ARC Review: City of Miracles

CityOfMiracles

From Goodreads:

Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And perhaps most daunting of all finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book by the publisher.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of the first two books in the Divine Cities series, City of Stairs, and City of Blades. While all of the books in the series are stand-alone, and can be read separately, wrapping up their own plots in a way that is satisfying and feels complete, they also definitely gain something by being read in sequence, City of Miracles more so than City of Blades. So while you certainly can read the book without picking up the prequels, I would definitely recommend checking them out first — and they’re both awesome.

Both of the previous books are largely action/adventure novels with a large mystery plot, and much of City of Miracles follows the same formulas. However, it’s also a much deeper book. It explores a themes of power, love, family, purpose, and godhood, and had a much more intense emotional impact on me than either of the previous books in the series. I’m not ashamed to admit that I finished the book and had to wipe away a few tears. It was beautiful.

If you’ve read the previous two books (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?) then you know who Sigrud is. The good news is, as the first book was Shara’s, and the second was Mulaghesh’s, this book is Sigrud’s book. The bad news is that it’s the last book in the series, so we won’t be getting any more.

But whatever. WE GET A WHOLE BOOK OF SIGRUD. I legitimately squeaked in happiness when I found out that this would be his book, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it ever since. Sigrud is the same awesome character you know and love, and getting the entire story from his viewpoint is mostly a stream of awesome. It’s also an opportunity to dive deeper into who he his, and why, and there were plenty of character revelations about his past that I did not predict, but loved.

In addition to Sigrud, we follow Tatanya and Ivanya, two new characters. Both are incredibly well fleshed out and have very intriguing backstories and journeys throughout the novel, and I loved meeting and getting to know both of them. Bennet has continued his tradition of strong female characters who aren’t just your typical ‘badass woman’, but instead are competent at what they do, important, and feel incredibly real. Like, you know, all characters should.

The plot itself is bigger and grander than either previous novel, if that’s possible. I don’t want to spoil any of it, so I’ll simply say that if you want overwhelming adventure, amazing power, and the potential end of the world thrown in for good measure, you’ll find all of it here, in abundance.

I know I’m flailing a bit here, but that’s just because the book was so good. I can’t even describe it all at once. It’s an action adventure mystery love story world-ending character study of doom and awesome and I’m sure I’ve left out a few subplots. Seriously, if you liked the first two books in the series, at all, you have to read City of Miracles. It was so so so good. Five of five stars, and my unconditional recommendation.

Robert Jackson Bennett’s Website.

City of Miracles on Goodreads.

ARC Review: The Guns Above

TheGunsAbove

From Goodreads:

The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupris can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.

She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. This has in no way affected my review of the book.

I haven’t read many steampunk/airship novels, but after this one, I might have to check out some more. The setting and worldbuilding was really well done, and I loved the attention to detail. The world felt like a real character, and an incredibly important element in the plot of the novel, and I enjoy books like that. I will note that reading about airships breaking in half while 10,000 feet in the air over the ocean on a several hour flight might make some of the elements of the story more nervewracking, but most of you will be reading it in more normal circumstances, I expect.

However much I liked the worldbuilding, though, I found the characters, and the plot they drove, largely unbelievable, cliche, and at times annoying. The main character is a “Badass Woman” who is, perhaps, the only competent character in the entire book. Pushing against the bounds of rampant sexism, she must overcome them to be the first female airship captain. At times, Dupris’s character definitely felt forced, in that she was so overly competent compared to everyone else, and could magically solve anything and everything and show those men who was best.

Her main antagonist, Bernat, was an utter fop to a degree that I more or less refuse to believe is actually possible for a human to actually be. But, of course, he’s handsome, has a heart of gold, and will make a miraculous turnaround into a good guy within an unbelievably short period of time. I had to stop myself from continually rolling my eyes while he was onscreen, or we were in his viewpoint.

In addition, the man who is supposed to be running the war, Lord Fieren, was also incompetent, absolutely clueless about political machinations, and I can’t believe that he could rise to such a high rank or hold his country’s army together and kept them in the war for so long with his idiocy.

Ignoring the characters, the war, however, was fairly well done. The characters have several debates about why the war is being fought, and while no conclusion is ever reached, it raises a lot of questions about wars, fighting, and whether it’s really worth it. In particular, there’s a scene where the main characters must ruin the livelihoods of a village of their own citizens in order to impede the oncoming army, and the characters have some very good debates about whether or not this is necessary, and they never really agree in the end, leaving the reader to form their own opinions on this difficult question.

