Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"The Blue Elves’ Crystal" (Elves, Volume 1) by Jean-Luc Istin (script), Kyko Duarte (artist) & Diogo Saïto (colors)

“The Blue Elves’ Crystal” (Elves, Volume 1)
by Jean-Luc Istin (script), Kyko Duarte (artist) & Diogo Saïto (colors)
Publisher: Soleil Productions
The review is based on bought copy of the book

I could trace my love for the elves to my first fantasy books that landed on my reading table, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and R.A. Salvatore’s “Dark Elf” novels. Or I could go further back in time and discover that this trail begins with the German fairy tales I enjoyed in my childhood years. Nonetheless, the attraction remains as strong as in those magical times and I find myself unable to resist to books such as it is Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte’s “The Blue Elves’ Crystal”.

Returning from a journey the blue elf Lanawyn and her human friend Turin reach the city of Ennlya only to discover that all its inhabitants have been killed. The evidence they uncover points towards the human clan of Yrlanis as responsible for the atrocity. At the same time, in the island city of Elsémur, Vaalann, a young blue elf, appears to be the chosen of whom an old prophecy speaks of, the one who will control the powerful blue elves’ crystal.

Jean-Luc Istin’s “The Blue Elves’ Crystal” is not a groundbreaking story, most of its elements are very familiar. But if this tale doesn’t score points for originality, it still delivers an interesting and entertaining story. Two arcs go in parallel for the most part of the graphic novel, the criminal investigation in the Ennlya’s massacre and Vaalann’s attempt in fulfilling the blue elves’ old prophecy. The alternation between the two makes the intrigue work better, provides good suspense and allows the plot to accumulate enough mystery for the final twist to be effective. Blood runs hot within the story as well, there is plenty of action to be had, both on grander and smaller scales, some tense encounters and presence of mythical creatures that quicken the pace nicely and add something extra to the tale.

The characters are pleasant as well. “The Blue Elves’ Crystal” 54 pages does not offer much space for the characters to develop properly, but they still manage to be lively to a certain extent. Little elements of their personalities make themselves present and the reader can guess a couple of other aspects regarding the characters from here. They are not memorable, but there is no regret in spending time in their company either.

The liveliness of the characters gains potency from the drawings of Kyko Duarte as well. His art is wonderful, the personalities and emotions well captured in all the characters, the scenes captivating and the landscapes and locations represented wonderfully. Kyko Duarte’s art complements successfully the story, it intensifies the enjoyment of this little graphic novel and provides some splendid frameworks. The minor details tend to get blurred into a mass within a couple of cadres, but that might be put on perfectionist demands rather than the fault of the artist. The overall result obtained by Kyko Duarte with each frame is nothing but satisfying.

I pursued my attraction for the elves to Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte’s comic book and I feel no disappointment in doing so. “The Blue Elves’ Crystal” is an epic fantasy that doesn’t defy the standards and does not challenge the reader, but it is a fun and relaxing story. And since this is the first comics in a series of independent stories set in a universe of elves I hope that the next volumes would keep fueling the joy of reading kindled by “The Blue Elves’ Crystal”.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 Utopiales European Award nominees

This year, during Utopiales, the annual international science fiction festival held in Nantes, France, the winner of the Utopiales European Award will be announced. The Utopiales European Award is at its 6th edition and rewards a novel or a collection, published in French, during the literary season preceding the Utopiales festival, by a European speculative fiction author. This year’s prize has a cash value of 2000 euros and the jury includes Jean-Pierre Dionnet (writer, scriptwriter and journalist), Florence Porcel (writer, journalist and actress) and Guillaume Choplin (reader). The award ceremony will be held on Saturday, November 1st.

“7 secondes pour devenir un aigle” (7 Seconds to Become an Eagle) by Thomas Day (Éditions Le Bélial)

“Juste à temps” (Just in Time) by Philippe Curval (Éditions La Volte)

“L’Opéra de Shaya” (Shaya’s Opera) by Sylvie Lainé (Éditions Actusf)

“La longue terre” (The Long Earth) by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (Éditions L’Atalante)

“Sumerki” (Dusk) by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Éditions L’Atalante)

Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cover art - "Half a King" by Joe Abercrombie (French edition)

