Publisher’s Weeklysays: The “plot feels like an orchestrated chess match between genius grandmasters, but [Weeks] also leavens the logic with humor. His characters are charming even as they are threatened with being swept off the chessboard.”
Fantasy Book Criticnotes: “Almost impossible to put down… The Broken Eye starts where Blinding Knife ends and continues the story in the same fast, take no prisoners, twists and turns manner – including another jaw dropping “I can’t believe this” one… The Broken Eye is really worth reading once to find out what happens and once to appreciate its finer points…meets my huge expectations…”
Whedonopolis: “Curse you, Weeks, for your addictive, endorphin-inducing prose! …The only down side to this series is having to wait for the next installment.”
Elitist Book Reviews: “This is what you’ve been waiting for… There was tension, excitement, surprises… the conclusion, as in past books, was amazing and game-changing. I’m eagerly anticipating The Blood Mirror.”
Opportunities to blurb one’s nemesis are rare indeed. Having been published in ye olde aught-7, Joe Abercrombie is the elder in our Sith-padawan duo, whilst I have only been in print since late, late 2008. Our careers have followed similar trajectories: each of us receiving early and effusive critical praise (oh wait, that was him), each of us selling millions of books (him more millions–or a more… ebullient publicist), each of us winning the David Gemmell Legend Award (oh wait, that was me), each of us being dubbed George R. R. Martin’s heir apparent (oh wait, that was neither of us). I taught swing dancing in college; Joe does a wicked hip-hop-folk-dance-locomotion-twist-Macarena fusion that you wouldn’t believe. As you can see, the similarities are eerie.
When I opened the package containing Joe’s book (not addressed to me), I rubbed my hands together. I cackled. I stroked my beard. I got to work.
The trick, of course, is to write something that sounds positive, but may not be. You also have to avoid fragments that can be pulled that undermine your snarkish intent: “I love John’s frequent use of correct punctuation in his work!” could be undermined. A canny publicist will pull real praise out of a reckless phrase, like so: “I love John’s…work.” or, stretching morality, even “I love [this] work!”
If you write something the publisher doesn’t use at all, you’ve failed. (That is, unless you can get it to stick on Goodreads or Amazon.) And if you write something amazing but not specific to the target, people will just attribute it to Mark Twain. (“Any brilliant double-edged quote from an American author will be attributed to Mark Twain.” –Mark Twain) As you can see, a daunting task indeed.
So… a quote for Joe Abercrombie, eh? *cracks knuckles*
There are myriad correct ways to address Joe Abercrombie’s work; one of them even involves praise.
Let’s just get this out of the way. The low-hanging fruit*:
Though slender, I wouldn’t call it half a novel. Half a King isn’t half bad!
Is Half a King Abercrombie’s best yet? You’ll half to see for yourself!
*reviewers punning on the Half in the titles of this series, that there is a sin of weakness–unless you can make many puns in your review or find one that others have overlooked. I know, it’s hard to resist. You’ll be forgiven the “half” puns on this first novel. Do it on novel two and three, and you’ll earn sighs and derision, respectively.
Hitting where it hurts (the wallet):
There is only one way to show how much I enjoyed this book: I scanned it and am distributing it to the whole internet for free!
Here’s a good one for readers who like to believe they don’t look down on the YA genre:
Now writing Young Adult fantasy, Joe Abercrombie has finally found his intellectual home.
The baffling, yet catchy:
This book seals it: Joe Abercrombie is the Kanye West of fantasy.
The sneaky slander:
Critics have wondered, is there a Joe Abercrombie without the f-word? Fuck yes!
The secretly snarky:**
Will this novel make shortlists everywhere? Well, I certainly wouldn’t give it the axe!
**Only works if you know a rarely-used idiom, AND that the Gemmell Award is a battle axe.
The grimdark (the challenge here being to attach the mildly pejorative label “grimdark” to Joe’s work without ever using the term directly):
Some worried that Abercrombie’s move to Young Adult novels would mean a loss of his grim, dark tone. Though the events of this novel are often grim, dark themes aren’t overwhelming. Much as in the Brothers Grimm, dark colors are used to highlight moments of humor.
The needlessly cruel (may be attributed to Mark Twain):
Definitely worth picking up from the remainders shelf.
Worth every penny I paid for it. (My thanks to the publisher for the free review copy.)
I look forward to being able to get the whole series for half off.
My real blurb:
Perhaps his most technically proficient novel yet, I dare you to read the first chapter and try not to turn the next page. Some wondered if what makes Joe Abercrombie so different would survive the transition to YA. Abercrombie fans, have no fear: Polished and sharp, the un-adult-rated Abercrombie is still unadulterated Abercrombie.
Ugh, you have no idea how my stomach sinks to write actual praise. Dammit, Joe.
