Tag Archives: Fantasy

Making the Best of Things

Here’s another story of Davin, the thief I invented a couple weeks ago. I know these aren’t the greatest stories, but if they’re intriguing enough, I’ll try to come up with better ones. Maybe they’ll be collected into an anthology someday. Let me know what you think of them.


Davin stood with his back against the wall, listening to the tramp of Nightwatch on the street. He eased forward and peeked around the corner and was rewarded with the sight of the patrols in their black and silver uniforms. The sound of their boots echoed off the close walls, making it difficult to tell where they really were.

He ducked back around the corner and, looking up at the darkened sky, took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

How had they gotten onto him?

And more importantly, how was he going to get away from them?

They had the area blanketed with officers as well as local security men. He’d managed to elude them so far, but just getting into this walled neighborhood—the same one his birthday party had been in two weeks earlier—had been tough enough when Nightwatch hadn’t discovered him. But with them all over the place, getting to the walls was going to be a major effort. He’d worry about getting over the walls when he got there.

The sound of the echoing boots faded and he took advantage of the lull. He dashed down the alley—unfortunately a very clean alley, with nothing to hide behind or in—heading in the direction of the neighborhood walls. He crouched low to present less of a target, and avoided the streetlights like the plague.

Two minutes later, he had to draw up again as another patrol approached.

He looked up. Nothing up there, no balconies to hide in, just a blank wall, which was a surprise. People in Calonia liked their balconies.

And the walls surrounding the neighborhood were so close.

He glanced in the direction of the patrol. They were still some distance away. Could he make it, get over the wall before they caught him? He gauged their pace, then eyed the distance to the wall. Getting up it from the inside wasn’t much of a problem. There were stairways everywhere for the security forces employed by the inhabitants to keep watch from up top.

But getting there in time and then making it over… well, that was another trick altogether, wasn’t it?

There wasn’t much choice, though. He was close to the egress point he needed anyway, where he could disappear into the alleyways of the rest of the city. If he could get there, Nightwatch would never find him.

Another glance at the patrol. They came on steadily, but were hampered by searching every doorway and shadow.

He sprinted.

Behind him, one of the officers yelled out, and a moment later, a flare bloomed in the night sky, their way of communicating with one another. Each flare had a different color, which told the others something very basic.

Davin didn’t bother to see what color this one was. He was too busy making his way up the stairs.

As he barreled up, a form emerged from the shadows at the top of the wall—one of the private security officers. He must have been waiting for just this.

Davin wasn’t a big man, and this guy was, but he had momentum behind him. He hit the guard in the midriff, shoulder down, legs pumping. It was like running into a palm tree, except this one gave way after a moment. The guard’s legs hit the low parapet and he pitched over the wall with a yell. A scant moment later the yell cut off with a thud.

With barely a pause, Davin hooked his grapple onto the parapet and rappelled down the wall. At the bottom, he shook the rope to loosen the grapple. Faces appeared above as he was coiling the rope.

He glanced at the guard—out like a light, but still breathing—then sprinted off into the darkness.

Another flare went up.

Down a short alley, then a quick right. This one was longer, and he ran down it full tilt, making as much distance as he could. From behind came the sound of running boots.

Damn, he hadn’t even managed to steal anything. Couldn’t they leave it be, now that he was out of the neighborhood?

He took an alley that ran in a diagonal to the one he was in, running for all he was worth, then jinked left into another one and paused. The pursuing sounds had fallen behind, and he took a moment to regain his breath and take stock of his surroundings.

Unlike the alleys of the walled neighborhood, these were full of refuse, piles of stinking garbage and other, less savory things. Some of the heaps were large enough to hide in, but there was no way he was getting in one, not even on pain of capture or even death. Better to die quickly than suffer from something he caught in one of these mounds of filth. There were balconies overhead, but they were out of reach.

And the Nightwatch was closing in again.

Huffing a deep breath, he took off again, ignoring the rank smell that filled the air around him. Maybe the garbage would discourage the searchers.

He dodged left, then right again, not really paying attention to where he was going, just making yet more distance.

And fetched up abruptly in a small cul-de-sac.

