Thursday, 31 October 2013

DAYS OF THE DEAD BLOG TOUR: Out of the Ashes: What Would You Rebuild? - Gail Z Martin

If the world as you know it were to be obliterated by fire and storm, assuming you survived, what would you choose to save and rebuild?
Would you save the books? The artwork? The crown jewels?

What of the old world would you want to replicate once the fires were extinguished and the storms quelled? Temples to the gods? Palaces of commerce and castles for kings?

While it’s tempting to romanticize the opportunity to begin with a blank slate, no one wants to rebuild civilization at the same speed in which it evolved. That means there would be difficult choices as to where to use the remaining scarce—and perhaps irreplaceable—resources in order to return to a level of comfort and technology as close to what had been lost as possible.

Knowledge—in a form that could be read without special technology—would be essential to preserve. So would expertise, in the sciences, medicine, architecture, technology and other core competencies. Basic survival skills like first aid, how to plant a garden or purify drinking water, how to dig a well or raise livestock, how to use plants for medicine and cure ailments without pharmaceuticals would become invaluable.

Provisions, weapons and materials out of which to make shelter would also be essential. The list of necessities grows long. Intangibles like artwork and music and the elements of culture might prove to be surprisingly important when you’re rebuilding from the wreckage.

Which comes back to the question, what would you save and what would you discard if it were up to you to build from the wreckage?

In my novel Ice Forged and its upcoming sequel, Reign of Ash, when war and magic devastate the kingdom of Donderath, more has been lost than “merely” the physical infrastructure. The magic upon which the culture depends stopped working, on par with our power grid going down and staying down indefinitely.

Trade stops. Without the king and the nobility, anarchy and chaos descend. Much of the kingdom lacks food and shelter, since the fires and storms that were part of the mage-sent Cataclysm have leveled much of Donderath and its neighboring, warring kingdoms. Looting becomes part of daily life, searching not for gold or silver but for usable provisions, whiskey, and seed for the next planting season.

The question becomes: What vision of their world do survivors want to rebuild? Do they want to restore the rule of law, with some form of centralized authority (the king and heirs are dead, as are all of the elder lords), previous trade patterns and an approximation of the status quo? Do they want to change the power structure to put themselves in charge? Or as opportunists, can they generate profit out of enduring chaos?

Blaine McFadden, the main character in Ice Forged, has to confront the reality of chaos and anarchy and decide what role he will play in the aftermath. A disgraced lord condemned to exile in an arctic prison colony, Blaine has a difficult choice when he learns that he may be the only one who can restore magic. Does he return to try to save the kingdom that exiled him? Or sit tight in exile, even though the repercussions threaten his new home at the edge of the world?

It’s food for thought on the day after the apocalypse.

Come check out all the free excerpts, book giveaways and other goodies that are part of my Days of the Dead blog tour! Trick-or-Treat you way through more than 30 partner sites where you'll find brand new interviews, freebies and more--details at

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books. My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

ASSASSINS CREED IV: Black Flag Week: Pieces of Eight Feature: Epic Rap Battle of History and Deadliest Warrior

Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Well today we wanted to do something a little different so we thought that bringing you the Epic Rap Battle Between Blackbeard and Al Capone would see things off nicely, enjoy:

Also if you're interested Pirate Vs Knight (as seen on Deadliest Warrior):

Hopefully this will entertain,

Gareth and Lady Eleanor

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

ASSASSIN'S CREED IV: BLACK FLAG: Pieces of Eight Feature: Pirates - Mark Keating

Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Today we brought blog friend Mark Keating, author of the Pirate Devlin series to give his take on Pirates and why he created something different with the Patrick Devlin character:

It's  been  four  years  since  I  first  started  writing  about  Patrick  Devlin,  and  it's  been  four  years  since  I  first  started  writing.

Let  me  explain.

I  hadn't  read  a  lot  of  naval  fiction,  just  the  same  fair  share  that  everyone  gets  round  to  eventually,  and  I  began  to  notice  something.  Every  time  pirates  entered  into  these  stories  they  were  portrayed  in  the  same  manner.  They  were  violent,  yes,  they  were  raucous  rumbustions,  yes,  but  were  always  singularly  rather  dumb  and  easily  thwarted.  The  RN  officers  would  raise  a  false  flag, or  just  change  their  hats,  smuggle  out  the  female  prisoners  dressed  as  boys,  or  pretend  to  be  ghosts  or  something.  The  pirates  demonstrated  an  inferior  knowledge  of  sailing,  gunnery,  swordsmanship  and  an  inability  to  see,  hear  or  think  coherently.  And  I  got  a  bit  riled.
I  realised  why  the  pirates  were  shown  thus.  Most  of  the  authors  of  these  novels  held  an  inextinguishable  candle  to  the  oaken  hearts  of  the  British  Navy,  and  rightly  so,  and,  as  such,  they  considered  pirates  the  enemy  of  everything  that  such  a  breed  stood  for,  and  rightly  so,  and  obviously  their  hero  has  to  triumph.  But  couldn't  you  have  painted  the  pirates  just  a  little  bit  better?

