Book Review: The Mirror Empire

20646731I will say this: with The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley definitely tried to step outside the classic boundaries where fantasy is concerned. True to form, if there was a trope or type to be twisted, she at the least inverted it.

This was my first experience with Kameron Hurley, despite certain implorations from friends. As such, I went in without any expectations, and what I found gave me swift hopes. Stylistically, the script flows easily, with poignant prose and snappy, fast-moving dialogue. Playing with the traditional concepts of gender was slapped right up front—one culture had five, another three. Male and female role reversal was leading the charge. To top it all off, there was the lush opportunity of a world consumed, not by Hell or another Plane or that shadowy kingdom to the south, but by an alternate version of itself. Furthermore, the magic system features a litany of powers derived from the various stars themselves, and whichever was ascendant at the time, turning literal the classic quip of “celestial magic.”

In essence, it is a book set to challenge many of the long-standing conventions of epic fantasy, while presenting a backdrop with action-packed potential beyond cultural revolution.

To begin, the story itself: it hops around a goodly bit, but we are granted the advantage of world-building spanning not just one, but two worlds. Herein, the world of the main characters is in the grips of a major cataclysm, heralded by the rising of a dark star which allows alternate versions of that planet to essentially align with one another and break the boundaries like spirits on Halloween. Enter Lilia, a young woman shunted between two of these worlds and left with an unshakable determination to rejoin her mother. Meanwhile, alternate versions of everyone she knows and meets are essentially plotting the doom of…well, everyone she knows and meets. Enemies are everywhere and countries are tearing themselves apart trying to stop armies on the march and root out spies wearing friends’ and lovers’ skins. The story bounces between these nations, from the perspectives of Lilia, a newly-crowned Kai (king), a masochistic but devoted general, and one of Lilia’s powerful but rather clueless friends.

Perspective, perspective, perspective is key here. There’s plenty of it—which, let’s be honest, is fairly standard these days. Unfortunately, these are a touch hit or miss. We never quite get inside characters’ heads, no matter how much time we spend with them. The particular POV gives us thoughts, at times, but never fully immerses us in the person we are tailing; there is always some aloofness. There’s a number of times the POV shifts to one-off characters, who appear only long enough to be snuffed out. Furthermore, some of the main characters slouch a bit when it comes to impressions. (VAGUE SPOILER FOLLOWS) In the case of Zezili, the general-savior-man raper of an empire, the only admirable quality she really shows is her loyalty, and her whole arc is based around the necessity of breaking that quality for the greater good. Lilia, our focal point for the series, starts off strong, and she had a lot of potential, but as more characters came in, her single-minded focus seemed to railroad her development more than a bit, only to be rushed toward evolution at the end. It felt…haphazard. As for the less than kingly Kai? Much of his arc is others solving problems while he laments his ability to pursue one polyamorous love.

Which…honestly is another thing that gave me pause. I loved the potential of the gender bending dynamic here. When Hurley began to mention the genders, as well as relationships, and scratch the surface of their roles and meanings, I got giddy. So many possibilities. It could have had a real opportunity to expand self-consciousness and find new ways at considering how we identify. Instead, this…didn’t go to the depths I wanted it to.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some examination. The polyamorous style of relations, the inherently bisexual quality of most characters, the submissive quality of the male role—while far from subtle, were an interesting dynamic to see played out. Women were decidedly the guiding factor in most lands. Yet that seemed to be as far as it went in most cases. There was no real expansion on the genders, no depth given to lend them individual intricacy. People talked frequently of the partners they wished to mate with, the various structures of love they wished to enter into, but aside from one case, where it was more of a harem, we never got to see how this structure worked, how people entered into them, where these roles actually put people in terms of sexuality and relationships, and their place within them. It allowed for power role reversal, but never brought these identities to life.

That said, there is plenty of originality here, and a vivid, sweeping quality of culture that cannot go unnoticed and unrecognized. In terms of worldbuilding, it was top notch, and without a trace of the western aligned molds fantasy so often falls so neatly into. Cannibalistic Buddhism, dog horses and bear cavalry (though tragically we never got to see them at war), and organic structures woven of vines, mushrooms and magic, along with the prevalence of blood magic made for a dizzying array of structural uniqueness that immediately tosses the reader out of Kansas and into a magical realm. This is no Uncanny Valley; this is 100% fantasy.

Also, sentient plants that like to eat people. Take THAT, vegetarians.

Overall? I’d recommend it for the exceptionality and the issues it prods, as well as the start it embodies in stepping outside cultural norms. The worldbuilding is solid, and even if you have some trouble connecting with the characters, the pace should be enough to sweep you along.

(But seriously: bear cavalry in an adult fantasy novel. This is where you slow clap.)

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The Hollow March Anniversary Photoshoot

Yes, you read that right. This frigid little month marks the fourth anniversary of The Hollow March‘s debut, and for that, I decided to have a little fun (AKA be a dork and play with sharp, pointy things). For those of you lurking about Facebook and Twitter, of course, this will come as no surprise, but yesterday I garbed up and got medieval on the Internet, essentially cosplaying as one of my novels’ main characters, Rurik Matair.

