The outbreak tore the US in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness, known by survivors as the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead and delivers peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.
But in the wastelands of America, you never know who – or what – is watching you.
Henry Marco, former neurologist, is now a gun for hire in the wastelands of what used to be the western US (the Evacuated States). His business partner and former brother in law lives in the east, in the area deemed safe by the government, the New Republicans. Days are spent tracking lost relatives and giving them the peace that their family members desire, with the memory of his wife haunting his every step. Haunted, yes, that’s the best way to describe Henry Marco. Hardened by years of battling the undead, he begins to questions just what it is that keeps him going. Is it his “job?” Does killing the undead relatives of grieving survivors bring him peace and closure also, or does it just fuel the pattern that he’s been forging for years, alone and devastated by loss? Well, Marco’s lone wolf existence is about to be shaken up. Homeland Security has taken his brother in law hostage, using him as leverage in order to hire Marco to hunt the ultimate target: Roger Ballard, the scientist that may just have the cure for the Resurrection disease. The US government isn’t the only one after Ballard, though, and it will take every bit of cunning that Marco possesses to take on this job, out among the wreckage of a country in collapse, overrun by the hordes of living dead.
It’s probably pretty obvious to you by now, dear reader, that I like zombies. It’s a very popular genre right now, and when it comes to zombies, I’m not a gourmand, I’m a gourmet, and I’m always on the lookout for the next above-the-cut zom novel. Luckily, The Return Man more than fits the bill. When I mentioned that more than just the US is interested in a possible cure or vaccine for the Resurrection disease, take that to heart, because Marco will have to deal with some pretty nasty customers (other than zombies), on his journey to Sarsgard Medical Prison, where Ballard was last known to be. He picks up an unlikely ally (or is he) in the form of Ken Wu, Chinese assassin and spy, and a group of psychotic militia men are after them as well. Trust me, the Horsemen will give you a case of the shudders. I really enjoyed the author’s idea that zombies might have a trace of their old selves intact. Not much, but enough to seek out places that are familiar or give them comfort. While this isn’t necessarily a comforting thought, considering the state of these things that were once human, it provides a neat twist on the usual zombie fare.
I had absolutely no trouble getting into, and staying immersed in, The Return Man. There is a ton of carnage in this, seriously, the sheer number of zombies that Marco and Wu have to wade through is staggering, and when it comes to zombie killin’, the author doesn’t leave much to the imagination. That’s ok, though! I mean, you’ll cringe, at least, I did and consider myself somewhat jaded, but the gore really is necessary to paint a terrifying picture of what our hero has to endure, and has had to steel himself to in order to survive in the Evacuated States. The Return Man has quite a bit more depth to it than your average zombie apocalypse novel because Marco himself has a lot of depth, and we also get to know Wu quite a bit during the telling of the story. You’ll think you have Wu’s number at the beginning, but you won’t, and his story just added another layer to the unfolding of The Return Man. I enjoyed every terrifying bit of this book, and if you love zombies, good writing, and great storytelling, I think you will too!
I’ve got a few giveaway winners to announce today! Remember, if you win, you’ll get an email from me, so if you see your name here, be sure to check your spam too. I only send out one notification, and I’d hate for anyone to miss out. Thanks to everyone that entered and congrats to the winners!
Tsunami Blue and Riders on the Storm by Gayle Ann Williams (2 winners)
Congrats to Julie Le and Beth Cook
Invisible Sun by David Macinnis Gill
Congrats to Marlene Breakfield
Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry (2 winners)
Congrats to Chelsea Foust and Hillary Jacques
Darkest Knight by Karen Duvall
Congrats to Sally Michele Shaw
*Winners were chosen by Rafflecopter, have been notified by email, and have 48 hours to respond before an alternate winner is chosen. Thanks again to everyone that entered!
Here are the new releases for April! Lots of good books out this month-happy reading!