So  I  went  looking  for  pirate  fiction.  Modern  pirate  fiction.
A  few  that  seemed  to  fit.  They  often  had  the  word  'pirate'  in  the  title  at  least.  But  once  inside  you  discover  that  the  pirate  isn't  really  a  pirate  at  all.  He's  either  an  ex-pirate  who  has  seen  the  error  of  his  ways  and  is  forced  to  return  to  awful  piracy  to  rescue  an  old  friend's  daughter/son/father/dog,  just  one  more  time,  or  a  good  Naval  captain  pretending  to  be  a  pirate   to  rescue  an  old  friend's  daughter/son/father/dog,  after  which  he  will  return  to  the  good  path.
I  decided  to  write  my  own.  In  my  book  the  protagonist  would  see  that  the  only  error  of  his  ways  was  in  the  thought  that  why  hadn't  he  done  this  sooner.
Over  the  passage  of  the  books  I  got  a  greater  understanding  of  piracy,  its  motivations  and  factors  and  I  had  that  startling  revelation  that  we  all  get  from  time  to  time  that  history  just  repeats  itself  just  as  the  turning  of  the  earth  repeats  itself.  The  two  are  tied  I'm  sure.
Today  we  have  more  slaves  in  the  world  than  were  ever  transported  in  the  whole  history  of  the  Atlantic  trade.  That's  a  roiling  thought  for  our  children  to  deal  with.  And  we  have  more  pirates  than  we  ever  had  in  the  Golden  Age  of  piracy.  What  I  find  most  interesting  is  that  the  nations  and  Navies  of  the  world  made  exactly  the  same  mistakes  as  of  old.  The  slavery  thing  is  never  going  to  end.  It  never  left.  We  just  got  better  at  counting.
Let's  jolly  up  a  bit  with  a  comparison  of  the  pirate's  we  know  and  love  and  those  we  disparage  because  we  watch  from  afar. 
The  reasons  for  the  explosion  of  piracy  in  late  17th  and  early  18th  century  were  unemployment  and  poverty  amid  a  period  of  globalisation.
The  explosion  of  piracy  around  the  African  and  Arabian  coasts  has  come  about  due  to  mass  poverty  and  the  destruction  of  their  native  industries  due  to  oil  exploration  and  illegal  fishing  by  other  countries  and  globalisation  which  favours  favours.
Legal  and  illegal  slave-traders  and  merchants  would  slip  from  protected  shipping  lanes  to  save  time  or  hide  their  trade.  Thus  becoming  prime  targets.
Cruise  ships  and  containment  ships  skirt  the  coastlines  outside  their  shipping  lanes  to  save  time  and  fuel.  Thus  becoming  prime  targets.
The  Georgian  Navy's  solution  was  to  send  out  warships  believing  a  show  of  force  would  be  enough  to  put  off  hungry  men.  Ignoring  the  fact  that  the  pirates  used  smaller  ships  to  evade  and  attack. 
The  Navies  of  today  also  sent  out  warships  believing  a  show  of  force  would  be  enough  to  put  off  hungry  men.  Ignoring  the  fact  that  the  pirates  used  smaller  ships  to  evade  and  attack. 
Pirates  traded  with  the  colonies  in  black-market  goods  because  of  the  high  prices  set  by  England  which  was  the  only  country  the  colonies  were  allowed  to  trade  with.  They  provided  a  need  not  available  conventionally. 
African  pirates  plunder  ships  to  sell  goods  on  the  black-market  often  to  other  countries  or  nations  that  would  not  normally  get  hold  of  these  goods  due  to  embargoes  or  higher  prices  due  to  exchange  rates  and  import  taxes. They  provide  a  need  not  available  conventionally. 
Pirates  discovered  that  the  ransoming  of  prisoners  and  ships  was  quick  easy  money  with  less  work  involved.
And  pirates  discovered  that  the  ransoming  of  prisoners  and  ships  was  quick  easy  money  with  less  work  involved.
Individuals  and  provinces  began  to  hire  private  captains  to  protect  their  waterways  and  ships  with  smaller  vessels.
Today  companies  and  governments  have  begun  to  hire  private  organisations  to  protect  their  ships.  With  smaller  ships.
There  is  a  solution.  But  it  takes  time.  Decades.
Piracy  virtually  vanished  from  the  Americas  after  revolution.  America  now  free  to  trade  with  other  countries  thereby  having  no  need  for  buying  black-market  pirated  goods.  With  the  world  trading  with  each  other  piracy  almost  disappeared  from  the  Atlantic.

If  you  make  a  world  map  of  where  piracy  still  flourishes  you'll  see  that  it  can  be  overlaid  by  a  map  of  the  most  depressed  and  oppressed  nations  of  the  world.  The  UN's  initial  response  to  piracy  was  to  agree  with  the  requests  of  those  nation's  harangued  by  it  and  throw  warships  at  the  matter.  That  hasn't  worked  because,  you  know,  history  and  stuff.
The  current  plan,  and  solution,  is  to  change  the  nations  themselves.  If  you  invest  in  them  and  allow  them  to  trade  legally,  stop  other  countries  exploiting  their  resources,  the  problem  will  recede.  You  know  the  saying.  Give  a  man  a  fish  and  he'll  eat  for  a  day.  Teach  a  man  to  fish  and  he'll  eat  for  the  rest  of  his  life.  Take  away  his  fish  or  pollute  his  waters  and  he'll  pick  up  an  AK47  and  take  your  Nikon  cameras. 


Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Continuing the success of our Art features, today we've brought to the fore another of Isis' talented friends, Cyril Terpent, who has sent us this cracking image of Connor from Assassin's Creed III.

To follow Cyril please follow him either at:
Cyril T - DeviantArt
CyrilT - Blogspot

I'm a freelance concept artist and storyboarder currently located in France. I have worked on movies and video games project that included Europacorp, LGM films, BlackBox production.

