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REVIEW : The Heart of Man by Jon Kalman Stefansson


"The Heart of Man" (originally published as Hjarta mannsins in 2009) is long anticipated final part of groundbreaking "Heaven and Hell" trilogy by Jón Kalman Stefánsson, Icelandic author who was the recipient of the presitgious Per Olov Enquists Prize for 2011. "The Heart of Man" follows 2010's "The Heaven and Hell" and 2013's "The Sorrow of Angels" and explores themes familiar from its two predecessors.

We find Jens together with a nameless boy who is on a verge to become an adolescent. They're caught in an aftermath of an blizzard that took them away from home. They're stuck in a fishing village and are taken in by the village doctor Geirthrudur and through his love of languages gets a job translating Dickens. The boy is stumped by his surroundings for than one reason. He's torn between the matters of a heart as he falls in love once again and there's strange things aplenty. Boy is torn apart by his feeling because he truly loves Ragnheiður, daughter of a wealthy merchant and yet, someone else stirs up the same emotions in him. Is it possible to love two people at the same time? "The Heart of Man" is much warmer book than both "The Heaven and Hell" and "The Sorrow of Angels". However, it is also dense with a plot that moves in waves and is often filled with countless characters that may or may not appear again. But similarly to its predecessors its true value lies not in the story but in carefuly crated balance between emotion is stirs up in a reader. To better explain I'll have to relate to a song called "15 Sekonda" by Aphex Twin or Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians" which I've listened a lot while reading "The Heart of Man". Similarly to Stefánsson's novel, they're strange and repetitive but not in a way that overpowers you. Instead each subsequent second brings out something new to enjoy. "The Heart of Man" suffers from same case of atmospheric twinkling beauty.

"The Heart of Man" is a worthy conclusion to Stefánsson's literary trilogy. Jón Kalman Stefánsson has once again proven that he perfectly understands even the tiniest intricacies of human condition and as he explores his characters against cold and wonderful Icelandic landscape I was once again hopelessly charmed by its atmosphere. Each book in a trilogy has been an event and I'm looking forward to further translations of his works. Well recommended.

Review copy provided by MacLehose Press.
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The story behind A Last Act of Charity by Frank Westworth

It all seemed so simple. How’s about a story – a murder story, with lots of bodies – where the murderer is a contract killer? OK, so far so average. There are plenty of contract killer stories. But what if the contractor was a woman? Getting better. At this point in the thinking the story appealed to me as a reader, so things were looking up. How’s about … if there’s more than one woman contract killer? Three? How’s about them having their very own sweet family business … a killing business? By this point I wanted someone to write the story so I could read it. And then, in a moment of outstanding stupidity, I wondered how it might work if all three sisters used the same name?

Like I said, stupid. But the idea wouldn’t go away. In between bouts of deadline hell in the day job as a magazine editor, I played about with it, wondering how it would … could work. It all revolved around the names, and the confusion they would cause to any investigator. So; Charity, Chastity and Charm were the sisters, and when they were kids, the girls called each other Chas, just Chas, just … because. And because Chas did it, mummy; it was always Chas. I genuinely wanted to read the story now, and decided that if no one else was going to write it, then I’d have to do it.

Right. So there are three sisters and they have an agency for contract killing? Sounds very unlikely. How could that work? They’d fight, like sisters do. I have one, and I know this to be true. Did they all do the same jobs? Did they share them out in some arcane way? I asked them – they were sufficiently real by now for me to hold conversations with them. Worrying, I know, but such is a magazine editor’s life. When rewriting desperately worthy but powerfully ungripping prose it always helps to be able to talk to an imaginary friend. Or a bottle. Friends are less destructive. Usually.

One of the sisters revealed that one of them ran the office and allocated the gigs. A second sister did the actual killings, the murders, and the third sister cleaned up after her and obscured what had taken place. Clever sisters. They communicated via their very own website, called murdermayhemandmore, a site devoted to fictional killings. You can find it. It’s real.

