Cheeseburger Gothic

Legacy of Ghosts. Review

Posted January 10 into Books by John Birmingham

I half recall a promise made by Edgar Rice Burroughs, probably in the opening pages of Tarzan, that once the reader commenced their journey with him, he would so completely carry them so far away from their workaday concerns that the real world would disappear and they would be in the deepest jungle with the ape man.

It is the promise of all good novels.

And a promise Alicia Wanstall-Burke delivered on in LEGACY OF GHOSTS.

I skim-read about a hundred pages of the draft manuscript late last year, with an eye to giving Alicia a cover quote. It was pretty obvious she had the goods on this story, so I happily endorsed the book.

A few weeks ago I went back to it.

The bushfires were at their destructive height (damn those exploding cow pats) and it felt a bit perverse to be watching Netflix while the country burned. Taking refuge in a novel, however? That seemed less gross.

Insert contented sigh.

We’re all still going to die when civilisation collapses soon, but at least we’ll have books in the rubble. It’s early days yet, but THE LEGACY OF GHOSTS, Alicia’s follow up to her debut novel BLOOD OF HEIRS might just have been what I needed to reboot my reading habit. Like most people I’ve had trouble focussing on long form reading the last few years. We all know the reasons. Digital distraction. Too much Netflix. A hyper accelerated news cycle. That guy who was wrong on the internet. (Havoc. It was Havoc),

Sitting down with a book seemed too much like hard work, especially to the screeching dopamine addicted distraction monkey in my head.

I finally went back to Alicia’s novel when the monkey screeching got so loud I couldn’t sleep. It was one hot night, with smoke choking the southern capitals, an army of bots and trolls on the march, and my teetering Netflix stack o’ shame threatening to fall and crush me underneath its immeasurable vastness.

Fuck this, I thought. I’m unplugging.

I picked up my kindle...

Yes, I am aware of the irony, or dissonance or whatever the hell it is, but stay with me.

... I picked up my Kindle and a stiff drink, and repaired to the library to restart LEGACY OF GHOSTS. I meant to read for thirty minutes, after which I’d let myself have another dispiriting flick through the infinite scroll of unwatched and half-watched streaming options.

An hour and a half later I had missed my bedtime.

I finished LEGACY late last night, after blowing through another bedtime hour and it has left me with possum eyes and an irritable, sleep-deprived disposition – at least until I can snag an afternoon nap.

But it was totally worth it.

Alicia’s debut with BLOOD OF HEIRS was impressive, but LEGACY makes a powerful case for her striking improvement as a writer. I say striking because she has done it on her own. No publishing house stood behind her. What you get on the page is her own hard work. She very obviously invests in good editing, artwork and production on the gorgeous looking hardbacks she insists on putting out - but again, these are all artistic production choices she makes, so she gets credit for them too.

And so to the story.

If BLOOD was an origin story for our two heroes, Ran and Lidan (spoiler, it was) in LEGACY we get to watch them grow into their full power. In Ran’s case this literally means the magic he is able to cast on the world, in Lidan’s we marvel not just at her prowess as a ranger, her riding, fighting and leadership skills, but also at her coming into power as grown-ass woman.

The saga, like football, is a game of two halves (sorry) and in Legacy those halves come together, but for me this is Lidan’s story. With Ran we quest through frozen mountain and dusty plain, fight ensorcelled zombies and bitey ice dragons, throw around a bit of Force Lightning and hang out with a cool ghost.

But Lidan has to deal with her parents, and that’s a helluva thing. Dad is the sort of Barbarian chieftain you build to kick serious arse in the Diablo franchise. Mum is... difficult. And there’s the usual trouble with boyfriends, siblings, the walking dead, witches, marauding enemy tribes, a douchebag manchild, knife vs sword, teen drinking, dark curses...

You get the idea. This girl is busy. And she has feelings. Lots and lots of feelings about all this accursed busyness.

The writing, especially of Ran’s passage through the icy towers, and Lidan’s many, many knife fights, is exemplary. It transports in the way Edgar Rice Burroughs promised, carrying you away from your shitty day and into another realm.

I don’t do spoilers, so I won’t discuss plot, but the narrative arcs are precisely engineered and deftly executed. The timing is especially on point, with the disparate subplots coming together in a hugely satisfying way. I found the more I read the more I wanted to read (and the less interested I became in other distractions). Eventually, I found dipping into LEGACY for just a scene or two was an effective break from my own deadlines. That’s something I haven’t done in many years.

Of course now I’m stuck waiting for the next one. Like a chump.

Go buy copy to keep her at the keyboard. I need this.

Legacy of Ghosts (The Coraidic Sagas Book 2)

6 Responses to ‘Legacy of Ghosts. Review’

jl would have you know...

Posted January 10
Ditto on appreciating the work Alicia put into this on her own dime; she did a very nice job. My own take on this over at the Beast, etc. Well done, Alicia!

