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In yesterday’s ‘The Great LBR 2011 Retrospective, Part 1’ I took a look at the ten best genre novels of the year. Today, it’s time to take a look at the best genre publisher or imprint for the year. I don’t want to take up too much of your time on this fine Christmas Eve, but before I get around to doing all the proclaiming winners and what not, I’d like to give a bit of an overview of the thought process I went through to select the winner. Then, we’ll see who won. Shall we begin?

It’s been quiet around here, don’t you think? With not a single review in a month, it’s fair to say I’ve been a bad, bad blogger. But hey, I’ve been busy. And for reasons unknown to me, I’ve been struggling to force myself to write reviews (which is why I haven’t written any). The holiday season, however, is much progressed and the end of the year is nearly upon us. Not to end the year on a bad note - and as a show of good faith for my dedication to reviewing - I give onto thee LBR’s 2011 retrospective. Rankings, awards, and reflections follow...

Michael J. Sullivan’s road to publication is the dream of every self-published writer out there. After having released the first five books in his epic fantasy series the Riyria Revelations by his own means and seeing his books met with fulgurant enthusiasm (and sales figures), Orbit opted to pick up all six of the books in his series. Theft of Swords - the Orbit published omnibus version of the first two books - showcases Sullivan’s lean prose and fun, classically oriented storytelling style. Though overly simplistic in some regards, the first volume in Sullivan’s series is an enjoyable and well-crafted one.

Stephen Deas - most-famously author of the Memory of Flames series that began with The Adamantine Palace - came at us last year with a fresh offering set in his established world and geared towards a slightly younger audience. The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice was a fine beginning to a new series. Though the core investigation featured was largely less enticing than it could have been, the novel’s setting and well-wrought characters presented much possibility for the future. Making away with distracting side-plots, Deas in this second Thief-Taker novel, The Warlock’s Shadow, tightens the plot, focusing it on Berren and he continues to haphazardly seek his place in the intrigue-tinged and vibrant city of Deephaven.

Every once in a while there comes a book I feel absolutely unqualified to review. The latest of these is Christopher Priest’s (of The Prestige fame) newest book, The Islanders. Having not read anything from Priest in the past, I was both tentative and truly excited to dig in. What I was met with is a piece of fiction so vibrant, subtle, passionate and so damn clever it made me feel inadequate. But in a good way. The kind of way where I’m more than happy to reduced to a state of primal awe at an artist’s expression of his thoughts on themes and topics equally diverse and important, and do so intelligently, gracefully without sacrificing readability. For a first experience, Priest sure knows how to impress.

If you’ve been reading LBR for a bit, you’ll know I’m an avid fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s momentous Shadows of the Apt series. Not only has Tchaikovsky managed to produce an doorstop-length novel bi-annually for the past three years, but the quality of his work has been on the rise nearly since book one. Heirs of the Blade is the seventh novel in the series, following on February’s The Sea Watch, and the third (and assumed final) volume of the series second arc. Much like the two last installments preceding it, Heirs of the Blade dually focuses on the continued exploration of the series’ landscape, and an in-depth look at a few select characters. Once again, Tchaikovsky has managed to take us in a somewhat unexpected direction, though this latest seems to unfortunately lost some of the excitement and drive of its direct predecessors.

Having previously dealt mostly in children and teenage fantasy fiction, Canadian writer K.V. Johansen makes her entrance on the adult epic fantasy scene with Blackdog, an ambitious standalone novel filled with gods, goddesses, entrancing magics and touching characters. Boasting a scope and depth easily the equal of any ten-volume epic, Blackdog mixes the scale and feel of the greatest fantasy sagas with a succinct, character-driven storytelling, blending the two into a (relatively) meager, highly enjoyable five hundred fifty pages.