A few months ago, I teased about a book I’d read that I loved, but I didn’t tell you what it was. Partly because I didn’t want to scoop the author’s own marketing efforts, and partly because, hey, I believe in obnoxiously enjoying small perks to the hilt. But here’s what I was enjoying:
Robert Jackson Bennett is one of those quirky-bright writers whose quirky-brightness will serve him in the long run, but has seemed to handicap him in the short term. There’s a gap to bridge between even a great book, and that book finding the right readers. In my opinion, Robert’s books have been hard to shelve because they straddle genres. He’s drawn comparisons to voices as diverse as Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Madeleine L’Engle, and has gotten good mentions from people as widely dispersed in the genre as Jim C. Hines, Jeff Vandermeer, Nisi Shawl, and…me! His debut novel, Mr. Shivers, certainly wasn’t my normal favored milieu, but I really enjoyed the book despite a setting I quite frankly usually avoid. (A quirk of mine, nothing more.) And I could tell immediately that Mr. Bennett was going to grow. That’s the thing about smart writers—they learn, they adapt, they get better.
I’m proud to say that I was right. (I love being right.) With City of Stairs, I think that RJB has done something really impressive: fans of his early work will see plenty of what they have come to love about Robert’s work, but new readers looking for an exciting, kick-ass story in a deep setting will enjoy this book too. Readers love great books, but people fall in love with great characters, and in City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett introduces one in a way that is clever, graceful, and over the top all at once. Sigrud is a side character, but he’s a GREAT side character.
Robert, don’t f**k up Sigrud.
Other people have nicethings to say about City of Stairs, and I’m sure many more are to come.In the interest of being pithy and hitting different points than others had, I said this:
“Robert Bennett Jackson deserves a huge audience. This is the book that will earn it for him. A story that draws you in, brilliant world building, and oh my God, Sigrud. You guys are going to love Sigrud.” -Brent Weeks
As you may know, Robert has opted for an… eccentric online persona, so in that spirit, I also sent them the following blurb, but… I don’t think it’ll make it onto a cover:
“Please don’t read this book. I am jealous of the success of others, and would not like Robert Jackson Bennett to enjoy the hordes of fans he deserves.” -Brent Weeks
*UPDATE*: Oh yeah, and the biggest reason I don’t blurb books… I just don’t get around to them. I have ARCs of books that I have heard are awesome still sitting around, looking at me with puppy dog eyes. ‘Why, Brent?’ they ask. ‘Why?’
Blurbs are a mess of the personal, the professional, and the commercial. Readers see that an author whom they trust loves a book, and they think, “Hey, I respect her, I bet I’ll really enjoy that book she thinks is great!” Professionals see a chance to help out a friend or a newbie and want to pay it forward to help someone succeed in a career with a high attrition rate. Publishers and publicists see another selling point.
I don’t blurb often. Much of my reading is a fun/work blend these days. I might read a book about Jean Lafitte for fun, but also to see if he’s got a justified reputation as an honorable pirate or not, and then (if he was honorable), figure just how would one go about being an honorable pirate? Or I read about special operations soldiers to get a handle on psyche of elite warriors. Fun, but work, too. I read books about the original Assassins—not nearly as fun as you’d think. Or I read books about slavery in the ancient world, or about race and slavery in the Mediterranean Sea basin. (Not fun at all.) Or I’ll read a couple Sookie Stackhouse books to understand their huge success—and yep, I see why they’ve done so well. (Not my kind of fun, but fun!)
Some of my former joy at reading fantasy has dimmed. It’s simply too hard to take off the analyst’s glasses: ah nice turn here, odd anachronism not to eliminate here, man this chapter is gritty just because gritty is in, isn’t it? Ah, here’s your politics showing here, great visual, nice building of a badass character, let me think how you did that…
Added to this, of course, is that I mostly get sent debut novels. These frequently put me in a bind. I can see why the novel got published. I can see that the novelist may well become quite skilled, and I know what it is to hope someone will give me a chance. I want these novelists to survive so they can write the great novels they’re clearly capable of writing. But if I didn’t love their book, I don’t want to tell people who trust me that I did.
Of course, fantasy being my work now, I also have strong opinions about what I like and don’t like–stuff that has little to do with its quality, but are simply preferences. I don’t like sermons in my fiction, even if I agree with them. A book that deals with the environment or capitalism or whatever as an integral part of the plot is fine: five page lectures that feel like they were rejected from yesterday’s op-ed page? Yawn. To many other readers, those elements are neutral or (if they agree with the viewpoint), even a bonus. Good for them. Reasonable people can have differences of opinion and taste. Even great books have things about them that I don’t think work, or that I think could be done better.