For a moment, he stared in disbelief at the blank wall in front of him. He turned to find another way out, but his pursuers were closer than he’d thought. If he left the cul-de-sac, they’d see him and capture him. They were just too close.

He glanced up.

Another balcony. It was a silly place for it, right at the back of the cul-de-sac, but Calonians would have their balconies, even if they had no view. This one wasn’t that big, and didn’t even have the usual open railing, but was instead hemmed in with boards making up short walls.

Gods, this was not his night. If the balcony had the normal railing, he might be able to get enough of a grip on its floor to hoist himself up. But with the boards blocking access, there was no way. And he couldn’t jump high enough to grip the tops.

He glanced at the approaching patrol. He had to something, and fast.

Then he remembered a trick Amalia, his mentor in the thieving trade, had told him about once. She’d been small and strong, and she’d shown him the trick. It was a way of running up a wall, using a corner to gain admittance to something too high to jump to. He’d never been quite able to do it because of his weight, but he had nothing left to lose tonight.

He backed up, making sure to stay out of sight of the patrol, took a deep breath, and sprinted diagonally down the cul-de-sac, aiming for the corner to the right of the balcony.

You can do this. Just give it all you have.

He jumped, hitting the wall at an angle, and pushed off for the adjoining wall. The moment his foot touched, he pushed up and managed to grab the top of the balcony.

He’d done it!

Another heave and he stood inside the balcony. He took a deep breath, then laid on his side, curling up in a loose fetal position.

Now if only the Nightwatch couldn’t hear him breathing, he might get out of this.

The running boots came closer, then entered the cul-de-sac and paused.

“What the hells?” one of the officers said in a deep voice. “I thought you said he ran in here.”

“He did,” the other man said. “I swear it.”

They stood for a moment, breaths heaving.

“What about that balcony?” the second voice said.

“No way for him to get up that high. Come on. If he came in here, he slipped out without us seeing him.”

They ran off, footsteps receding quickly in the night.

Davin waited a good five minutes in case they came back or more followed behind, but no one else came.

Finally, he rose and stretched. He was going to have to practice this kind of thing more. There were people who did this all the time. Maybe it was time he learned some of their tricks.

He glanced around, saw a higher balcony across the way he hadn’t noticed earlier. It had a large glass in its door, and… was that a glint of something in the dim light?

He mumbled the words to the spell that enhanced his night vision.

Yes, it was. Something gold hung on the wall just inside the door. Even from here, he could tell it wasn’t just decorative.

He eyed the balcony. He could make the leap from here. Maybe tonight wasn’t going to be a total wash after all.

A Sure Thing

It’s been a couple weeks since I posted here, partly because I’ve just been too busy to write anything, and partly because it’s been hard to think of anything to post. So I started thinking about it this morning and decided to try writing a really short story. And I did. Let me know if it’s actually any good.thief-screenshot-1

Davin paused on the balcony and looked around to be sure he was alone. The alley below was deserted. A warm breeze off the ocean stirred the palm trees, their fronds dark silhouettes against the starry sky. Somewhere off to his left, a cat yowled. And to his right, probably three or four streets over, laughter and the sounds of a party.

Here, it was quiet.

It better be. When Carl told him about this particular job, he’d been a bit leery. A nobleman’s house completely empty this time of year? When the snows blanketed the capital and even the hardiest of court hangers-on deserted Ampistad for warmer climes?

“It’s a sure thing,” Carl had said. They sat at a table enjoying the sunshine and balmy temperatures that winter brought.

Davin smirked. “A sure thing? That doesn’t exist in this business.”

Carl grinned at him. “Tonight it does.”

He studied his friend who also served as his fence. Carl had never steered him wrong before. “I don’t know. It’s my birthday. I was planning on going out tonight.”

Carl leaned forward. “So go out afterwards. I’m telling you, this one is worth delaying your celebration. And he’ll be back by tomorrow morning. This is your only chance.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as death and taxes. Diamonds, Davin. Loose diamonds. Untraceable, too. I can unload them for… I’d say sixty percent of market value.”

Sixty percent? Well, considering thirty percent was a good thing, maybe it was time to rethink not working tonight.

“All right. But you be ready. I want to party after. Have the money, because I don’t want to wait.”