So far, so amusing. Why did they kill people? For money. Of course. Was there a more ethical motive? No. Not really, although their views of that turned out to be rather different. You get to meet two of the sisters in A Last Act Of Charity – and the third, too, but that’s less obvious because she doesn’t use her real name at all. Why would she, given the job description? I grew to know them. They’re very different. They all wanted to tell their tales, too, and in their own ways, because sisters compete with each other. And here’s a thing: until I tried to write fiction I had never understood how real the characters become to the author. It’s not even a little bit like writing magazine features. Try it.

By this stage I’d started writing the book. I’ve been writing full-time since 1988. Writing is not a new experience. But writing about the killing sisters, sharing their strange world and describing it for The Reader, that was entirely remarkable. Not always entirely enjoyable, because writing in an entirely different way can be a challenge, especially when writing the dialogue between the characters. I began to experiment, inventing situations and conversations in the magazine writing, so I could try out different ways of presenting a conversation. We do not speak as we write. Try it. We don’t. End of. Do you see what I mean?

I tried all manner of ways of writing, mostly because I was appalled at how stilted, how leaden, how formal my characters sounded when they were speaking on the page. No one talks in the way that they did. It was like reading a poor translation from a very foreign language. And it seriously got in the way of the story-telling. My magazine readers were amused (sometimes) by the strange lumps of conversation that would pop up in my stories, and when they asked about it I would tell them that I was writing a novel, and was just practising. Shared laughter at that point.

If you have a murderer then you have a mystery. Mysteries are solved by an investigator, so I needed one of those. The original plan was that the investigator would be a minor character, and The Reader would simply see through his eyes and follow his investigations into the odd and unstable world of the lady killers. None of them is actually a lady … not in any known definition of the word. But you get the point.

The investigator needed a name. JJ Stoner. Parts of verbs make for great names. And as soon as he had a name I could – quite suddenly and out of the blue – picture him. Hear his voice. Dammit – he was French! Part-French at any rate. That was another surprise. And he was having none of this being a bit-player, thank you very much. We had arguments about it.

At this point I was enjoying a long conversation with author RJ Ellory, one seriously top bloke, and the subject of characters developing minds of their own cropped up. He was surprised at my surprise. Had I not understood that characters who can’t speak for themselves are going to have nothing to say? I’d not even considered it. Stoner was equally amused, and we discussed his background. It was remarkable. I had no idea. I write about his life story. The army. The wars. The music. The what? That’s right; he plays guitar in a jazz club, and he rides a motorcycle and drives a van. A black Volkswagen. No Bond Aston-Martin nor Morse Jaguar for this guy. He drives a van and sometimes works in a bar. And he runs to keep fit and to control his own irritation. This all got so out of hand that there are now three short stories all about Stoner. Look them up. He’s not very nice. Not really.

By now I was grabbing opportunities to sit down with my trusty laptop at every turn. A train journey? Out with the laptop. Staying away for a few days? Out with the laptop. On holiday with the Better Third? Out with the laptop whenever she wasn’t around. Two things here; I used the laptop rather than my desktop mega-pc because I never want to mistake writing fiction for ‘work’, and a laptop enables a scribbler to write in varied locations, different countries and in wildly different surroundings. Charity was written in the UK, Germany, Slovenia, the USA, Egypt, Israel, Malta and many other places. Every location, every experience, every language and every different sky provides variety and atmosphere. I took entire flash drives full of images so I could refer back to invoke the different places and their attached emotions. Had I mentioned that writing fiction is utterly absorbing?

The rest of the characters introduced themselves and got on with doing what they do. Some were very unpleasant; others were surprisingly charming, and they all insisted upon a novel reality. If a character is worth writing, worth introducing to The Reader, then they all have a backstory, they all need to be interesting. Did you know that Stoner’s best girl is a hooker? Neither did I. In the original plan she was a waitress in a London pizza restaurant.