April 3rd, 2012:
The Return Man by VM Zito (Horror) (April 1st)
The Slayer by Theresa Meyers (Steampunk/Fantasy) (April 1st)
Above by Leah Bobet (YA/Fantasy) (April 1st)
Faustus Resurrectus by Thomas Morrissey (Fantasy)
Viral by James Lilliefors (Thriller)
Let Them Eat Stake by Sarah Zettel (Mystery)
Something Secret This Way Comes by Sierra Dean (UF/Paranormal)
Old Sins, Long Shadows by PG Forte (Paranormal)
Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli (Thriller)
The Thirteenth Sacrifice by Debbie Viguie (Thriller)
Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg (Mystery/Noir)
The Stolen Bride by Tony Hays (Fantasy)
Summoning by Carol Wolf (Fantasy)
Caine’s Law by Matthew Stover (Fantasy)
Alien Diplomacy by Gini Koch ( UF)
Sword and Blood by Sarah Marques (Fantasy)
Plague Town by Dana Fredsti (UF) | REVIEW
Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer (Sci-Fi)
Fear (Gone Series) by Michael Grant (YA)
Immortal City by Scott Speer (YA)
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (YA)
Black Heart by Holly Black (YA)
Nocturnal by Scott Sigler (Horror)
Lessons After Dark by Isabel Cooper (Paranormal Romance)
Devil’s Punch (Corine Solomon) by Ann Aguirre (UF)
Magic Without Mercy (Allie Beckstrom) by Devon Monk (UF)
Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves (YA) (April 8th)
April 10th, 2012:
The Calling (Darkness Rising #2) by Kelley Armstrong (UF)
Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson (UF) | REVIEW
Assassin’s Code (Joe Ledger #4) by Jonathan Maberry (Thriller) | REVIEW
Blue Magic by AM Dellamonica (Fantasy)
Sacrilege by SJ Parrish (Historical Mystery)
LA ’56: A Devil in the City of Angels by Joel Engel (Mystery/Noir)
Wicked City (Zephyr Hollis #2) by Alaya Johnson (UF)
Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery (Fantasy/Dystopian)
Immobility by Brian Evenson (Sci-Fi/Thriller)
Glamour In Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (Fantasy)
Blooded (novella) by Amanda Carlson (UF)
April 17th, 2012:
Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem (Horror)
The Last Echo by Kimberly Derting (YA)
Replicant by Dani Worth (Sci-Fi)
White Horse by Alex Adams (Dystopian)
Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess by Phil and Kaja Foglio (Steampunk)
Bewitched, Bloodied, and Bewildered by Robyn Bachar (UF)
Lucky Bastard by SG Browne (Suspense)
April 24th, 2012:
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (UF) | REVIEW
Deadly Descendant by Jenna Black (UF)
Tricked (Iron Druid #4) by Kevin Hearne (UF) | REVIEW
Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (YA)
Summoning the Night by Jenn Bennett ( UF)
Wizard Undercover by K.E. Mills (UF)
Wishful Thinking by Gabi Stevens (UF)
Border Run by Simon Lewis (Thriller)
Evil Dark by Justin Gustainis (UF)
The Nekropolis Archive by Tim Waggoner (UF)
Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris (YA)
The Minority Council by Kate Griffin (UF)
Wicked Road to Hell by Juliana Stone (Paranormal)
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa (YA)
Lies and Omens by Lyn Benedict (UF)
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (Fantasy)
Red, White, and Blood (Nathanial Cade) by Chris Farnsworth (UF)
The Mysterium by P.C. Doherty (Mystery)
Dark Eden by Patrick Carman (YA)
Thumped by Megan McCafferty (YA)
Insurgent by Veronica Roth (YA)
Today brings something a bit different to MBW, and I think it’s kinda cool. If you recall, I reviewed the amazing Outpost a few weeks back, and the author Adam Baker was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, via video! No one has ever done this before, and I admit, I thought it was pretty darn cool, so please welcome Adam to the blog, and enjoy the video!
They took the job to escape the world They didn’t expect the world to end. Kasker Rampart: a derelict refinery platform moored in the Arctic Ocean. A skeleton crew of fifteen fight boredom and despair as they wait for a relief ship to take them home. But the world beyond their frozen wasteland has gone to hell. Cities lie ravaged by a global pandemic. One by one TV channels die, replaced by silent wavebands. The Rampart crew are marooned. They must survive the long Arctic winter, then make their way home alone. They battle starvation and hypothermia, unaware that the deadly contagion that has devastated the world is heading their way…
Purchase Outpost: Amazon | The Book Depository
Iraq 2005 Seven mercenaries journey deep into the desert in search of Saddam’s gold. They form an unlikely crew of battle-scarred privateers, killers and thieves, veterans of a dozen war zones, each of them anxious to make one last score before their luck runs out. They will soon find themselves marooned among ancient ruins, caught in a desperate battle for their lives, confronted by greed, betrayal, and an army that won’t stay dead…
Purchase Juggernaut: Amazon
Author. Screenwriter. Lover of cheese.