The battle scenes produced by the war, in contrast, are straightforward. The prose and writing here made them quite easy to visualize, and I really enjoyed reading them. They felt highly realistic, gritty, and had a lot of intense moments. They were easily my favorite part of the book, and were an excellent way of showing off the worldbuilding and character competencies, and while I felt many of the elements of the plots felt contrived and forced, the battles were all believable.

However, in many of the moments when we were not in battles, the prose became so heavy-handed and on the nose that I actually did roll my eyes. So many moments where a character thinks something, and immediately, someone else says it or it happens, or, particularly in the scenes with the general and his echo-box aide, a character says something so utterly transparent that nobody could not see through it, and it passes unremarked.

It is a minor quibble compared to my larger praises and issues for the book, but the characters here definitely fell into the larger than life trope of being able to recover from anything, and be back on their feet almost immediately. When we first meet our protagonist, she’s injured after a battle, can barely stay conscious, and can’t even stand up. Within a few days, she manages to get back on her feet, take command of her own airship, and fight in a battle without acting any the worse from the wear. I really wish that books without magical healing would have more impact on their characters from the injuries that they sustain, and here, it really stood out to me that this did not happen.

However, I will admit that having invincible mega-healing characters allowed the author to skip over many parts that could have been boring, go right on to all the awesome stuff, and keep the pacing solid throughout the book. I read it all in a single day, and while I paused some at the beginning, by the time I really got into it, I was having trouble putting it down, and there were hardly any boring moments.

In summary, despite some horribly unbelievable characters, on the nose prose, and a glossing over of character injuries and battle stresses, I enjoyed the world and the war portrayed in the book, and found it to be a good, well-paced read. I give it three of five stars.

ARC Review: Skullsworn

 

Note: I can’t post a Richard Anderson cover without gushing about it, because THEY ARE ALL SO GREAT. Check out the info in the cover reveal, because it has some cool details and other art. I am also in love with the UK cover here (and have the UK hardcover just for that), and the cover reveal for that one is here.

From Goodreads:

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one you love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love…and ending it on the edge of her sword.

I should note that, if this review makes you really want to pick the book up, you can read the first handful of chapters here. The prologue sets up the entire book, so if you want an idea what it’s about, and you don’t like reading summaries, I suggest you go read it now, before reading the rest of this review.

Because Skullsworn takes place chronologically before the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, you can read it before or after. I feel like it’s best read after, because some of the reveals near the end of the book don’t pack the same punch without some of the knowledge you get from the main trilogy. I may be biased in this recommendation, however, as I almost always recommend reading books in publication order. Regardless, if you haven’t read the main trilogy, and are looking for a shorter, less intimidating entry point into the world of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Skullsworn is a great place to start.

If I were to actually make a complaint about the book, it’s that, in comparison to the previous books that Staveley has written, the tension is a little lower. I think this is because there was only one main character, and we already know what’s going to happen to her. In addition, she doesn’t care that much if she dies, since she’s already a devotee of the death god. Also, there are no empire-shaking plots going on here, merely personal ones, throughout most of the book.

The other complaint I can see being leveled at Skullsworn is that it’s much shorter than the rest of Staveley’s novels. While I would call the original trilogy epic, I don’t think that Skullsworn meets the criteria. It’s a personal quest story, and as such, it’s the right length. I feel like trying to make the book longer by adding unnecessary complications or words would have made it a worse book. I don’t have any complaints about the length other than that I’m once again out of Staveley to read, and I have to go back to waiting for the next one!

Pyrre is a very different viewpoint character than any that Brian has written before. While Kaden can attain some measure of calm, and Valyn is trained to kill, neither of them reach the levels of cold-blooded apathy that Pyrre ascends to in her devotion to Ananshael. This could make for a very boring character – someone who just wanders around and kills people – in the hands of an amateur, but Staveley is anything but an amateur. In his hands, Pyrre had wants, desires, and needs. She is on a quest, her own kind of twisted coming of age story, and while the “life or death” part of the quest doesn’t hold the same pull as it might for another character, it still makes for a compelling narrative, and gives the book a definite sense of progress. In addition, Pyrre learns a lot about herself during the book, and the lessons and her character growth are brilliantly done.