A couple of years had passed, What had started out as a jape, a fun relief from writing 3000 word features to pay the bills, had turned into a 120,000 word monster, a monster with a life of its own, its own views on everything and its own sense of direction. I sat down most days with the laptop to see what would happen next. There was so much going on that I was quite confused about it.

And then one day, sitting in the cabin on a beautiful white P&O cruise ship called Arcadia, bumping and gathering speed passing through the Sea Of Marmara after a grand time in Istanbul, it suddenly ended. The resolution just happened. I was so surprised by this that I put on T-shirt and shorts and walked for an hour around the ship’s prom deck. Three laps is a mile. I walked for several miles. Then I returned to the cabin and re-read what I’d written that day. I was correct. It had ended. Just the last act in the title to write down and… And what? These non-existent guys are my friends. There’s a lot more of their tale to tell. The Corruption Of Chastity, then. Time to get writing…

Frank Westworth
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The story behind The Jefferson Winter Series by James Carol

I’ve always been a seat-of-the-pants writer. The idea of sitting down and planning things to the nth detail leaves me cold; I much prefer to go with the flow and see where the ideas take me. That’s definitely been the case with the Jefferson Winter series.

A few years ago I was trying to develop a character who was interesting enough to lead a series of novels. I’d had a couple of false starts; nothing quite made the grade. The challenge was creating a character who would still excite me when I got to book ten (or book twenty). If I can keep things interesting for me, then hopefully readers will stay interested.

Sometimes the best way to find something is to stop looking, and that’s what happened with Winter. My second book was a serial-killer novel called Yin Yang. Out of all my early unpublished novels this was the one that people seemed to like best. I liked the story, too, but the writing wasn’t quite there, so I decided to have a go at reworking the novel.

Originally, the main character was going to be an FBI profiler, but I just didn’t have the writing chops to pull off a believable American character so he ended up being an English DI. This time I reverted to Plan A. Of course, nothing ever goes quite to plan, and that was the case with the rewrite. Within a couple of chapters it became apparent that this was going to be a completely different book.

When it was finished I submitted it to my agent, Camilla Wray. Talk about a Road To Damascus moment. As I read through her suggestions, I realised that I actually had the series character that I’d been searching for. Next, we needed to find a name. Needless to say, numerous emails went bouncing back and forth before we finally settled on Jefferson Winter.

From the start, each novel was going to be written as a standalone. There were a couple of reasons for this. First and foremost, the books can be read in any order. The second reason comes back to my low boredom threshold. With this approach every book is a new adventure. A different cast, a different location, a brand new story. BROKEN DOLLS was set in wintry London, while WATCH ME was set in sunny Louisiana. In some respects the books are very different, however, the thread tying the two together is Winter.

The Jefferson Winter Chronicles are a subseries of novellas set during Winter’s FBI days. This was something else that developed organically. The idea was to have something to fill the gap between the main novels – I didn’t want readers waiting too long for their next JW fix! The first instalment, PRESUMED GUILTY, was published in July, and I’ve just finished the second.

It has been incredibly exciting to watch Winter develop and grow. What I love is how fluid this process has been, and what excites me most is that this is just the beginning. Personally, I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next. I’ve got a few ideas, but I dare say that Winter has ideas of his own. And do you know something? That’s absolutely fine by me.

James Carol
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REVIEW : The Man in a Hurry by Paul Morand


Paul Morand's classic novel "The Man in a Hurry" (originally released in 1941 in French as "L'homme pressé") has the honour of being the first Pushkin Collection titles published in hardcover so I hope you'll excuse me if I start by talking about its design first. The entire Pushkin Collection series is a celebration of all that's good in book design. Their publications are always such things of beauty. These endlessly charming, dainty pieces of literature come together due to them being such lovely paperbacks enriched by French flaps and embossed covers so it is definitely an act of courage on their behalf to change the winning formula. I won't deny that I was really sceptical whether the hardcover will work so well as the paperback and amazingly it does. Partly it is due to jacket that still retains that tactile feel that graced the paperbacks, partly due to the novel itself which heralds the arrival of modern age and sports a fast car. It just works. Now, without any hurry, on to Morand and "The Man in a Hurry"!