The husband and wife writing duo that makes up Clay and Susan Griffith made quite the rounds a year ago with their genre-bending debut garnering an attention in reviews greater than for any other Pyr release to date. Because of the generally highly-regarded quality of the first tome of the ‘Vampire Empire’ trilogy, expectations for the second volume, The Rift Walker, was equally high. For some reviewers having already given their verdict, this sequel is not as strong as its predecessor, yet I would maintain that this is a surprisingly strong second outing. All the juicy elements of the first book are there - vampires, magic, steampunk, romance, political scheming and war - and the Griffiths make do without the obtrusive ‘I’m an imprisoned princess’ passages that bogged down The Greyfriar. All in all, the Griffiths continue to show us the strengths and benefits of combining a variety of genre tropes into one, lean novel.

The Straight Razor Cure, also known to US readers as Low Town, is Daniel Polansky’s debut novel and a notable one at that. Polansky choses not to follow the beaten path, offering us a rich and unusual setting of drug and crime-ridden streets populated by characters that do not play by the book and can well and truly resonate with us readers. Amidst a supernatural serial killing case, dealing with corrupt police services and fighting his own personal battles, Warden’s tale is one worthy of readership.The Straight Razor Cure is by no means perfect, but it is a damn good offering on the part of a debut novelist.

Julie Crisp, Editorial Director at the Tor imprint of Pan Macmillan in the UK, had some weeks ago alluded to a re-edition of Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series. One of the notable changes of these new editions will be a shift up from mass market to B-size novels but it was also revealed that the earlier novels in the series would also benefit an all new cover treatment. Today, on her Twitter account, Julie Crisp posted the new artwork for the first two books in the series, Empire in Black and Gold which you can see above, and Dragonfly Falling which you'll discover if you scroll down the page.

Ever since I first delved into Twelve, Jasper Kent’s Danilov Quintet has been a reference for me in terms of historical fantasy and vampires that don’t sparkle. Kent’s debut was both an entrancingly thematic exploration of Napoleonic Russia and a refreshing take on the most famous of bloodsucking beasts, and Thirteen Years Later was an even more thrilling tale of mysteries, conspiracies and vicious creatures of the night. The sequel, the aptly named The Third Section, marks a change in protagonist and a significant shift forward in time, telling a story just as colorful and historically rich as its predecessors yet is somewhat lacking in the narrative department.

This picture may not be of the best quality, but it does offer a look at the UK art for Douglas Hulick's sophomore effort, Sworn in Steel. Keeping much the same style (Drothe - the main character - centerfold in the shadows) as that for the cover of Among Thieves - the first 'Tale of the Kin,' Larry Rostant has however opted for a more colorful palette. Overall, when you account for the added dynamism, I would say that Tor has noticeably increased the quality of the art, and making it more attractive to potential readers. Also, based on the quality of its predecessor, this should be just be a damn good book. If it's the US cover art that interests you more, follow the source link underneath the image above which should take you to a page displaying both the American and British versions of the cover.

As you might have noticed if you’ve been checking on LBR (as I’m sure you have) you’ll have noticed that it’s been quiet for the past three weeks. Deadly quiet. There’s one reason for this, and that is I’ve been away from home for all of that time. A mixture of lack of time, unreliable connectivity to the internet by staying with various relatives as I traveled across most of the eastern half of Canada meant I had very few opportunities to write any reviews or post anything at all. I did, however, have the time to read quite a decent mixture of novels and graphic novels, which for lack of having much more time now that I’m back home, I will review in series of posts consisting of condensed reviews. Below are reviews of the first three of the eclectic bunch of novels I read. A second post concerning with novels read and another looking at graphic novels will follow shortly.

I went into Fuzzy Nation unsure of what to expect - I mean a novel reboot? - but I trusted in Scalzi. And he didn’t let me down. This is a smart, compelling science fiction novel with a bit of an offbeat nature. Far from the galaxy-wide military science fiction of Scalzi’s previous books, Fuzzy Nation concentrates on the fate of one small planet, on the fate of one small people, on the evaluation of what makes a species sentient or not. The varied, intelligent characters are effortlessly engaging carry us through this well executed story. It’s not perfect, but Scalzi’s latest comes close: diverse, thoughtful and just plain entertaining.