It’s not Pyrre who really sold the book for me, though. It was the ending. While I was enjoying the book throughout, as a very good book that was a quick read and thoroughly enjoyable, I’ll admit, before the ending, I was thinking I was going to give the book four stars.

And then the ending happened.

I can’t really say much other than that it was epic and way better than I had anticipated or thought possible. YOU NEED TO READ IT.

In summary, while Skullsworn follows a single character, and one who is a challenge to make interesting, it pulls this off very well. It’s the right length for the story that it is trying to tell, and the ending packs a massive punch. While I felt that the ending was even better because I read the original trilogy first, Skullsworn can be read at any time, and I think you’ll love it regardless. I give it five of five stars, and very high recommendations. Now go read it so I have someone to discuss it with!

Brian Staveley’s Website.

Skullsworn on Goodreads.

 

Guest Review: Inherit the Flame

We have a very special guest review on the blog today! Sterling, my awesome non-blogger friend and manga reader and collector extraordinaire, is here to talk about Inherit the Flame!

InheritTheFlame

Inherit the Flame is the third and final book in the Scorched Continent trilogy. The first two books were full of adventures, airships, banter, and character growth. They were a lot of fun to read so I came into this last book with somewhat high expectations which were met for the most part. Since this is the third book in the series, I’m not going to say much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil the previous books for anyone.

Detan has successfully retrieved the engineer, Nouli, from the Empire and has returned to his Aunt to find the city under siege. Most of the characters from the previous books make an appearance in this book. It was great seeing Ripka trying to get used to being a civilian again after being in law enforcement. Of course, there’s Detan who is still trying to gain control of himself before he destroys anyone he loves. Detan felt more than a little lost in this book and it began to be annoying. For me, it took away from the narrative. We do get a little more backstory on the Commodore. She is a woman who has spent the last two books as a force of nature but after this book I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her.

As for the plot, it had its ups and downs. Overall, I enjoyed it but it’s not my favorite of the series. The pace lagged in places. Ripka attempts to pin down and diffuse whatever scheme the Commodore is using to take over Hond Steading. Detan’s struggles with his power results in him putting himself in the clutches of his enemies to learn control. There’s some great chases, grand uses of magic, and great banter. This book wraps up the story arc from the previous two books as the Steading tries to remain whole in the face of two irresistible forces.

Is this a book worth reading? I’d say it is but I’d recommend starting with book one, Steal the Sky, if you haven’t picked the series up. If you’re already a fan though, this is a decent conclusion to the series but it may leave you wanting more. I’m interested to see what the author puts out in the future.

3 of 5 stars.

ARC Review: Red Sister

Book Review: Red Sister

RedSister

From Goodreads:

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. This has in no way affected my review of the book.

I’ve heard a lot about Mark Lawrence over the years. It’s kinda inevitable when you have the same first name as the guy. I heard some things that made me wary, but I also know a lot of people who are huge fans of his work. I was excited to dive in and find out what all the hype was about, and getting Red Sister to review made me finally make the time to sit down and read one of his books.

My favorite part of the book was the setting. Not the overall worldbuilding, but the plot-based setting, especially in the first 2/3 of the book. It’s set at a monastery, and it’s told from the viewpoint of a young nun in training. The feel is very similar to the school experience from, say, Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series, or many of Tamora Pierce’s books, notably the Alanna quartet and the Lady Knight quartet. I have fond memories of all of these books, and so getting to go back to this setting triggered some happy nostalgic memories. I definitely enjoyed this part of the book, even if I could tell that I’d seen it all before, and that there were many of the same cliches here that all of the other books use.

I don’t want to brush off the worldbuilding by just talking about the setting, though. What bits we got in this book were very intriguing. We get hints of where the people came from, the disasters that have befallen their world, how they’ve adapted, and what may lie ahead. But it’s all very tangential to the plot, and there were points where I was definitely hungering for more, more, more. I feel like this will play a much larger role in the later books in the series, and what we got here was just a teaser. I also have to note that, until the second half of the book, I sometimes forgot we were on an icy planet, and it felt like the author did too, until it became plot relevant. I would have liked more continuity on this, but the bits about the history we did have, how the moon works, and everything… I can tell Lawrence has a very scientific mind, and I thoroughly enjoyed finding out the details, bit by bit.