Carl had grinned and said, “You got it. You’ll have a birthday in style this year, my man.”

So here he was, crouched on a balcony in the better part of town, about to sneak into the winter residence of one of the most powerful men in the realm, at least according tothief_bank_heist_mission-wide Carl. Davin didn’t pay much attention to politics, so he had no way of knowing.

He eased onto the balcony’s floor, went to the sliding door, a new invention he had little experience with. But a lock was a lock, and less than a minute later, he had it open.

Another pause to look around. The cat yowled again, and the party still raged on. No Nightwatch in sight, though, which was good. Just getting into this walled-off neighborhood had been tough, and he was thinking sixty percent was just about right for a job like this.

He stepped inside, slid the door almost shut. Better to leave it slightly open in case he had to make a hasty exit.

It was quiet in here. He stood for a full minute, getting a feel for the place, something he did on every job.


Okay. The diamonds were downstairs. Carl had suggested using the balcony because, thanks to their newness, sliding doors were easier to get through than the banded oak numbers on the ground floor. Those would have taken considerably more work.

His feet didn’t even whisper on the carpeted floor. He mumbled one of the few spells he knew, and the darkness receded a bit. Just enough to keep him from bumping into something and knocking it over, but not enough to let him see clearly.

He’d never been that good at magic.

Down the stairs, turn to the right. The safe was kept in the huge hall this guy used for throwing parties. Seemed a strange place, but Davin had seen stranger. The door to the hall opened silently on well-oiled hinges.

He paused. Something wasn’t right. That empty, abandoned feeling that had pervaded the rest of the house was gone. The room felt occupied, and by more than one person.

Had Carl set him up? Had the watch caught him and turned him?

Whatever the case, Davin wasn’t hanging around to find out. He was just turning to leave—as quickly as possible—when light bloomed all around him.

Oh, gods.

Temporarily blinded, he almost forgot to let go of the magic that let him see, but when he did, he found not the Nightwatch, but….

“Surprise! Happy Birthday!”

Thief1Warmth flooded his cheeks. A huge crowd of his friends—and business associates—stood attired in party clothes, holding champagne glasses. Streamers fell from the ceiling, and balloons bobbed in the air.

And right in the middle of it all stood Carl, grinning from ear to ear, raising a glass in his direction.

Davin grinned.

And then he saw the diamonds they’d laid out for him. Not rocks, but tasty desserts that cost plenty themselves.

Carl practically pranced over and put an arm around his shoulders.

“Told you it was a sure thing,” he said, that grin never leaving his face.

Davin laughed, then narrowed his eyes at his friend. “Okay, you got me. But just remember—your birthday is coming up.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Now let’s party.”

The diamonds were all they’d been promised to be.


It’s not very often you see authors working as teams. There are a few, such as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child—who also write solo—but on the whole, you don’t see it very often. Writing is very much a solo endeavor. Even if you bounce ideas off other people—as I often do—or you refine your story after it’s written by taking in the feedback you get from beta readers, in the end, you’re the one sitting there at the keyboard pounding out the words.

Musicians work in teams all the time. In fact, it’s rare to see a song written by just one person. I just finished reading Dancing with Myself, Billy Idol’s autobiography. It’s a great story about a guy who started out in punk in the seventies and worked his way up to be one of the most iconic stars of the eighties and beyond. One theme I saw throughout the book was that he worked with his guitarists to write his songs. Primarily, this was Steve Stevens, one of the most proficient guitarists out there, though he did work with Mark Younger-Smith for a time in the nineties. But almost any album you pick up will show the songs are a collaborative effort, whether it’s a solo artist or a band.

Kill SwitchBut even though we writers tend to work alone, that doesn’t prevent something special from happening when a few of us get together to hatch shared world projects. That’s just what happened to me this week—last night, in fact—as I got together with Casey Cowan, creative director of Oghma Creative Media, and science fiction authors Gordon Bonnet, whose conspiracy theory-heavy Kill Switch is available as an eBook preorder on Amazon, with print copies available April 14, and JE Newman, author of Changeling, a novel about the world after the superheroes have left (also available on Amazon).