French edition, published by Bragelonne
I’ve noticed a tendency towards simplification when it comes to some of nowadays’ book covers. A basic concept springs forth, with some degree of success I guess, and immediately after that it seems that one idea, with slight changes, is put on the repeat. I am afraid there is no magic for me in most of these cases. Joe Abercrombie’s recently released novel is one such example, I found no appeal for the covers of “Half a King” US and UK editions. Perhaps the UK edition has something extra, but not much, in my opinion, neither of them has a story to tell, neither of them flirts with me, lacking the allure that usually sends me trotting to check the statement of my bank account in order to see if one more book acquisition, for the sole sake of the cover artwork, might be viable. The situation is redeemed a little by Subterranean Press, their limited edition of Joe Abercrombie’s “Half a King” is adorned with a wonderful cover and interior illustrations by Jon McCoy. But as it is the matter with majority of Subterranean Press’ excellent produced books, going for a copy of that edition would demand a heavy toll from the said bank account. However, since we are talking about book covers, not book acquisitions, I have nothing by admiration for Subterranean Press’ choice of artwork in this case. Even more so when I look upon the choice made by Bragelonne for the cover of Joe Abercrombie’s “Half a King” French edition. Yes, it is a French edition again, and yes, it is the same excellent art department of Bragelonne that make me wish I had a bigger financial power and endless space for my personal library just to be able to put this book, with this cover, on the bookshelves. Responsible for this beauty is yet again Didier Graffet and the David Gemmel Award winning team behind three other Joe Abercrombie’s book covers, the UK editions of “Best Served Cold”, “The Heroes” and “Red Country”. I do believe that Didier Graffet captured perfectly some of the essence of the story and has created a painting that not only is a great companion for the novel, but it also stands proudly tall on its own. One that I wish to see more on books instead of those that could be gathered in a tight group of similar covers.

UK edition, published by Harper Voyager

US edition, published by Del Rey

Limited edition, published by Subterranean Press

Thursday, September 25, 2014

2014 Premio Minotauro finalists

The finalists of the 11th edition of Premio Minotauro (El Premio Internacional de Ciencia Ficción y Literatura Fantástica de Ediciones Minotauro), the most prestigious award for an unpublished speculative fiction novel by a Spanish or Latin American author, have been announced. For the first time the winner of Premio Minotauro will be announced during Sitges, the International Fantastic Film Festival, held between 3rd and 12th October (a change of venue surrounded by controversy and debate). The members of the jury for the 2014 Premio Minotauro are Adrián Guerra (producer), Ángel Sala (the director of the Sitges Film Festival), Marcela Serras (editorial director of Minotauro), Javier Sierra (writer) and Carlos Sisí (writer and winner of the 2013 Premio Minotauro) and they’ll announce the winner on October 7th.

“¿Cuál es tu lucha?” (What is Your Fight?) by Griot (pseudonym)
“Cuéntame un cuento japonés mientras el mundo se acaba” (Tell Me a Japanese Story While the World is Ending) by Maria Antònia Martí
“Hermana noche” (Sister Night) by Morgenstern (pseudonym)
“Hugo Lémur y los ladrones de sueños” (Hugo Lémur and the Dream Thieves) by Luis Manuel Ruiz
“Por los ojos del elegido” (By the Eyes of the Chosen) by Isabel Belmonte

For the 11th edition of Premio Minotauro a total of 450 manuscripts have been received (the previous edition had 590 manuscripts in competition). 411 from 450 have been sent in electronic format, most of them have been submitted from Spain, 282, followed by Latin America, 150, especially Argentina, 55, and Mexico, 32. The majority of the submitted manuscripts are science fiction works, while the epic fantasy was in a decreasing tendency. As part of the prize the winner will receive 10,000 euro and the respective novel will be published by Ediciones Minotauro, due to be released on 28th October.

The previous winners of the Premio Minotauro are:

2004 – “Máscaras de matar” (Masks of killing) by León Arsenal
2005 – “Los sicarios del cielo” (The assassins of Heaven) by Rodolfo Martínez
2006 – “Señores del Olimpo” (Lords of Olympus) by Javier Negrete
2007 – “Gothika” by Clara Tahoces
2008 – “El libro de Nobac” (The book of Nobac) by Federico Fernández Giordano
2009 – “El Templo de la Luna” (The temple of the moon) by Fernando J. López del Oso
2010 – “Crónicas del Multiverso” (Chronicles of the multiverse) by Víctor Conde
2011 – “Ciudad sin estrellas” (City without stars) by Montse de Paz
2012 – “La Torre Prohibida” (The Forbidden Tower) by David Zurdo and Ángel Gutiérrez
2013 – “Panteón” (Pantheon) by Carlos Sisí

Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Free fiction - "Supply Limited, Act Now" by Helen Marshall