Lawrence has a reputation for being a grimdark author, and I don’t know if this book just isn’t representative of his other works, or if that’s just a falsely applied term. This book didn’t feel grimdark at all. There definitely were tight spots and important character deaths, but that’s something I get out of most fantasy novels these days, and nothing felt really overdone. If anything, it felt almost like a YA novel without some of the annoying YA tropes that I hate to read. The main character is young, and most of the time, she remembers to act like it. The plot centers around her learning and coming of age, and many of the secondary characters are of the same age.

I had a hard time getting into the book at the beginning, because Lawrence was playing some fancy tricks with the timeline, flashbacks, and information giving. I got really confused, and there were definitely points where I considered quitting before I really got into it. Once I got into it, however, I was enjoying it enough not to stop,

When I was reading through the book, I found myself putting it down between every chapter at one point, just to take a break, check my texts and emails, etc. While I enjoyed the setting, the plot didn’t draw me along, and the prose sometimes felt disjointed and unpolished. I wish I had been more engaged, but sometimes, there just wasn’t enough tension and intrigue to really draw me in.

I think some of the disconnect may also have been the absence of a completely coherent endgame for the book. I wasn’t sure where we were really going, and what the big climax was going to be until almost when it happened, and so there wasn’t a huge sense of overarching tension to draw me through the book. I could tell nearly from the beginning that none of the large issues raised by the worldbuilding and history wouldn’t be answered in this book. I wish there had been a bit more of a sense of direction, overall, though.

In summary, I quite enjoyed some parts of my first foray into Lawrence’s work. In particular, I liked the worldbuilding aspects, both large and small, and the setting was one I definitely enjoyed. However, I had issues with parts of the plot being boring, and the timelines a bit confusing, with unnecessary jumps, and that threw me off a bit. I don’t know if I’m going to read more Lawrence books, because I don’t think any of them will have the same setting-based appeal that this one did. If you want more girl-at-school learning to fight, politick, and put up with bullies, I recommend reading Tamora Pierce or Cinda Williams Chima, as I enjoyed both of their books more than this one. I give Red Sister three of five stars.

Novella Review: Snapshot

Snapshot
Note: If you like the cover art, Howard Lyon, the artist, has a cool process post and additional pictures here.

Disclaimer: I was a beta reader for this novella. My name is in the acknowledgments. My review may not be entirely unbiased.

From Goodreads:

Snapshot is a Science Fiction detective story following Anthony Davis, a cop assigned to Snapshot Duty. In this vivid world that author Brandon Sanderson has built, society can create a snapshot of a specific day in time. The experiences people have, the paths they follow—all of them are real again for a one day in the snapshot. All for the purposes of investigation by the court.

Davis’s job as a cop on Snapshot Duty is straight forward. Sometimes he is tasked with finding where a criminal dumped a weapon. Sometimes he is tasked with documenting domestic disputes. Simple. Mundane. One day, in between two snapshot assignments, Davis decides to investigate the memory of a call that was mysteriously never logged at the precinct, and he makes a horrifying discovery.

As in all many stories, Snapshot follows a wonderfully flawed character as he attempts to solve a horrific crime. Sanderson proves that no matter the genre, he is one of the most skilled storytellers in the business.

Snapshot is a novella, which means that it’s super short. At least, for the kind of books I like to read, it’s short. According to my Kindle, the whole thing can be read in an hour and a half. I definitely recommend reading works this short in a single sitting, because it really is one cohesive story, one single plot, and you’ll miss details if you take breaks. So if you want to read it, set aside the time to read it all at once, if you can. Also, read the Acknowledgments when you’re done. 🙂

Short doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot here, however. Snapshot is packed full of exciting moments, creepy thrills, and stunning twists. Sanderson is an expert at always keeping you unbalanced, guessing, unsure of what will happen next. There is never a boring moment in the book, and once you pick it up, it’s easy to just keep reading, to want to read just one more chapter, just one more, and suddenly, it’s done.

There are several plot twists here, and Sanderson’s ability to pack them into something this short amazes me. As with many of his books, there are bits that you will figure out ahead of time, but I guarantee there are also events that you won’t see coming. I hate it when, in a book that is about the twist, you can figure out the twists far ahead of time, and have the ending all plotted out in your head before it happens. I was super glad to find that Snapshot defied these expectations, in many ways making it feel like a full Sanderson novel.

The novella is based on a really cool idea, too, as with almost all of Sanderson’s novellas. In Snapshot, we’re asked what would happen if you could recreate a day at will, jump into it, do whatever, and leave again, with no consequences in the real world. Sanderson explores this through the lens of criminal investigations – what would the police do with this technology? It’s a fascinating question, and while his answers are only one possibility out of many, they are very interesting and thought-provoking.

