science fiction and fantasy author

Month: July 2014

Snapshot 2014: Ian McHugh

Ian McHugh’s first success as a speculative fiction writer was winning the short story contest at the 2004 Australian national SF convention (he still has the certificate). Since then he has sold stories to professional and semi-pro magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia and internationally. His stories have garnered other recognition along the way as described in question #2, below.

He rants intermittently about writing and posts many of his previously published works at

1. Your first collection, Angel Dust, is due out from Ticonderoga Publications this year.  How has it been putting together your first collection, and what can readers expect to see in it?

Erm, intermittent? Life has been getting in the way a bit for both Russell and I. I expect most of the stories will be drawn from my publications in places like Asimov’s, BCS and the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies. Russell’s picked one original story so far and he’s having a look at another four. So not sure yet what the final shape will be, or whether we’ll choose stories for a particular theme. One loose theme Russell’s suggested is ‘encounters with the other’, which broadly speaking can cover a lot of my stories. Another thread that runs through a lot (but far from all) of my stories is how men fail at being men – and the ways I’m afraid of failing as a man. Whether anyone wants to read an entire book about men failing, though, I have my doubts.

2. You have attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop, been a grand prize winner of Writers of the Future, been shortlisted for Aurealis Awards, received honourable mentions in several Year’s Best collections and been included on the Locus recommended reading list. You also lead writing workshops.  That’s a hell of a career, and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.  What do you believe are the factors that have led to so much success for you?

Gosh, when you put it like that… In all honesty, it really doesn’t seem like I’ve gotten very far yet. And remember that this has all happened over a span of ten years – more than, now. In terms of answers that might be worth something to someone reading this: getting into Clarion West, being part of an active writers’ group, seeking criticism of my work and acting on it, looking outside Australia to sell my work as well as within. And, above all, persisting. Have you ever come across Helsinki Bus Station Theory? It applies to writers too: With the story you’re writing: stay on the bus, persist until you finish it. With the story you’re submitting: stay on the bus, keep submitting until you sell it or reach your personal tipping point between persistence and insanity (mine is about 15 rejections per story). With your whole writing career and aspirations: stay on the bus.

3. Do you plan on continuing mainly in the realm of short fiction in the future, or are you hoping to also write novel length fiction?

I think I like short stories the best. But that might just be because I’ve struggled a lot with making the leap to long form storytelling. I’m currently finishing the final draft of a novel that I first drafted about five years ago. I do really love writing short stories, and I’m looking forward to being able to really dedicate myself to them again, rather than feeling like I’m squeezing them in where I can.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

The Australian work I’m really loving right now is a book called What If? Australian history as it might have been, which is a collection of essays published in 2006, but that I picked up at my local second hand bookshop on the weekend before writing these answers. I love it because it’s full of ideas, for things to bang together and make story sparks.
In terms of fiction, or speculative fiction, the work that’s kicking my arse right now isn’t Australian at all, it’s a short story collection called North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud. The friend who lent it to me said not to read it right before bed. I see what she means – it’s not that the stories are scary so much as so horrifically human. I’ve managed to get through two of nine stories so far, because they each left me feeling like I’d been beaten up. The (first two) stories are also saturated with the places where they’re set, which is something I look for in fiction as a general rule, Australian or otherwise.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
No. I think you have to write for yourself, first, and then figure out how you can show it off. And as to the second part of the question, I haven’t the faintest idea. It seems like we’re in a similar sort of place to when mechanical printing first became widespread, and suddenly any and every lunatic who thought they had something to say was out pamphleteering. That settled down over time as people figured out how to gatekeep for quality, both as consumers and publishers, and how to exercise control over this new market. Something similar will happen with e-publishing over time, although how it will pan out I have no idea. Hopefully it brings back the novella.


SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

Snapshot 2014: Tsana Dolichva

Originally from Melbourne, Tsana Dolichva is currently travelling the world under the guise of doing a PhD in astrophysics. When not writing she is probably reading, or at a stretch, studying the particulars of dying stars. She also enjoys trying to convince people to respect the laws of physics in their science fiction, at least a little bit. She has previously had short stories published in a handful of venues including Aurealis and Antipodean SF.

Her book review blog can be found at

1. You’ve been an active and prolific reviewer on your blog, Tsana Reads and Reviews, including taking part in many challenges to read and review Australian books, and have recently been nominated for a Ditmar award for said work.  You are also a writer.  Some people feel that writers should not also be active in reviewing. Do you ever feel as though your writing and current and future plans for publication conflicts with your reviewing? Do you feel that more writers should be reviewing?
I think a lot of the controversy comes from worries about authenticity and potential antagonism. If a writer is friends with the author of the book they’re reviewing, for example, will they write an honest review if they don’t like it? Is a fledgeling writer worried about criticising a Big Name writer in their review? But I think we’re all grown ups and should be capable of writing critical reviews without being rude, or, on the flip side, dealing with negative reviews of our work without having a breakdown on Twitter. I understand some of the hesitancy around the matter, but I don’t think that should be a reason for writers not to review, if that’s what they want to do.
I also try to only read books I think I’ll like, but of course that doesn’t always work. It’s tempting, when you think you’ll probably never meet a particular author (like if they’re not Australian), to be a bit more scathing, especially if they’ve been sexist or haven’t got their science right. But you never know when you might find yourself on a WorldCon panel with one of them… *eyes draft LonCon programme*
The other thing I’ve found is that reviewing is good for making connections with other people in the community. You never know when that might come in handy down the road.

2. What inspired you to begin publishing your reviews?  Has your vision for what you want to accomplish with your reviewing work changed from then until now, and if so, how?

It all started with the Australian Women Writers Challenge (in 2012) and not a whole lot of forethought. I joined the challenge because it seemed like a good idea at the time; I liked reading books by Australian women and I’d never really tried reviewing much before, so why not. I posted the first few reviews just on my general Tumblr (between pictures of cats) before setting up a dedicated blog (still on Tumblr, I later moved to Blogger  because it’s nicer, but all my posts get mirrored on the Tumblr). It kind of snowballed from there. I realised that I’d been a bit isolated from people to talk books to and blogging about them was a good alternate outlet.
So I started with no plan other than the Australian Women Writers Challenge (which, since last year, I’ve become a curator for). When I stopped to think about it, I realised that since I didn’t have the brain space to write much, reading a lot and thinking about what I’m reading was actually a good use of my time. I’ve also intentionally exposed myself to different kinds of writing — horror, Australian-authored science fiction, short stories which I hadn’t read many of since running out of Asimov books in my teens — all of which can only be useful to me down the track. I don’t see myself remaining a reviewer forever, but it’s definitely something I’m going to keep doing for now. And while I’m doing it, I might as well make the most of it. Of course the aspect of promoting little-known books that I like is not something I’ll ever stop doing.

3. Do you have any current writing projects you’d like to share something about?  Do you have any plans for your future as a writer?

At the moment my writing is taking a bit of a back seat, not because of the blogging but because I’m currently doing a PhD. Turns out, that takes up a lot of brain space and I just can’t hold enough story points in my head to make any significant progress on a novel. Both a novel and my research take up too much brain-RAM for me to be able to easily switch between them, especially because astrophysics and fiction-writing have almost no overlap, except maybe slightly in the worldbuilding, since I write SF. I’ve still been working on short stories, but not as much as I’d like.
As well as some random short stories, I’ve been working on a few stories set in the same universe as the novels I have sitting around in various stages of (in)completion. The idea is to explore the characters’ early lives and some less visible aspects of worldbuilding. My most recently published story, “Transit of Hadley” in Aurealis #67 is actually set in that universe, but hundreds of years earlier in than the novels.
One day I’d like to get a novel or two into a publishable state, but I’m not sure when that will be. In the meantime, it’s a good opportunity to work on my short stories.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