I usually make use of this paragraph to preface and somewhat summarize the review to follow, but I feel I’ve gone into enough details in by criticism below to warrant a shortened introduction. George Mann, most famous for his delightful victorian steampunk series of ‘Newbury & Hobbes Investigations’ comes back with the second volume of his New York based steampunk superhero saga, Ghosts of War. Though on the whole more enjoyable than not, this second volume suffers many of the same pitfalls as its predecessor though it does show hope for progress. Read on past the blurb for a more comprehensive explanation.

Coming from renewed The Dark Knight writer and comic-book author David S. Goyer and television producer Michael Cassutt is Heaven’s Shadow, a blend of modern space exploration and alien contact, but neither quite like we would expect. No brilliantly innovative piece of science fiction, Heaven’s Shadow is nevertheless an entertaining read not unlike a Hollywood film, with noteworthy characters and its fair share of intrigue. We see characters pushed to the limits while attempting to survive in a unforgiving environment and intraterrestrial and extraterrestrial tensions mount - all in all a more than decent, heart-thumping space saga.

Mark Lawrence is a new name in fantasy, yet his presence on the online scene and the amount of hype surrounding his debut, Prince of Thorns, would make you think otherwise. Even more so the quality of that first novel. An utterly ruthless read, in its relatively short length its ferocity will shock you, its characters will astound you and its tale will entrance you. Prince of Thorns is a vastly compelling, fast-pace read - once the end has come, Lawrence will leave you wishing for more.

Darren J. Guest’s debut horror novel, Dark Heart, is not quite what one might expect. Instead of telling one of the more violent, macabre horror stories, Guest opts for the more personal tale, one that is more emotionally terrifying than outright horrifying. Leo Stamp may be a disturbed individual, but Guest makes him, to our pleasure, an appealingly disturbed individual. A tale containing a mix of absolution and age-old strife with a slight bit of mystery, Dark Heart is touching book, and a very satisfying debut for Guest.

(Art by Steve Stone via Orbit )

I'm part way through T.C. McCarthy's first novel, Germline, right now and very much enjoying it. Though it's set for release in August, Orbit have already revealed the cover art for the second title in the series, Exogene. I'm not usually a big fan of these realistic covers, but knowing from the first book what the cover is meant to depict - both the character and the mood - I can say that it's a good fit. Head on over to Orbit's website to read their Creative, Lauren Panepinto's, thoughts on the artwork. Also, catch the blurb for Exogene after the jump.

Ari Marmell’s third original novel, the Pyr-published The Goblin Corps, is an unapologetic fantasy of the best kind. The Goblin Corps is a grand scale sword & sorcery adventure, the likes of which are rarely seen anymore. An Abercrombian take on well-worn fantasy tropes with more than a tad of humor, this is a novel singly meant to entertain. And it does just that. At times equally gruesome, humorous, outlandish and thrilling, The Goblin Corps can be summed up in a word: awesome. Or at least, that’s how I imagine most dedicated fantasy fans will see it.

Steampunk has been know - and celebrated - for it’s fun-oriented nature. I’ve often seen it as nothing other than an excuse to tinker further with Jules Verne’s and H.G. Wells’ inventions, the chance to explore an alternate version of our past, and usually as a means of rekindling the great sense of wonder and adventure found in the tales of those previously mentioned masters. In his first two ‘Newbury & Hobbes Investigations’ Mann offered us ever so slightly shallow - if extremely pleasant - renderings of those ambitions, but with his latest, The Immorality Engine, he chooses to delve deeper into his characters, rendering a novel that retains all the fun of its predecessors while gaining unprecedented depth.