Blackstrokehat

The results were filled with grim shadowplay, filters, and were ruddy mysterious, but had the added advantage of a fancy hat and a scimitar. I would like to have kept both, but alas, neither was within my photographer’s purview to grant (woe is me).

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It has been a long, strange ride friends. In these four years I have not only seen birthed a series I had been dreaming up for the better part of a decade, but concluded it as well. Three books in four years; not too shabby for someone still fending off the latter half of their twenties, wouldn’t you say?

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Like the silliness? Want more? Want to dress up, too, or have great cosplays from other literature to share? Pop your thoughts and links into the comments, and share around. It’s an anniversary, after all, and that means it’s time for a party.

And for those of you that have stumbled across this site for the first time, and for whom this is their first introduction to me: where have you been? Here’s the link to my books, so you know who I am: http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Galford/e/B007A9XDXK/

The Hollow March Audiobook

Fantasy bandwagon: activate!

Fantasy bandwagon: activate!

There comes a time in every book’s life when it needs–nay, deserves!–to be adapted into the realm of vibrant verbosity. That is to say: the time has come for an audiobook up in this house. Over the next however long it takes I’m going to be converting The Hollow March into appropriate audiobook format, now that I have the proper equipment and it doesn’t sound like a day trip through the whistling Mammoth Caves when I drop into my narration voice.

Yes, that is a reference to my previous reading of the prologue, in its present incarnation on Youtube. Go there. Bask in it. Chuckle haughtily at what once was the peak of Galfordian recording technology, because I lack the connections or mad money for bigwig narrators and voice actors. I’ll wait.

Got that out of your system? Good. It will be replaced in due time.

At the same time, I’m also currently working on transforming my short story, New Frontiers, into an audiobook as well, which I intend to submit to Audible and opening up a new market for it, beyond its current Amazon debut. With all of these books currently in production, suffice to say, it’s shaping up to be a busy Autumn.

It wouldn’t do to make such an announcement without proof and tasty treats, though, so I would like to present to you all the new, improved, revamped version of The Hollow March’s audiobook prologue! Enjoy.

https://soundcloud.com/galforc/the-hollow-march

Star Wars Aftermath: A Lesson on the Hype Train and Internet Trolls

Let it be known: Disney is ready for its Star Wars debut and they really, really want you to know it. Their mark? To hearken back to days of old, but with fresh new insights brought to you by wonderfully sassy and modern writers like Chuck Wendig.

Wendig’s garnered himself a lot of controversy with this book. Yet it’s not the character of the novel many are attacking; it’s the nature of its characters. See, he broke an old Star Wars maxim and, in turn, made the universe more realistic for it.

Send in the Rainbow Stormtroopers.

Not really. His was a more subtle touch. Five characters. All homosexual. One of them a main character (out of a bajillion – technical term) who makes it apparent exactly once, and which has absolutely zero impact on the driving plot. And for this? The internet explodes. Yet the characters weren’t exactly made overt. Like I said: no Rainbow Stormtroopers. They were just going about their lives, while happening to be gay.

Almost like…people! Who could imagine?

Honestly, it’s sad that I even have to take time out of my review to mention it, but given the furor of the fandom over it? I felt need. Serious need.

But since I’m on the subject: characters. Aftermath has a lot of them. Main characters. Side characters. One-off characters. Badass mother characters and less developed, gruff bounty hunter characters. At times it feels like delving into a George R.R. Martin piece, minus the risk of death. (Cue Rains of Castamere)

Norra, the mother figure, is probably my favorite of the bunch. Sloane, the Imperial villain of our piece, is a close second. The former because she is the most developed—a lioness with her own skills and desires who never the less is fiercely devoted to her son: a roving ball of snark and stubbornness who also happens to be a…technological savant? The latter, because it’s a Star Wars villain who isn’t simply possessed by the drive to kill the non-believers. She likes the Empire for the order it brings—not necessarily the genocidal undertones. To achieve that, she will play the game anyway she must.

For the most part, though, what we’re given is a bunch of very skilled characters that, while enjoyable in small doses, are somewhat lacking in the personality department. You’re not going to lose yourself in them, particularly due to the construction of the novel: short chapters, interspersed with “interludes” from around the galaxy, which feature additional one-off characters.

I get what Wendig was attempting to do with these sections—this book, after all, is an ode to the universe at large, trying to show us the breakdown of one society and the restoration of another. These vignettes give hints as to the greater picture…yet they can’t help but feel a bit jarring and out of place. The characters therein aren’t particularly memorable, the events have no immediate impact, and while they contribute to the mood of the piece at large, I dare say the book would have been largely unchanged without them.

The writing? Fast-paced, as I mentioned, with points that reach for depth, but usually end up clawing at the surface. A little stilted in execution.

The plot? Simplistic on the good side of things, intricate on the evil side of things, but since the evil side of things really doesn’t get anywhere with their intricate scheming, and the good carries the majority of our attention throughout the novel, what we’re left with is a somewhat convoluted, but not entirely thought provoking adventure romp. Pretty much all problems can, in fact, be solved by shooting first.