Adam was born in 1969. He is the son of a Gloucestershire priest.
He studied Theology and Philosophy in London.
He has worked as a gravedigger, a mortuary attendant, a short order cook in a New York diner, and fixed slot machines in an Atlantic City casino.
He is currently employed as a cinema projectionist.
He was also a close neighbour of serial killer Fred West.
Edge of Dark Water by Joe Landsdale
Publisher: Mulholland/March 27th, 2012
Kind thanks to NetGalley and Mulholland for providing a review copy
May Lynn was once a pretty girl who dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star. Now she’s dead, her body dredged up from the Sabine River.
Sue Ellen, May Lynn’s strong-willed teenage friend, sets out to dig up May Lynn’s body, burn it to ash, and take those ashes to Hollywood to spread around. If May Lynn can’t become a star, then at least her ashes will end up in the land of her dreams.
Along with her friends Terry and Jinx and her alcoholic mother, Sue Ellen steals a raft and heads downriver to carry May Lynn’s remains to Hollywood.
Only problem is, Sue Ellen has some stolen money that her enemies will do anything to get back. And what looks like a prime opportunity to escape from a worthless life will instead lead to disastrous consequences. In the end, Sue Ellen will learn a harsh lesson on just how hard growing up can really be.
Edge of Dark Water is my first Joe Lansdale novel. I know, I know! The man is something of a legend, and I’m a bit ashamed that I’m just now discovering the awesome. But you have to start somewhere, yes? Anyway, I saw a blurb for Edge that said something along the lines of “a mix of Mark Twain and classic Stephen King.” Yes, please! As it turns out, that statement was pretty accurate. The voice of Edge of Dark Water is 16 year old Sue Ellen, who lives with her parents in East Texas, along the Sabine River, during the Depression. While fishing with her father, and her friend Terry, they make a grisly discovery. May Lynn, a girl their age, has been killed and dumped into the river with a sewing machine tied around her ankle to weigh her down. Sue Ellen’s father suggests leaving her there, but Sue Ellen and her friends have other ideas. The beautiful May Lynn always wanted to go to Hollywood, so they’re going to take her there. Unfortunately, this will be an undertaking of massive and terrifying proportions, as they navigate the turbulent Sabine and evade the designs of a sadistic killer out for their blood.
The idea of taking your friend’s body, burning the remains, and stealing a raft to take said remains down the river, and eventually to Hollywood, is really only something the very young would attempt, but that’s one of the things I love about this book. Yes, their idea is a fantastic one, the likelihood of success phenomenally low, yet Sue Ellen, Terry, and Jinx are determined to make it work. Sue Ellen’s alcoholic mother decides to leave her father and come with the group, in what turns out to be a very positive thing in the long run. There are a few significant things that will surely hinder their plans, however. One, Sue Ellen’s father isn’t going to let them get away so easily, and after Jinx has a scuffle with May Lynn’s father, neither is he. There’s a question of money, in the form of stolen loot that our little group has discovered, and a psycho named Skunk is on their trail. No one really believed in Skunk before now. His name was synonymous with the bogeyman, and was something used to scare small children, or so they thought. He’s plenty real though, and when they finally do meet, it’s terrifying. Seriously, this guy will make your nightmares have nightmares. I loved Sue Ellen’s wry voice and she is both wise beyond her years, and yet, just a young girl. Jinx’s dry sarcasm will make you laugh and adds plenty of levity to some pretty horrid circumstances. Terry is an intelligent young man, and most often a voice of reason, but he’s conflicted in ways that might come back to haunt our little group. The author keeps up a pretty relentless pace, and puts these kids through the ringer, keeping you glued to the pages until the very end. Unusual, sometimes brutal, and thoroughly fascinating, Edge of Dark Water is a must read for fans of literary horror and southern gothic noir, not to mention fans of just plain great writing and wonderful characters! You’ll love this one!
I’ve got a couple of winners to announce today for The Taker for Alma Katsu and Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva. Thanks to everyone that entered, and congrats to the winners!
The Taker by Alma Katsu
Congrats to Megan Conway
Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva
Congrats to Alica Marie Ezell
*Winners were chosen by Rafflecopter, have been notified by email, and have 48 hours to respond with mailing info. Thanks again to everyone that entered!
I’m absolutely delighted to have the wonderful Delilah S. Dawson on the blog today! Delilah is the author of the superb Wicked As They Come (feel free to check out my review), and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Also, I’ve got one copy of Wicked As They Come up for grabs, so be sure to check out the details at the end of this post, and please welcome Delilah to the blog!