Degrees of Freedom is the final volume of Simon Morden’s initial Petrovitch/Metrozone series. The first of these, Equations of Life, was an entertaining cyberpunk but the sequel, Theories of Flight, alright showed signs of repetitiveness and lack progression between the novels. Degrees of Freedom, sadly, confirms this trend. It is by no means a bad novel, but it’s resemblance to the first two in how its story is built and executed leaves too strong a sense of déja vu for it not to negatively impact my enjoyment of the novel. For this reason, this review will be kept a bit short since a few different plot points apart, Degrees of Freedom felt somewhat like a remake of the previous two and I feel no need of desire to reiterate some the points I made there.

You may have noticed a lack of presence on my part over the past week and particularly this past weekend. That's entirely my fault, as I've had quite a planned out (music festivals and such) which took over a considerable amount of my time. Yes, that means I was absent on the 1st of July and missed posting LBR's Chosen Few for the coming month. Never fear, though late, my selection of SFF novels is all ready for your perusal. You'll notice this is quite a hefty selection, but I do plan on having more time to dedicate to reading, so hopefully I'll be getting through all of it. Before reviews of any new releases, you'll find some reviews that I originally intended for June - the books are already read, so you'll soon see reviews of Darren J. Guest's Dark Heart, Andrew Mayer's The Falling Machine and Simon Morden's Degrees of Freedom. I think everyone can guess which is the biggest title below, without a doubt George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, but the new M.D. Lachlan, Jon Sprunk and Col Buchanan - amongst others - will, I expect hold their own.

With her debut novel Songs of the Earth, it would be difficult to say that Elspeth Cooper presents readers with a particularly innovative take on the typical epic fantasy tale. Instead Cooper, with promising dexterity, extends an exciting version of a familiar story. Songs of the Earth fully embraces genre tropes, is not ashamed of it, going for the most part from strength to strength, despite a few missteps and shortcomings. This may not quite be the outstanding fantasy debut it was touted as, but Cooper makes a commendable attempt at that title, resulting in a solid novel.

The first volume of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth, Out of the Deep Woods, introduces us to a fascinating post-apocalyptic world where an incurable contagion rages, and where children are now born with distinctively animal features for which reason they are hunted out for bounty. Gus, born sharing some of the features of a deer, has lived alone all his life with his father in the deep woods, hiding out from whatever tatter of humanity is left in the world. When his father dies, Gus, at nine years of age, has to fend for himself, that is until he is attacked by hunters and falls in with the mysterious and violent Jepperd. Superficially the tale of two unlikely companions travelling across an unforgiving landscape, Out of the Deep Woods is really about much more than that. Lemire guides the reader in the exploration of a captivating yet brutal setting and the affects of it on a young, innocent boy.

Nights of Villjamur, Mark Charan Newton’s debut and the first in the ‘Legends of the Red Sun’ series, was a flawed but tasteful demonstration of Newton’s potential as a writer. With his second novel, City of Ruin, he showed us that he had a lot more to say, expanding the world we discovered in the first book and telling a tale more imaginative, audacious and better crafted than its predecessor. The Book of Transformations is what Newton has to offer next, an even bolder narrative that explores themes not often seem in this type of fantasy. But this is no surprise - assigning his work to any genre or sub-genre has long-since become a futile enterprise. He shows us once more how the rules and expectations of readers can be bent to form a more encompassing, more exciting novel.

So this great new piece of art just appeared (click on it above to enlarge). Not too long ago I posted quite a few of the covers for titles from the upcoming Fall-Winter Pyr catalog, but sadly the art for Mark Hodder's third Burton & Swinburne adventure was missing from the lot. We can now, however, admire Jon Sullivan's splendid work. Like the covers for The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, this piece of art is very steampunk evocative, what with the giant motorized spider-thing present in the forefront. The lettering is the same as for the previous books, but it's interesting to see that Pyr are putting more emphasis on Mark Hodder's name than they have for the previous two books. I'll admit I'm not as much a fan of this cover as I was that of the second book's cover, but this is still some fine work. A blurb should hopefully make its appearance soon, most likely when Pyr officially unveil their catalog so hold tight!