Hope you enjoy,


URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Jessica McClain 3: Cold Blooded - Amanda Carlson

Release Date: 08/10/13
Publisher:  Orbit


The time has now come for female werewolf Jessica McClain to honour the oath she swore to the icy Vampire Queen. With her mate Rourke at her side, Jessica is confident she'll be able to sail through this job without getting herself killed. What Jessica doesn't know is that the Queen has her own more dubious plans. But even that will be the least of her worries when the rebel faction of werewolves amasses for a brutal attack. Life has always been tough for Jessica, but now she's facing an all-out war ...


Ah, Jessica’s back and to be honest I couldn’t wait to see what Amanda would do with her after the epic struggles that have gone before. Needless to say the battle sequences within are more than satisfying, the inter-supernatural arguments wonderful and when backed with some cracking twists all round gives the reader a rollercoaster thrill ride that they’ll find hard to put down.

Back this up with great prose and of course an overall arc plot that will have consequences further down the line all round generates something that was a real pleasure to sit down with. The only downside to this book, was that I did feel a little cheated at not getting to see the rescue within. Perhaps that might be a book that Amanda would like to write at a later date and one to help flesh out her world a little more. That said though, you really should try her as for me, she’s absolutely fab.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

ASSASSINS CREED IV: BLACK FLAG WEEK: PIECES OF EIGHT: Guest Blog: The Freedom of Game Acting - Ralph Ineson

Today, as part of our Pieces of Eight Feature for the release of Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag, we're proud to host a guest blog by actor Ralph Ineson,

Here he chats about vocal acting vs stage acting and we hope that you enjoy this special feature:

Hello, my name's Ralph Ineson, I'm an actor. I've worked on ninety odd films and TV shows over the last 20 years, I'm a character actor, and in the words of the late Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty Withnail "I shall never play the Dane". As a jobbing character actor I'm always looking for new work, I have distinctive voice which has lead me into voice over work over the last few years, but until this year I had not had the chance to work on video games. Actually I'm lying, I did appear as Amycus Carrow in a Harry Potter game, but that only required a two hour voice recording session as the facial/body scanning was done during the filming of the movies. Having auditioned in London twice, I was cast as the pirate Charles Vane, the audition process being much the same as for a film or TV show. In fact, to guard against any snobbery towards the project being 'just a game', Agents were told that the project was a TV series. I however have an old mate who just happens to work at Ubisoft in Montreal who tipped me off that I was someone they were interested in and filled me in on the details (not what you know etc.). To be honest, the thought of motion capture filming had never really done it for me, I was excited to be trying something new, but I'd always imagined the work to be incredibly detached and over technical with little opportunity to actually 'act'.

The process of creating a game on the scale of Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag is mind boggling, Ubisoft studios from Singapore to Sophia all combined to create an amazing world; the cinematics of the game were all recorded at Ubisoft's state of the art motion capture studios in Montreal. These cinematics were not shot continuously as would be the case with a film, with mo-cap the schedule seemed to revolve around a week’s recording followed by 2weeks of working with that technical data. This meant I had four trips to Montreal over 3 months. A typical week would involve a day’s rehearsal at the main Ubisoft studio with lead writer Darby McEvitt and cinematics director Kama Dunsmore, followed by 3 days recording in the mo-cap studio. During the rehearsal day we would work through the script and block out the scenes to be recorded, we also had the chance to play the game which meant we could go to the tavern we were about to record a scene in, look around, make a mental note of the view that the character is looking at when doing a certain scene etc.

On recording days we'd start with the suiting up, a strange process where you squeeze into a skin-tight Lycra suit and stand there for about 15mins whilst 3 French speaking animation technicians buzz around you attaching 50 Velcro patches to very specific points on the body to hold the malteser sized white balls that are picked up by the mo-cap cameras. It's an odd experience, like a knight being dressed in armour by his pages, but quite a useful one when you're getting into character for a pirate captain. Next step is the head cam, I have an unusually wide head so this was not my favourite part of the process, the technology for head cams is still in its infancy really so there are not that many available and unfortunately none to fit my outsized cranium. The upshot of this is that I'd spend most of the day with my temples crushed, not ideal but handy character help when playing a permanently angry psychopath like Charles Vane. The head cams would be calibrated and matched up with a matrix of black dots applied to the face (it's a good look). The last part of the pre shoot process is the range of movement test or ROM, another strange and ever so slightly humiliating part where you perform a set routine of movements for the animation software to register.

Now to record, the studio itself is small compared to a sound stage at a movie studio, about the size of a basketball court with 50 motion capture cameras around the walls, it has a badminton court sized rectangle marked on the floor within which we record. It's at this point that mo-cap filming gets interesting for an actor, if you were shooting a scene for a film you would set up multiple shots (wide shot, 2shot,various close ups etc.) and in all probability do multiple takes of those shots. In all of those the actor has to match his performance for continuity, to make sure that he picks up the glass on the same word of the line each take for example. This technical side can often feel like a compromise on film, something that inevitably gets between you and really inhabiting the character you're playing, the way mo-cap works is different. Because all 50 cameras are recording, the Director can take whatever shot they like from the one take without having to edit from different takes, this gives an extra freedom to the actor. The way you can let go, throw yourself into a scene fully without having to think about focus marks, lighting etc. is quite exhilarating and particularly great for me playing Vane with his screaming and howling at the moon. There's something reminiscent of theatre performance about it all.

My first proper taste of working on Video games has been a fascinating experience, there's much more to motion capture than I'd imagined and I hope it's an area I get to do more work in. I hope you all enjoy the world of the Golden age of piracy we've created, there are fantastic performances from Matt Ryan as Edward Kenway, Mark Bonnar as Blackbeard and many more, the writing is superb and the look of the game is just stunning.