Delilah, you have a BA in Studio Art, and have held a variety of colorful jobs (which of course, I’ll grill you about soon.) Have you always wanted to write? What made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel, and why the heck is it stuck in a drawer?
Writing has always been something I enjoyed, whether it was the maudlin poetry I cranked out in high school and college or the art class descriptions I labored over when teaching. I always thought writing a novel was big, terrifying, impossible. But after helping my husband edit one of his books, I began to think that maybe I could pull it off. My first book was a magical realism called FERRYTALE about a wife and mother who went on a trip to Greece with her husband and was accidentally seduced by Zeus, as so many girls used to be. It’s in a drawer because it’s fatally flawed. At the very heart of it, most readers don’t enjoy reading about infidelity, whether accidental or not. Also, the first scene involved being sick in a public restroom and included the deadly, “I looked in the mirror and described myself.” Eek!
How did you celebrate when you found out your brand new novel, Wicked As They Come, would be published? Was there happy dancing? Cupcakes? Squeeing?
The day we got the first offer, I bought a nice grassfed steak, organic potatoes and green beans, and a huge cupcake from Whole Foods. I had to cook my own feast, but it was wonderful to celebrate with my family. I was totally giddy. After the auction was over and it was a definite thing, we secured childcare for a fancy date to Canoe, an amazing restaurant in Vinings, GA. I had the rabbit and ate so much I was food drunk. There has been pretty much a squee a day since then!
Can you give us a teaser about Wicked As They Come?
The mermaid scowled at us and did a back flip in her tank, slapping the surface of the water with her tail. I shrieked as cold droplets sprinkled over me, and Criminy pulled me a little closer. My heart sped up as he gently dabbed at my face with a bright red handkerchief.
“Missed a drop,” he said, voice quiet and husky. “Just there.”
His lips barely brushed mine. I wanted to push him away. I should have turned my head and slapped him for taking advantage of me. But I was too busy keeping my knees from buckling and melting into a puddle at his feet. The touch was brief and searing, and it was all I could do to pull back and clear my throat. Criminy didn’t apologize. He just grinned. The mermaid smacked the glass with her hand and went to sulk behind a water plant.
Why write steampunk/urban fantasy?
I didn’t actually set out to write Wicked as They Come. It just happened! I was watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and listening to The Hush Sound, and then I had a dream that I woke up naked on a rock in a forest with this extra-naughty version of Mr. Darcy staring at me. The first draft sort of wrote itself, in less than a month. I like steampunk, so there was steampunk. Criminy Stain sprung fully formed from my imagination as a blood drinker, so that’s what he is. Then I just threw in all the other things I liked. It’s like a potpourri of my favorite things.
But as to why I actually write steampunk and fantasy as opposed to other things, I think it’s the possibility. You make up the rules. You make up the world and the science. The sky’s the limit, and I like that.
What was your favorite character to write in Wicked As They Come?
Criminy Stain, without a doubt. Seriously, that man writes himself.
Do you have an idea of how many books you’d like to write in the Blud series, or will you just see where it takes you?
There are three books contracted in the series with at least one e-novella, which should be out this October. As it’s my first series, I don’t know if I’ll ever get bored with the world. Since each book follows a new couple from Criminy’s Clockwork Caravan, it could go on forever, visiting different countries and different cultures.
What are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Joss Whedon is a big one. I was working through Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I started writing Wicked, and I’m also a big fan of Firefly and Dollhouse. I read a lot, of course, and I took a major mental smackdown when I read Stephen King’s On Writing. The concept of kill your darlings really resonates, and I use it like a mantra. My 11th grade A.P. English teacher, Karen Lanning, really taught me how to write. And my editors at Cool Mom Picks are phenomenal. I play a game where I try to edit the way they edit before they can get to it and see if I can get a post in without them making a single change.
How about favorite books and/or authors?
So many! My gift to myself at selling my first book was an entire wall of bookshelves. Some of my favorite authors are Diana Gabaldon, Sara Donati, Gail Carriger, Deanna Raybourn, Matthew Stover, Maggie Stiefvater, Cassandra Clare, Charlaine Harris, David Levithan, Scott Westerfeld, Karen Marie Moning, and Neil Gaiman. And Alice in Wonderland is one of my long-time favorite books. I collect different editions of it and have two tattoos inspired by it.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
A big stack of books, Aquaphor for my new tattoo, a receipt from Five Guys, and figurines of Luke Skywalker and the Baroness.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
When I get totally stuck and don’t know where to take the story next, I run a hot bath, turn off all the lights, put on the album/playlist for the book, and pretty much put myself into a trance state until I know the answer. It’s happened on every single book so far, and it’s worked every time. Also, lots of coffee.