The story which began in The Adamantine Palace and grew in The King of the Crags reaches a fitting and fiery conclusion in this, The Order of the Scales. Notorious for his revival of Dragons as they should be - fierce and furious - Stephen Deas, in this final volume of the ‘Memory of Flames’ trilogy, shows us that he is more than capable of putting an end to the entertaining tales he begins. On this final (for now) trip to the Dragon Realms, he offers us more of what we loved in the previous novels and blowing it up to a whole new scale. Dragon lovers, this one is, without a doubt, for you.

Sam Sykes made a remarkable entry onto the fantasy scene last year with his debut, Tome of the Undergates. This was fantasy not quite like you’d seen before, with strong characterization ruling supreme over a dark, twisted but enjoyable storyline. Black Halo, the second book in the 'Aeon’s Gate' series, is a direct continuation of that novel. In this new novel, Sykes maintains and even improves - if maybe not as much as I would have liked - on the things that made his first novel such a joy to read. Filled to the brim with sharp dialogue, distinctive wit, demons, ghosts, lizardmen and what have you, Black Halo is continuing proof that Sykes is one talented fantasist.

Last year Mark Chadbourn introduced us to Will Swyfte, spy and adventurer-extraordinaire, his spy companions and their struggle for Queen and country against England’s human and magical enemies. Swyfte is back in The Scar-Crow Men, a novel a tad darker than the first ‘Swords of Albion’ novel, but also better. Swyfte is, like before, a joy to accompany as he fights continuously mounting perils, unravels twisted conspiracies and, yes, saves the day. In terms of historical fantasies, Chadbourn’s books are quickly setting the bar for what defines high caliber fiction.

I've been a bit lax in my coverage of covert art in the past few weeks, so to make up for it I thought I'd collect in this post some of the best new artwork I've come across in past couple of weeks (Ok, past month). There's quite a few neat pieces of art down there, so art lovers, I think you're going to like this post. Amongst others, we've got quite a few of the covers for titles from the upcoming Fall-Winter Pyr catalog, the Orbit covers for the Riyria Revelations and Saladin Ahmed's 2012 debut. Please feel free to click on any of the art to enlarge it...

I’m usually the kind of reviewer that plans ahead which book I’ll read and, occasionally, when but I must admit that in the case of Teresa Frohock’s debut novel, Miserere, I picked it up on a bit of a whim. The premise is relatively simple: the worlds that the bible tells us exist, Heaven, Earth and Hell, all exist, as well as an extra one, Woerld. Hence, Miserere is an interesting blend of secondary world fantasy and Christian mythology. Woerld is a place where the Katharoi, servants of God, use magic to keep Earth and their own world safe from the Fallen which reside in Hell. In my mind, this was a risky creative decision, but Frohock pulls it off splendidly. Combining this intriguing world building with very touching and realistic characters, this debut, though not perfect, manages to be both moving and enjoyable.

Amidst a lot going on outside of my blogging life lately I've had a bit of difficulty keeping up with my reading, but during May I was able to offer a solid six reviews and read a couple more books than that even. Yet, I'm still behind my goals for the year in reading, and a few notable titles which I've really been meaning to read, like Peter Orullian's The Unremembered and Mark Chadbourn's The Scar-Crow Men (only just started), I haven't gotten to yet. I expect to see a bit more time freed up in June, so as you will see below, I've been a bit more ambitious in the number of books I plan to review. I am also, for example, still waiting on my copy of Stephen Deas' The Order of the Scales, despite it having dispatched over two weeks ago. Nevertheless, there's quite a good mix down there, I think, but please let me know what you think!

Embassytown, like previous China Miéville novels before it, is a bold piece of fiction. Bold in the goals it sets for itself, bold in the expansive literary boundaries within which it exists and bold in terms of the type reading experience it delivers, but ultimately because of this it’s a successful novel. Successful because Miéville knows how to achieve his goals, knows how to push, explore and create new boundaries and knows how to deliver some of the most wholly satisfying and entrancing reading experiences. The man’s got talent, you can’t deny it. And when he packs that into one of the most intricate and daring science fiction novels of the decade it becomes work of fiction of transcendent quality.

