Review: Nightblade by Garrett Robinson

Nightblade by Garrett Robinson was a reasonable fantasy novel. The protagonist is the teenaged Loren who suffers abuse at the hands of her father and dreams of escape. When she comes across the wizard Xian she promises to help him if he agrees to take her with him. She runs away from home with only a few supplies and a dagger that had belonged to her parents. Unfortunately, Xian is running from the authorities and, when he abandons her, she is those same authorities want to capture her for information. Every time she tries to get away from one group of people, it seems to land her in with another dangerous group.

There were a few things that annoyed me about this book and the main one was that Loren was naively trusting. The first couple of times, this could be forgiven but she never seems to learn. She continues to trust people she’s just met or to accept as truth the words of people who’ve betrayed her before. It was frustrating that she doesn’t ever seem to grow as a character.

There were a few little details that jumped out at me as I read and compromised the realism of the settings. At one point, Loren is learning to ride and is told not to sit so straight – she’s told to slouch lower. A five second google search will tell you that the advice given riders is the exact opposite. She also runs around for a long time with her bow strung. Again, a few seconds on google will tell you that wooden bows shouldn’t be kept strung. These sort of details are really minor but each one makes the story seem a little less real. It’s easier to accept wizards and magic if the rest of the world feels solid.

The story raises a number of questions as the book continues – largely around the dagger Loren carries, but also around why Xian is hiding, and the identities of several other characters. These answers are never given. I can understand leaving some mysteries for a sequel, but the book reached its ending without giving a satisfying conclusion or any answers to the most pressing questions. At least some semblance of an explanation should have been offered at the end.

It’s decent enough as a fantasy adventure, but nothing that leapt out as amazingly original. 3 stars.

Authorial Intent

I find articles and discussions about authorial intent interesting because, as an author, I don’t always intend some of the things that turn up in my books. Sometimes I will be writing a book, or reading a draft in preparation for editing, and be hit by something in the text. It won’t be something I deliberately put in there, but it will be something that’s there anyway.

For example, it took me way too long to realise that Mira was named after Amiron. I named both of them and I’d used a naming pattern for other characters where male names end in “on” and female names end in “a”. When I realised the connection, it clarified some of Mira’s motivation, some of the emotion behind her actions, but I noticed it after I’d already written the foundations.

I’ve just finished the first draft of a book that includes a scene discussing fancy dress costumes two of the characters had planned to wear. I included that scene because it gave nice insights into those two characters, their relationship, and their relationship with another key character. It was only after I’d written the scene that I realised there were parallels between the story I had planned for them and the two characters they planned to dress up as. Holy freaking foreshadowing, Batman! It wasn’t a conscious decision. Either I got lucky, or my subconscious is cleverer than I knew.

When I see something like this in an early draft, I can choose to work with it and build on it in the later drafts, in which case it becomes intended. That said, whenever I recognise something like this in my drafts, it makes me wonder if there are other things in there that I didn’t notice.

A lot of foreshadowing and symbolism in books is put there deliberately by the author, but it’s always worth remembering that these things can be in the book without the author intending them. It doesn’t make them any less real. If you spot symbolism/foreshadowing/parallels, then those things are there, even if the author didn’t realise they were writing them.

And if you’re a writer, don’t worry too much about trying to put the clever symbolism in right from the start. It may be that you get to the end of the first draft and see things you can build on later.

Review: All the King’s Men

All the King’s Men by Alex Powell is a story set almost entirely in the artificial world of the Cerebrum. The protagonist Fox is part of a group of hackers who uncover corrupt government practices and expose them to the world. The group is led by a man known as King. When King is captured, he erases his memories rather than risk them being stolen by the government. Fortunately, in the digital world, backups are possible. Fox and the others must hunt for the backups of King’s memories but that won’t do them much good until they can rescue King’s physical body. Meanwhile, the government agent known only as Seven is on Fox’s trail, but he has some questions about his role.

On the whole, I enjoyed this story. There are a number of threads of mystery running through the plot: where are King’s memories, how did the government capture him, how will they get King’s body back? These keep the story going and kept me turning the page to find out what happens next.

The world building was interesting. Most of the action takes place in a virtual reality that builds on concepts familiar to internet users, with the characters able to take links from domain to domain. There are concepts of private domains and public spaces, with the ability to create virtual representations of places and even memories. This provides a rich backdrop to the story.

The one thing that I wasn’t sure about was the romantic element, which seemed to build extremely quickly. I don’t want to give spoilers, but there is a romance that seems to build from strangers, to being interested in each other, to being a couple, in a very short space of time. Given everything else that’s going on in the story, with hunters and betrayal, it seemed that they started to trust each other too soon.

Despite that, I did like the characters. They each had different personalities. Seven in particular has a great deal of character development over the course of the story.

If you enjoy cyberpunk action, this is an enjoyable book. Four stars.

Author reading: Helen Comerford

Last weekend, I was at St Leonard’s Festival, an event which included a vast range of events from market stall to folk dancing, puppet shows to a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in a park. One of the events was a workshop with author Helen Comerford, who as part of the workshop did a reading from her book. I took a recording on this opening.

You can find out more about her book at or check out the book on Amazon.