Ok, now, I must ask: there is an intriguing list of former jobs you’ve held in your bio, however, there are a couple that I really have to know about, if you’re willing to dish. I’d love to know about the Disney princesses, and the corpse (of course, if you want to share about others, feel free!!)
Sure! For the Disney princesses, back in high school, I worked for a company that hired out characters for kids’ parties. I was tan and had dark hair past my waist, so I could pull off Jasmine and Pocahontas. I mastered balloon animals and face painting and got all my answers down pat when snotty kids asked me where John Smith was or why my Jasmine pants had someone else’s cigarette burn on the thigh.
The corpse bit was from my time working at a haunted house. Everyone had to start out as a zombie/ghoul and work their way up. I was walking to my snack break once and got surprised by some kids while walking through a scene, and one of the pros said, “I’m going to kill you, so die well,” and then we pulled off an impromptu death/cannibal scene, and I got promoted. Sometimes I would lie around in a bathtub full of blood or wade through kudzu in an army net. And the best time was when I had the idea to wrap myself up like a body bag and lie among all the fake body bags. I made a dude pee his pants once, grabbing his ankle while he kicked another body bag and bragged about how they were all so stupid and fake.
What’s one of the most embarrassing things you’ve ever done or said (that you’re willing to share?)
I did well on the pretend SATs they give you in 7th grade and got invited to Duke University to accept an award. I was the dorkiest of dorks, with no fashion sense and a Dorothy Hamill haircut. When they called my name, my heel got caught in a grate on the floor, and I tripped and fell. My sailor dress flipped up over my head and showed the entire room my pantyhose and grandma thunderpants. It was the most mortifying thing that has ever happened to me.
On that note…is there any other news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share with us (or anything else, for that matter!!)?
The thing I’m most excited about right now—other than release day and my book launch party!—is the line of Wicked as They Come fragrances from Villainess Soaps. I’m a huge fan of artisan body products, and it was a dream come true when Brooke liked the book and agreed to develop perfumes and soaps based on Criminy, Letitia, and Tabitha, the mermaid from the above excerpt. Brooke is a genius, and the scents are spot-on with my descriptions of the characters. Criminy is now my signature scent, a delicious blend of berries, red wine, crushed herbs, and heather. If you’re familiar with Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, there’s a little homage to their head perfumer in the book, too.
I’m also thrilled that my first e-novella will be out in October, a short story covering a hot new romance in Criminy’s Clockwork Caravan. We haven’t settled on a title yet, but it involves butterflies, necromancy, vampire badgers, and a certain sexy mechanist mentioned in Wicked.
Thanks so much for interviewing me! I hope y’all enjoy Wicked as They Come! And if anyone has any more questions, you can find me at my website, or chat me up on Twitter. And if you’re in the Atlanta area, you’re invited to the book launch party on Friday, March 30 at 7pm at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock. Cake, wine, and steampunk fun will abound.
Wicked As They Come (Blud #1) by Delilah S. Dawson
Publisher: Pocket Books/March 27th, 2012
Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance/Steampunk
Kind thanks to Pocket Books for providing a review copy
Have you ever heard of a Bludman? They’re rather like you and me—only more fabulous, immortal, and mostly indestructible. (They’re also very good kissers.)
Delilah S. Dawson’s darkly tempting debut drops her unsuspecting heroine into a strange faraway land for a romantic adventure that’s part paranormal, part steampunk . . . and completely irresistible.
When Tish Everett forces open the ruby locket she finds at an estate sale, she has no idea that a deliciously rakish Bludman has cast a spell just for her. She wakes up in a surreal world, where Criminy Stain, the dashing proprietor of a magical traveling circus, curiously awaits. At Criminy’s electric touch, Tish glimpses a tantalizing future, but she also foresees her ultimate doom. Before she can decide whether to risk her fate with the charming daredevil, the locket disappears, and with it, her only chance to return home. Tish and Criminy battle roaring sea monsters and thundering bludmares, vengeful ghosts and crooked Coppers in a treacherous race to recover the necklace from the evil Blud-hating Magistrate. But if they succeed, will Tish forsake her fanged suitor and return to her normal life, or will she take a chance on an unpredictable but dangerous destiny with the Bludman she’s coming to love?