In reverse order of reading them: I really loved The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins, which is a collection of really excellent novellas; The Children of the Black Sun trilogy by Jo Spurrier, starting with Winter Be My Shield and recently concluding with North Star Guide Me Home, a complex and fascinating fantasy series; Glenda Larke’s The Lascar’s Dagger, the beginning of a new fantasy series partially set in the spice islands, a part of the world that doesn’t often have a counterpart in fantasy books; and, a bit out of left field, Carrier by Vanessa Garden, a short YA novel set in the post-apocalyptic Australian desert.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

They’ve had some influence on my shifting to reading mostly ebooks. On the other hand, moving two continents away and travelling a lot played a bigger role. I’m happy reading ebooks and books from small presses. I’ve also enjoyed the self-published books I’ve read, although discovery is a bit tricker on that front. In terms of my own work, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in having a paper book you can display on your shelf and/or hit people with. In some senses, traditional publishing has been flagging in recent years and it’s hard to say in what form it will exist down the line. I don’t think we’ll be saying good-bye to large publishing houses within five years, however. When I eventually do have a novel to shop around, there will be some serious thinking about the best path to take.


SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

Snapshot 2014: Lian Tanner

LianmediumpicLian Tanner is a best-selling children’s author whose books are published in Australia, the USA and India, as well as being translated into nine languages. The first two books in her Keepers trilogy, Museum of Thieves and City of Lies, won consecutive Aurealis Awards for Best Australian Children’s Fantasy, and Museum of Thieves was named as a ‘White Raven’ (books that deserve worldwide attention) by the International Youth Library in Munich.

Lian’s new fantasy series, The Hidden, began with Ice Breaker in 2013. Ice Breaker was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award, and was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. The second book in the series, Sunker’s Deep, will be published in November 2014.

1. Your most recent work is Ice Breaker, the first book of The Hidden series, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Best Children’s Novel category in the Aurealis Awards.  Would you like to tell us a little bit about this book and about the things that inspired it?

‘Ice Breaker’ is set in a world that has been taken over by Anti-Machinist zealots, who have dragged civilisation back to the Dark Ages. All that apparently remains of science and knowledge is an ancient ship, the Oyster, that has been circling the southern icecap for the last three hundred years, with a mechanical child hidden somewhere on board. The crew of the Oyster has forgotten about the mechanical child, and has broken down into three warring tribes. The only person without a tribe is twelve-year-old Petrel, the ship’s outcast. When a strange boy is found on the ice, Petrel saves his life in the hope that he might become a friend – but the outside world hasn’t forgotten the Oyster’s secret cargo, and the boy has a dire mission.
The story was inspired partly by the Aurora Australis, which is the ship that takes expeditioners to the Antarctic every year. The Aurora over-winters in Hobart, and I’ve been fascinated by it for years. Plus I think just about everyone is intrigued by the extremes of Antarctica, and the possibilities it holds. I was also interested in the idea of writing a science-based fantasy.


2. You have also written another award-winning series aimed at young readers, The Keepers trilogy.  Have you always felt drawn to writing specifically for younger readers?  Do you feel that there are things that writers of books aimed at younger readers should be particularly careful of?

When I first started writing professionally, I was writing over a number of different genres and forms – short stories for children and adults, plays, a bit of freelance journalism etc. The one I had most success with was the stories for children, so that’s the direction I followed. But it was also the one I enjoyed most – there’s something about children’s fantasy/adventure that is very appealing to me, and fun to write, as well, so I might have ended up there anyway.
As for things we have to be careful of, I think it varies depending on the author and on where you are published. Australian publishers tend to allow more robust stories than US publishers, who are all too aware of the conservative gatekeepers who could make or break a book. Having said that, I avoid explicit violence because I don’t think it’s appropriate for young readers. I tend to also shy away from romantic relationships, mainly because there’s SO much romance around, and so much pressure on even-quite-young girls to think in terms of romance. So even though I usually have a female protagonist with a male sidekick, they are friends rather than romantic partners. Some of my older readers would really like my characters to get together romantically, but I continue to resist!


