British Fiction Focus

One Hell of a Week

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus, Tor.com’s weekly column dedicated to news and new releases from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

It’s been another weird year, weather-wise. But with the sun in the skies, and temperatures on the rise, it might just be that summer… is coming.

To celebrate—because any old excuse will do, in truth—a special heated edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus, featuring an inferno, a literary sweatshop of sorts, the back of a very angry man, and an account of the passionate (to put it politely) reaction to Charlaine Harris’ last Sookie Stackhouse book.

This week’s new releases are rather less fiery, I’m afraid, with publishers everywhere making way for Dan Brown’s new novel. But nothing stops the Elves, evidently! And as an antidote to Inferno, why not try the third volume of The Dagger and the Coin by genre giant Daniel Abraham?

Let’s get this roast on the road!

 

NEWS

One Hell of a Read

Yesterday, Dan Brown’s first new novel in four years—approximately a lifetime in internet time—was released. Per the strapline of the posters, Inferno promises to be “one hell of a read,” and it will of course be supported by a massive marketing campaign.

British Genre Fiction Focus Dan Brown

Beginning in earnest next Monday, the better to dovetail with the American author’s first ever event in London—Waterstones have arranged for An Evening With Dan Brown to take place the next day—millions will be spent on “outdoor, digital and newspaper advertising” by Brown’s British publishers to get the word out there about this book, meanwhile many of the UK’s major retailers are offering deeply discounted deals on the hot hardcover.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this has proven problematic for some smaller booksellers, as the Evening Standard reported recently:

Independents are being offered a 60 per cent off deal on the author’s backlist when they buy Inferno. But many say it is futile trying to compete when they can buy it cheaper at the supermarket than from the publisher.

Jo Adams, owner of Stoke Newington Bookshop, said: “I could go into the supermarket and get it cheaper than from the publisher, so it’s frustrating sometimes, although it’s not a book my customers or I would get particularly excited about.

“We just get on with it and try to do what we do as best we can, and leave supermarkets to what they do. There are difficulties these days but we do have loyal customers and we can offer a service the supermarkets can’t.”

You ask me, Adams hits on the main reason some small bookstores are still in business. If you’re going to go out of your way to frequent an independent—and good on you if that’s true—you’re not doing it to save money, you’re making a decision to support something you’re personally invested in because of the personal service the best of the rest of Britain’s booksellers offer.

Truth be told, what tickled me most about that quote was Adams’ attitude to Inferno. “It’s not a book my customers or I would get particularly excited about,” and I’m with her: having read The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, albeit against my better judgement, I grant that it’ll probably be pants.

That said, it’s sure to sell like a cure for the bloomin’ flu.

 

Decoding Dan Brown

Another interesting item has emerged from the rush to ready Inferno for its worldwide release this week. As the Independent puts it:

Even Dante could not have conjured quite such a hellish punishment: for almost two months, 11 people were confined to an underground bunker in Italy and forced to read the new novel by Dan Brown—all day, every day.

[…]

Its publishers were so keen to see the book released in several languages simultaneously that they hired 11 translators from France, Spain, Germany, Brazil and Italy to translate it intensively between February and April 2012. The translators are said to have worked seven days a week until at least 8PM, in a windowless, high-security basement at the Milan headquarters of Mondadori, Italy’s largest publishing firm.

The 11 were forbidden from taking mobile phones into the bunker, which was guarded by armed security personnel. Their laptops were screwed to the workstations, and they were allowed access to the internet only via a single, supervised, communal computer.

Although the translators were permitted to eat meals at the Mondadori staff canteen, they were each given cover stories to conceal the true purpose of their work. When not in use, the manuscripts were stored in safes.

How absolutely ridiculous.

In all likelihood, however, this story will only add to Inferno’s infamy, which looks to do for Dante what The Da Vinci Code did for its titular historical figure.

Now I have to ask: will you be reading Dan Brown’s new book?

I’ll wait for the inevitable film, I think. After all, everything’s better with a helping of Hanks.

 

Cover Art Corner: The Path of Anger

As established in an earlier edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus, there are few things in life I adore more than a good GIF, and late last week, Gollancz did try to satisfy my requirements.

