news, my short story is now available for purchase as part of the anthology Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, available here at Amazon and Smashwords


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The Anubis Gates: Club Fantasci Hangout

The Anubis Gates: Club Fantasci
Club Fantasci convened by Google+ Hangout on Saturday night to discuss The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. Discussions ranged from the evocative quality of the descriptions, to issues with plot pacing – too fast, just right? It got a bit Goldilocks and the Three Bears there for a bit. Then Dionne got philosophical and existentialist when she decided to turn the discussion to time paradoxes, to the point where I suggested she might be better off having the conversation with a scientist who specialises in that field, instead of poor little me! 

When we unveiled next month’s book, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice, the conversation got a bit naughty and turned to foot fetishes and whipped cream. 

You can find the whole discussion here

Reviews by the hosts will also shortly be available at the Club Fantasci website, and don’t forget to stop by Goodreads and join the Club Fantasci discussion boards.  


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

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The Way of Shadows – Review by Ciara Ballintyne

The Way of Shadows


 Club Fantasci met last week for its second G+ Hangout and first successful hangout! You can watch myself and co-hosts Dionne Lister and David Lowry discuss The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks here. If you’ve read the book, join us on our Goodreads page – start your own discussion threads or join the ones already going.  

The song I chose for The Way of Shadows is Standing Outside the Fire by Garth Brooks. The song is a metaphor for how life without love is an empty existence. I chose it because this is exactly how Durzo tries to live, and how he teaches Kylar to live, for their own safety – but ultimately, the fire of love draws them like moths to the flame. Despite themselves, they can’t live in that empty, loveless existence.  

~

Cenaria is not a place you’d like to grow up – but the backstreets, of the worst district, of the most corrupt city in the world, is the place Azoth does. Ruled by a weak, arbitrary king, and effectively run by the Sa’kage, the underworld criminals, Cenaria is rotten to the core, the very epitome of a dog-eat-dog world, and it leaves its mark on many of the characters.

Azoth, orphaned, surviving on the streets in a gang run by a boy who uses rape and cruelty as a means to control other children, is both moulded by his early experiences, and yet defies them. It is the fear and terror of his childhood, the raping of one friend, the deliberate maiming and scarring of another, that drives him to apprentice to Durzo Blint, the best wetboy in the city. The sheer misery and terror of these children’s existence is enough to make a reader want to cry, and this is important, because it’s this background that makes us forgive Azoth’s future as a trained killer. 

Blint refuses to train Azoth unless he can kill the boy who tormented him; the nasty piece of work, or ‘twist’ as is the slang in the book, deserves everything he gets and more, but it isn’t an easy task for Azoth. When he completes his task, if too late to save his friends Jarl and ‘Doll Girl’ from their own torments, Blint takes Azoth in, gives him the name Kylar, and teaches him the black trade of death and all the lessons that go with it. Assassins have targets; wetboys have deaders. A wetboy cannot love. Life has no value. Despite the lessons Blint teaches him, Kylar cannot move past the basic decency that led him to share his meagre food with his street-friends. Though he learns to kill, surely, he cannot always take the actions Blint would take, or urges him to take.  

Durzo Blint is, at first blush, irredeemable, corrupt, cold-hearted. But the author gives us enough clues to know the man is not as cold and callous as he’d like us to believe, but rather only desperate to ensure everyone doesbelieve he is cold and callous. Bitter experience has taught him love is weakness; if you love someone, they can be used against you, hurt to make you comply. It’s not that Blint doesn’t care; it’s that he dare not let anyone knowhe cares, and most especially not his enemies. 

These two are supported by a host of other characters; Momma K, the retired whore pulling the strings of the city; Count Drake, an example to Kylar that one can turn away from the darkness; Elene, Kylar’s childhood friend ‘Doll Girl’; Logan, the impeccably ethical heir to Duke Gyre; the duke himself; the king, and his family; the prophet, Dorian Ursuul, and his friends, desperate to divert an horrific future; and the God-King Garoth Ursuul, architect of that future. 

Of them, Elene and Logan are two least affected by the corruption in Cenaria, but while I admire and like Logan, Elene annoys me. Logan always tries to do the right thing, but doesn’t necessarily expect others to live by his code. Elene, who knows she has been saved from a life of prostitution, poverty and cruelty only by Kylar’s sacrifices, presumes to judge him for the deeds he has committed in making those sacrifices. Where Logan comes across as a pillar of morality, Elene appears only self-righteous and judgemental, and expecting all to live according to the word of her One God. It is hypocrisy to be simultaneously grateful for the life one has, and judge another for the acts committed to give one that life.  