Paul Morand is one of the masters of Modernist French prose and is admired by many, including Ezra Pound and Marcel Proust. During his illustrious career he published over 50 works of non-fiction and fiction, few of which have been published by Pushkin Press, also in translation by Euan Cameron. Last of these is "The Allure of Channel", his final work which explored the life and character of Coco Chanel and published the year Morand died. However, "The Man in a Hurry" finds Morand in a different phase of his life though the elements of his latter writings are already evident. "The Man in a Hurry" introduces us to Pierre Niox, a man who simply can't stop. His erratic lifestyle and madcap pace are driving everyone insane, including his manservant, friends and even his cat who all, one by one, eventually abandon him. In a moment of clarity Pierre realises that he's rushing through life, never experiencing any of it for himself and decides to do something about it, if at all possible. His redemption comes in shape of Hedwige. Pierre instantly falls in love and has to learn to slow down or risk losing the most important thing of them all.

I found "The Man in a Hurry" especially interesting because in a way it is exactly opposite of the life today. For Morand, Pierre's mad dashing around was the infuriating sign of the future. It was the time of the progress and people around were getting noticeably faster day by day. For Pierre it is natural but the world can't keep up with him. And yet today it is life itself that is too fast for most of us and the problem is that you often can't slow it down. It's an interesting inversion that struck chord with me, especially when told through ironic and often hilarious Morand's prose. Funnily enough, in one final twist Morand declared that Pierre is based on himself. I hope he eventually learned to slow down.

Review copy provided by Pushkin Press.
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REVIEW : Reading the World Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan


I must admit that when I initially opened Ann Morgan's "Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer" I was slightly disappointed. I've been closely following her literary adventures and I've expected a distilled version of the same but what I've got was something of a literary manifesto - a story about the motivation behind her worthwhile endeavour and the importance of foreign literature. To dispel any illusions you might get at this point, my disappointed lasted for mere half an hour because I quickly realised how clever this little tome is. Its purpose is not to provide reviews but to inspire the reader and as far as I'm concerned, "Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer" does a remarkably fine job of it.

If you haven't heard about Ann Morgan and her reading odyssey here's a quick overview. One day in 2012 Morgan decided to embark on a metaphysical trip around the world by reading a book from each of 196 independent countries in the world. Morgan's quest for touching all corners of global literature was a daunting proposition from the start. 196 books in a year is a lot at best of times but combined with her premise I personally thought that this'll be an ambition that is simply impossible to accomplish because for one, Ann doesn't speak all these languages and there's bound to be at least one country where not a single book/story was translated to English and then there's countries suffering under oppressive regimes where censorship destroys all traces of written world. And yet, against all odds, she has somehow done it. It's a remarkable feat, all the more impressive when you read her account about all the wonderful people who helped her along the way. Slowly, Ann's dash through the books because something that surpasses a mere novelty and became a metaphor for the world we live in - a world where boundaries are slowly, and rightly so, dissipating. It is also a sobering reminder of how little we really know. Just a casual glance at her reading list was enough for me to realise that I've hardly heard, let alone read, most of these authors. It's heart-warming and encouraging to be aware that even in some of those most deprived and desperate corners of our world, there's people putting their emotions and stories to paper.

So if you, like me, upon opening Ann Morgan's "Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer" initially feel despair, fear not! Her wonderful website is still there and is occasionally updated with new content while her book serves as a perfect companion to it. It is a fascinating insight into the idea and the events that made the whole adventure possible. An inspiring stuff for all the bookworms!

Review copy provided by Harvill Secker.
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REVIEW : Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill

Let's face it. It's not very likely that Neil Gaiman will ever return to writing adult novels reminiscent of his illustrious past. Last year's "Ocean at the end of the lane" was by all accounts a fantastic book but it was not anything like "American Gods" or "Neverwhere". While I'm really enjoying next stage of his literary development, I'm still miss reading those feasts of imagination like his past works were and similarly to other readers I've started looking elsewhere for my fix. C. Robert Cargill seems to be a popular choice and I was not immune to his charms. "Dreams and Shadows" was compared to works of Gaiman, Del Torro and Burroughs and I completely enjoyed uniqueness of its tale and its characters. "Queen of the Dark Things", Cargill's latest book, is its sequel and offers more of the same but with a few important differences.

