I just read: The City of Brass

City of Brass starts off about a con-artist named Nahri in Napoleonic-era Cairo. Nahri doesn’t know where she comes from, but wouldn’t you know that she eventually realizes that she’s far more than just a rootless street urchin—she’s descended from a noble family of mythical djinn (they call themselves Daeva). The rest of the story revolves around Nahri coming to terms with this revelation, and how she affects the lives of two djinn men in the far-off, secret city of their ancient race.

I always thought of a djinn (or a Daevas, or an ifrits) as a sort of elemental spirit—or shapeshifting demon. Something inhuman. But the author, S.A. Chakraborty, presents the Daevas as very close to humans, both in their appearance, their politics, and their passions. If anything, the djinni here come off as elves, and their fabled city of Daevabad is Rivendell. One major difference to that is that some tribes of Daeva feel spiritually connected to fire, some to water, etc. The intrigues that run between these different tribes are as fraught and as morally ambiguous as anything you’d see in Game of Thrones. And just as complicated!

Nahri finds herself drawn to two Daeva men who are on opposite sides of this political divide. Nahri feels a romantic spark for both of these men. Dara is a hotheaded outsider—and a deadly warrior—who feels rightfully angry at the city’s current ruling family. Alizayd is the second son of that royal family. He is a devout Muslim, and also secretly entwined with an insurgency fighting for equality of Daevabad’s half-human population.

After a stilted and complicated introduction, Alizayd became my favorite character in the book. Because of his religion, he has chosen to remain chaste. At the same time, Nahri has been forced into an arranged engagement with his older brother, Muntadhir. All the same, Alizayd develops a fierce attachment to Nahri, and the best parts of the books are when he’s clashing with Dara—his political and romantic rival—over Nahri. There’s more than meets the eye to all of these characters, and that includes Muntadhir and Ali’s father, Ghassan.

All in all, an enjoyable fantasy read in a setting that you don’t often see. I look forward to reading the sequel when it is released.

(Ground)Breaking News: Cover reveal!

Here’s the cover for Groundbreakers Book One, which will be released on April 17! Yes, that is a giant echinoid in the bottom half of the image. Spooky and spiny!

“The land of Embhra is ruled by magic—and it’s ruining everything.

Gods and sorcerers jealously hoard their power, and innocent people everywhere are suffering for the cause of those who wield magic. Sygne and Jamal are hoping they can change that. She’s a scientist. He’s a former soldier and aspiring poet-singer.

With her brains and his bravado, they might just make a difference. It also helps that they are on course to find a primordial Ancient One that might hold the key to changing the entire world. Not so helpful: both a war goddess and a love goddess want to see them dead!

The ‘Scientician’ and the Singing Swordsman begin their first groundbreaking adventure in this short-length novel.”

I just read: Sharaz-de

Until about a year ago, I wasn’t familiar with Italian illustrator and comic-artist Sergio Toppi. Which is a shame because his work is brilliant. It reminds me of the fluid abstraction of Bill Sienkiewicz, the bold action and scale of Walt Simonson (who contributes a foreword to this edition), and some of that realist detail that you see in advertising illustrations of the 60s. This last bit is probably not surprising considering that Toppi started off as an advertising illustrator before transition to graphic novels about cowboys and soldiers, historic figures and the icon Arabian Nights mythos—which is what is collected in ‘Sharaz-de.’ Unfortunately Toppis passed away in 2012 at the age of 80.

Toppi was certainly in his element when it comes to illustrating the world of Arabian nights. His rocky desert landscapes are incredible, and just as impressive is the way he arranges his panels to communicate the passage of time and distance.

His pen carves the faces of his kings and shamans in the same sort of weather-worn majesty that he renders sandstone. Sometimes his vizier and chieftain faces blend in with rock formations or Gustav Klimt patterns, and it all creates this beautiful, dynamic texture of pen-and-ink.

I was also impressed with Toppi’s writing. He condenses the stories to as few lines of dialog. Although this descriptions and introductions are a little longer, and dashed an Old World tone. My favorite story was the set-up in the beginning, which mixes infidelity, sibling rivalry and compassion, and a bit of schadenfreude. (Scheherazade, meet Schadenfreude.)

Plot wise, most of the stories are pretty violent morality plays—full of jealous or greedy characters getting their just deserts. Sort of similar to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, if you read the old-school versions. But all the decapitations and demonic punishments are beautifully rendered, at least!

(Ground)Breaking News: It begins!

It’s finally almost here!

I’m announcing I’ll be releasing my latest novel on Tuesday, April 17th.

It’s part of a new series that is a bit of a departure for me. After first testing the indie-publishing waters with a horror book called Line of Descent, I then completed a full-blown sci-fi trilogy, Idyll. Now I’m trying my hand at the fantasy genre. And boy has it been a blast!

The series is called Groundbreakers, and it started out as a story about a proto-scientist making it in a world that has been dominated by sorcery. I thought of it as Mr. Wizard meets actual wizards. Or Isaac Newton in the age of Conan the Barbarian. I realize these pitches make it sound like the main character is a man. Actually, the scientist is a woman, and—actually again—there are two main characters. The second protagonist is a cocky, swashbuckling type.

As I said, this was the premise when I started writing the series a year ago, and also the basic germ of the characters I wanted to build my world around. Of course, as I’ve worked on the series, the characters and the themes have evolved.

Still, throughout the process, I’ve tried to maintain a high-spirited, lighthearted tone—which is also a bit of a departure from what I’ve written in the past. I want the Groundbreaker books to be fun, quick reads. If there are a few moments of heaviness or horror, then maybe they’ll have all the more impact because of it!

Anyway, enough chit-chat. Here is a map of the world (I showed a version of this in an earlier post), and a blurb. If you’re interested in an advanced-reader-copy, send me an email! jderrywriter@gmail.com.

The land of Embhra is ruled by magic—and it’s ruining everything.

Gods and sorcerers jealously hoard their power, and innocent people everywhere are suffering for the cause of those who wield magic. Sygne and Jamal are hoping they can change that. She’s a scientist. He’s a former soldier and aspiring poet-singer.

With her brains and his brawn, they might just make a difference. It also helps that they are on course to find a primordial Ancient One that might hold the key to changing the entire world. Not so helpful: both a love goddess and a war goddess want to see them dead! No one ever said change would be easy…

The ‘Scientician’ and the Singing Swordsman begin their first groundbreaking adventure here—in MYTHS OF THE FALLEN CITY!