British Genre Fiction Focus Antoine Rouaud Path of Anger

To the right you should see the animated cover art for The Path of Anger by Antoine Rouaud, which its British publisher pitches as “one of the most hotly anticipated fantasy debuts this year.”

Whether or not that’s the case, and I can’t see how it could be when this is the first time most readers have heard of it, the cover—by the vastly talented Larry Rostant, apparently—isn’t exactly inspiring.

Then again, hooded dudes seem to sell units, so let’s not judge this book by its cover. Better by all accounts to takes our cues from the teaser Gollancz gave us:

An Empire has been overthrown. An Emperor has been murdered. A Republic has risen from the ashes… but the old grudges still remain.

Now an assassin has begun to strike, systematically, from the shadows.

There will be blood.

There will be death.

This is the path of anger…

There’s a proper blurb doing the rounds too, but I’ll let you root that out yourselves if you’re interested.

I can’t say I am, especially.

As recompense for this week’s rather bland cover art, check out the gorgeous image which will adorn copies of Jurassic London’s forthcoming anthology, The Lowest Heaven. I’d have made it the focus of today’s Cover Art Corner, except for the fact that the British Genre Fiction Focus has featured Joey Hi-Fi two weeks in the trot already, and even I have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.

Still, The Lowest Heaven looks lovely, doesn’t it?

Spoiler alert: it is. Inside and out. Inspired and inspiring.

The Lowest Heaven is out very soon, in June, but we’ll have to wait till October to see if The Path of Anger can overcome its lacklustre cover.

 

When Fans Bite Back

British Genre Fiction Focus Dead Ever After Charlaine Harris

Today’s last news item relates to one of the biggest new releases in recent weeks: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris. As the final volume of the paranormal romance saga starring vampire whisperer Sookie Stackhouse, which has gone on for thirteen years across the same number of novels, expectations amongst readers of the popular series were understandably massive.

I’m afraid I can’t talk about my thoughts on Dead Ever After’s denouement, because I have, um, none—but it sure sounds like the diehard fans aren’t happy.

According to an article on the Guardian, Harris has been threatened with death and eggs alike, but let’s be crystal clear here: this is no laughing matter. Whatever your feelings about who Sookie ended up with—and I gather that’s the issue—implying violence isn’t the answer.

Here’s what the author had to say about the reaction of her readers, who have torpedoed Dead Ever After’s ranking on Amazon with more than 500 one-star reviews:

“I wrote the best book I could, and I’m confident I stayed true to the characters I’d been writing for so many years. It’s disappointing to have people impugn my character in such a personal way, but I hope on the whole that many people are entertained by the book and find it a satisfying end to Sookie’s adventures,” Harris wrote on Facebook, prompting nearly 2,000 more comments, ranging from “We are disappointed and feel cheated and I personally regret I have contributed my bit to make you more rich and famous” to “Hated Dead Ever After and returned it for a complete refund.”

To each their own opinion, of course, but from the relative safety of the sidelines, this seems to me all too typical of the worst sort of vitriol that the anonymity of the internet encourages.

British Genre Fiction Focus Dead Ever After

By all means rant about a book if you think it’s rubbish, or rave about it if you think it’s brilliant. That’s your prerogative. But whatever you do, don’t take it personally. Ultimately, the author’s the boss; readers are just along for the ride, and if we don’t like it, we can always get off.

Anyway, here’s the publisher’s perspective:

Harris’s UK editor, Gillian Redfearn at Gollancz, said she was “quite saddened” by the reaction, but put it down to “a very small minority” of readers. “They’ve been reading the books for the romance and have identified with a particular relationship, and when they’ve realised it’s not happening they are angry, they take it very personally and feel they can tell [Harris] that,” she said. “She [Harris] said she didn’t want to go on tour for this book because she didn’t want to be face to face with that … She was prepared for it, she knew people would be unhappy.”

But despite threats from fans online that they would cancel their orders after the ending was leaked in Germany, Redfearn said that “99% of readers didn’t see the ending, and we’ve actually had a lot of very positive comments from real readers [and] we’ve got our fingers very much crossed that it will go in at No 1” next week.