Even though it was an informal visit, Casey hoped putting us together in one place would spark something, and it did. Over dinner, we hashed out a shared world project, the details of which I can’t reveal at this time. I think it’s gonna be an exciting thing to work on, though, and I think readers will like it. Part of the experiment will also involve reader feedback to determine the later course the project will take. The idea is to be on the edge of where writing is going, at least in part, a direction posited by Jason Merkoski, author of Burning the Page. Jason was on the development teams for the first two Kindles, and I highly recommend his book, which predicts some trends in the eBook market, one of which is a form of audience participation in the plot line of novels and stories.

When I went back to school, one of the classes I had to take was a business communication course. One of the things taught in that course is brainstorming and how companies can use it to initiate new projects. I thought it was a neat concept, but never expected to take much part in such things myself.

And yet, that’s exactly what we did at that meeting. We may not have followed the “letter of the law” by all of us writing down every single idea that came to mind, but we didChangelingFrontCover-200 end up with a consensus, nevertheless. We did it through talking, first about separate ideas we’d all come up with that might lend themselves to a shared world, then by hatching a concept completely independent of our solo projects.

Then we started paring them down, bouncing ideas of one another, evolving things suggested, dropping some things and completely changing others so they didn’t even resemble the initial suggestions, until we had something we were all excited about: a project that allows each of us to explore the world in our own unique ways while contributing to the whole, with the finale to be determined by reader consensus. And, in the end, the hope is that we attract readers to our solo projects while at the same time finding new writers to possibly extend the concept in a unique way by adding that twist at the end you expect from good science fiction.

I’ll keep you posted on this project, which should debut sometime next year, hopefully coinciding with our science fiction/fantasy ezine we intend to launch sometime in early 2016. So stay tuned to this blog for further developments, and I’ll pass them to you as I get them. If you’re a science fiction/fantasy fan, I think you’ll like what we’ve come up with.


Of Bone and Thunder

boneandthunderWelcome to Luitox—pronounced lew-tow, not loo-tox—more commonly known, by the troops fighting here anyway, as the Lux. It’s a hot, humid hell, populated by natives known as slyts, dotted with dosha swamps that smell like the shit the natives use to fertilize the dosha, open areas full of sawgrass, and everything else covered by dense jungle.

Welcome to a fantasy unlike any other I’ve ever read.

Luitox is the creation of Chris Evans, but it has a real world inspiration: Vietnam. Everything you read in this novel will remind you of accounts you’ve read of the Vietnam War. Sure, in the Lux, the Kingdom bringing freedom to the Luitoxese uses dragons for air support and transport, and the soldiers, divided into phalanxes and shields rather than battalions and companies, use crossbows rather than rifles, but you’ll still recognize a lot here.

Most of the soldiers are conscripts, and they all have nicknames like Wraith, Carny, Knockers, and so on. And their personalities run the gamut from the ultra-religious Ahmy, who’ll preach to you about the High Druid at every opportunity, to Carny, who has reached a point where he really doesn’t give a fuck anymore.

It’s a fully realized world that you’ll want to sink your teeth into.

Granted, it’s still fantasy, but if you’ve ever read one of the epic Vietnam novels—The 13th Valley by John M. Del Vecchio springs to mind for me—you’ll feel right at home.13thvalley Sure, there are dragons instead of helicopters, crossbows instead of M16s, and dosha swamps instead of rice paddies, but everything else will be familiar. There’s the commander, a man named Weel, whose only concern is body counts. There’s Wraith, the soldier who found himself in his element in the Lux. There’s the new guy—called fawns in this world—who’s just coming over with visions of fighting for the glory of the Kingdom—even if things back home aren’t the best in the world since it was discovered the last several generations of kings were descended from a bastard. It’s still the Kingdom, and the freedom it’s bringing to Luitox is the best thing going.

Of Bone and Thunder is written both as an homage to Vietnam veterans and as another way to illustrate what that war was and is to this country. The Kingdom is torn apart by racial tensions as the dwarves—still often referred to as mules by most—have been given most of the freedoms humans enjoy. There’s still plenty of prejudice to go around, though, and it isn’t helped any by the fact dwarves aren’t allowed any real weapons in the army, and are still relegated to positions of servitude.