Monday, 28 October 2013

ASSASSINS CREED IV: BLACK FLAG WEEK: Pieces of Eight Feature: Our Top 5 Pirate films

Hi All,
Well as part of our Pieces of Eight feature for the week of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag release we decided to have some fun and get in the mood, so sat back and watched a few of our favourite Pirate films.

As such they break down to this top five, in no particular order:

1)  Captain Blood:
Errol Flynn shot to stardom as Peter Blood, a 17th-Century physician turned pirate after escaping unjust political imprisonment. It was a role the handsome, sea-loving Tasmanian was born to play, and he shaped it into Hollywood's archetypal image of the adventurous hero. That he also becam a romatic idol and a vision of gallantry in love is due in large part to his ideally cast co-star: radiant Olivia de Havilland in the first of thir eight films together. Directed with panache by Michael Curtiz, scored with flair by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and featuring Basil Rathbone and Lionel Attwill as villains to remember, CAPTAIN BLOOD wil skipper you on the high seas of unparalleled enjoyment.

Take a look at this trailer:

2)  The Princess Bride:
Comical fantasy tale of beautiful princesses, foul villains and dashing heroes from director Rob Reiner. The Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) is saddened by the disappearance of her true-love Westley (Cary Elwes), and finds that she now has no choice but to become engaged to the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). But Westley soon arrives back on the scene and, along with his mismatched band of adventurers, sets off on a daring mission to rescue his beloved. The film also stars Mandy Patinkin as a Spanish cavalier and Billy Crystal as a crazy magician.  

3)  The Crimson Pirate:
A notorious raider of the eighteenth century sea lanes, Captain Vallo (Burt Lancaster), a.k.a. The Crimson Pirate, and his band of buccaneers overtake a Spanish galleon filled with guns and ammunition. When he decides to sell the stolen arsenal to rebel leader El Libre on the island of Cobra, the representative of Spain, Baron Gruda, offers Vallo 50,000 florins if he will deliver El Libre instead. Vallo is soon caught between the Spanish, the rebellion, and even the mutiny of his own men. But having fallen in love with El Libre's daughter Consuelo, Vallo gains back his crew's trust and leads the island of Cobra to freedom. 

4)  Muppets Treasure Island
 Kids love Muppet Treasure Island, a take on Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate classic, about the pirate Long John Silver (Tim Curry) and his takeover of a ship in order to track down buried treasure. His friend and then nemesis is earnest cabin boy Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop), who teams with the captain of the ship (Kermit the Frog) and several shipmates (including Gonzo, Ratso, and Fozzie) to foil Long John's nefarious plot. An odd subplot finds Captain Kermit stopping at a desert island to find his long-lost love (Miss Piggy--who else?).

5)  Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
 You won't need a bottle of rum to enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, even if you haven't experienced the Disneyland theme-park ride that inspired it. There's a galleon's worth of fun in watching Johnny Depp's androgynous performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, a roguish pirate who could pass for the illegitimate spawn of rockers Keith Richards and Chrissie Hynde. Depp gets all the good lines and steals the show, recruiting Orlando Bloom (a blacksmith and expert swordsman) and Keira Knightley (a lovely governor's daughter). They set out on an adventurous quest to recapture the notorious Black Pearl, a ghost ship commandeered by Jack's nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), a mutineer desperate to reverse the curse that left him and his (literally) skeleton crew in a state of eternal, undead damnation. Director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) repeats the redundant mayhem that marred his debut film Mouse Hunt, but with the writers of Shrek he's made Pirates of the Caribbean into a special-effects thrill-ride that plays like a Halloween party on the open seas.

Hopefully you'll have just as much fun watching them as we did,

Gareth and Lady Eleanor

Sunday, 27 October 2013

ASSASSIN'S CREED IV: BLACK FLAG WEEK: PIECES OF EIGHT: Assassin's Creed Fan Art - Ginebra Camelot

Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Continuing on with our Pieces of Eight series, today we feature Ginebra Camelot who, blog friend Isis Sousa, recommended to us for her cracking Assassin's Creed art.

Ginebra's other work can be found on her DeviantArt site.

Altaïr is another character of Assassins Creed © Ubisoft. I love his cold stare! :love:
When I painted Ezio, some of you said to me that if I could paint Altaïr, so .. here he is!
This time, I also wanted to give my personal touch, the background is the inside the Palace of Aljafería. I enjoyed painting each column, arches ... Yes, a lot of geometry! ;) And as always I hope you enjoy.

The character is Ezio Auditore from Assassin's Creed in the ' Piazza del Duomo di Firenze'. I fell in love with Florence when I was there, for me it's one of the nicest cities of Italy. I've spent a lot of time in doing this work... the texture of the coat, leather, his hand, his skin, the long hair of the fur over his shoulder, but chiefly in drawing the buildings with all its details, columns, figures, marble ... References taken from some of photos I took.
I hope you like the result ! ;)
Ezio Auditore © Assassins Creed © Ubisoft ©.

After a long vacation..
Another fanart Assassin's hard guy. Hours spent on paint? I do not know, I lost count! :XD:  I hope worthwhile and you enjoy it! =D

YOUNG ADULT TEEN REVIEW: Fairwick Chronicles 3: Dark Possession - Carol Goodman

Release Date: 17/10/13
Publisher:  Ebury Press


How far would you go for love? Callie McFay is about to cross worlds and time...Fairwick used to be populated by all manner of magical creatures but when a cabal of witches forced the closure of the last door to Fairie, the townsfolk had to choose sides. Now it is up to Callie to find a way back. Her quest will take her far from home - to a 17th Century Scotland where the demon she once fell in love with is still very much a man...