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Bondiboy66 ducks in to say...

Posted January 10
I shall look for these two books forthwith!

"Stuck waiting for the next one. Like a chump'.....I too get that from Certain Authors *cough*

Barnesm asserts...

Posted January 10
yes indeed the poetic justice struck me as well.

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she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted January 10
I desperately want to talk about a plot point, but without spoilers, so here goes... I'm with you on this being Lidan's story. Ran's development as a character and a person is outstanding, but Lidan's journey is the heart and soul of the book, and in particular, (plot point!) her growing into her power not just as a grown ass woman and warrior, but as a leader among her people. There's a series of moments where stuff happens that affects the tribe, and she realises she is seeing these things through a different prism than her elders, and that shift in her perspective is incredibly powerful. I too ripped through this and am utterly bereft that I have to wait. I told Alicia this on Twitter and she just laughed and said she'd better get started writing the third one. Such a cruel mistress! I gave it all the stars at the Beast :)

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balri would have you know...

Posted January 10
I’m halfway through Blood Of Heirs after you posted it on Facebook and it’s a cracking read so far. I’ll definitely have to get into the sequel

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Peter Bradley would have you know...

Posted January 13
Outstanding. Loved her first outing. I wasn't aware the next book had been released. I promised myself not to read a trilogy (or series in fact) again until the whole lot was out but then I slip and I impatiently wait - Looking at you JB. Onto it now.

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Reading again

Posted January 3 into Books by John Birmingham

I don’t know that anybody actually makes New Year's resolutions. And if they do, it’s a righteous certainty they don’t keep to them. So I did not resolve to read more novels this year. I just thought I would try. Because it’s a good idea.

Jo Tovey wrote a beautiful piece in the Grauniad a few weeks ago about losing her ability to read novels:

It was early September and I had only just finished a novel I began in April. In the same amount of time the first Gulf war was almost over.
For months the novel sat atop a mounting pile of other, unread books on my bedside table, a stack that started as aspirational but grew into a tower of shame.
It wasn’t that I disliked what I was reading (Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room). But almost every night it was pitched in battle against powerful forces – my phone, my post-work bleariness and my internet-enfeebled attention span – and the book was losing.

Reading books was something Jo once did willingly and joyfully. But she confessed that as she spent more of her life online, reading books became harder.

Testify wordsister. I read enormous volumes every day. A lot of it consists of my own raw first drafts, waiting for the firm slap of editorial correction, but even more is the huge piles of reading matter I have to get through for research.

Fiction gets squeezed out on that end, but also as JT admitted, by the constant, distracting screech of the online. And especially of worthless social media. I’ve been pretty good at cutting back on that, mostly to preserve time and attention for work. I’ve also been more consciously diligent about posting here, rather than wasting time with blipverts like Facebook posts or tweets.

But reading fiction really is the gold standard for taking a true break from the world. I like TV. I love that we’re in a golden age right now. I hope to do some work there. But streaming an hour or two of The Witcher is not as relaxing as removing myself from this veil of fire and tears by reading an hour of, say, The Legacy of Ghosts; Alicia Wanstall-Burke’s follow up to The Blood of Heirs.

I did this last night, sitting in the library, running a timer, thinking I’d make myself read for an hour before firing up Netflix. I startled a little when the timer went off because I’d become lost in the story again. (I read it quickly, late last year to provide a cover quote). A small band of adventurers was adventurin’ through a frozen wilderness beset by doubts about their quest and the tyranny of bitey monsters.

It was vividly written and so far removed from the sorrows of the real day (with the land on fire and Smoko playing at crippled King Théoden) that I found that hour to be genuinely therapeutic. It was, as Jo Tovey attested, a literal joy to read and to be reading.

Anyway, long story short, I’m going to try read for an hour a day. Actually read. Audiobooks, which I listen to in the car, don’t count. Fiction only. And not necessarily literature. There’s no need to go wild here. Because I would inevitably fail at this if I didn’t approach it mindfully, I’m going to time track my reading, the same way I do writing. We’ll see how that works.

In line my renewed commitment to longer form blogging I’ll also try to post reviews as I finish.

Blood of Heirs (The Coraidic Sagas Book 1)

9 Responses to ‘Reading again’

Vovchara mutters...

Posted January 3
I have a different problem, I spend way too much time reading. Reading on the train on my way to work, and on the way back, reading during the break. Reading on weekends sitting in the park, going to sleep with the kindle falling on my face... this hurts :)
It gets increasingly difficult to find something to read, without a half-naked guy on the cover.

Barnesm asserts...

Posted January 4
'too much time reading' That's not a problem, that's a solution.

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jl is gonna tell you...

Posted January 3
Ditto. Been struggling as of late with reading, too. And high on that list? Close to Number One? Legacy of Ghosts, which I need to read and review. Soon.