Tish Everett is a home care nurse who’s just escaped a bad relationship and is settling in to her work, caring for her sick grandmother, and enjoying her new found freedom. When she spots a beautiful locket at an estate sale, it seems to call to her, and before she knows it, she’s walking out the door with locket in hand. Inside is the picture of a rackish young man, and the romantic in Tish is delighted. Delight soon turns to confusion when he wakes up that night in a whole other world; a world of magic beyond Tish’s wildest dreams, and also home to the mysterious man in the locket, Criminy Stain. Her future is inexplicably tied to his, and he’s more than determined to make Tish his own, but is she willing to leave everything she loves behind?
Wicked As They Come is cracking good fun! I fell in love with Criminy Stain right away. He’s sly, roguish, devastatingly handsome, and he thinks Tish is the bee’s knees. There’s destiny involved here, and while Tish is concerned about her life back in the real world, she can’t help but be enchanted by Sang and its inhabitants. Criminy’s caravan certainly enchanted me, with its eccentric performers and clockwork animals. Not everything about Sang is magical in a good way, though. Most animals are bluds (the bludbunnies are a good example-cute, yet deadly), and Tish’s status as not only a Stranger, but as a Pinky forces her to cover herself head to toe to keep her scent from driving the bluds into a frenzy. Tish also discovers she has a rather unique talent when Criminy puts her to work as his resident fortune teller, and in the process, she finds out just how much the Bludmen and Bludewomen are hated by the humans of Sang, and also sees a possible future for herself that is anything but magical.
When her locket is stolen, she and Criminy will have to travel to the city to get it back, and what follows is an adventure you won’t soon forget. We’re talking vicious sea creatures, submarines, beautiful bludmares, evil Coppers, mermaids, ghosts, and unlikely (and charming) allies. And kissing, can’t forget the kissing. The tension between Criminy and Tish is delicious, and the author stretches it to the breaking point, with juicy results. Wicked As They Come is a rollicking, steampunk tinged ride down the rabbit hole, if the rabbits had vamp teeth and liked the taste of human flesh, and you’ll find yourself thoroughly charmed by this wonderful, rich, and dangerous world that Ms. Dawson has created. I couldn’t get enough of Wicked As They Come, and absolutely can’t wait for the next book! Very highly recommended!
Thanks to the wonderful folks at ChiZine Publications, I’m thrilled to feature a guest post by Mike Carey, Lin Carey, and Lou Carey on their brand new book, The Steel Seraglio. I’m sure urban fantasy fans will recognize Mike Carey’s name from his wonderful Felix Castor series, but The Steel Seraglio was a family affair. What follows is a biography of a real-life concubine’s daughter who rose to real political power in the 10th century in the Fatimid Caliphate. Also, up for grabs are 2 Seven Djinni chapbook/supplements to The Steel Seraglio, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post.
First, about The Steel Seraglio:
The sultan Bokhari Al-Bokhari of Bessa has 365 concubines – until a violent coup puts the city in the hands of the religious zealot Hakkim Mehdad. Hakkim has no use for the pleasures of the flesh: he condemns the women first to exile – and then to death! Cast into the desert, the concubines must rely on themselves and each other to escape from the new sultan’s fanatical pursuit. But their goals go beyond mere survival: with the aid of the champions who emerge from among them, they intend to topple the usurper and retake Bessa from the repressive power that now controls it. The assassin, Zuleika, whose hands are weapons. The seer, Rem, whose tears are ink. The wise Gursoon, who was the dead sultan’s canniest advisor. The camel-thief, Anwar Das, who offers his lying tongue to the concubines’ cause. Together, they must forge the women of the harem into an army, a seraglio of steel, and use it to conquer a city. But even if they succeed, their troubles will just be beginning – because their most dangerous enemy is within their own number…
Sitt al-Mulk- the daughter of a concubine who rose to govern an empire-Mike Carey, Lin Carey, and Lou Carey
When we started writing The Steel Seraglio, our premise- an army of concubines in ancient Arabia trying to take control of a city and establish a government- seemed the stuff of pure, unadulterated fantasy. Women in positions of significant political power are few and far enough between even today; over a millennium ago, we reasoned, they wouldn’t have gotten a look in.
That was before we heard about Sitt al-Mulk.
