Thursday, 27 June 2013

New Interview at Indie Author Land

Those splendid fellows at Indie Author Land have kindly done an interview with me. It can be read here, and mostly covers Journey to Altmortis.

As well as that there’s also a link to the very first draft of the first scene of the comedy, which is well worth a look.

I’m also going to put up a link to Indie Author Land here, and on my website. So, I hope you like the interview and the early excerpt of the comedy (which gives a good indication of the main character and how the story/humour will go).


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Journey to Altmortis Review and my first Chrons article

Delighted to say that Journey to Altmortis has another review. It’s got a pair of 5* ratings on Amazon’s UK site, and now Bella of Boom Baby Reviews has offered her thoughts.

It gets 4*, and whilst (as always) it was nicer to read about what she liked it was probably more instructive to learn what she thought could be improved. The secondary cast seems to have got a big thumbs up (I thought Roger would go over well, and Anja’s also been praised via Twitter).

I’ll link to this review both on my website and in the Review tab on this blog.

As well as that, I’ve got my first article for SFF Chronicles (Chrons, for short), published. Reading Sean McGlynn’s By Sword and Fire (review here) got me thinking about the comparison between grimdark and the reality of yesteryear (or even today).

I actually bought By Sword and Fire because, as well as sounding interesting by itself, I wanted to get the level of mercy and brutality right for Kingdom Asunder, the title of the first instalment in my forthcoming trilogy (no ETA except that it definitely won’t be this year as the first draft hasn’t even been started yet). In that regard it proved very useful.

Anyway, I hope you like the review (and buy Journey to Altmortis if you haven’t yet) and find the article interesting.


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Review: Thread Slivers (Golden Threads Trilogy Book 1), by Leeland Artra

This book was named Book of the Month for June at the Indie Book Club over on Goodreads

Thread Slivers focuses primarily on Ticca, a new(ish) Dagger [a sort of elite mercenary] and Lebuin, a Journeyman mage with a fashion fixation. The pair is brought together by chance when they both end up embroiled in a nefarious plot by a group that murdered a magus.

There’s rather more description than I’ve become used to, but this doesn’t slow the pace as might be imagined and I quite liked it (fashion descriptions aside). Ticca and Lebuin are likeable, and I thought the story was at its best when following them (which it does almost exclusively for the first half).

The author does have a tendency to info-dump through exposition (whether dialogue or inner monologue). It’s not done in huge slabs of text, thankfully, but I do prefer a show-don’t-tell approach.

The world is well-realised and it’s clear (from both the appendices at the back and some discussion on the Indie Book Club forum) that a lot of thought and work went into making it a coherent, detailed world. Strangely, therefore, certain terms did stand out as incongruous, but later references suggest that they will actually fit in and make sense once more of the history of the world is revealed (in later books).

When the story drifts from Ticca and Lebuin some of the focus was lost, and I think a bit more of the central plot (ie why the gang of nefarious fellows were doing what they were doing) could have been revealed.

The writing style is easy to read. The only time I found myself going back to check something was when someone’s name unexpectedly changed, but that was entirely deliberate and explained shortly thereafter.

On the whole, I liked Thread Slivers, particularly the parts that focused upon Ticca and Lebuin. The pace seemed to slow in the latter half and when those two weren’t the focus the story drifted a little.


Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Last Of Us Review

The Last Of Us is a PS3 exclusive game, by Naughty Dog. It’s a very mature game, and is not one for the kids. I’ll do my best to keep spoilers (beyond the basic premise) to a minimum.


The Last Of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic world, 20 years after a fungal infection (based on a real disease) has wiped out most of civilisation. The player-character is Joel, a rough survivor in his late forties or early fifties who gets lumbered with smuggling Ellie, a fourteen year old girl, to a distant destination.

Obviously there’s more to the plot than that, but the story has a number of twists and turns and I’m not going to ruin it. Joel’s a little older and grimmer than the usual protagonist, and the choice of a fourteen year old girl as a companion is a very unusual one for videogames. The age difference works very well, because Joel’s feeling his age a bit, and Ellie’s at that bloody awkward age where she’s clearly neither a child nor an adult.

Making a game that could be described (overly simplistically) as an escort quest would piss people off, if it hadn’t been done so well. Ellie’s not tedious as a character, and neither is she a burden the player is lumbered with. Whilst Joel’s clearly the leader, she’s not a passive follower.

On the broader question of the world the game takes place in, it is extremely well-realised. Each environment is unique, and there’s a great deal of detail (posters in a child’s bedroom, graffiti on the walls and so forth). Whilst there are a lot of cars and basically intact buildings around nature has reclaimed them to a greater or lesser extent, and it has a rather haunting beauty.

My playthrough clocked in at just over 15 hours.