3. You have two more books in The Hidden to be published.  Is there anything on the radar after that trilogy is finished?  Do you think you will remain writing entirely for younger readers?

I already have a fair idea of what I want to write next – it’s a story that has been hanging around my head for a couple of years now. It’s another series for younger readers, which is certainly the age group for which I most like writing. Though I’m finding myself increasingly intrigued by urban fantasy, so who knows – I might give that a try at some stage. 

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I’m always a year or two behind with my reading at the very least, so I’ve only just read Jen Storer’s ‘Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children’. I really liked it – the humour, the characters and the gothic story. 

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I try to avoid noticing the changes in the publishing industry, mainly because if I think about them too much I worry! So no, they haven’t influenced me, and I suspect they won’t, not for a while at least. I cling to the belief that people will always want good stories, no matter what form they are delivered in.
Five years from now? Although I do my best to ignore the changes, I’m aware that they’re there, and five years is quite a long time in the current state of flux. So I’ve got no idea what I’ll be publishing in five years’ time. Hopefully fantasy will still be big, because that’s my favourite genre to both read and write.



SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 
Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

Snapshot 2014: Sophie Masson

sophie recentBorn in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in Australia and France, Sophie Masson is the author of more than 50 novels for children, young adults and adults, published in Australia and many other countries. Her historical novel, The Hunt for Ned Kelly (Scholastic Australia), won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, while she has won the YA category of the Aurealis Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy twice: for The Green Prince (Hodder, 2000) and The Hand of Glory (Hodder 2002). Many of her titles have also been shortlisted for major awards, including for the Davitt Awards with her 2012 novel, Moonlight and Ashes (Random House Australia, 2012). Other recent novels include Ned Kelly’s Secret (Scholastic 2012) and Scarlet in the Snow (Random House Australia, May 2013). Titles out in 2014 are: The Crystal Heart (RHA, young adult), Emilio (Allen and Unwin, children’s) and 1914 (Scholastic Australia, children’s), as well as the adult non-fiction title, The Adaptable Author: Coping with Change in the Digital Age(Keesing Press). Her adult novel, Trinity, a thriller with supernatural elements set in modern Russia, will be coming out as an e-book with Momentum in November 2014. Forthcoming in 2015 is Hunter’s Moon (RHA). She has also written four popular YA romantic thrillers, with fairy tale and mythical elements, under the name of Isabelle Merlin. Under the name of Jenna Austen, she has also published  two romantic comedies for tweens and early teens,  The Romance Diaries: Ruby (ABC Books/Harper Collins, 2013) and The Romance Diaries: Stella (ABC Books/Harper Collins, 2013) . Sophie’s essays, articles and reviews have appeared frequently in print and online, in many different outlets. She has served on the Literature Board of the Australia Council, the Book Industry Collaborative Council, the Board of Directors of the Australian Society of Authors (as Chair and Deputy Chair), the Board of the New England Writers’ Centre (as Chair)and the committee of the New England and North West sub-branch of the Children’s Book Council of NSW (as President). Her website is at

1. Your latest fairytale adaptation, The Crystal Heart, has just been released.  Can you tell us a little bit about this particular book, and about the process by which you draw inspiration from fairytales to create novels?

crystal heart coverThe Crystal Heart, which is set in the imaginary country of Krainos, is told against the background of a ‘cold war’ existing between the military state of Krainos and the magical underground country of Night. It’s told in two alternating viewpoints; in the voice of Kasper, a young soldier chosen to be a Tower Guard, an elite corps who guard an important and apparently very dangerous prisoner; and Izolda, the prisoner herself, who has been kept in the Tower since she was a child (you learn that very early on). For both of them, their meeting will utterly change their lives and lead them into even greater danger but also love, betrayal, pain, and transform their respective countries. It’s part of my non-sequential series of fairytale novels set in an alternative world based on fairytale but using an alternative version of the late 19th century in Central and Eastern Europe (the other two are Moonlight and Ashes and Scarlet in the Snow, and I’m working on a fourth).  The story is inspired by the motif of Rapunzel, but also the Irish tale of Deirdre of the Seven Sorrows, and as well by a real setting in Poland, the deep underground salt mines of Wieliczka near Krakow–a truly magical place full of amazing statues and figures carved out of salt, and even an entire underground cathedral where everything–statues, carvings, altar, floor ceiling, is carved out of salt and the chandeliers are made of white, glittering salt crystals. As soon as I set foot in it, I knew I would be using it as a setting in a book!