Much of Sitt al-Mulk’s story is lost and forgotten, surviving only in conflicting records and accounts of doubtful authenticity. We do know that she lived in the late 10th and early 11th centuries in the Fatimid Caliphate, a vast empire which stretched across the north coast of Africa, from the North Atlantic to what is now Saudi Arabia. She was the daughter of a Greek concubine, probably a slave captured in one of the Fatimid Caliphate’s wars. Her father, Nizār, was the third in line to the throne; his prospects were fair, but he didn’t have a hope of attaining to a position of real power. And then, all of a sudden, he did. His two older brothers were ruled out of the succession, the first was discovered to be infertile and the second became sick and died. The caliphate passed into Nizār’s hands, and suddenly, from being merely the progeny of a slave, Sitt al-Mulk became the daughter of a Caliph.
Nizār was unusually devoted to his daughter. Although she was only the daughter of one of his courtesans he gave her her own palace, and assigned a regiment from his own army to act as her private guard. Still, the patriarchy was the patriarchy, and although she had land and wealth, this did not give Sitt al-Mulk access to any political power. Nizār married, and had two sons. It was one of these, al-Hākim, who was to inherit the throne after his father’s death.
When Nizār died, he was planning a military campaign far from the capital city of the Fatimid Caliphate, Cairo. His death left a power vacuum in the capital, and there was an immediate scramble to reach Cairo, and install al-Hākim on the throne. The first person to arrive in the city after Nizār’s death was Sitt al-Mulk. She brought the private guard her father had given her and, according to some sources, she attempted to seize the caliphate for herself. This coup, if it was a coup, was thwarted by al-Hākim’s guardian. He sent Sitt al-Mulk, heavily guarded, back to her own palace, and al-Hākim took power. It was Sitt al-Mulk’s first attempt to gain the throne, but it would not be her last.
During her brother’s reign, Sitt al-Mulk more or less disappears from contemporary records. Her brother, however, was infamous for his tyranny. As time went on, al-Hākim’s rule grew increasingly despotic and cruel. He ordered the destruction of churches and synagogues, and his fiscal policies brought about widespread poverty. Worst of all, however, were his misogynistic limitations on the movements of women. He forbade shoemakers to make or sell footwear to women, literally forcing them to remain confined to the domestic sphere. As al-Hākim became more dictatorial, his relationship with his sister soured. Once, he had listened to and respected her political advice, but he now began to avoid her, and even threatened to have her killed or locked away due to suspicions over her chastity.
One evening, al-Hākim went out of Cairo on his customary late night ride, and did not return. His body was never found. It is not clear what happened to him, but rumours abounded that Sitt al-Mulk had had him murdered. Aware that her brother was destroying the Fatimid Caliphate, impoverishing its people and imprisoning its women, she had taken matters into her own hands. With al-Hākim gone, his son took the throne. But it was no secret that Sitt al-Mulk managed the young man so well that she was the real one in control, and she effectively governed the caliphate single-handedly.
During her brief rule, Sitt al-Mulk repaired the damage her brother had done to the caliphate. This is not to sat that she transformed it into a Utopia. Far from it: she ruthlessly suppressed all supporters of al-Hākim, many of whom were executed. However, the reforms she did introduce did a lot, both to reduce the oppression of women and religious minorities, and improve the economic situation. She reversed al-Hākim’s repressive order confining women to their homes, and ordered the rebuilding of both Christian and Jewish places of worship. Religious minorities, forced to convert under al-Hākim, were allowed to convert to their original faith. She had more than a touch of ruthlessness, but compared to her brother, Sitt al-Mulk was an enlightened ruler. She reigned for only two years before her death, but in that time the competence, insight and tolerance of her governance gained her a reputation which lasts to this day.
The more we read about Sitt al-Mulk, the more parallels we began to see between her story and The Steel Seraglio. There’s one character in the novel in particular, a concubine named Gursoon, who has a lot in common with her, both in terms of her political acumen and her ability to manipulate the men in her life to her own ends. Already an old woman at the start of the book, Gursoon still retains the favour of the sultan, Bokhari al-Bokhari by virtue of her sage political advice. She uses her intelligence to steer the sultan whichever way she wishes, helping keep the city of Bessa peaceful and prosperous by dexterously thwarting his stupider policies, and convincing him that her wise stratagems were his ideas in the first place. Sitt al-Mulk appears to have been possessed of similar amounts of good political sense, and she, too, knew how to use it to her advantage.