During the game players will face both human enemies and the infected (of which there is some variety). Players can adopt a Rambo approach of going in all guns blazing, a ninja approach of maximum stealth or, as I did, a mixture of the two.

On the whole, I enjoyed the gameplay a lot, but I do have a few gripes. I love the menu for healing or making new stuff taking place without pausing the game, adding to the tension. Upgrading weapons (done at workbenches) is simple and a nice addition.

There’s also something very counter-intuitive and disconcerting (in a good way) about fighting certain infected, who are blind. You can wander around with your torch on without alerting them, but if you make a sound then you’re in deep trouble.

The weapons (including devices that can be made) are well-balanced and I used just about all of them on a regular basis. I really enjoyed the Molotov Cocktails. The rationing of ammunition is done extremely well. It always feels like there’s never enough, which feeds into the desperate struggle to survive theme of the game.

Hand to hand combat is basic, but visceral and a combination of grimly satisfying and unpleasant. It feels more serious than just tapping a button to move some pixels, it feels closer to beating the shit out of someone else than might be expected. That’s a lot darker than any other game that springs to mind, but the knowledge that these people would do exactly the same to you provides legitimate justification for the action. It’s very much kill, or be killed.

In addition, I really like the greater importance of sound in this game. Joel can ‘hear’ by pressing the R2 button which reveals where nearby enemies are (even through walls). I was afraid this would break the realism, which the game works hard to establish, but that sort of hearing can’t be replicated any other way, and the range is small enough for it to work well without giving Joel and unfair advantage. The creepy echo-location clicks that the clickers make will probably stick in your memory for a while, and when you run out of shivs, and bullets, and anything else, and you just have to sneak past them it’s a very intense feeling.

However, there were a few points I disliked. I’m not a fan of one hit kill enemies. I have to say that my dislike for this mechanic waned a bit as I played the game and I got used to certain enemies having this power, but it still feels a little cheap.

The guns sway a bit too much. This can be improved through popping pills (which can also improve Joel’s abilities in other ways) but given he’s established as a grizzled veteran the level of movement is excessive.


The graphics are fantastic, both in-game and during cutscenes. Lighting effects (which play a big role in the game due to the frequent use of the torch in dark places), burning effects, varying weather conditions, flora and fauna, all look great.

The cutscenes are especially good, and the character models for Joel and Ellie are outstanding.

Often, natural and artificial environments mingle as plant life reclaims neighbourhoods and streets, growing over cars and through the roads. There are some underwater sections, thankfully not overdone, and the underwater effects look good.


Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker as Ellie and Joel deserve enormous credit for their fantastic performances. The game is very grim at times, and very intense, and the two voice actors put in stellar performances, as well as having great chemistry together. The writing team also deserve a lot of praise for the quality of their work regarding the dialogue.

The other voice actors also do a great job, and a number of secondary but important characters have strong performances which really help to underpin the main storyline.

Sound effects, from firing guns to the flames of Molotov Cocktails and the sound of accidentally creeping over broken crockery, are top notch.

I also realised why the music didn’t make much impression on me when I wrote the First Impressions post. It’s used relatively rarely, because sound is more important for gameplay than is often the case, and it’s minimalist. The tunes are ones you can imagine a man playing by himself, which mirrors the loneliness and loss that the world of The Last Of Us is characterised by.

Bugs and other issues

Saving manually (not really necessary, to be honest, as the game autosaves very often) takes a little while.

Game hints (which I believe can be disabled) seemed to pop up a little too soon. For example, I’d be methodically scouring an area for supplies and a hint would appear to tell me how to get to the next area.

For the UK version, there are some language options. I was slightly disappointed that German wasn’t one of them, and a little surprised that Polish and Russian were the two alternatives to English. This doesn’t detract at all from the game, of course, but it would’ve been a nice extra for me to replay it in German.


This is a phenomenal game. It’s enthralling and emotive, the gameplay is intense and dramatic and I became seriously emotionally invested in the fate of Joel and Ellie. Any problems with the game are extremely minor in comparison to the excellence of the story and the excitement of the gameplay.

I don’t give ratings to games, but if I did I’d be sorely tempted to give it 10/10.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Forthcoming books this year

Due to lack of money/time/shelf space (although I do buy most books on a Kindle I still buy some physical copies) I haven’t been reading quite as much as I’d like to. However, there are some very good fantasy books pencilled-in for release later this year. Here are a few that caught my eye.

Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

This book has been delayed a lot due to some personal issues for the author. His first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, is amongst the best I’ve ever read (and that with a slightly slow start). Republic of Thieves continues the adventures of Locke and Jean, and I’m hopeful it’ll be just as spellbindingly fantastic as Mr. Lynch’s first two books.

Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick

This would be the second of Mr. Hulick’s books, following on from Among Thieves. To a lesser extent than Republic of Thieves its release date has also been pushed back a bit, but thanks to in-depth sleuthing [I read it on the Chrons forum] I’m quite hopeful this’ll be out in 2013. It’ll be interesting to see how Drothe’s criminal career has progressed since the last book.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

This is the second part of the Stormlight Archives (Way ofKings being the first) and will probably be just as enormous. Way of Kings was the first Sanderson book I read, and I loved the immersive world-building and mythological past. The interludes, I felt, were a bit hit and miss, but they were only a minor part of a very large book.

A Game of Battleships by Toby Frost

Ok, not fantasy, but sci-fi. Moustachioed hero of the British Space Empire, Space Captain Smith returns in his fourth adventure. Armed with a crew of misfits and lunatics, a slightly rickety spacecraft and some tea, Isambard Smith must chase down a mysterious vessel that destroyed the convoy he was meant to be guarding. The very fate of the British Space Empire hangs in the balance, and Smith will find himself visiting hellish, strange realms where nothing makes sense - such as France.

[Incidentally, a second interview with Toby Frost will be appearing on this blog around mid-July. So, stay tuned!]

The first interview with Mr. Frost is here.

Hornska by Thaddeus White

I’m hoping that the short comedy (20-40,000 words) I’m writing will be done in time for Christmas. Still no title (Hornska, The Hero of Hornska and Sir Edric and the Unholy Temple currently in mind) though. When the King’s royal seals are stolen he dispatches Sir Edric on a mission that could optimistically be described as suicidal. Accompanied by his pathologically loyal manservant Dog, the prudish elven sorceress Lysandra, and a man called Colin, Sir Edric must travel to the Unholy Temple of Despair and Certain Doom to take them back.


Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Last Of Us: First Impressions

I only got the game today, and have played for several hours. Obviously my views are only on the initial part of the game, and I’ll post a proper review when I’ve played rather more. I’ll keep spoilers in this post to a minimum.


It’s a zombie apocalypse - with a twist. They’re not ‘zombies’ but infected, and the disease is a real thing. It’s a fungal infection, although in reality it only affects creatures such as ants. Civilisation has collapsed in the main and only a few quarantined areas remain (mostly) free of infection. However, democracy has fallen by the wayside and the military now run the show.

Joel and Tess are a pair of smugglers who get hired to take an unusual cargo, Ellie, out of the quarantine zone. But things don’t go quite to plan…


Joel, the player-character, will face both other humans and a range of infected. Approaches can be stealthy, Rambo-style or a combination of the two. As well as a variety of guns (and a bow, I’ve just discovered) there are shivs and Molotov Cocktails, and probably more weapons besides. Generally this works well, and the enemies can often be quite difficult.

However, I have a couple of gripes. The guns are surprisingly inaccurate. I’m not a crack shot by any means (in fact, I’m a bit shit at this sort of thing) but early on I got a headshot when the scope was pointing at my enemy’s chest. Given that the only way to take down a clicker (excepting stealth kills) is with a shot to the head, this is a strange and slightly irksome oversight.

In addition, the clickers. One hit kill enemies are not something of which I’m a fan (Bushido Blade aside). I think it’s a cheap mechanic.

The menu stays open when you’re combining items or using a medkit, and I think this works well. It adds a little bit of tension, and the system for combining items (what I’ve seen of it so far) works well.


The graphics are excellent. Rain and water effects, wet-clothing, character animations and facial expressions, sunrises, they’re all brilliant.


The voice-acting is very good indeed. Sound effects, including the echo-location clicks of those in an advanced stage of pestilence, are also very well done. The music’s ok, although there doesn’t seem to be much of it so far.


My biggest single worry was that Ellie’s AI would be screwed up. Escort quests aren’t exactly the favourite of most gamers, and there was the risk that Ellie would be a blundering moron who would get herself and/or Joel killed. Happily, this seems not to be the case. Ellie and Joel not only work well together in a gameplay sense (he takes the lead, she can sometimes help out) but they also have some nice moments of banter.

As an aside, this is probably the first zombie game I’ve played since Resident Evil 2, about 15 years ago.

(Preliminary) Conclusion

I’ve played twice today. The second time I forgot what time it was and ate tea later than usual, and had a crick in my neck. Can’t remember when the last time that happened was.

So, one-hit kills and dodgy aiming aside I’m really enjoying The Last Of Us. The difficulty will be finishing it without ruining my neck. When I do, I’ll post a fuller review.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Dragon Age 3: spoilers and speculation

The early briefing ahead of E3 has revealed a new trailer for Dragon Age 3 (Inquisition), as well as an approximate release date of Autumn 2014. That’s a year or so later than expected, but after DA2’s clearly rushed state I think most people will be willing to wait.