As a side note, the setting is tangentially in the Reckonerverse, but you’ll only recognize this if you’re reading closely, as it’s only really hinted at in one or two paragraphs and is relevant only to the worldbuilding and not really the plot itself. If you are expecting more David and Megan, more Prof and Tia, more bad metaphors and gun nuts, you’ll be disappointed. Well, okay. Not about the gun nut part. But the rest of it. On the flip side, if you’ve never read the Reckoners books, you’re perfectly fine reading this at any time, because it won’t spoil any of that for you! (You really should read them, though.)

For all that, on the surface, Snapshot is a popcorn read, and a fun quick thrill ride, it presented a lot of interesting ideas about morality and reality that I am still pondering, several months after I first read it. When nothing is real, what is it okay to do? What is considered “wrong” in this case? How would you act? While It may not be quite as good at asking deep questions as The Emperor’s Soul was, Snapshot is a really good novella that handles the massive number of things that it is trying to do really well, and I absolutely loved it.

In summary, Snapshot is a quick, fun read, and when you can set aside an hour and a half, or maybe two hours, depending on your reading speed, you really should pick it up and read it all the way through. It is full of plot twists, cool worldbuilding, and somehow also manages to use this worldbuilding to ask some really interesting questions that I’m still not sure if I have an answer to. I give it five of five stars (but I may be slightly biased as a beta reader), and really think you should pick it up soon.

Note: While you can’t really get a physical copy right now (Vault Books is sold out, and the con exclusive is still con exclusive. I believe those’ll be available on Sanderson’s store sometime in November.), you can pick up the e-book for cheap right now at a variety of places.

Sanderson’s page with more info.

Goodreads.

Con Report: ICFA 38 (2017)

Hello, all! We’re back from ICFA 38, and still recovering. I thought I’d just give y’all a quick overview of how the con went while it’s all still relatively fresh in my mind.

We arrived Wednesday of last week after a very long day. My flight left Austin at 5:35 AM, and Shannon’s flight left even earlier. I had an empty seat next me on both my flights, so that was pretty great. I also got to read a lot of A Closed and Common Orbit, which I really enjoyed, so the travel overall was pretty great (besides having to get up so early…).

In the evening, we signed in, checked out the free table, and attended the opening ceremonies, then went back to our rooms to rest and plan out which panels we would go to for the rest of the week. I saw a name I was not expecting for one panel on Thursday, and got rather excited. More on this later.

Thursday morning, I was up bright and early and went down to work out. The hotel had a really nice workout room, and after, we hit up the cafe in the hotel for breakfast. I wandered off to some very interesting panels. The first one I went to had one presenter who talked about a novel where everyone is an amputee, and one of the amputees kills all of the other amputees. One of the other presenters rewrote her paper at 4 AM that morning and ended up talking about problematic themes in paranormal romance novels (Read: paranormal erotica). Like I said, it was… Interesting.

After a quick lunch, Shannon presented at the first panel in the afternoon. Despite a relatively small crowd, I thought the presentation went really well.

IMG_2729

Shannon was exhausted after this, quite understandably, so I went off to my next panel alone, with some trepidation. This was the panel I was excited about, if the name I read was the correct name, and if it was who I hoped it was. The subject of the panel was defining “epic fantasy”, which I already knew was going to be a fairly futile endeavor, because everyone has their own opinions on what defines genres, but the discussion was still lively.

And the person I was wondering about, the person on the program who I wasn’t expecting to be at the con at all, showed up. He was who I thought he was.

IMG_2735

On the left there is some dude named Brian Staveley. He’s one of my top 5 favorite authors, and the only one I hadn’t met yet. (I finally got to see V. E. Schwab in Austin at the beginning of March! Woo!) So, uh… Understandably, I was a little excited.

IMG_2736

I was even more excited when I went up to talk to him after the panel and he recognized me. Me. A fan he had never met in person, and he knew who I was. It was surreally awesome, and definitely made my week.

I think there was dinner and stuff after. I can’t quite remember, because I kinda had my head in the clouds for the rest of the evening.

Friday started off with more exercise. Seriously, it feels so good to work out early in the morning. You’re more awake and active for the rest of the day, and I love it.