Helen Marshall is one the rising stars of speculative fiction and there are plenty of things proving that. An excellent debut short story collection, “Hair Side, Flesh Side” (ChiZine Publications), named one of the top ten books of 2012 by January Magazine, nominated for Aurora Award, long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize and winning the British Fantasy Sydney J. Bonds Award. Two volumes of poetry, “Skeleton Leaves”, nominated for a Rhysling Award and winner of the Aurora Award, and “The Sex Lives of Monsters”, nominated for a Rhysling Award and a Bram Stoker Award and winner of the Elgin Chapbook Award. And from this month a second short story collection, “Gifts for the One Who Comes After”, also released by ChiZine Publications, that promises to consolidate Helen Marshall’s position within the genre:  Ghost thumbs. Microscopic dogs. One very sad can of tomato soup. Helen Marshall's second collection offers a series of twisted surrealities that explore the legacies we pass on to our children. A son seeks to reconnect with his father through a telescope that sees into the past. A young girl discovers what lies on the other side of her mother's bellybutton. Death's wife prepares for a very special funeral. In Gifts for the One Who Comes After, Marshall delivers eighteen tales of love and loss that cement her as a powerful voice in dark fantasy and the New Weird. Dazzling, disturbing, and deeply moving. To celebrate the release of Helen Marshall’s new short story collection, which Kaaron Warren highly recommends (Gifts for the One Who Comes After is in turns chilling, heart-wrenching and uplifting. Marshall has a way with words that makes even the most peculiar seem possible, and the stories here are each so layered with character and meaning, they are like perfect, condensed novels.), SF Signal offers us the chance to read one story from “Gifts for the One Who Comes After”, “Supply Limited, Act Now”, for free on their website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Table of contents - "Terror Tales of Yorkshire" edited by Paul Finch

It is time to embark on the journey for the seventh destination of Gray Friar Press’ series of terror tales anthologies edited by Paul Finch, Yorkshire. Ever since “Terror Tales of the Lake District”, the first in this series of anthologies, was published three years ago and with each new one being released I found myself thrilled and enchanted with the concept behind these collections, with all these myths and legends parading old and new clothes and the writers bringing them into the spotlight. Carole Johnstone, Alison Littlewood, Gary McMahon, Tim Lebbon, Adam Nevill, Simon Bestwick, Ray Cluley, Stephen Volk, Joel Lane or Christopher Fowler are some of the excellent writers who offered me as many reasons of delight in the terror tales of the Lake District, the Cotswolds, East Anglia, London, the Seaside and Wales. And with another powerful line-up assembled by Paul Finch and the promise of devils, murder machines, horrors, tunnels, tricksters, shadows, witches and aliens it seems that “Terror Tales of Yorkshire” adds more strength to this already strong series of anthologies. I’ll not repeat too much what I’ve already said on a couple of occasions before, but I’ll say once more that I find the entire concept of this series fascinating and I’ll reiterate my dream of seeing it extended to an entire collection dedicated to the terror tales of various regions of the world, if not all of them.

Yorkshire – a rolling landscape of verdant dales and quaint country towns. But where industrial fires left hideous scars, forlorn ruins echo the shrieks of forgotten wars, and depraved killers evoke nightmare tales of ogres, trolls and wild moorland boggarts...

The stalking devil of Boroughbridge
The murder machine at Halifax
The hooded horror of Pontefract
The bloody meadow at Towton
The black tunnel of Renfield
The evil trickster of Spaldington
The shadow forms at Silverwood

And many more chilling tales by Alison Littlewood, Mark Morris, Stephen Laws, Simon Clark, Mark Chadbourn, and other award-winning masters and mistresses of the macabre.

“In October We Buried the Monsters” by Simon Avery
The Decapitation Device
“The Coat off his Back” by Keris McDonald
Haunting Memories of the Past
“They Walk as Men” by Mark Morris
The Yorkshire Witches
“On Ilkley Moor” by Alison Littlewood
The Black Monk of Pontefract
“The Crawl” by Stephen Laws
The Woman in the Rain
“Ragged” by Gary McMahon
The Hobman
“A True Yorkshireman” by Christopher Harman
The Town Where Darkness Was Born
“All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be in Hell” by Mark Chadbourn
A Feast For Crows
“The Demon of Flowers” by Chico Kidd
City of the Dead
“The Summer of Bradbury” by Stephen Bacon
Radiant Beings
“Random Flight” by Rosalie Parker
Death in the Harrying
“The Rhubarb Festival” by Simon Clark
The Alien
“The Crack” by Gary Fry
The Boggart of Bunting Nook
“A Story From When We Had Nothing” by Jason Gould

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Blood Work" by L.J. Hayward

Publisher: self-published
Review copy received through the courtesy of the author, L.J. Hayward

Matt Hawkins isn’t a wizard. He’s not a werewolf, either. He doesn’t talk to ghosts, though he thinks he might like to see one some day. Matt’s just an ordinary, everyday kind of guy. So why is the oldest and meanest vampire in town suddenly gunning—or should that be ‘fanging’?—for him?
Maybe it’s his social skills, or lack thereof—but it wasn’t his fault he lost his pants in the middle of the mall. Perhaps it’s because he’s on nickname basis with the ghoul in a local cemetery. Then there’s the outside chance it’s the fact Matt’s one half of the vampire slaying team that is Night Call.
His partner is Mercy, a pint sized fighting machine with a killer wardrobe—and she’s the only tame vampire in existence.
Still, none of that explains why tenacious PI Erin McRea is digging through all the nastiest moments of his history in an effort to find him.
And somehow Matt has to find the time to see his therapist about that little temper problem he has…

Vampires. Werewolves. Ghouls. I can’t recall a time in my earliest readings when these creatures were nothing but dangerous and avoiding them as much as possible was to be preferred. Despite a large number of paranormal romance novels smoothing the rough edges of these creatures and making them subject of exotic love affairs, reducing their threat to a flimsy state, there are still stories out there that return these beings to their menacing nature. The latest novel to fall into my arms and hinting at such a restoration is an urban fantasy by L.J. Hayward, “Blood Work”.