It is not yet clear what platforms the game will be out for. Xbone, PS4 and PC seem very likely, although whether or not it comes out for the Xbox 360 and PS3 is less clear. I very much hope it does, as I’m really looking forward to Inquisition, but not enough to buy a PS4 for that one game alone.

After this point there are many spoilers, so if you’re deliberately avoiding them please stop reading here.

Here’s the trailer:

In it we see (and hear) a number of recurring characters. Morrigan (voiced by the delightful Claudia Black) returns, and I would guess she’s brought her baby (who has the soul of an Old God/dragon/archdemon) with her.

We also see Varric, still carrying his swanky crossbow Bianca.

I believe the lady in Seeker armour is Cassandra, which was widely expected and very welcome.

A Qunari (possibly the new Arishok, as his horns are lengthier than the usual in DA2) is present.

Near the end the sky (the Veil?) is torn open, revealing a load of demonic creatures and the dragon, which I think is probably Son of Morrigan.

Although there’s neither sight nor sound of Flemeth it would be pretty surprising if she were not present in this game. She’s been in both the previous instalments and after Morrigan attempts to kill her in Origins it’s quite possible she’ll be opposing her daughter. The other, less likely, possibility is that Flemeth *is* the dragon (she can transform into one, and does so when Morrigan sends the Warden to kill her in Origins).

Leliana also did not feature here, but was at the end of DA2 with Cassandra, which suggests she too will return.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect, characters aside, of the trailer is that it presents a war between Morrigan/magic against the forces of good and order. Whether this is simply analogous to the Templar/mage conflict we know about (with Morrigan on the mages’ side) or whether we’ve got a three way war (Morrigan, the mages and the Templars) is unclear.

It also seems to me that we’ll have a similar ally-collecting central quest, as per Origins. That worked really well in the first game, and this time it seems that siding with the ‘bad guys’ is also a possibility. 

I’m still very much looking forward to Inquisition, I just hope it comes out for the current as well as next generation of consoles. I don’t mind the extra wait, but that does make me worry that such a move diminishes the chances of it coming out for the PS3.


Monday, 3 June 2013

Journey to Altmortis update and quiz

Journey to Altmortis is my second fantasy novel and, like Bane of Souls, is stand-alone. It’s gotten a couple of five star reviews on Amazon, which was a very nice surprise (Bane of Souls got 7/8 four star reviews but no five star).

In addition to Amazon and Smashwords, I’m delighted to report that Journey to Altmortis can also be bought from the following retailers:

Because the release of Journey to Altmortis was a little rushed (due to computer woe) I didn’t put up a quiz right away. However, this has been remedied and is now up at Goodreads:


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Review: By Sword and Fire: Cruelty and Atrocity in Medieval Warfare, by Sean McGlynn

I bought this book a week or two ago, because I was interested in finding out about the level of mercy and brutality that medieval warfare involved.

The book is divided into several sections, which include placing brutality in warfare in context by explaining how pervasive violence in was in medieval peacetime, battles and sieges. The first chapter on violence during peacetime is deliberately concise, but does a very good job of providing a useful background for the warfare sections.

In addition, it was fascinating to read about the medieval perspective that a strong king, unafraid to be brutal, was actually a good thing, as viewed by those who lived under his reign. This was because the law and state was weak and violence commonplace, and it was felt that only by extreme measures could deterrence prove effective.

Even more intriguing were the competing powers of mercy and brutality. Both are shown to be successful or not at different times. For example, slaughtering the garrison of a castle that doesn’t surrender can prompt others to simply give up. On the other hand, sparing men could mean that behaviour being returned by the enemy, whereas killing prisoners could demoralise the army as they knew they’d likely face the same if they’re ever captured.

The focus in the book is England and France, although there are forays into the Holy Land, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This is partly because England and France were more cohesive and centralised nations than their rivals at the time, emphasising the authority and approval of kings when it came to atrocity. Perhaps surprisingly the bits I found most extreme were in the initial peacetime section.

There are three maps, all at the start. For this sort of book I view maps as a nice extra rather than something essential, but it’s still useful to include them, particularly for the Holy Land.

The writing style is clear and easy to understand, and good use is made of sources. The author has his own views regarding traditional and revisionist schools of thought (about King John, for example) and is quite open about it, which I like. He also explains why Philip Augustus, despite being hugely successful, isn’t nearly as celebrated as Richard the Lionheart or Saladin.

I don’t have much bad to say about this book. I’m not too fond of pointing ahead to future chapters/atrocity examples (I’d rather just read as it comes). That’s about it, to be honest. The book’s interesting, easy to read, explains why brutality was so commonplace and the balance between brutality and mercy. It more than met my expectations.