This is what you might call a ‘vintage’ review seeing as Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides is not by any stretch a new book. But what it does have to draw attention to it at this time is a new edition from Corvus in the UK and a Hollywood adaptation in the form of the fourth incarnation of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, adequately subtitled On Stranger Tides. My aim here is simply to share with you my opinion of this not-so-recent novel and draw attention to it, as I too must admit that I hadn’t cared for it - hell, even known of it - before the movie news. What I can say for it now, though, is that it is an all-encompassing, enjoyment-driven swashbuckling adventure told in a careful, masterful voice.

It is entirely justifiable to call Leviathan Wakes one of the most hotly anticipated titles of the year. Touted by George R.R. Martin as a ‘kickass space opera‘ James S.A. Corey’s debut is a return to the old-school form of space opera, but souped up to satisfy modern tastes. Delivering on Martin’s promise of a kickass story, Corey makes every effort to mix together a crime plot with that of a tense struggle and an armed interplanetary conflict.This sprawling start to the aptly named ‘The Expanse’ is a triumph of science fiction entertainment and fine writing.

Ben Aaronovitch took the world - or at the very least me - by surprise with his first original novel, Rivers of London, when it was released in January, establishing itself on many a bestseller list and receiving positive reviews across the board. Unexpectedly and truly fun, Rivers of London promised many great things for the further adventures of Peter Grant. Moon Over Soho constitutes the second of these adventures, one just as entertaining and just exciting as the first, with added depth to boot. The Peter Grant books are quickly establishing themselves as a reference in fun-driven Urban Fantasy and Moon Over Soho is proof of why that is.

The Ritual comes to us from the keyboard of Apartment 16 writer Adam Nevill, who in that previous novel displayed deft skill in making use of each and every essential element of the horror writer’s palette: a tense and appropriately austere setting, mystery-shrouded and terrifying supernatural elements, fast pacing, engaging characters and a knack for keeping the reader in a constant state of delightful apprehension. Nevill hits those same right notes again in The Ritual in an even more honed manner than before. This dazzling horror tale is continuing proof that Nevill is here to stay - upon completing it I could only sit, amazed, at the horrifyingly excellent tale he had spun.

This artwork was posted a few days ago on Rowena Cory Daniells' website, so I apologize for my lateness in posting about it now but I only just stumbled across it. This cover is for the first volume of Daniells' next series, The Outcast Chronicles, entitled Besieged. Like the artwork for her King Rolen's Kin series, this cover art is from artist Clint Langley. Though I can't say this is my favorite artwork or even type of artwork, the work Langley has done here is quite good - the detail is impressive and though it screams fantasy a bit too much (in a bad way), it does increase my interest in this forthcoming novel. There is no word yet on a publication date for The Outcast Chronicles, but you can be sure I will let you know when there is.

The first of the ‘Metrozone’ books, Equations of Life, surprised me in its overbearingly-fun nature and I expected much of the same from the second installment, Theories of Flight. Thankfully, Morden delivers once again a thrilling novel, filled with smart plots and science fiction galore. Samuil Petrovitch returns in fine form to save the day and you should be glad for it. His sharp wit and un-paralleled resourcefulness return also and it is a joy once more to see him put them to use unravelling conspiracies and battling his way through every and all situations to achieve his desired goal. Clearly, this series is shaping up to be a light-hearted staple of the science fiction genre.

Last month was a bit hectic for me, what with a trip to Togo which left me cut off from the internet for two weeks and a lot going on outside of my blogging. Nevertheless I was able to get enough reading done before I left to have some reviews up for you in the time I was gone. But my trip also meant a lack of opportunity to read... so I have a bit of catching up to do. Much like April, May is a month full of great SFF releases, including the new China Miéville, the conclusion to Stephen Deas' A Memory of Flames and Adam Nevill's latest horror scare to name but a few. You will find these titles amongst those in the list below as well as one or two books I will be catching up on from April. And, as always, this list is subject to change with both additions and subtractions possible.