AuntyLou puts forth...

Posted January 3
Just what I have been doing today. Legacy of Ghosts is so engaging that my usually gadfly mind has been entranced. I will however admit to sloping off to the twitterverse a couple of times to get suitably enraged by pathetic pollies & creepy minders. Getting back to rotting, knife bearing semi-corpses becomes a welcome relief...

jl is gonna tell you...

Posted January 3
Yeah, some life issues have my attention at the moment. I need to beta a friend's book, and review Alicia's and I'm having trouble reading. This is a first. Even in the mountains I read (until my trusty Sony e-reader died). Hopefully this strange ennui passes soon.

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Barnesm asserts...

Posted January 4
I found the goodreads site a useful tool to track just how many books I read, (short answer not enough). I travel a lot on public transport everyday so I do burn through the books, but I am unsure if it's as immersive in the way that you describe "I startled a little when the timer went off because I’d become lost in the story again" so I try to read for the 30minutes before bed see if I can evaluate the different quality of reading.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 4
I do read before bed, but I find I don't last long. Usually just a couple of pages, so I try to find at least half an hour earlier.

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jason puts forth...

Posted January 6
I have just discovered (too late sadly) Andrew McGahan and am having trouble finding enough time to read.

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she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 8
I too have struggled with reading this year. I’m reading A LOT, but like JB the proportion of fiction books is suffering in the face of the tsunami of current affairs, university readings and politics that I keep getting distracted by. For Christmas my parents and I went on a cruise to New Zealand, and I had a total of 5 days without wifi as we were at sea. And lo! I read. I burned through an actual analogue book my BFF gave me for Christmas, and then a reread of The Hogfather, because Christmas. And I feel like i’ve reconnected with something vital again, particularly the pleasure of actual pages in the hand.

Also Legacy of Ghosts is the absolute GOAT (present authors excepted of course), and was one of the few books of 2019 that held back the tide of distraction and demanded it be read before all else, which in this world of shattered concentration is the highest praise imaginable. Everyone should read it if you haven’t already.

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Missed it by this much

Posted December 18 into Books by John Birmingham

Had a moment of high excitement today when James McPherson on Twitter reminded me that Felafel was a book I wrote.

He was excited that he'd been able to find a couple of second-hand paperback copies, but his tweet reminded me that the contract I signed with Pan Mac handing over the rights to Felafel and Babes (just before everything went pear-shaped with them) was coming up on the end of its term.

Perhaps it might even be over by now! I dug up the papers, amazed I could find them to be honest, and rifled through looking for that all important end date. Gah!

It's November 15 next year.

Sad trombone.

Still, that's something to look forward to. I don't know what I'm going to do with those books when I get them back, but I will definitely do something.

8 Responses to ‘Missed it by this much’

she_jedi asserts...

Posted December 18
At least you know, and can plan now. How peeved would you have been to discover that it was Nov 15 last year, and you'd wasted all this time? :)

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 18
You are very wise.

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Leftarc ducks in to say...

Posted December 19
Maybe an update for today's kiddies stepping out into the brave new world. Instead of druggies stealing spoons, and how to get free food, it's sharing Netflix passwords and slurping of the neighbors unsecured wifi hotspot.

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jason ducks in to say...

Posted December 19
I reckon this lends itself to a "Demons of Butte Crack County" type arrangement where people can contribute true share house stories to a compilation as part of a relaunch.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon reckons...

Posted December 20
That would end up being a never ending stream of quality content. As soon as the kids are finished with school i'm booting them out to go experience share house living. Grows hair on yer chest it does.

Ceramic would have you know...

Posted December 22
Yeah man, I'd totally be up for that. Was telling someone a bunch of first rental and sharehouse stories stories on Thursday.
We were out at Wynum eating fish and chips. She asked if I'd find it easy to write at the beach. I was like "My Wynnum stories, yeah. I reckon I could do that with the suburbs I'd lived in". Like a writing road tour.
Will have to admit to some crappy and irresponsible stuff. I'm one of those peeps who kept being kicked out or just slipped away in the night. Couldn't handle confrontations.

Made my oldest friends in a sharehouse. They had a party one night where I, dressed elegantly as always sang Hallelujah then rocked Bloodhound Gang's Fire water Burn. The shocked faces looking up at me was gold. Was it inappropriate or was I subverting their expectations? Either way, they knew I was more than an apparently shy pencil skirt, hehe.

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Therbs asserts...

Posted December 20
Rewrite it in the Dave universe and have monsters eating housemates and then becoming housemates. Sometimes who'd know the fricken difference?

she_jedi mutters...

Posted December 20
THIS!! I'm sure we can all contribute stories

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FAIL STATE chapter one

Posted December 16 into Books by John Birmingham

The full audiobook hasn't dropped yet, but for anyone who'd like a sneak preview, the first chapter is on SoundCloud.