2. Your work spans several different genres and target audience ages.  Do you find that there is a difference in how your work is received based on genre and/or target age group, and if so, how?

No, generally reviewers have been very good about taking the works on their own terms–but later this year I’ll have a new adult novel out (with Momentum), Trinity, which is me moving into a very different area–a mix of thriller, romance and the paranormal set in modern Russia around the struggle for the soul of a major company. So we’ll have to wait and see how people respond to that as a new direction! (I’m still continuing with my fairytale novels; this is just a different string to the bow!)

3. Are you working on any projects right now?

Yes–I’ve nearly finished wiring the fourth fairytale novel, Hunter’s Moon (out in May 2015); also I am thinking about the sequel to Trinity; and researching–in Denmark, actually–the fifth fairytale novel, A Splinter of Ice, which is based around a writer inspired by Hans Christian Andersen.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Kate Forsyth’s gorgeous Bitter Greens–such a magical yet earthy take on Rapunzel! 

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Yes, they have–I work as hard as ever I have and am lucky enough to still very much attract the interest of publishers but I’m even more aware of the fact you have to be flexible, versatile and quick-witted in this business. Actually, I’ve recently published a book , The adaptable Author: Coping with Change in the Digital Age( Keesing Press, through the Australian Society of Authors) which is a collection of interviews with over 40 authors, agents, publishers about this very topic(including many authors of speculative fiction), and many people say the same thing–it is harder. On the other hand, there are new opportunities and a direct example of that for me is that Trinity will be published by Momentum (Pan Macmillan) as an e-book: as an unusual, not easy-to-categorise novel it might have been difficult in the past to sell it, but now it will have its chance! As well, in the past I don’t think I’d have taken a chance on starting the little publishing house I founded last year with two friends, Christmas Press (specialising in traditional tales from many lands, retold by well-known authors and classically illustrated, see That is a part of the often-overlooked side of the digital revolution–the fact that printing is much more affordable now than ever before (and we print in Australia as a matter of principle) because of the fact you can work from digital files.
As to the second part–I have no idea! Except that I will continue to write as long as I can–and read as many good books as I can–and also hopefully, that Christmas Press will continue as strongly as its promising beginning gives us leave to hope!

SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.


Snapshot 2014


Snapshot has taken place four times in the past 10 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it’s grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish!

In the lead up to Worldcon in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014, conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. Last time we covered nearly 160 members of the Australian speculative fiction community with the Snapshot – can we top that this year?

To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done:

More Magic Spreadsheet, or This is What a Month of Writing Every Day Looks Like


You see that picture?  That’s what wordcounts for writing every day look like.

I don’t want to harp on about the Magic Spreadsheet too much, but I do want to spend a bit of time actually making note of how I’m working on my writing process, and right now, it’s part of it.

I’ve always kind of flailed about a bit with my writing process.  I’ve logged wordcounts for a while, but I inevitably forget to note down one day, and then it’s all gone to hell.  I’ve worked for periods of time without logging wordcounts.  I’ve gotten some stuff done – I’ve finished a novel (currently trunked), I’ve finished short stories and novelettes.

But – as anyone who gets to talk to me about writing will tell you – I’ve always despaired of being too damn slow.  At the moment, I’m writing a first draft of Never, and I needed to break myself out of the habit of fiddling about too much with small parts of it.  I’m not the kind of writer who can produce a wonderful first draft, and I need to accept that, and accept, too, that my time is better spent on redrafting and editing rather than trying to get it all down on the page the first time.