And bucketheads can’t shoot.

What we are left with, for all this, is a somewhat clunky, if entertaining, romp through the side alleys of the Star Wars universe. I’d describe it as a good beach or airplane read, but not something that’s going to enthrall you from start to finish. Certainly not something that deserved all the hype and shouting and angry roars from the community. Calm down, everyone. It’s a book. Judge it on its merits, not on an all too human agenda.

Given to the stars? 2.5/5

Book Review: Kalimpura

Would it suffice to say that I wanted (and hoped for) so much more from this series?

Kalimpura is the grand finale to the three book series on Green, the miscreant ninja girl punching her way through the conventional and divine worlds alike in the search, ultimately, to find a place for herself. As Endurance left off on some cliffhangers, Kalimpura picks up just after—and quickly pulls us away again from the city Green spent all of last book getting reacquainted with. That happens to probably be for the best, though, as things in Kalimpura have taken a turn for the worse, with the Temple of the Lily Goddess at its lowest point yet, and the gruff folks in the Bittern Court taking up a page from the megalomaniacal playbook.

A mess ensues. And I don’t mean for Green—I mean for us, the readers.

Lake has always had trouble with pacing in these books. Is Kalimpura’s more on-point and to par than the initial, scattered endeavor of Green was? Yes. Yet the trouble that arises in Kalimpura goes well beyond between random bouts of action and immovable characterized disconnection, to the actions of those characters themselves. You will want to ask them questions—you will not get the answers you desire, or more often, many answers at all. The baddies, as I said, are kind of in that megalomaniacal camp, with the classic baddy mentality—“What do you want? Everything! Why do you want it? Cause! When do you want it? Now!”

Where is the character? The personality? There is no growth here—and certainly not in the form of the myriad cast of red shirts and other randoms that traipse through to little end. Implausibilities (and I do try to use that word sparingly in fantasy) abound, and for the most part, there’s just no accounting for them beyond poor plotting.

As it has been all along, gender and religion (spirituality) are still critical here, and these are undertaken with the same interesting poise they have always been under Lake’s pen. Naturally, these raise more questions than answers, but they are points that get one thinking.

And then there’s Green. Green, Green, Green.

Green has been a frustrating character for me from the very beginning. She is detached, willfully disengages, and yet claims the contrary. She bemoans, and fighting always seems to be the first impulse—which is to say, she’s a fighter not a thinker; impulsive to the utmost. Her sexuality is always at the fore of her thoughts—even in the most awkward, inappropriate situations. Seriously, it’s this woman’s cure to all things. I have no problem with sexual situations in fantasy, but they are just poorly handled in these books, and feel, above all, like they’re there for the sex itself, not for any real purpose or advancement of the plot. Green is not an intricate character, and when one factors in her superwoman capabilities matched with the luck and incompetence of the world around her, things can seem…well, downright boring at times. Pre-supposed.

In all? This was a series with a lot of potential. There is a rich world lurking beneath the pages, that puts a lot of important questions to the forefront of our own investigative minds—but what we get is a poorly plodded, disappointing adventure, populated by characters lacking the staying power of personality.

Fantasy Summer Sales and Indie Week Giveaways

Fantasy bandwagon: activate!

Fantasy bandwagon: activate!

It’s one thing to have written three books.

It’s quite another to share them with the world.

Well, this week I’m aiming to do just that. In concert with the approaching American Independence Day (sorry Brits), I figured it’s only right to celebrate Independent Authors, too, so there’s going to be a FLASH SUMMER SALE running on THE HOLLOW MARCH all week long. From today through Friday, July 3, the first entry into my fantasy series–THE HAUNTED SHADOWS–will be available on the cheap. So if you know anyone looking for a new fantasy series to lose themselves in, that’s the bandwagon to jump on.

And by bandwagon, I mean gryphons.

And by jump on I mean get eaten by…

Er, you know what? The details really aren’t important, are they?

Contemporary fiction at its finest.

Contemporary fiction at its finest.

What’s more, I’d also like to take the time to incline your ever-so-thoughtful heads towards another Indie sale going on this week. Fellow author Bryce Salazar’s debut novel, SHE SEES METAPHORS will be available for the low, low price of free through tomorrow. Absolutely no cents involved. Plenty of nonsense, though.

Bad jokes? Hey, that’s just part of our appeal.

Seriously, though, Salazar is a brilliant writer, with a piece that will blow the pants off any character-intensive reader out there. It tells the tale of one Jacqueline Schuler, who sees the world in metaphors. Literally. From streets of violent rivers to broken hearted mannequins, it’s a unique outlook on the world, with some truly intense imagery. It’s not quite magical realism, but it’s certainly magical in its modernity.

So give it a read, why don’t you?

The Plagiarist

Welcome to National Poetry Month, everybody!

The Plagiarist

Worlds lie bare

before the intellectual

the pen moves but

slow before the thoughts—

easier still to drift

into another night sky

and pluck the stars

for pocket-borne

pages academics

snare and preen

with words of ascension

no thought to the have-been

only the where-to

no acknowledgement

for services rendered

merely an old book

full of new stars

on which the autograph

is still drying.