Ok the third book in the series and to be honest, not having read the others I was more than a little apprehensive about starting, after all I’d miss out some of the in series references alongside getting to judge how the characters had grown over the series.

That said however I soon found myself eagerly drawn into this inventive world by Carol. I loved the way she brought the historical time period to life, added her own touch of mysticism and then blended it altogether with a cracking lead character that I could not only associate with but one that I wanted to achieve her own goals. Its wonderfully written, almost cinematic in its own right and to be honest if the first two are this good, I’m really going to have to go back and make the time to sit down with them.

All round great fun and a book that I was more than pleased I read especially when you get to see some wonderful turns of phrase from an author who clearly loves what she’s doing. Great stuff.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

ASSASSINS CREED IV: BLACK FLAG WEEK: Pieces of Eight Feature: After Leonardo Da Vinci Fan Art - Isis Sousa

Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Blog friend, Isis Sousa  (who's first book The Art of Isis Sousa and Friends we reviewed here), has asked some of her art friends to join in our special feature and created some wonderful fan art for us to show you.

Here we let Isis explain how she created her own unique take on a the Assassin's Creed Myth:

"AC is a game which has amazing concept art and a great story. I love the things about the secrecy, history and in general, the themes the game gravitates around. I also like the very idea that Leonardo Da Vinci participated in the plot, as he is one of the greatest minds and artists of all times.

My FanArt is a bit out of the usual, as the game itself. I thought about making reference to the iconic hood used by game characters, on Leonardo DaVinci’s self-portrait, using a technique known as “chiaroscuro”, used by many renaissance artists - just that it is done digitally.

Painter 12, Wacom Intuos Pro, 6B soft pencil, airbrush, sponge, ink pen"

(Finally coming soon Isis' new book Art Collab: Artist Collaboration in the Digital Era is out soon.)

ARTS AND CRAFTS/CUISINE REVIEW: Brewing Britain: The Quest for the Perfect Pint - Andy Hamilton

Release Date: 24/10/13
Publisher:  Bantam Press


With over 200 new breweries opening in the UK every single year, there's no excuse for sticking to 'a pint of the usual'. Beer advocate Andy Hamilton has tried literally hundreds if not thousands of pints in this avalanche of flavours, to make sure that you don't miss out on the perfect porter, an irresistible IPA, a super stout or that marvellous mild. You can discover how to tempt a lager lout off lager, which beer will win over wine lovers, the ideal temperature for serving ale, and the best glass to drink it from. You can experiment with 40 recipes from ancient times to the modern day, uncovering secret ingredients. You can hone your tasting skills at sessions in local pubs, breweries and beer festivals near you. This is the essential companion for our beer drinking nation on its search for that elusive perfect pint.


Whilst there’s a lot of people out there that enjoy wine, it feels to a certain degree that I’m a man out of my time. I love a good pint of bitter which for me has a great nutty flavour, a depth of richness and of course a taste that could accompany any number of meals that works wonderfully well.

SO when I had a chance to learn from a brew master about what hops and yeast to utilise for a cracking pint, I was more than intrigued. After all, I can take what I love from the various different types and tailor it to my taste buds. Add to this a comprehensive guide to some well-known brews out there alongside the chance to learn from years of experience all round has given me a confidence to try creating not only something from scratch rather than a standard brew kit, but will allow me to hopefully take a further step on a journey for my own perfect pint. Thank you Andy.

Friday, 25 October 2013

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Poseidon's Children 2: On the Steel Breeze - Alastair Reynolds

Release Date: 26/09/13
Publisher:  Gollancz


It is a thousand years in the future. Mankind is making its way out into the universe on massive generation ships. The new novel from Alastair Reynolds is one for fans of Peter F. Hamilton and Iain M. Banks.


Ah, Science Fiction guilty pleasure time again for me as Alastair returns to the Poseidon’s Children series with a story told across light years that will thrill, fascinate as well as give the reader quite a bit to think about at the story unfurls. Its definitely something to take your time reading with so many different aspects within that will not only keep you glued but leave you wondering how the author manages to keep writing cracking epics in so short a space of time.

Add to this some wonderful prose, cracking dialogue and the wonderful use of clones not only generates something that will keep you reading from dawn til dusk but all round gives you something so unique you’ll notice more and more things in subsequent rereads. Great stuff.

FANTASY REVIEW: King Rolen's King 4: King Breaker - Rowena Cory Daniells

Release Date: 10/10/13
Publisher:  Solaris


THE CONCLUSION TO THE HUGELY POPULAR KING ROLEN'S KIN SERIES! the story of Byron, Fyn and Piro picks up immediately where the cliff-hanging ending of The Usurper let off! When Cobalt stole the Rolencian throne, Byren, Fyn and Piro were lucky to escape with their lives; now they've rallied, and will set out to avenge their parents murder. Byren is driven to defeat Cobalt and reclaim the crown, but at what cost? Fyn has sworn to serve Byren's interests but his loyalty is tested when he realises he loves Byren's betrothed. and Piro never wanted to win a throne, but now she holds the fate of a people in her hands.


The cracking and hugely epic end to the wonderful King Rolen’s Kin series and one that I’m sad to see end as its been something that I’ve loved since I originally embarked into Rowena’s imaginative fantasy world. Yet with so long a wait between outings I was lucky enough to have the guilty pleasure of a reread before embarking upon this title. (And to be honest it’s something I’d recommend any other fan to do prior to starting this book.)