Story picks up six months later and finds wizard Colby in the spotlight. He's still recovering from Ewan's death and while Limestone Kingdom is saved, Colby's troubles are only starting. He is often lost in his thoughts and spends most of the time despairing and it is this despair that leads him to future events. Some old and powerful enemies are rearing their heads and he's quickly losing the remaining few friends he had left. Turn of events pushes Colby to previously unthinkable options and he is forced to enter into some dark and unfortunate alliances with Seventy-Two. Over the course of the book, through a series of flashback and excerpts, we are introduced to back story and the surprising Queen of the Dark Things is slowly revealed in front of our eyes.

"Queen of the Dark Things" is much darker book than its predecessor. Colby's grief is the true catalyst of the entire story and while characters like Kaycee Looes do a lot to offset this overarching sense of darkness, it is his own sense of self-doubt that marks the whole first part of the book. Melancholy is never far away. It will be interesting seeing whether in the next installment focus of the story will shift from Colby to Kaycee. Cargill's rich world is further explored by abovementioned excerpts from the books written by Dr. Thaddeus Ray, Ph.D. which are strewn all across the book. It is also interesting to note that despite being direct sequel to "Dreams and Shadows", "Queen of the Dark Things" works remarkably well as a standalone story so do not be discouraged if you missed the first book in the series. In his new book, Cargill has proved that he has one of the best imaginations around and a writing talent to boot. His strange world is a wondrous creation and I've really enjoyed my visit. Having said that, "Queen of the Dark Things" is far from perfect. At times due to the excessive use of excerpts and flashbacks the story loses its steam but luckily these moments are far and between. I've also really enjoyed the darker aspects of the story and the new characters were all, without an exception, very engaging and fun to read. Cargill is masterful when it comes to creating evil cast and he certainly knows how to their parts .

Ultimately, "Queen of the Dark Things" was a treat to read and well accomplished sequel. I'll be keeping my eye for the next one. 

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Review copy provided by Gollancz / HarperCollins.


Story behind Queen of the Dark Things - Q&A with C. Robert Cargill

Q: Hi Robert! To start, what can you tell us about "Queen of the Dark Things"?

It’s the further adventures of the Colby Stevens, the boy who has seen too much. This time around he’s trying to come to grips with all of the things that went wrong in the first book as we learn more about the lost years he spent as a child wandering the world on the other side of the veil. QUEEN OF THE DARK THINGS explores sections of the supernatural world only hinted at in the first book, delving into the folklore of ancient Judaism and the Outback.

Q: Where the idea came from and what can you tell us about your writing process?

I’m a both a huge fantasy and folklore fan. One story I always wanted to see was about children plunged into a genuinely frightening and dangerous fantasy world in which they find themselves woefully out of their depth. But I also wanted to read stories about the various wonderful folklores that exist in our own world. Eventually I was inspired to marry the two and tell the story of a young boy who ends up exactly where he doesn’t belong and continually pays a terrible price for it, slowly, over time, becoming the kind of hero that emerges from that very sort of thing.

I’m big into research, so I usually spend a couple of months reading countless works on the people, events and folklore I plan on writing about. Part of the idea behind the Colby books is to force myself to play by the rules established by religion, history, and superstition, giving the work a slightly more grounded feel. I usually fill a notebook or two with monsters, stories and anecdotes to pull from once I begin. And when I sit down to write, I try to adhere as closely as possible to the established narratives. One of the great things about fantasy is that it can introduce you to long passed down stories and beliefs, so I try to write them in a way that you not only enjoy the book, but feel like you have a broader understanding or knowledge of our own shared history. It always tickles me when I hear from people who have discovered a whole new trove of stories and monsters to dream about.