To a certain extent it seems the basic concept behind L.J. Hayward’s story is nothing we didn’t see before, a paranormal investigator draws the unwanted attention of a very powerful creature and the two chase each other in an attempt to bring their business to a conclusion. But there is more to “Blood Work” than this central plot leaves to be seen from the beginning. For starters we have Matthew Hawkins, the main character and the paranormal investigator in question, and it is Matt Hawkins who finds himself the subject of a private investigation as well, an enigmatic woman hiring a specialized company to discover his whereabouts. Approaching the main character from these two different angles gives L.J. Hayward the opportunity to place Matt Hawkins into the gray area of morality, he is a human being with qualities and flaws, courses of action we approve or disapprove, a temperament that could be appealing to some and appalling to others. Matthew Hawkins is as three-dimensional character as we can get and that forms one of the strong pillars on which “Blood Work” is supported.

The characterization draws power not only from Matt Hawkins being investigator and investigated, but also from the fact that these two sides are approached from different perspectives, L.J. Hayward switches between first person narrative in case of Matt Hawkins investigator and third person narrative in case of Matt Hawkins investigated. It is the perfect opportunity to create solid scaffolding for building a character. It is also an ideal entry point for another main character, in this situation Erin McRea. Not as developed as Matthew Hawkins she is still a welcomed and strong presence within the plot. Of course, Erin McRea does not benefit from two viewpoints in support of the character’s construction, but it is not this aspect preventing Erin reaching its full potential, but a couple of emotional elements left hanging. As is the case with one facet of Matt Hawkins, a relationship with his brother that is only hinted at and that it seems to have significance in regard of Matt’s character development.

L.J. Hayward’s “Blood Work” doesn’t have only good characterization to back it up, but also a healthy dose of action, mystery and humor. L.J. Hayward throws the reader head first into straight action, the first couple of chapters are rich in energetic and frantic scenes. But while she makes a stand for the physical part of the story she also feeds the cerebral side with a well-placed intrigue. And along the novel crisscrossing between the two L.J. Hayward energizes the plot without repeatedly taking the same course of action, but without losing the balance that in the end rounds the intrigue in a cursive manner. Helping along are the dialogues of “Blood Work”, especially when Matt Hawkins is involved. Often pleasant, intelligent, playful or hilarious the exchange between the characters prompt a naturalness to the situations and relationships they’re in. They contribute nicely to the well functional capacity of the story. Top these with an interesting situation regarding vampires feeding and the different blood types, a ghoul with an involuntary sense of humor (“That freakin’ ghost tour came through. Here half the night they were. All pretending to be jumpy and scared and squealing and stuff. Gave me the worst headache. I’ve hardly slept all day.”), plus an unusual werewolf transformation and the degree of entertainment for the reader is up to the recommended levels.

There are moments when “Blood Work” wobbles a bit and it would have still needed a bit of polishing in my opinion. Nothing major, there is nothing troublesome on the whole at the little parts that required mending, but they are still nudging the back of my mind. Matt Hawkins seems to acquire at some point in his past strong psychic power, but I still failed to find how he has come to be in this position. Also, with an expensive car, a house in a posh neighborhood and a compulsive spending behavior I wondered more than once how Matt, self-employed and running not the most profitable of businesses, has the financial capacity to afford all these. And I failed each time to find my answer. But more pressing is that we are told that Mercy, a vampire close to being Matt’s sidekick, is capable only of trained and triggered responses and yet she displays enough personal attitude to render almost null an automatic behavior. For instance, more than once Mercy plays favorites when it comes to outfit choices and even Matt states at some point: “Mental note, pay more attention to what clothes Mercy buys. eBay – a vampire tamer’s worst enemy.” It certainly doesn’t look like mechanical reaction. And to put “Blood Work” better on its feet an extra pair or two of proof-reading eyes would have helped.

I am not an avid reader of urban fantasy, but if all those I read are as good as L.J. Hayward’s novel I can hardly find a reason for complaint. As a matter of fact, with no consideration for what genre they’re fitted in, if all the novels are at least as fun, fast-paced and gripping as “Blood Work” the readers are exclusive beneficiaries of joyful readings.