Author Interview: Garrett Robinson

I interviewed Garrett Robinson about his fantasy novels. Unfortunately, I had some technical issues with the call recording so what I’m sharing here is only the first few minutes of the interview. I apologise that I’m not able to share the entire interview.

If you want to know more about Garrett’s books, you can check out his website at or find his books on Amazon.

Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway coverEvery Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is an original and interesting take on the classic fantasy concept of children stumbling into magical worlds. The protagonist, Nancy, has recently returned from the Halls of the Dead and she came home changed. Her parents, believing she was kidnapped, are concerned for her health and are convinced to send her to a special boarding school. To Nancy’s surprise, all the students (and some of the teachers) are people who have been on similar adventures to her, travelling to worlds of many different types. She meets students who fought goblins, danced with skeletons, or ran across rainbows. Here they can talk about their experiences and know they will be believed. But this sanctuary isn’t safe. When students start getting killed, Nancy finds herself one of the prime suspects. As a recent arrival and someone who lived among the dead, the other students are wary of her. If she is to win their trust, she must convince them that she isn’t the killer. All the while, she dreams of returning to her magical world.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a different take on a classic concept. The variety of magical worlds is hinted at and I loved the idea that there are people at this school treating the travel to these worlds like a science, trying to figure out how it all works and understand what it all means.

The characters are interesting and each feels like a genuine person with their own personality traits, desires, and opinions. The style of the story is quite simple and makes for a pretty quick read, but that simplicity adds to the magic of the world. It feels a bit like hearing a fairytale in places.

From a diversity standpoint, it does well. The protagonist is asexual and this is clearly addressed – as well as being a reason for the isolation she felt that led her to find her magical world. Her sexuality added to her character and never felt stereotyped or disrespectful. There is another character in the story who is trans, which is again treated in a respectful way by the narative (though there are incidents of transphobic language from another character).

On the whole, I highly recommend this book. It’s a simple read but well worth it. Five stars.


The Importance of Drafts

I’ve recently finished the first draft of the next book in the Codename Omega series so this seemed like a good time to talk about drafts. No one’s first draft is going to be perfect. There may be minor issues where wording isn’t ideal, or major issues where the whole structure of the book needs to be reorganised. There could be sections that need to be cut to keep things from getting dull, or areas that need to be expanded with explanations because character motivations are unclear. You might need to add more descriptions or trim out superfluous adjectives.

How many issues and how big they are will vary enormously from writer to writer and from book to book, but it is always important as a writer to look at the first draft with a critical eye and decide what changes need to be made. In some cases, those changes might be sustantial. When I wrote Shadows of Tomorrow, I started with a character who I thought would be the protagonist of my story, and realised several chapters later that all the important plot events were happening to someone else. This meant I had to go back and rewrite the first six chapters of the book to focus on the character who was my real protagonist in order for the story to flow properly.

I also changed the gender of one of my characters because the book felt too masculine. This wasn’t as simple as just doing a find and replace on the character’s name – I had to go through extremely carefully and correct all the pronouns (I was still finding incorrect pronouns when the book came back from editing at the publisher). This change also involved making adjustments to scenes where the character interacted with others and the creation of a couple of completely new segments.

With Traitor in the Tower, I felt like there wasn’t enough of a climax at the end of the book, so I made substantial changes to the last few chapters. I went even further with Between Yesterdays, when I was advised by a reader to change a section of high action because I introduced a few new elements too near the end of the book, so I ended up throwing out a few chapters and writing replacements.

It’s not always so bad though. Omega Rising had no major changes between the first and second drafts.

For me, writing the first draft is all about getting the story out of my head and figuring out what the important elements are, who the characters are, and what needs to happen in the plot. The second draft is about fixing the big problems – sorting out the plot holes and the structural issues. The third draft is about making minor changes – clarifying things, making dull sections more gripping, removing unnecessary scenes. Three drafts is usually what I need to get the story ready to go out to the publisher.

If as a writer you spend more time on plans and outlines before you start the first draft, it may be that you will have less structural issues that need fixing. If so, you may be able to get away with two drafts. I would be confident in saying though that one will not be enough. Unless you are astonishingly lucky, talented, and careful, there will still be problems and weak parts of the book that need addressing.

I think one of the traps writers can fall into, especially when self-publishing, is to stop after one draft. They will write their first draft, give it a superficial edit and a bit of proof-reading, and then put it out their to meet the world. As a reader, I find it immensely sad when I’m reading a book that has great promise but that was released to the world too early. There are books out there that have great premises, interesting characters, and some beautiful writing – but they also have plot holes, confusing sections, and dull points. It’s sad to read books like that because they don’t quite live up to their potential. Do another draft of your books and don’t be scared to make big changes if those will make your book better.

July’s Diverse Book Giveaway

The Defectives coverOver on Tumblr, I’m continuing my series of giveaways of books that showcase diversity. For July, I’m giving away The Defectives which I’ve reviewed in a previous post. This book has a disabled protagonist, multiple disabled and neurodivergent characters, as well as racially diverse characters.

If you want a chance to win this book, head over to Tumblr and reblog the giveaway post.

I’m still looking for suggestions of other books to include in this campaign, so if you’ve read a great SF&F book that features diverse characters, let me know in the comments and I’ll take a look.