A novel is a blend of choices and execution, and I often like one but not the other. (A subtle distinction, sometimes.) I’m sure there’s stuff in my own work that gets similar eye rolls. I’m even guilty of some of the things I now dislike—I was once going to call for a moratorium on names with apostrophes. Please, can we not have any more N’ns’nse names? Then I realized when I return to Night Angel, I’ll definitely have returning characters and items with apostrophes. Doh!
The blend of the personal and professional is part of what makes my Goodreads page look barren. If I read a book and think it’s meh, I feel some compassion. Either it’s a new writer who hasn’t honed their craft yet, or a good or great writer turned in something that was sub-par for reasons I don’t know. In the first case, I won’t help that writer by raving dishonestly, but I also don’t want to poke holes in the boat of someone who’s just hope to float, either. Thus, I keep my 3- and 2-star reviews to myself. (The 1-stars I just quit reading. I feel no compulsion to finish something that I’ve decided isn’t worth my time.)
The only time I break this rule is when the author is so successful they couldn’t care what I say. Thus, I wrote a serious critique of an Anne Rice book.
When I DO write a blurb, I also put on my marketer’s hat. Maybe it’s the first novel I’ve seen that uses an outcast blue kobold as its main point of view character. (And man, it just nails that blue kobold experience!) I KNOW that others are going to comment on that. Praising that is just adding my voice to the echo chamber. So, if there was something else as praiseworthy—and usually an excellent novel doesn’t only do one thing well—then I’ll praise that so that the blurbs aren’t all about the same thing. I’ll even add something in the longer form of the blurb about the blue kobold experience (just in case this novel got stiffed on blurbs for whatever reason). That’s why sometimes you’ll an author quoted twice, or a brief pull quote taken for the front cover, and the full paragraph from which it was taken inside or on the back cover. Marketing.
Yes, I do work hard on blurbs. (See: Why I Blurb Infrequently)
Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll be posting briefly on two books I’ve read recently that I CAN blurb freely.
I don’t usually write reviews, much less post them, but this is something of a special case. Peter V. Brett is a friend of mine, and as you probably know, he too writes epic fantasy. We entered the club at nearly the same time and met early in our careers.
Because we share many of the same fans and are each writing multi-volume epic fantasy, a review on one of his books really gives me a chance to share my views on the genre and on architecture of storytelling.
In this review, I avoided covering many of the topics that I felt other reviewers had hit at length and instead focused on only a few points where I disagreed with other reviewers, or where I wished to talk about endings and multi-volume epic fantasy specifically. The review is without spoilers, though my points are clearer if you’ve read the book. If you’re into this sort of thing, it’s over HERE.
Note that article does have the blurb for The Blinding Knife, which has spoilers for The Black Prism. So, if you haven’t read The Black Prism yet, just trust me when I say Library Journal thinks I’m the best thing since Dante.
One last reminder that I will be in Michigan at Epic ConFusion this coming weekend! Check out this line-up of authors: Peter V. Brett, Pat Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Myke Cole, Robin Hobb, Saladin Ahmed, Jim C. Hines, Elizabeth Bear and more who I hope don’t feel slighted that I didn’t mention them. My bad memory, not your lack of cool! There will be pistols. There will be D&D. There will be egos. There will be alcohol. If not all of us come out of it, well… I’m still convinced this is going to be the most fun I’ve had at a convention since I met George R.R. Martin.
Oh! And speaking of George R.R. Martin (see that nifty segue, folks? That’s how a pro does it! A pro, I tell ya.), io9 just put together a top-10 list: 10 Great Fantasy Series to Read While You’re Waiting for George R.R. Martin’s Next Book. It’s a humorous list, and there are some great books on there. Definitely worth checking out. (Although a series finale spoiler for my book? Really? Totally necessary? Ah well, I appreciate the exposure, and the surprisingly low level of snark! h/t)
Elsewhere on the interwebs, I did an interview with the print magazine Fantastique Unfettered. (Print, mama, print. That means I’m a real boy!) You can order the magazine HERE or HERE.
Updates: I’ve just handed in the manuscript of The Blinding Knife, which means we are on schedule for an early September publication date in all major English markets. (The exact date will be determined by my publisher, but everything looks good.) And I have started the third (and I’m really hoping final) book of Lightbringer, tentatively titled The Blood Mirror. I’ve been fighting all the way to try to keep this a trilogy, from my very first outline. And I think I have it wrestled down to three books — yet strangely, each of these books is really, really long!
I’m also working on my appearance schedule, both in the US and elsewhere. I can’t announce anything yet, but I think I’m going to be doing a fair amount of travel this year.
Oh! And before I forget again, I also wrote this opinion piece for SciFi Now (also a print magazine!), on fan expectations and author obligations. The internet version of that article is HERE. Watch how deftly I tempt the wrath of the rabid fans, while actually being completely measured and inoffensive. When one walks among giants, such as Neil and George, one should take care that he not get stepped on! See, it all comes back to George.