The events of the book centre around six magical artefacts called ka’kari, made to fix people who would otherwise be brilliant mages, but who are ‘broken’ and have no way to access their power. As a side effect, the ka’kari also grant immortality. The God-King wants one to extend his rule into eternity; Durzo, blackmailed by the God-King who takes his lover, and later his daughter, hunts one to try and save their lives; Kylar inadvertently calls one to himself because he is broken, but would give it to Durzo if he could. Everyone seems to want it, and no one can get their hands on it, and the price is paid in blood by many.

And so, Durzo and Kylar, loving each other like father and son, are driven against each other. Durzo must take the ka’kari to save his daughter, but doing so means the death of Kylar. Kylar would give it to him if he could, but he can’t, and he must stop Durzo’s end-game or watch his best friend, Logan, die.

Which is the better wetboy? Can either bring themselves to kill the other? What are the secrets Durzo hides, about himself, about Kylar? What is the secret of the ka’kari? What is the conflict between Momma K and Durzo? Plots within plots weave about plots, intrigue within intrigue. Keeping up with all the schemes, who is on whose side, who is betrayer or betrayed, will keep you on your toes and turning the pages. 

Though the book is not perfectly written (it is a debut novel), the story is compelling enough, the characters likeable enough, despite all their flaws, and undeniably real enough, to immerse you in the story and have you hanging on to know what happens next. 

The emotional importance of Kylar’s and Blint’s relationship and affection for each other could have been cranked up a notch to add to the conflict, but admittedly that’s difficult to do when both are trained killers who conceal their emotions. Nevertheless, a must-read fantasy book, especially if you like assassins!

Reviews by all my co-hosts are available on the Club Fantasci website – follow the links to read reviews by Dionne and David

October’s Book of the Month is The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. The book is in print, but so old you’ll likely have to order it online as you’ll have trouble finding it on the shelf. The copy I’ve stolen… ahem, borrowed, from my Dad is a hardback, so it’s like to be damn near as old as I am! 



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What Price Your Honour? (Reprise)

Recent events have brought to light a number of unpleasant practices in the review system for books – authors faking accounts to write glowing reviews for their own books, and to write bad reviews for the competition, and even writers admitting they’ve purchased guaranteed 5-star reviews for their books – in some cases insisting the reviewers purchase the book through Amazon so they show as a verified purchaser. 

In light of this, I felt it was an opportune moment to re-post one of my earliest posts discussing unethical review practices. None of the recent unethical tactics had crossed my mind when I wrote this post, it being aimed at what I consider to still be dishonest, but in the scheme of things, somewhat less heinous review crimes, but the post applies equally well (or better) to these latest practices. I also note at the time I wrote this, most of the practices of which I spoke were occurring in indie publishing, but some of the latest admissions have come from traditionally published authors.