I feel that I have a bit of a disclaimer to make. Trudi Canavan’s books were some of the very first fantasies I read, and even a year ago - when I read The Ambassador’s Mission - I had not nearly read as much fantasy as I have now. As such, when I began reading reading The Rogue, I had the feeling not that this latest was any worse than any of Canavan’s previous books, but that it didn’t quite hold up to other reading experiences I’ve had in the past year. This initial sentiment, however, faded as the magic of Canavan’s writing and the compelling return to Kyralia and familiar faces won me over once more.

With the amount of praise being piled onto him from all sides, when I first heard he had a new book coming out, I though it was about time I finally delved into Eric Brown’s work. Not to mention The Kings of Eternity, his latests, was being hailed by such high standing science fiction figures as Stephen Baxter as Brown’s ‘best yet.’ The experience was indeed deserving of all the praise. This riveting ‘dual’ story is in many ways a nostalgic ode to science fiction of the past, while at the same time it is a thoughtful exploration of human nature (within a sci-fi concept) and an entertaining, mysterious tale to boot!

Even amongst all of this spring’s hyped titles - and there have been quite a few - Douglas Hulick’s surprising debut, Among Thieves has been able to draw a favorable amount of attention. In fact it quickly became one of the most anticipated debuts amongst SFF bloggers, including myself. Being sold as something of a cross between Brent Weeks and Scott Lynch, Among Thieves had a lot to live up to. Certainly, Hulick’s first draws easy comparisons to the works of Lynch and Weeks, but it is very much its own beast, and a quality one at that.

Hard SF isn’t what I would consider my forte - though I enjoy it every once a while I don’t exactly I don’t partake in the reading of it to the same degree as I do say fantasy. This means that I can be a particularly exigent reader when it comes to this particular sub-genre, but it also means that when I encounter a quality hard SF I’m not afraid to say so. M. J. Locke’s debut, Up Against It, is just one such quality read. An intelligent, solid plot and plenty of science counterbalance some unfortunately weak characterization to achieve a very attractive debut for fans of hard SF but which will not satisfy readers trying to approach this sub-genre for the first time.

One word: wow! This artwork completely blew me away. I've mentioned before that I've like the intention behind Gollancz's branded Sanderson covers - I loved them on the Mistborn Trilogy, for which they were originally created, not so much for The Way of Kings and but thought it fit Elantris a bit better. Recently the artwork for the Gollancz edition of Warbreaker also made its first appearance, but I think there is no denying that the atmospheric style of these covers always befitted the world of Mistborn best. The blue mist is back in this cover of the upcoming new Mistborn novel, The Alloy of Law. This novel is set some ways down the line from the first three Mistborn books, and this is reflected in the artwork by that strange piece of metalwork. I'm much prefer this cover to the slightly generic US art by Chris McGrath. This artwork is striking, intriguing and I'm sure it will sit nicely on my shelf next to the other Mistborn books. Scroll down or click through for the blurb and more information on the release.

Equations of Life is a novel that surprised me. Coming from planetary geophysics PhD Simon Morden, this short, intense and fun-filled novel won me over. It is by no means a deep and reflective piece, but should rather be praised for what it intends to be: a wild and raucous science fiction thriller written, for the most part, for entertainment purposes. This doesn’t mean that Morden shies away from writing brilliant, witty, and most importantly, memorable characters which drive this nifty story. In short, Equations of Life is well-executed and easily accessible by which you should let yourself be taken in for no other reason that for a short bout of sci-fi fun.