I wasn’t sure what I’d get when I picked this book up, and I admit it took me more than a few pages to get into it. But once I did, it was hard to put down. I became quite invested with all the characters, wondering which ones would survive this humid hell and what they’d be like if they did. Because you can’t go through a war like this and not be changed in some way.

Even if you don’t normally like fantasy, try this one. It draws you in because there’s so much that’s familiar here. It’s just disguised as something else.

You’ll still recognize it, though.


Low Town

Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops…and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.

                                                         —copy from the back of Low Town by Daniel Polansky


Well, somebody else has gone and done it: written a fantasy crime novel.

I doubt Daniel Polansky is the first. After all, there is the Thieves’ World series of shared-word anthologies, and I’m sure there are others I’m not aware of. No one can read everything that’s out there in the fantasy genre, and who would want to? Let’s face it: some of it’s not worth reading. I can’t speak for Thieves’ Word, as I’ve never been big on reading anthologies, and shared-world ones are even less appealing. I think the most valiant effort I ever tried was in reading the first four or so of George R.R. Martin’s Aces High series, where there’s an alternate earth populated by superheroes.

I say someone else has gone and done it because, off and on since writing Pipeline, I’ve given thought to writing a sf crime novel. It wouldn’t be the first, either. Asimov wrote a sf mystery by the name of Caves of Steel way back in the 40s or so, after someone told him there was no way to write a sf mystery because technology would solve crimes all but instantly. And, since mysteries primarily concern themselves with murder, that’s the crime that would solve the easiest. Naturally, Asimov being the type he was, he couldn’t let a challenge like that pass.

But I haven’t been able to come up with anything good. My first thought was to do, basically, Miami Vice 2280 or something like that. You know, the old buddy cop story, and make ’em vice cops so we could get off into the drug trade that I find so fascinating. But, let’s face it: that’s kinda hokey. My first problem with the story—how do you smuggle something in space?—was easily answered, at least in a speculative setting. Some people argue that galactic war a la Star Wars would never work because of the distances and traveling times involved. I’m sure that keeps George Lucas awake nights—as he counts all that money.

Never let the fact get in the way of a good story.

As for a fantasy crime novel, I guess growing up reading Tolkienesque fantasies colored my imagination. I could see a thief—they’re as common as elves, or almost. That wasn’t a problem. My problem was, just how interesting could you make a thief’s story? It wouldn’t take very many second-story jobs for both writer and reader to be bored.

The bottom line: I let my imagination stall out. And Polansky’s book showed me what I’ve been missing.

This ain’t high fantasy, folks.

Low Town is just what it says: the low end of Rigus, which the book bills as the finest city of the Thirteen Lands. Low Town contains the slum. It’s where the nobility goes—for its sexual escapades, and for its drugs.

That’s where the protagonist for Low Town comes in: he’s a drug dealer, and he runs a lot of Low Town. He has about half the Low Town guard on his payroll. He’s called the Warden. He knows all the pimps, and he’s even hobnobbed a bit with some nobility. But don’t hold that against him. They pay well for their pixie breath, after all. And their wyrm.

The problem is, a young girl is missing, and it has Low Town concerned. It’s not that they care, exactly. After all, a young, unblemished girl will bring five hundred ochres on the slave markets. There’s the profit margin to consider. Besides, everybody likes kids. Right?

Well, that’s not the Warden’s problem—until he stumbles across her body late one day as he’s finishing up his rounds. He’s supposed to go watch a performance by his friend Yancey the Rhymer, but once he finds the girl, he knows that’ll have to wait, even if Yancey is his ticket to nobility and their money.

See, the girl is mutilated and covered in blood.

The Warden corrals a couple of street urchins and sends the dumber one after the guard. The smarter one he hands an argent and his stash of remaining drugs. The guard is pretty much worthless when it comes to investigating crimes, and everyone knows it. That means they’ll have to send for an agent from the Black House—the empire’s secret police. Think of them as a mix of FBI, CIA and KGB—with a dash of the Spanish Inquisition thrown in for variety. When the guard walks by, everybody ignores them. When the Throne’s Justice walks by, everybody lowers their heads and makes room. And answers right up if asked a question.