As with the original series the characters are delightfully complex, their backstory fascinating and when added to some wonderful dialogue alongside the chance for them to take their own destiny in their own hands all round generates a story that will more than satisfy those who’ve been eagerly awaiting this title. Great stuff.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

GUEST BLOG: At the Heart of Heartwood - Freya Robertson

Kia ora (that’s Kiwi or New Zealand-ish for hello!)

I’m here today to talk to you about what inspired my epic fantasy, Heartwood, which will be published by Angry Robot Books later this month (29th October 2013.)

Wow, what a question! Where to start? Writers gain inspiration from so many sources including movies, books and games. And all of these played a part in the creation of Heartwood. Epic movies like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, books like Terry Brooks’s Shannara series and Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series, and games like Guild Wars 2 (especially my level 80 guardian!) have had an impact on Heartwood. So have myths like King Arthur and Robin Hood, and the part they play in English folklore. But for this article, I’m going to concentrate on the historical influences.

There’s a lot of talk about epic fantasy at the moment—it appears to be having a resurgence, and articles are focussing on what this Neo-Epic Fantasy has to offer that’s different from the traditional Tolkien-esque fantasy. Traditional epic fantasy tends to involve a quasi-European medieval setting, a battle of good against evil, a vast landscape and often well-known creatures like elves, dwarves and orcs.

When I drafted ideas for the story, I had to balance what I was going to pick from that list of traditional themes, and what I was going to create anew. It’s not easy! Change the period, the setting, the high stakes and the creatures, and do you still have epic fantasy? I don’t know the answer, and it seems neither does anyone else. Various definitions of epic are “heroic”, “ambitious” and “classic”, and I wanted my story to retain some of these recognisable features, even though I didn’t want to write a copy of what had gone before.

I studied history and archaeology at university and I was interested in many different periods. I considered writing a story set in prehistoric times, or the Roman or Saxon period. And I considered moving it from an English-style setting to an Eastern European one. But from a child I’ve been fascinated by medieval knights, armour, weapons, castles and monasteries. When it comes down to it, that is my passion. So that is where I decided to set Heartwood. And that is where the “classic” part of the epic fantasy label comes in. I studied castles and fortifications, weapons and armour through the medieval period, but my greatest fascinations was with two things: Templar holy knights, and monasticism. And thus Heartwood became a blend of the two.

Heartwood itself is a fortified temple surrounding the Arbor—an ancient oak tree that holds the Pectoris, its heart. And the Militis are Heartwood’s holy knights who live in the monastic-style complex and both worship and protect the tree. The “heroic” and perhaps “ambitious” part of the epic classification feature in the high stakes, the battle of good against evil and the dangerous quests that the characters have to endure to try to save the land.

So there’s the traditional part of epic fantasy. All well and good, I hear you say. So what makes Heartwood different?

One thing I really wanted to address was the gender balance. I love historical fiction, but I don’t particularly like writing it because it’s often difficult to write strong females leads at a time when women (in general—no need to quote me all the important women of the period!) were not regarded as equals to men. I wanted to set the story in a quasi-medieval period that felt familiar to readers who liked medieval history but nevertheless featured strong female characters. The point with Heartwood is that gender is immaterial, and although much of the rest of the land has a medieval attitude to women, in Heartwood women can be knights and they are widely respected, and the leader of the Heartwood army is a woman. One inspiration for this was the movie version of Starship Troopers, which has a scene where men and women shower together. It’s not sexy, it’s not even commented on—it’s just accepted that by this time men and women fight together, and gender is irrelevant.

The other major change from traditional epic fantasy is in the creatures that populate the land. There may be different races of humans, but there are no elves, no dwarves and no orcs. The series name—The Elemental Wars—illustrates that these stories are about the elements. The people of Anguis are formed from the element of earth, and in Heartwood the element of water is metaphorically and literally on the rise. The Darkwater Lords appear from the oceans and rivers to attack the land of Anguis and steal the Arbor’s heart, and if the only image you’ve ever had of mermen is from My Little Mermaid, hopefully this will completely alter your way of thinking!

I hope this has shed a little light on Heartwood and its sequel, Sunstone, which will be published next March/April. If you like epic fantasy, then hopefully you’ll find Heartwood a modern twist on the traditional view of the genre.


FANTASY REVIEW: The Elemental Wars 1: Heartwood - Freya Robertson

Release Date: 29/10/13
Publisher:  Angry Robot


Chonrad, Lord of Barle, comes to the fortified temple of Heartwood for the Congressus peace talks, which Heartwood's holy knights have called in an attempt to stave off war in Anguis. But the Arbor, Heartwood's holy tree, is failing, and because the land and its people are one, it is imperative the nations try to make peace. After the Veriditas, or annual Greening Ceremony, the Congressus takes place. The talks do not go well and tempers are rising when an army of warriors emerges from the river. After a fierce battle, the Heartwood knights discover that the water warriors have stolen the Arbor's heart. For the first time in history, its leaves begin to fall - The knights divide into seven groups and begin an epic quest to retrieve the Arbor, and save the land


This is a book I heard about fairly recently and to be honest I was not only intrigued by the premise but as I started I was taken back to my first reading of Edding’s Sparhawk Sextet. The characters felt real, they were a whole lot of fun to spend time around and when you add personal challenges to the various quests it soon becomes obvious that its going to be a great ride. That’s not to say that its not a book without problems as parts of it do feel a little simplistic, but if you were looking for something to help bridge the gap between YA and Adult I’d definitely recommend this.