Sitt al-Mulk is also iconic figure of female strength, succeeding against the odds in a world so completely dominated by patriarchal power structures that we cannot begin to imagine it. In The Steel Seraglio we wrote a scene (which unfortunately never made it into the final novel) where Gursoon talks to the rest of the concubines about the options open to women in such a world. “As women,” she asks them, “what have we ever done but bargain with empty hands?” Like Gursoon, Sitt al-Mulk was born into almost complete powerlessness, and somehow managed to commute that powerlessness into a position of strength and control. If anyone knew how to bargain with empty hands, it was her.
Paul E. Walker, ‘The Fatimid Caliph al-ʿAziz and His Daughter Sitt al-Mulk: A Case of Delayed but Eventual Succession to Rule by a Woman’, Journal of Persianate Studies 4 (2011) 30-44
About Mike, Linda, and Louise Carey:
Mike Carey got into writing through comic books, where his horror/fantasy series Lucifer garnered numerous international awards and was nominated for five Eisners. From there he moved into novels and screenplays, while still maintaining a presence in the comics world (he is currently writing two of Marvel’s flagship titles, X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four). His movie Frost Flowers, an erotic ghost story, is currently in production with Hadaly/Bluestar Pictures. He lives in London, England, about as far as you can get from the centre of the city and still have access to the London Underground train network. His wife, Linda, writes fantasy for young readers under the pseudonym A.J. Lake. They have three children and an implausibly beautiful cat. Louise wrote The Diary of a London Schoolgirl for the website of the London Metropolitan Archive. She also co-wrote the graphic novel Confessions of a Blabbermouth with Mike.
Deliverance (Mortal Path #3) by Dakota Banks
Publisher: Harper Voyager/March 27th, 2012
Kind thanks to HarperVoyager for providing a review copy
Kill . . . or be damned.
A demon’s assassin for centuries, Maliha Crayne has gone rogue, determined to save a life for every one she’s destroyed in order to free herself from an eternity of enslavement, damnation, and excruciating torment. But as the powers that sustained her in the past fade, she is wary of trusting those closest to her—especially her lover, Jake. And her closest friends are beginning to disappear, one by one. Amid her anger, suspicion, and sorrow, her life is spiraling out of control.
Worse still, a beautiful Renaissance murderess is recruiting Maliha as her new assassin. Maliha is turning into a lethal puppet with an evil Immortal pulling the strings, forced to kill innocents or see her missing friends die horribly. Suddenly trapped in a moral no-man’s-land, Maliha is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t . . . and time is rapidly running out.
REVIEW (No real spoilers, but assumes you’ve read the first two.)
The Mortal Path series is one of the most fun urban fantasy series out there, so I was more than ready to dive into Deliverance. Maliha’s story is a heartbreaking one, and there were quite a lot of changes in her life in book 2, so I was eager to see how book 3 explores these new paths. For one, Maliha is no longer Ageless. However, in order to break free from the demon that has enslaved her for so long, she must balance the scales and save the lives of innocents in order to make up for the many that she has killed as an assassin. Of course, her demon is convinced she can’t do this, but Maliha is determined to be free. She’s also ready for some normalcy in her life, and eager to explore a possible future with the man she loves, Jake. Jake has a secret, though, and that’s just one of the complications Maliha will have to deal with. A dear friend has been kidnapped, and a woman older and more dangerous than Maliha could ever imagine will have to be dealt with, even if it means Maliha’s life.
Maliha is a favorite character of mine, and she’s never hesitated to kick some serious butt. Deliverance is no exception, and the fight scenes are fast paced and brutal. Let’s just say that Maliha is very talented with a sword, and doesn’t hesitate to use it. When a member of her team gets kidnapped, all of her talents will come into play, and she’ll have to balance whether or not the rest of her team is in too much danger. Maliha’s got some guilt in this one, more so than in the first two books. No doubt this is because she’s now on the Mortal Path, and killing indiscriminately is no longer in her playbook, so a lot more thought has to be put into her methods. There’s also some serious tension between Maliha and her lover Jake, especially when a trusted friend tells her that there may be more to Jake than she thinks. Ms. Banks brings it with the villain in this one, and a lot of readers will recognize her as a very real figure from history, one that will certainly make you cringe. A big part of the fun of these novels are Maliha’s toys (cars, swanky condos, etc), and they’re at her disposal, as usual. I appreciate a girl who likes a nice sports car, but I digress… Fans of urban fantasy involving fun gadgets, fast cars, and internationat destinations will enjoy these always entertaining adventures, alongside a heroine that never ceases to be fascinating. Lots of revelations in this one will keep you glued to the pages and eager for the next book!