My hope is that people read the Colby books and go out on their own to read about King Solomon, the Seventy-two, Aboriginal Clever Men, Dreamtime, and the Batavia and come back to revisit the books with an even deeper appreciation for the story.

Q: Have you planned the entire series from the start and how much it changed from the initial idea? 

Yeah. Initially DREAMS AND SHADOWS was meant as a standalone, but when a friend asked me if there were more, the ideas began bubbling to the surface. I worked out an outline and the various mythologies I wanted to play around with, seeding the ideas and laying the groundwork for them in it. Over the course of writing the second book, I found an even better ending to the series than I’d originally intended and set about working toward that. Otherwise, the major events and background have remained intact and the third book is, as of right now, very close to what I’d imagined before writing its predecessor.

Q: "Queen of the Dark Things" is a much darker novel than it's predecessor. How come? What is a logical progression of the story or has else something influenced the change?

The world on the other side of the veil is a scary place, populated by our worst nightmares. As that world gets bigger, it gets scarier, just as the real world does as we grow up. Colby’s just a young guy trying to make sense of it all. As answers come, he finds they lead only to bigger questions and the answers to those questions aren’t always what he wants to hear. Also, structurally, Colby’s story is only three books long, and this being the second act, things inherently need to get darker and more dangerous. The ending I’m working toward needs to be earned and the only way to do that is take Colby to darker places than we’ve seen him go previously.

Q: Was is hard writing Colby as he is now, suffering heavily after the death of his friend? 

The hardest part is conveying the deep sense of loss he feels without making the whole book about him moping around. I’m always bothered when I read a series and the hero doesn’t really acknowledge the hardships that have come before him. I really needed the audience to know that the loss of his friend changed him dramatically. It broke him. And now he needs to learn what we all must at some point in our lives: how to move on.

Q: Standing in the stark contrast to him is Kaycee, a strong character whose scenes I've particularly enjoyed reading. What can you tell us about her?

She’s the Ying to Colby’s Yang. Where Colby often pities and questions himself, Kaycee doesn’t. She’s had it much harder than Colby and always looks forward instead of back – sometimes to her own detriment. Kaycee is what Colby might have become had he made different decisions. Playing the two against each other as I do, I get to paint an external struggle that mirror’s Colby’s own inner conflict. As he tries to find a way to save the soul of his friend, he is in a way trying to find a way to save his own.

Q: In these two books you have created a very imaginative setting. It is steeped in real places such as Austin, Texas but there's plenty of fantasy elements in it. How do you get to create something like that? Is world-building hard for you? 

The toughest part of building this world is figuring out how all the pieces fit together. These stories and monsters are all drawn from existing myth. I have to ask myself: if this were real, how might it work? And how would these elements interact with all of the other ones I’ve used? I love world building and always find it fun, but the challenges I’ve set for myself with this world are particularly rewarding.

Q: There are lots of myth and fairy tale elements in your works. Where does this love for old tales come from and how have they influenced your storytelling?

All fantasy is drawn from what was, at some point in history, someone else’s religion. Demons, angels, fairies, djinnis, giants, elves, dwarves, dragons. All of them. I’m fascinated by these stories, as all fantasy fans are, but I’m particularly drawn to what lead people to believe in these things in the first place. If you look closely enough into these stories, you can find our own histories and evolution splayed out before us and who we are becomes ever the more clear. These are the things that keep me up nights, but in the best way. So of course I have to write about them.

Q: Your works have been compared to works by authors such as Neil Gaiman and William S. Burroughs. How do you feel about it?

It’s both a kind blessing and a curse. Every writer longs to be compared to the greats, but it’s also heartbreaking to read reviews by folks disappointed by the comparison. “I picked up this book because it was compared to Gaiman and Cargill is no Neil Gaiman.” That’s never easy to read, not because you aren’t living up to the legend that came before you, but because someone didn’t enjoy your work because of the expectations the comparison built up. At the end of the day, every writer just hopes and prays that someday someone compares a young newly minted writer to you and the cycle can begin anew.

