TNBBC’s Blog Tour of The Next Best Fantasy Book Series (a.k.a. TNBFBS!)

*tolmsted puts down David Maine’s The Gamble of the Godless and picks up her Great Fantasy Novel Checklist.*

  • Inexperienced young hero in possession of great power of which he is initially unaware – check.
  • A world familiar enough to be comfortable, but strange enough to be intriguing – check.
  • A pantheon of gods unique to this world – check.
  • Magic – check.
  • Talking animals (not strictly necessary, but always a plus) – check.
  • Big, shadowy bad guy amassing a huge army to destroy (or takeover) the world – check.
  • A heroic group of quirky companions out to thwart the aforementioned big, shadowy bad guy’s plan of world destruction (or domination) – check.
  • Roadtrip! – check.
  • A map of world in the front of the book – chhh…. HEY!  Where the HELL is my MAP!!!!???

If you are a fan of Narnia, The Golden Compass, Walter Moers’ Zamonia books or The Hobbit (and who isn’t???), then I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to enjoy The Gamble of the Godless.  It contains all the tried and true standards of great fantasy, and adds some new twists to keep readers on their toes.  David Maine has created a new world, where the gods have made man and beast equal but – because of some of man’s past behavioral issues – placed them on opposite sides of the world with a massive mountain range forming the geographical border between their two lands.

The Gamble of the Godless begins when a lone survivor of the Emperor’s army makes a midnight visit to our hero Avin’s farm.  He tells the frightening tale of an unprecedented ambush by an army of wolves who have crossed the mountains.  Sixteen hundred soldiers, brutally massacred.  When the news reaches the human cities men are called to muster for a counter attack on the great wolf cities Alpha & Gamma.   Avin’s older brother rushes ahead of the army looking for payback…  but we soon learn that the wolves were not responsible.  Someone is working hard start a war between this world’s two greatest military forces – wolves and men.  Avin and his new friends find themselves on a quest to figure out who is behind the plot, locate Avin’s brother before he gets himself killed  and stop a war that will leave all the human kingdoms & animal territories vulnerable.

This is a fantasy novel, and all fantasy plots follow a formula.  Harry Potter or George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire – strip them down and the difference between the two series is negligable.  Bad guys intent on world domination; shadowy armies forming in the North/East/West/South; a courageous band of heroes rushing to save the day.  Authors like Tolkien and Martin go for a more epic scope (usually accomplished by adding more characters) but the fundamentals of the storyline always remain the same.  And that’s how it should be.  Because fantasy novels are character driven.  Which is why true fansare willing to wait years (sometimes decades) for an author to finish a series.  Sure we love the stories… but what keeps us coming back is our attachment to those central characters and to the world they inhabit.

David Maine has created a wonderful cast of characters and a elaborately detailed world – one of the most engaging I’ve experienced.  Avin the farm boy, Ax the soldier and Jocen the one armed sorcerer might not be all that unusual.  But add a brave little owl, a cheetah in search of her next chuya grass fix, a horse and a raccoon working for Equine Intelligence – and things quickly get interesting.  Their journey will take them from the great wolf cities of Alpha and Gamma, into the underground serpent city known as the Net, across Cheetah Run ruled by the Feline Sisterhood and eventually to the Barrens… where the mysterious Godless and their army waits.

It’s all about the details.  Each species of animal has its own dialect – wolves speak in metaphors, apes can only use the present tense, cats refer to themselves in the third person. Their cities are distinctive and a large portion of The Gamble of the Godless is spent on world-building.  All these establishing scenes can become tedious in the hands of a less skilled writer, but Maine does such a good job I found myself glued to the page.  I read this book, cover to cover, in two 3-hour sittings.  If Book 2 were available, I’d have downloaded it immediately and kept on reading.

And that’s the catch.  The Gamble of the Godless is only available in e-book.  David Maine decided to release the book electronically, rather than going the traditional publishing route (which is what he did with his earlier novels).  He gives some of his reasons in his interview with Rena Rossner, which is the next stop in the David Maine Blog Tour.   So if you don’t own an e-reader, this could be that excuse you’ve been looking for to go get one.  The Chronicals of Avin is as addictive as chuya grass.  Just ask the cheetah.

Publisher:  Amazon Digital Services
ASIN: B005FR0A26

Oh, and David, if you’re reading this…. you’re just one map away from achieving Fantasy Novel GLORY!!!! 🙂

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Blog Tour: The Secret ‘Inner’ Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn

I showed this cover to a co-worker. Her reaction? "That's appalling! Poor Emily Dickinson!"

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel is Jerome Charyn’s love letter to the poet.  He admits as much in his author’s note.  His attachment is not unusual.  Others have attempted  first person, fictionalized accounts of Dickinson’s life.  What is astonishing is the skill with which he assumes the voice of the poet, completely capturing the ferocity of her attachments and the violence in her language. He picks out (and sometimes overuses) all the idiosyncratic phrasing and touch-words that we associate with her work.  There is no question that this is the Emily whose letters and poems have been handed down to us.  She is Austin Dickinson’s “wild sister”, who would never be confused with the meek, timid spinster of legend.  Charyn has done his research thoroughly, presenting a vibrant, red-head who burns and crackles off every page.

But having perfected the voice, Charyn seems to have trouble deciding what to do with it.  The novel has no real trajectory.  Told chronologically, it opens at Mt. Holyoke where Emily becomes infatuated with the school’s blond handyman.  It is the first of many infatuations that make up the meat of the narrative. (At one point Sister Sue accuses Emily of having “a craziness for men”). And while the book also has a string of lovely, dreamlike images – Emily becoming a pickpocket’s ‘mouse’, a pair of yellow gloves, a circus elephant in mourning and Little Sister Lavinia dancing around the room after discovering the handmade booklets of Emily’s poetry – they are poorly woven together.  Perhaps a more accurate title would have been The Secret Inner Life of Emily Dickinson… which is where the real action of the story takes place.  All indications are that Dickinson had a rich and complicated mental life.  I think it is a shame that Charyn made the choice of focusing on romantic fantasy rather than the real poetry.

Stream of conscious is tricky and can quickly get away from a writer if structure isn’t imposed.  Charyn must have realized this, because at intervals (roughly coordinating with chapter headings) he inserts third person narration to help establish what point we have reached in Emily’s life.  And the book spans her entire life from that first paragraph at Mt. Holyoke to her death.  Many of the characters are complete fabrications, which didn’t bother me at all.  But if I had a chance to question the author I would ask about where he drew his fiction/non-fiction line in the sand.  There were several places where it felt like a fictional over-arcing plot was being developed, only to be dropped as another beau exited (if only temporarily) Emily’s life.  Early chapters had all the makings of a good mystery.   Obviously, Charyn did not intend to write a mystery.  So what are we left with?

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson went on a little long for my tastes.  (No lie – Once Dickinson reached her late 40’s I refreshed each page hoping she’d be dead on the next).  I would have preferred more of a plot.  But the writing in this novel is glorious.  Charyn takes us into Emily Dickinson’s head – a woman whose poetry is still considered revolutionary and cutting-edge 125+ years after her death.  That is a tremendous accomplishment.  And for some readers it will be enough.

(And in case you disagree, you can follow the blog tour from here and read what some other bloggers think).

Publisher:  W.W. Norton & Company, New York (2010).
ISBN: 978 0 3933 3917 8

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