The Warden doesn’t exactly look forward to being interviewed by someone from Black House. Not because he fears them, exactly, but because he used to be an agent, and he fell from grace while he was part of Special Operations—they’re the Spanish Inquisition part I mentioned earlier. There’s this unmarked door that leads underground, and it’s not a door you want to go through.

Thankfully, the man who shows up is Crispin, an old friend named from his days there, and the interview goes all right. But the Warden takes the murder as a personal affront—he’s Low Town’s guardian, after all. He tracks down the killer thanks to a peculiar alchemical smell and, just as he’s about the kill the guy, this…thing shows up, something evil from the void, and the way it kills the murderer isn’t pretty.

When the Warden wakes up, he’s surrounded by agents from Black House, and they’re well on their way to beating him senseless. Crispin arrives on the scene and rescues him, but it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire as his old friend takes him to Black House, where he learns that the brass is calling it a closed case: the Kiren killed the girl, the Warden tracked the Kiren down and witnessed him being murdered by a person or persons unknown, and that’s that. Apparently Black House doesn’t want to touch something that reeks of this particular brand of magic.

Why? Because, during a war ten years ago, the government used sorcerers to call just these kinds of beings against their enemies. Most of those sorcerers died that night, but not all.

It’s after this that things get really convoluted, but in a good way. The Warden has to untie this increasingly complex knot of intrigue and magic as children continue to disappear.

Polansky manages to write what is basically a fantasy/mystery/crime novel, and he juggles all the parts well. We get to see a gritty world—don’t go into this one expecting Lothlorien or any other place in Middle-earth—except perhaps for Mordor. There’s mud and worse in the gutters, even the good guys cheat when they fight wars, and the Warden is just the kind of anti-hero who can move through this world and present it to us in an interesting way. He knows a lot about it, and not a lot of it is good.

But the story is. It keeps you going. Polansky maintains the tension without wearing you out, making you want to read “just one more chapter.” I put that in quotes ’cause I ain’t the only one who’s ever said it while reading a good book. And Polansky pays you back for your undivided attention by keeping the true solution to the mystery, um, well, mysterious until the last possible moment. And then he hits you broadside with it.

Low Town. Go find it and read it. If you like fantasy, mystery or crime, you’ll be satisfied with this one. I’m looking forward to the next one from Polansky and the Warden.




Well, evidently that little time off I mentioned in my last post helped a lot, because I’ve written close to 12,000 words since then. Not bad, eh? LOL. Actually, for me, that’s downright amazing. I don’t think that I’ve every written that many words in such a short time span.

I do want to take this opportunity to point something out: if it sounds like I’m bragging and being egotistic about this, that’s not what I mean. In fact, I report these numbers because, to me, they’re amazing. It’s more output than I’ve ever had and I find the numbers to be a little unbelievable. So, yeah. Amazed and grateful to my muse. I guess that’s the best way to put it

I got two more agent rejections this week to balance it out, though, so no ego trips here.

Anyway, things are starting to line up to finish this novel, and when I put it aside I think I’ll go back and re-write my urban fantasy. Though I’m shopping it around, I’m no longer entirely happy with the voice I use in it. I wrote it at least five years ago (which I think I may have mentioned), and the style I use is entirely different from how I write now. Plus, in thinking about it, I’ve come up with a new approach to the story, one that I guess you’d say isn’t so…nice. I mean, for an urban fantasy, it’s starting to seem pretty tame, too. What I mean is, there’s the exterior conflict of the plotline (which will remain largely intact at this point), but the characters themselves don’t conflict with one another much. And when you consider that a major hinge of the plot is that a Magus and a vampire, normally very much enemies, have to form an alliance and they do so with very little friction, well…just doesn’t seem quite authentic to me anymore.

I guess maybe I was being naive when I wrote it. Or maybe lazy. After all, if I just deal with the exterior conflict I don’t have to plot how to bring these two together when all they really want to do is kill one another.

But that’s for the future. I still need to finish Pipeline.

Not much else to say this time around. And yes, Jesi, I know I didn’t deal with the award you gave me. Turns out I’m rushed again today. Sorry.