You can listen here.

4 Responses to ‘FAIL STATE chapter one’

she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted December 16
Squeeeeeeee!!! This dropping a week before Christmas is everything :)

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 17
The whole thing has dropped to the race is on to listen and provide the first 5 star review on Amazon.

jl is gonna tell you...

Posted December 17
On. It.

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Dirk swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 17
Huzzah! Tenfold Huzzah!

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The King's Ohio Rifles

Posted December 10 into Books by John Birmingham

Jason Lambright has released an extract from the draft of the alt history novel he's been working on. THE KING'S OHIO RIFLES. It's set in a WW1 where the US is still part of the British Empire.

Whole thing is here.

Elizabeth Moore was bumping along the road to Binche, she had an ambulance full of wounded. One of the men was sobbing, she took deep drags on her harsh cigarette.

The scene back in Thuin was bedlam, there were so damn many hurt and maimed men waiting to be evacuated, and so few ambulances and medical staff. The loading had been done to the soundtrack of heavy artillery fire, she had sat in her seat and watched as a round pulverized one of the few intact brick houses left.

It was damned unhealthy.

As she drove along the pitch-black road with her wholly inadequate blackout lights, she knew that this road was dangerous as hell, too. She had to constantly make her way around craters and other debris, she feared getting stuck as she navigated through cow pastures.

As usual, the lamentations of the men in the back stretched her nerves tight. And they were like piano strings tonight. The word she had received back at the aid station in Thuin was bleak, the Germans were breaking through along the line and they weren’t taking prisoners.

What would they do to her, she wondered, if captured? Probably something very unpleasant. She was in a grey area. Not really Army, not really a civilian, and definitely a woman. She really didn’t want to find out. When she heard about the German no-prisoners threat, she believed it. She didn’t intend to be captured, and she took a few measures to prevent rape followed by death.

She dodged a corpse. Her expert eye judged it fairly fresh one, allied. She drew in hard on her cigarette, she was glad she had spotted the dead man in time. Elizabeth hated the squishy feel beneath her wheels.

Some figures loomed out of the darkness. Maybe the mates of the dead man, she thought. She peered, she squinted. The blackout lights weren’t helping her much, and these buggers weren’t clearing off of the road. Her lips pressed into a thin line. Stupid gits. She flicked her cigarette out of the cab and drew a breath. She was going to give these idiots a real tongue-lashing.

At the precise moment that she was about to yell, her shout died frozen in her throat. Her blood ran cold, a bolt of lightning-like adrenaline shot through her body from head to toe.

Germans.

6 Responses to ‘The King's Ohio Rifles’

Bondiboy66 is gonna tell you...

Posted December 10
Totally looking forward to reading the whole story!

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she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted December 10
So, SOOOO good :D

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted December 12
i think i must be tired. Or just distracted from smoking a pack of bushies (2million hectares of prime aussie bush in every breath) a day without a filter. I kept looking at the title and thinking it said Oreo and then my brain going off on a tangent that companies were like monarchies and had armies . . . . yeah maybe too many oreo's for lunch. Actually that rings a bell - was it Kim Stanley Robinsons Mars books that had that idea that countries didn't rule themselves but companies carved up the earth?

she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted December 12
Look I am on board for the King's Oreo Rifles, they sound delicious

jl puts forth...

Posted December 12
Yeah. I wonder if they come as deep fried or chocolate covered? Me, as a kid I always liked pulling them apart and licking out the filling.

she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted December 13
Surely pulling them apart and licking out the filling is the ONLY way to eat an Oreo?

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The sci fi machinery of publishing

Posted August 22 into Books by John Birmingham

Jason Lambright has a really lovely piece over at his Interstelar Valley blog pondering the wonder that is the production and release of a book...

A book launch by a major publisher is an astonishing display of logistics, marketing, programming, and execution.

As I stood in the little book store thousands of miles away from the author, these thoughts went through my head. I picked up a copy, leafed through it, and carried it to the register. It seemed that I wanted to purchase another hardcopy as a gift to my old Team Sergeant, so this book, copy XXXX of who knows how many thousand, left the store with me.

It rode on the back seat of my car. As I drove, I marveled at all the threads that came together to make the book’s journey complete. Had the idea to write this article, put the book in front of some Indian corn and took a picture. Sent the picture via my phone to the computer. This is another technological marvel that we take for granted.

Totally worth a read at the Valley.

2 Responses to ‘The sci fi machinery of publishing’

she_jedi reckons...

Posted August 22
That was a really lovely piece, I enjoyed reading that.


However, is Jay Lambright mostly sensible space tourist related in any way to Jason Lambright author? :)

jl reckons...

Posted August 22
Maybe. If so, I wear my redshirt with pride.

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