Q: Does being compared to such literary titans puts additional pressure on you?

Not really. When all is said and done every writer is just a person and every book just a collection of words. You do the best you can do and history will make the decisions as to how it all shakes out. Half of any given work is what you give to it; the other half is what the audience brings in with them. You only get to control your half. Sometimes a comparison like that, as I mentioned, forces someone to grade you more harshly than they might have originally, but sometimes it works in your favor. Sometimes people believe a work to be better just because other people do. So in a case like this you take the good with the bad. I take the flattery with a grain of salt just as I do the admonishments.

Q: Who were the authors who originally inspired you to write and what recent titles would you recommend to our readers?

Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER was the first novel I ever read and was the inspiration for becoming a writer. It lead me to read all of King’s works and once I was done with those I moved on to the man King dubbed his successor, Clive Barker. CABAL melted my brain and introduced me to the idea of marrying horror with fantasy. Soon after I discovered Robert Anton Wilson, Hermann Hesse, William S. Burroughs and Franz Kafka and each further inspired me each in their own way.

Joe Hill’s 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS is one of the very best horror/dark fantasy anthologies of the last decade. It’s essential reading for fans of either genre. My good friend Ari Marmell recently put out his most inspired work, HOT LEAD, COLD IRON, an Urban Fantasy gumshoe novel set in 1930’s Gangland Chicago, and it is damned excellent. And Saladin Ahmed’s THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON is some of the most inspired and original fantasy in years – a high fantasy adventure set in Muslim mythology. These are easily some of my favorites.

Q: To conclude, is there going to be a third book in the series? If yes, what can you tell us about it?

That’s the rumor. I certainly want to write one. All I can say at this point is that it is the logical conclusion of the series, ending Colby’s story in a (hopefully) satisfying way while doing something I’ve never seen in another work of its kind. When all is said and done, it should leave plenty of room for other stories in the world while leaving the audience feeling like they’ve read a complete story.

C. Robert Cargill
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REVIEW : Borders by Roy Jacobsen


Originally published in 1999, “Borders” is my first encounter with the writings of Roy Jacobsen. I've certainly heard of his works, most of which have been awarded many literary accolades and have universally critically praised. I've also been "warned" about the density of his narrative so therefore I instantly knew that the synopsis, no matter how accurate or descriptive it might seem at first glance will be lacking in conveying the essence of what his latest English translation is all about.

Superficially, you might expect "Borders" to be a novel about World War II and it certainly is that. But then you'll notice the impossible situation that Markus Hebel finds himself in. Markus' son is caught in Stalingrad, a city on the verge of collapse while Hitler stubbornly refuses to withdraw. And there's that mention of "Operation Winter Storm", a real German offensive that occurred during the Battle of Stalingrad and which unsuccessfully attempted to help the German 6th Army during their encirclement by the Soviets of the German 6th Army. Markus is a Belgian radio operator working for Feldmarschall Erich von Manstein, a strategist behind the operation. And while "Borders" is about all of these things, it is also not about either of them. Like a masterful movie director, Jacobsen often zooms in and completely forgets the big picture. At its heart of hearts "Borders" is all about ordinary people, suffering and dying in conflicts that they often can't completely understand and for the causes they certainly would condone if they had any choice. This is instantly obvious when Marcus finds himself is a position when blindly following the orders means he'll have to sacrifice his son. Faced with that prospect he would betray everyone without batting an eyelid. World War II and the Battle of Stalingrad are just events of choice. All these ideas and emotions would equally be applicable to any other conflict in history of mankind.

So those borders mentioned in the title of Jacobsen's book mean much more than a purely geographical concept. For him, equally if not more important are the borders that lie within us - those fine lines that separate us from the beasts. "Borders" is definitely a novel about World War II but a novel that transcends the event. It shows that even after all those horrific crimes against the humanity have been committed, love strives. Very interesting and different novel.

Review copy provided by MacLehose Press.
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