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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!