Redfearn makes a good point or two, it’s true, but let me raise a red flag regarding that last comment, because the idea that if you don’t love Dead Ever After you aren’t a “real reader” of this series is almost as insulting as the reaction of the aforementioned fans.

All this controversy aside, I expect Dead Ever After will do exceptionally well for itself, and with no investment whatsoever in the Sookie Stackhouse books, let me congratulate Charlaine Harris for seeing the series through, and staying true to her conception of these characters… albeit at the expense of a few of her fans.

She’s got more than enough to go around, I guess, but that still takes a certain strength, and considering the comments excerpted earlier, the author was plainly aware that the conclusion of the final book would break a handful of hearts.

I say more power to her.

Anyone with me on this?

Next up, let’s do the new releases. All three of them!

 

NEW RELEASES

Inferno (Robert Langdon #4), by Dan Brown (May 14, Transworld)

Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, features renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and is set in the heart of Europe, where Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centred around one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces.

As Dan Brown comments: “Although I studied Dante’s Inferno as a student, it wasn’t until recently, while researching in Florence, that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante’s work on the modern world. With this new novel, I am excited to take readers on a journey deep into this mysterious realm… a landscape of codes, symbols, and more than a few secret passageways.”

The Tyrant’s Law (The Dagger and the Coin #3), by Daniel Abraham (May 14, Orbit)

The great war cannot be stopped.

The tyrant Geder Palliako begins a conquest aimed at bringing peace to the world, though his resources are stretched too thin. When things go poorly, he finds a convenient target among the thirteen races and sparks a genocide.

Clara Kalliam, freed by having fallen from grace, remakes herself as a “loyal traitor” and starts building an underground resistance movement that seeks to undermine Geder through those closest to him.

Cithrin bel Sarcour is apprenticing in a city that’s taken over by Antea, and uses her status as Geder’s one-time lover to cover up an underground railroad smuggling refugees to safety.

And all the while, Marcus Wester and Master Kit race against time—not to mention Geder Palliako’s men—in an attempt to awaken a force that could change the fate of the world.

Beyond the Mists of Katura (Elves #3), by James Barclay (May 16, Gollancz)

Thousands of years ago the elves were enslaved by the Wytch Lords. Murdered in their thousands, worked to death in slave gangs and divided against themselves, the wounds inflicted by man run deep… and elves have very long memories.

Two of them—Auum and Takaar—led the rise against their enslavers, and united their people against men in order to free their nation. Now Calaius is at peace… but that doesn’t mean their nation is safe. Men need their help.

The Wytch Lords have rallied, men’s magic has grown more powerful, and their politics have become altogether more dangerous.

Especially now: one of the mages has created a spell, called Dawnthief, which has the potential to destroy all living things on the planet. All four magical colleges are fighting to seize it and, in the background, the Lords have schemes of their own. Schemes which involve crushing the elven nation for good.

Whoever seizes the spell, it places the elves in tremendous danger. But can Auum and Takaar overcome their differences and work together to save Calaius?

 

POSTSCRIPT

I feel a little like I should apologise for such a weak week of new releases, but if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s Dan Brown’s for being so incredibly successful.

Still, in the wasteland Inferno has created, there’s at least one new novel that should appeal to fans of quality genre fiction—and as luck would have it, I’m a whole book behind on The Dagger on the Coin, so perhaps I’ll take advantage of this quiet time to catch up in the hopes of consuming The Tyrant’s Law as soon as humanly possible.

Incidentally, if anyone wants to recommend Elves, consider me all ears.

And with that pathetic attempt at a pun, I’m calling a half to this week’s infernal instalment of the British Genre Fiction Focus. Please do continue the conversation in the comments, though, and remember to check in next Wednesday for another round-up of news and new releases. See you all again then!


Niall Alexander is an erstwhile English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com, where he contributes a weekly column concerned with news and new releases in the UK called the British Genre Fiction Focus, and co-curates the Short Fiction Spotlight. On occasion he’s been seen to tweet, twoo.

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