~

What value do you put on your word? On your honour? Is it even something you have ever thought about?
Without meaning to blow my own trumpet (ye gods, I have enough people putting their hand up for that without doing it myself) I put a fairly high value on my word. If I give it, I keep it. I’m not in the habit of making promises I can’t keep, or even a promise I don’t know I can keep.  My word reflects on my honour, and yes, my honour is pretty important.
I won’t go so far as to say my honour is my life. I would lie to a gunman to save my life. But that’s smart. That’s natural selection at work (based on the theory that stupidity is something we want to evolve out, and therefore intelligence should be a survival trait). But short of that, I do put value on being considered honest, loyal, trustworthy.
These days, though, the concepts of your word and your honour are almost archaic. Even in more prosaic terms of ‘keeping promises’, or being trustworthy, it doesn’t seem to be something our society values highly, or at least not one it promotes itself as valuing highly. We rarely talk about it, discuss, or say we value it, except in negative terms, usually when we’ve caught a politician with his pants down. I value faithfulness highly, but I find it hypocritical to crucify said hypothetical politician when the rest of the time society barely gives a passing nod to the concept of fidelity.
Making a promise and keeping it is such an important concept (or was, somewhere in the dark mists of time) that it is now backed up with the full force of the law – contract law. If you make a contract (a promise) and you break it, the law can be called upon to make you abide by that promise. It doesn’t always work, but we are only talking about the theory, not the practice. A large part of the fabric of our society depends upon the very idea that promises will be kept. Your electricity provider supplies electricity on the promise you will pay. You pay deposits on the promise that the goods will be delivered.
Why is it, then, that in our personal lives, so often the concept of keeping one’s word, and in the wider sense, of being honourable, or honest, is increasing seen as meaningless or valueless? I raise this point in the context of a practice that I have come across in the writing community recently. Those of you who are fellow writers may well have come across this practice as well.
The fake book review.
It most often seems to occur in indie publishing, although I expect there exist instances of it in traditional publishing. For those who don’t know, it is where a writer implores his friends and family to write glowing reviews on websites such as Amazon, whether those friends and family have read the book or not, and whether they believe the review is justified or not. Those friends and family who agree to write such reviews do so, I am sure, out of filial obligation or in the name of friendship. But, I’m afraid, all parties are guilty of dishonesty. Worse, this is dishonesty of the kind designed to con the innocent consumer out of his hard-earned dollar and deposit it into the pocket of undeserving writer. Or if not designed for that purpose (in some cases, it may solely be designed to stroke the ego of said writer) it certainly has this effect.
False reviews are not always easy to spot. Having so many 5 out of 5 reviews that it stretches belief can be a sign, particularly if they are mixed with a number of very poor reviews (1 out of 5 stars). Think about it – even authors like Stephen King do not get strings of perfect reviews. Other than that, there’s not much to go by. If the author has a website, check it out. Sometimes sample chapters are available for free, and you can read and compare to the reviews. Sometimes it is glaringly obvious the reviews are not justified.
A similar practice is where writers review each other’s work, and one of them tries to hold the other to ransom – ‘I wrote you a good review, now you must give me a good review’. Bad writer, bad writer. This is not a barter exchange. You get a review that befits your work, not the review you are giving the writer’s work. In some ways, this type of false review (if the ransomed writers bows to pressure instead of standing by their integrity) is more damaging, because the review has been given by someone who is assumed to be an authority on the subject matter.
Both of these practices completely undermine the system of giving reviews and trusting reviews. If false reviews abound, potential buyers don’t know what to believe – or buy.
As a consumer, what do you feel when you purchase something which does not live up to your expectations? Cheated? Ripped off? Lied to? I would.
As a writer (if you are one) how do you feel when you see this type of thing occurring? Angry? Ashamed maybe? Embarrassed that one of us is guilty of this type of behaviour? I do. It reflects on every last one of us when one of our number behaves in this fashion. 
Why do it? For monetary gain? For an inflated sense of self-importance? Your writing, if it is any good, will stand on its own merits. If it’s not any good, the reader is going to spot this, and no amount of good reviews will change their mind. If this is the case, then you should be learning from your errors and working to improve yourself. Lying about it, and worse, encouraging others to lie on your own behalf, is not going to make you a better writer. The only thing that will do that is hard work.
I’m afraid people who have so much conviction in the brilliance of their own writing that they not only encourage people to write false reviews, but shout down the honest yet bad reviews they receive, are never going to improve.
Improvement necessarily involves acceptance of a lack of perfection.
I’m always striving to write better. I try to help others to write better where I can, and I have been lucky enough so far to only receive heartfelt thanks for my efforts (but now I risk straying into a rant on the etiquette of giving and receiving critiques). I don’t want fake reviews – a fake review won’t help me improve. An honest review will, and if I improve enough, I’ll earn honest good reviews.
I’m not perfect. Are you?
If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

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Club Fantasci Reviews The Night Circus

Club Fantasci Reviews The Night Circus
Club Fantasci had its first meeting ever 12 hours ago. As soon it’s available, the link to the video of the Google+ Hangout will be available on our website and Facebook page for everyone who missed viewing the live Hangout. 

In the meantime, check out my review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern here on Club Fantasci’s website – you’ll also find reviews by co-hosts Dionne Lister and David Lowry

Feel free to contribute to the discussions about The Night Circus starting on our Goodreads page, or start your own if there’s something about the book you want to discuss! If you want to comment on more than one of the co-hosts’ reviews, it may be easier to start a discussion thread on Goodreads instead.

The date for the next meeting is yet to be confirmed, but will be at the end of September, and September’s Book of the Month is The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks.

If you missed it, check out my review of The First Confessor.
 

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.
 

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