The Dragon’s Path is without a doubt one of the most anticipated fantasy books of the year, and though he isn’t as big a hitter as some of them, Abraham’s latest featured in the ‘Most Anticipated’ lists right up there with the new Abercrombie or Rothfuss. His very much loved Long Price Quartet demonstrated that there was very little wrong that this man could do. There were high expectations and I’m glad to say that Abraham met them blow for blow. His take on the more typical Epic Fantasy story, though he sacrifices the atmospheric and exotic feel, is just as original and captivating as his first series. A set of solid, driven and engaging characters complement the plot wonderfully, making this one of the very best ‘classic’ epics I’ve read in quite a while.

The Dragon's Path, Daniel Abraham (Orbit)

For many fantasy fans Daniel Abraham's name has become synonymous excellence. His Long Price Quartet was truly some of the best fantasy I've read... ever. The Dragon's Path starts off an all new series, The Dagger and the Coin. This is Abraham's take on your more typical epic fantasy and, having had the chance to read it, I can say it's good. Perhaps this slightly more generic fantasy will finally attract the audience Abraham deserves... we'll see. Review up later.

Among Thieves, Douglas Hulick (Tor UK/Roc)

Much good has already been said about this book. It's being marketed as something similar to Brent Weeks, but still very unique. I've been eagerly waiting to get me hands on this and... I'm still waiting. This new assassin-fantasy (yes, I think it's about time we start referring to it as its own sub-genre) comes from debut author Douglas Hulick, whom you can meet in a couple of interviews run on other blogs: here at Civilian-Reader and here at Fantasy Faction.

The Kings of Eternity, Eric Brown (Solaris)

My science fiction pick for the month, The Kings of Eternity, comes from much praised author Eric Brown. I've been meaning to get into Eric Brown's stuff for a while now and came extremely close to picking up his previous book, Guardians of the Phoenix, and this looks like the perfect jumping point into his work. The Kings of Eternity has been described as an accessible and highly enjoyable read - we'll see how I feel about it. This time travel story based around the lives a eccentric writer and a link he has to another writer from the 1930s is intriguing in premise, and if it holds up to the praise, should by all means be great fun.

The Unremembered, Peter Orullian (Tor Books)

Tor Books is setting this one up to be the next big epic fantasy sequence, you know the one, with thick and numerous volumes, to accompany Sanderson's Stormlight Archives as the front-runners of the Tor fantasy catalog. As such, this looks to be a fairly typical storyline, if no less interesting. The beautiful cover from Kekai Kotaki goes far to make me more interested in this book. Good or bad, we'll all be hearing a lot about this one, I'm sure.

The Scar-Crow Men, Mark Chadbourn (Bantam)

Mark Chadbourn's The Sword of Albion, the first Will Swyfte book, was an intrepid mix of James Bond and Elizabethan England with plenty of intrigue, sword-fighting and, yes, magic. Swyfte is back for a second adventure in The Scar-Crow Men which appears to promise more of the same - in this case a good thing. I've been looking forward to rejoining Will since finishing The Sword of Albion. If the first book is anything to go by, Chadbourn should not disappoint on this second outing.

Equations of Life, Simon Morden (Orbit)

Equations of Life didn't come to my attention until very recently when it's very peculiar artwork caught my eye. Written by a PhD in planetary geosphysics, this science fiction thriller is one filled with mobsters, AIs and nukes. Set in a post nuclear holocaust London, now known as the Metrozone, Equations of Life follows Sam Petrovitch who wants to stay unseen and out of trouble but just can't seem to manage it. I'm lucky enough to have already read this and can say that it is very recommendable, with just the right amounts of wit, action and character.

Helen Lowe’s The Heir of Night was a book full of potential. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to it. The Heir of Night is a perfect example of mediocrity - and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Simply put, it is not a novel to challenge genre conventions or go against the stereotypes, but not everyone wants their chosen read to forge it’s own new and original path through the literary landscape, sometimes an enthusiastic retelling of familiar tropes is enough for a book to be ‘good.’ The Heir of Night, sadly, doesn’t even offer that. Those looking for a cosy ‘same-old’ fantasy might find their fit with Lowe’s first adult novel, but I, for one, was left on my appetite.