There’s a huge scope for the story, some wonderful imaginative thoughts into the world development and of course with a whole set of challenges to meet it’s something that fantasy readers will love. All round a great start to a series and one that I’ll be sticking with alongside each subsequent release. Great stuff.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

FANTASY REVIEW: Warhammer Fantasy: Gotrek and Felix 14: City of the Damned - David Guymer

Release Date: 26/09/13
Publisher:  Black Library


Gotrek and Felix: unsung heroes of the Empire, or nothing more than common thieves and murderers? The truth perhaps lies somewhere in between, and depends entirely upon whom you ask...Legend tells of the City of the Damned - a dark and forbidding place destroyed in a previous age by the wrath of Sigmar. Long have its fallen towers remained undisturbed by the people of Ostermark, but now an ancient evil stirs in the depths, gathering its strength once more. Gotrek and Felix are swept up in the crusade of Baron Gotz von Kiel to cleanse the city, and as the ruins are torn from the passage of time itself, the Slayer's doom appears to be approaching more quickly than either of them would like.


OK, I hate to say this but as a huge fan of Felix and Gotrek I feel more than a little cheated with this outing. Why? Well the characters have changed drastically; Gotrek isn’t up to his usual dourness and with Felix feeling a little more wishy-washy than he has done before all round left me feeling more than a little chilled.

Throw into this a story where the pace seemed to just drag a lot of the time alongside supporting cast members who felt more than a little flat and all round it wasn’t a story worthy of the duo. Back that up with no real camaraderie within the dialogue and all round it’s a book perhaps best left for now whilst you reread and enjoy previous outings.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

VIDEO GAME NEWS: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag UK Launch Trailer - Ubisoft

Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Our friends at Ubisoft have sent us what is probably the final trailer before release.  It features Anne Bonney and to be honest it looks pretty cool but we'll let you be the judge of that:

Remember that Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is available now on the 29th October 2013 on the following formats:             
Nintendo    Wii U          
Playstation 3      
Xbox 360     
Playstation 4     (22nd November)           
Xbox One          (22nd November)    

All the best,            

Gareth and Lady Eleanor 

HISTORICAL URBAN FANTASY: The Falconer - Elizabeth May

Release Date: 26/09/13
Publisher:  Gollancz


Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh's social events - right up until when a faery killed her mother. Now it's the 1844 winter season and Aileana slaughters faeries in secret, in between the endless round of parties, tea and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic facade every night to go hunting. She's determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city's many dark alleyways. But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana's father returns home, she has decisions to make. How much is she willing to lose - and just how far will Aileana go for revenge?


Ah, a wonderful delightful story that brings Steampunk, the fae with a touch of sense and sensibilities to present a story that will not only delight but entertain as events within unfurl. It’s a great story in its own right, the author weaving it wonderfully well and with great prose alongside solid pace all round generates a story that will stay with you for quite some time.

Add to this a cracking lead character and a host of supporting cast that you can’t help but love. Yet as it wends its way through the city of Edinburgh the reader will have to hold on for a few startling revelations as well as a huge cliff-hanger ending that will more than leave you demanding more. Finally back that up with an author who brings a clear love for the Scottish City to the fore alongside bringing some wonderful mythology all round gives you something to more than sate that UF Steampunk need within. Cracking

Monday, 21 October 2013

NEWS: The Reading Agency joins forces with the Historical Writers Association

National charity The Reading Agency is joining forces with the Historical Writers Association in an exciting new partnership that has already brokered over 100 events, involving over 70 authors.

The initiative coincides with Historical Writing Month in November, with events held in public libraries and other venues around the UK during the Month and beyond, featuring historical authors such as Michael Ridpath, Karen Maitland, Ben Kane, Ruth Downie, Robyn Young, Rory Clements, William Ryan and Manda Scott.

The new partnership will take a coordinated approach to programming events covering a diverse range of historical time periods and themes, offering innovative approaches to bring readers, writers and libraries closer together.

The extensive programme for readers yielded by this new partnership is still growing, but begins with an historical crime panel evening at Bedford Library on 17 October featuring Rory Clements and Ruth Downie, and continues with Essie Fox, D E Meredith and Lynn Shepherd discussing their Victorian novels at Crowthorne Library, while Roman-era authors Anthony Riches, Henry Venmore-Rowland and Harry Sidebottom will travel to Norwich library to complement a new exhibition at the city’s museum.

Other event themes include Medieval, Espionage, Historical London, The Blitz, Warriors Through History, and Victorian Crime . There will be a ‘Sex and Scandal’ discussion at Pimlico Library in  central London featuring Gabrielle Kimm, Linda Stratmann and Hallie Rubenhold on 22 November, while Tudor period authors Vanora Bennett and Elizabeth Fremantle will travel to Peterborough in the new year to mark the anniversary of the death of Katherine of Aragon, who is buried in Peterborough Cathedral. Further events have been organised as far forward as September 2014 when Michael Ridpath, Stav Sherez and William Ryan will be at London’s Chiswick Library, discussing the challenges of setting novels in totalitarian regimes. 2014 will also feature a range of events marking the centenary of the start of World War One.

•    Readers can find event listings at:

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from libraries and readers,” says William Ryan of the Historical Writers Association. “We’ve organised many more events than we thought we might and we’re arranging new ones every week. It’s a fantastic opportunity for libraries and authors to reach out to readers and, thanks to our partnership with The Reading Agency and the support of libraries in almost every part of the country, we’re hoping this is just the beginning.”