The Way of Shadows

I’ve had a hard time coming up with relevant and fresh topics lately, and I’ve been giving thought to putting my review of books I’m reading on here, so I think I’ll start that tonight. I doubt this will be a real regular feature on here simply because I’m not a professional critic, so I don’t know how to do it very well. But I think I can manage to talk a little about some of the ones I’m reading, if only to give you an idea of the kinds of books I like.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

The first one I want to talk about is The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. It was published in 2008, and it’s the first part of The Night Angel trilogy. It’s my understanding that all three books were already written and were published a month apart by Orbit, and they’re New York Times bestsellers. I can see why.

Shadows is a fantasy, and the cover was what intrigued me in the first place. Ever since I saw Shogun back in the Seventies as a mini-series, I’ve had a vague interest in things like this, and seeing a fantasy about an assassin made me pick the book up. And when I read the back, I knew I had to have it.

It’s the story of Azoth, a street urchin who lives in Cenaria City in Midcyru. When the book opens, he is approximately eleven years old, living on whatever he can find in a run down section of the city known as the Warrens. This alone should tell you this is not a Tolkienesque fantasy of elves and dwarves and battles of good and evil. Yes, there are good guys and bad guys, but when the protagonist wants to become an assassin, you have to anticipate a somewhat more gritty book. And Shadows delivers just that.

Actually, the most skilled assassins feel it is an insult to be called an assassin. Anybody can be an assassin, because all they do is kill people. The kind of assassin Azoth wants to become is known as a wetboy, and they use magic to help them take out their deaders, as they term their victims. Azoth, naturally, wants to apprentice to the best wetboy in the city, Durzo Blint, a man known to have no conscious, who can hide in shadows and not be seen unless he wants you to.

Through a convoluted series of events, he manages to achieve this goal, only to find out being a wetboy isn’t exactly what he thought it was. It’s lots of hard work and training, and Weeks takes us through this in the middle of the book roughly a chapter at a time, skipping several years each time. In order to become a wetboy, Azoth has to leave his past live behind, becoming Kylar Stern, with a cover story of being a minor noble from the far edges of the country whose lands have been taken away due to debts or some such. He is sponsored by a minor count whose last name is Drake, who has a few secrets of his own that I won’t reveal here (this is a review, but I won’t throw in spoilers).

Suffice it to say that, if you like stories full of intrigue, where every layer of the plot reveals yet another layer underneath, read this book. I’ve started on  the second in the trilogy (just finished Shadows this morning), and it’s looking to be every bit as good as the first. The characters are authentic and definitely have individual personalities, including a king who’s not smart and is prone to long strings of profanities that are all versions of the same word (“Shit on you, you shitting shitters,” is one of his utterances, or something close to that). He’s laughed at behind his back, pretty much an ineffective “boy king,” as he’s referred to by some of his more charitable critics. Of course, with a king this weak, there’s an impending invasion and many of the characters have to make choices between bad and worse.

Magic in this world is authentic and consistent. Wetboys use what they call a Talent to help them, which aids them in such things as hiding in shadows and adopting more effective disguises. One of Kylar’s problems throughout his training is that his Talent doesn’t seem to be manifesting itself, and without that he will always be doomed to being a simple assassin. The Talent is what makes wetboys different. Oh, and for those of you who are wondering, yes there can be female wetboys.

Weeks’s world of Midcyru is also well-realized, with different cultures and religions and magic working, or at least interpreted, differently in the various cultures. Despite most of the characters being the kind of people we might normally find distasteful at the very least, they can still be sympathized and identified with because each of them is flawed and conflicted, even the seemingly cold, callous Durzo Blint. In fact, it’s the more “noble’ characters you end up despising because they tend to be spoiled royalty of one sort or another who are oblivious to what many of the characters are going through. Granted, in the case of Kylar, that’s just as well because he’s a wetboy living undercover, but there are still many in here you’d like to see Durzo or Kylar chop up just because they’re wasting good air.

So, without taking the risk of revealing some spoilers, I’ll finish off by saying: go get this book and it’s sequels, because if it’s any indication, Brent Weeks is a good writer who’s bringing us a little different type of fantasy.