As a side note, I know that authors exist who can write really clean first drafts.  I salute them and their brains.  Maybe in time, when I’ve worn the grooves in my brain enough, I’ll be able to produce better first drafts.

Which is to say that I am allowing myself to write what is possibly one of the worst first drafts ever.  I am not deleting anything, but I am simply pushing on every day to make my word count.  I’ll go back and add notes in previous chapters of things that need to be added, but that’s all.

As you’ll see, this last week I have been sick.  Yet another damn respiratory infection (yay having a kid at kindy for the first time and being moderately immunosuppressed).  And I have still been writing.  I am kind of scared to look at the words for those really sick days, but I’m thinking of them as a framework.  A skeleton which I’m going to flesh out in the next draft.  It’s forward motion, baby, and I feel like I’m actually getting somewhere.

As I type this, I’ve just crested 70k on this draft.  Glancing at the magic spreadsheet, which handily collates these things for me, I’ve written 77, 720 words since starting with the spreadsheet on May 25th.  Yes, some of those words were discarded (bad writer, no cookie).  And it’s going to take me a good while to hammer this into good enough shape to get sent to some beta readers, but it’s a start.  And I’ll take that.


Review: Bound, by Alan Baxter


Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.
An enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, approaches Alex after a fight and reveals, ‘I know your secret.’ Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him into a mind-bending adventure beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else…
A cursed grimoire binds Alex to Uthentia, a chaotic Fey godling, who leads him towards chaos and murder, an urge Alex finds harder and harder to resist. Befriended by Silhouette, a monstrous Kin beauty, Alex sets out to recover the only things that will free him – the shards of the Darak. But that powerful stone also has the potential to unleash a catastrophe which could mean the end of the world as we know it.

Alan Baxter begins a new urban fantasy series with Bound, the first of the Alex Caine books.

Alex Caine is a professional fighter who has some odd talents – a kind of magical intuition is one of them, which he uses at the opening of this book to win a fight. This win, and the use of his talents, bring him to the attention of Webley, and Englishman who shows Alex that his talents are part of a bigger magical world.

Cue a fast-paced trip around the world, with Alex discovering more and more about the world that is hidden beneath the mundane world. This is no pleasure cruise for Alex – tough as he is, even he finds it difficult to deal with some of the darkness that he finds.

It’s really quite refreshing to see urban fantasy/dark horror written very much in the style of a thriller – this works especially well with Baxter’s writing, which often evokes a very cinematic feel (and I am so with reviewer Sean the Bookonaut in that I could so see Jason Statham playing Alex). It’s also very clear that Baxter has spent a lot of time building up this world – of which we only skim the surface (and of which I hope we delve deeper in the two subsequent books in the trilogy).

Some readers should be warned that there is a decent amount of sex (consensual) in this book, as well as lashings of violence. Especial note needs to be made of how damn good Baxter’s fight scenes are – quite frequently fight scenes are something that I’ll skip over as a reader, but I found myself sunk into each one in Bound (see the cinematic comment above).

Alex is always a very human character – he really struggles with the powers that he acquires, even as he takes a fighter’s joy in them (which is a really refreshing change to a lot of urban fantasy). Even the minor characters live and breathe on the page, and always seem to act in a fashion that makes sense (even if it is sometimes a warped kind of sense!).

Hat tip to the naming of the characters Hood and Sparks (references to friends of the author and prominent people in the Aussie SF field), which I think just reflects the absolute joy that Baxter takes in his writing and his community.

An extremely promising start to a new urban fantasy series, which is highly recommended. I’m looking forward to the next two books. And dammit, someone make a movie out of this, please, because it is begging for it.

Cross-posted to Goodreads and Amazon.  eARC provided by Netgalley in return for a fair review, but I also nabbed my own copy (as should you, because the ebook is free throughout the month of July!)

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