The first event was a Steven Erikson signing. (I know I went to other signings at various times, but I had the most books for Erikson, so that’s the one I remember.) I had started the first Malazan book at the beginning of this year before the train that was Oathbringer hit me, and I was really enjoying it, and expect to love the series as a whole, so I was excited to meet Erikson and have him sign my copies of his series.

There was a free luncheon on Friday, where they gave out some really cool free books. Tip for if you ever go to ICFA: Go to all the luncheons and dinners. It’s worth it for the food. It’s also worth it for the books. Combined, it’s *really* worth it, and I wish I’d known ahead of time to sign up for the Thursday luncheon as well.

I know I went to several panels on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other such literary things, but they’re all kind of blending together by now. A lot of the papers presented were really interesting, so it was definitely worth going, though!

In the afternoon, I attended a reading with Nick Mamatas, John Chu, and Fran Wilde. All of the readings were excellent. Chu read part of a short story he’ll have in an upcoming magazine, and Wilde read all of her own story. I was really glad I went, and kinda wish I’d made time to see some of the other readings earlier in the week.

That night was the flash play section. It was unbelievably fun, and if you go to ICFA, you have to go to the flash plays. It should be required for everyone. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time. The best part is that the authors themselves are also the actors, so I got to watch Max Gladstone pretend to be drunk, declare himself a sensualist, and then get into a mock sword fight and accidentally break his sword.

IMG_2764

IMG_2772

Staveley sat next to me during the play, and after, invited me to come out to the balcony to hang out and chat with people. He introduced me to several people, including his editor, Marco Palmieri. (Who also sorta knew who I was from Twitter!) I really appreciated the introductions, and got a bit outside of my comfort zone, talking to new people and stuff. It was a good experience.

Saturday started off with a very special signing. Staveley was there, signing none other than Skullsworn, his next book. His editor had them printed 2 weeks earlier than normal just so he would have copies for ICFA, and I was unbelievably excited to be able to pick up a copy early, and have Staveley AND Palmieri sign it.

IMG_2784

(Yes, there is actually a picture with me prominently in it. That’s how excited I was.)

I know I went to several other interesting panels that day, but the only one that sticks in my mind was the last one–a humor panel featuring Max Gladstone and Andy Duncan. It was, well, humorous.

The day ended with one final dinner, with more free books (eep), and then a party out on the terrace, where I got to talk to several more people, make more connections, and even talk to Staveley a bit more. We got him to agree to do an interview for our blog when Skullsworn is released, so look for that in a few weeks!

Travelling home was… A chore. We visited the free table every day, the bookseller’s room at least twice, and picked up books at the luncheon and the dinner. We had to transport all of this back to Austin.

IMG_2801

Yes, the boxes are also full of books. Mostly the books we brought with us to get signed.

I ended up checking a 50.0 pound bag and another that was around 40 lbs. I likely carried another 40-50 pounds around the airport, between my backpack and the overloaded tote bag I was using. Shannon was also carrying a bag of books, and put as many as she could fit into her carry-on luggage.

All of the books (and people) made it home safely, but I think that next time, I’m going to go ahead and ship back a box of books. Getting everything through the airport and home was backbreaking, and after a long weekend (I was up really late Friday and Saturday night forcing myself to be sociable), I would have liked a slightly easier trip home.

I did manage to read all of Skullsworn on the trip back (I finished Closed and Common Orbit sometime during the conference), and absolutely loved it. Having a good book to enthrall me on both legs of the journey made the travel seem so much shorter than it actually was.

All in all, ICFA was a great experience, and meeting Brian by surprise definitely made it exceed all of my expectations. My takeaways from the con would be this:

  • The panels are all pretty great, and don’t be afraid to try out some of the more interesting ones.
  • The readings are awesome too, especially if you go and watch authors who read with voices, and have any kind of acting background.
  • Go to all the luncheons and dinners. You’re not saving much money regardless because the restaurants around the hotel are so expensive, and you get really good food, plus free books, and it’s a great opportunity to network.
  • Don’t forget to check the free tables, and check them often. If you’re the kind of person who will pick up books on a whim, or has a long list of books you want, expect to bring a lot of books home, and likely need to ship some of them.
  • The flash plays are required.
  • Don’t be afraid to hang out with the cool people and talk to them. They weren’t at all afraid to talk to me. 🙂

I’m not sure if my schedule will allow me to go back next year, but I definitely enjoyed my trip this year. Thanks to everyone who put this conference together and made it such a memorable experience!