The new partnership is part of The Reading Agency’s work to bring together its partners from the publishing world and the whole of the UK public library network to create successful and exciting events and activities for readers of all ages. The publishers who – via The Reading Agency’s Reading Partners consortium of libraries and publishers – have contributed to making author events happen in libraries for Historical Writers Month and beyond include Transworld; Hodder/Headline; Penguin; Constable & Robinson; Little, Brown; Bloomsbury; HarperCollins; Faber and Macmillan.

“We’re passionate about connecting readers to writers, and libraries are brilliant at reaching and engaging audiences who share the Historical Writers Association’s fascination with all things historical,” says Sandeep Mahal of The Reading Agency. “Amid all the news about library cuts and closures, an important beacon of light is the huge growth in popularity of library author events, so we’re really pleased to be partnering with the Historical Writers Association to broker events in library venues across the UK.”

GUEST BLOG: Down The Well of Lost Stories - Matthew Quinn Martin

Today we're proud to present a guest blog from author Matthew Quinn Martin (author of Nightlife), who has brought that old bug bear to light, trying to remember a book or film that you've loved but can't remember too much about...

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. It goes something like this: Hey, do you remember a book where this guy…? Ooo, when I was a kid I saw this movie where… I wish I could remember the title…or the author…or the actors, but… and so on.

Sometimes you find yourself grasping for a story you’ve read (or seen) and, for the life of you, you just can’t remember what it was. Trying to figure it out can worry you like a loose tooth. These days, of course, the world wide web is a great help. Heck, the internet might just be the precursor of Borges’ Library of Babel. Often it seems as if everything ever set down in ink is just a mouse-click away. Please draw your own conclusions about how much of what you can find of the net is suicide-inducing gibberish, however.

I’ve tracked down many half-remembered TV shows, movies, short stories and novels by typing in a few key words into the almighty Google. But there is one that has eluded me thus far. It was a film, and I watched it with my cousin (although he himself claims to not remember it). It was about a man trying to find a stone––an ordinary stone amongst all the countless stones on earth. I specifically remember the image of him rooting around on a rocky beach, and was struck––even as a child––with the futility of his task. I can’t remember why he needed to find this particular stone. I think it had something to do with him dying if he didn’t––or maybe he was in danger of losing his soul. Maybe it involved a deal with the Devil––maybe my own subconsious added that in. I doubt it was a great film, but it has haunted my imagination nonetheless.

On several occasions, I’ve gotten into conversations with other people who are also looking for their own lost story. They all begin the topic with a variation of the question above. Hey do you remember (blank)? For one of them, the story in question was about a man driven mad by the sounds of an underground civilization grinding away beneath the streets. For another, it concerned a government policy where prisoners were used as chattel for organ harvesting. Another was about a man having sex with his parasitic VCR.

 Every so often I’ll find I’ve spent half a day in Wikipedia freefall looking to see if someone has posted something, anything, about my dimly remembered film. And I’ve always come up dry. I suppose that’s the nature of The Well of Lost Stories. Maybe someone who reads this will have an answer. Maybe not. But until then, I will be like the protagonist of that lost story––sifting among the stones till I find mine. 

NIGHTLIFE: (PocketStar/Simon and Schuster released 21st October 2013)
For centuries an ancient evil has slept beneath the streets of New Harbor. This Halloween, it wakes up.

An action-packed debut horror novel from talented new writer Matthew Quinn Martin, Nightlife pits a feisty bartender and a mysterious loner against bloodthirsty terrors as alluring as they are deadly.

Nightclub bartender and serial heartbreaker Beth Becker might be a cynic. But when her best friend goes missing Halloween night, Beth knows it’s up to her to find out what happened.

Her quest will take her on an odyssey through the crumbling city of New Harbor, Connecticut. Along the way she meets a homeless prophet warning of something he calls the “Night Angel”—a bloodthirsty creature that feeds on the forgotten. And she will form an unlikely bond with a hunted stranger who knows all too well what stalks the streets at night.

The strange man tells Beth the hideous truth about the nightmare creatures that have haunted mankind’s imagination for eons—creatures the world calls vampires. Together they are the only hope for New Harbor, but to defeat what lurks in the shadows they’ll have to conquer something far stronger than fear—their own desires.

FICTION REVIEW: The Devil Delivered and Other Tales - Steven Erikson

Release Date: 24/09/13
Publisher:  Bantam


The Devil Delivered: In the breakaway Lakota Nation, in the heart of a land blistered beneath an ozone hole the size of the Great Plains of North America, a lone anthropologist wanders the deadlands, recording observations that threaten to bring the world's powers to their knees. Revolvo: In the fictitious country of Canada, the arts scene is ruled by technocrats who thrive in a secret, nepotistic society of granting agencies, bursaries, and peer review boards, all designed to permit self-proclaimed artists to survive without an audience. Fishing with Grandma Matchie: A children's story of a boy tasked with a writing assignment becomes a stunning fantastical journey with his tale-spinning grandmother.


To be honest here I do love Steven’s Malazan series but at times I feel that jumping genre to write something different isn’t perhaps the best thing an author can do when they’re writing under the same name. Here I feel this book will sell more because of an established fanbase rather than because the writing is outstanding in its own right.

That’s not to say that the stories within aren’t interesting. They are, but when compared to a lot of other fiction that there is out there its one that really fits into the background without shoving its way to the fore to stand on its own two feet. All round, I suspect if you’re a fan you’ll buy it regardless however that said, I’d perhaps suggest borrowing it from the library first to see if it fulfils what you want rather than jumping straight in with both feet.