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I’ve been following Sam Sykes on twitter for a while, and given my affinity for both well-crafted fantasy worlds and action-adventure stories, it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy of The City Stained Red, the first book in Sam’s Bring Down Heaven series.

At almost 650 pages, The City Stained Red is a doorstopper of a book, but a fast, fun, vicious read. The book follows Lenk, an adventurer that some readers may recognize from Sykes’ previous series, The Aeon’s Gate Trilogy (though reading that series first is by no means a prerequisite for Bring Down Heaven). Lenk has finally decided that he’s done with killing, and wants to put aside his sword and pick up what he believes will be a normal life in the trade hub city of Cier’Djall. He and his friends, Denaos the thief, young wizard Dreadaeleon, khoshicht (Sykes’ clever take on elves) archer Kataria, healer/priestess Asper, and dragonman Gariath have killed scores of people and monsters. With the money owed to them for their services, they could happily retire from their violent lives. However, the man who owes them is not so easily found.

Cier’Djall is a massive, sprawling city, and the wealthy who rule over it have made their gold by selling silk produced by enormous spiders. However, the beautiful silk-draped spire that towers over the city leaves long shadows. In darker corners of the city, some of the poor are disappearing, and the ruling fashas may be to blame. Two rival churches seek to position their armies within the city, and tensions are running high as negotiations between them loom. Then, there’s the small matter of the local thieves guild and their ongoing conflict with a new but powerful cult that claims to have demons backing them. This is reality in the city where Lenk hopes to find Miron Evenhands, the priest at whose behest they have been doing what they do best. Cier’Djall is a bonfire piled high, drenched in oil, and awaiting a spark, and Lenk and his friends are unwittingly bringing lit torches through the gates.

The City Stained Red takes a page from A Song of Ice and Fire by presenting chapters from the perspectives of each member of Lenk’s band of adventurers. After arriving in Cier’Djall, they split up to try to located Miron, each using their unique skills and connections to make their way through the city. Denaos has connections from his previous life in the thieves guild, the Jackals. Dreadaeleon seeks the assistance of the Venarium, the wizard’s alliance. Asper, a follower of the same church as Miron, travels to the various temples in the city. Kataria finds herself in Shichttown, a slum where the non-humans try to live out of the way of the fiercely racist upper class. Gariath attempts to gather information from another dragonman who works as a bodyguard for one of the fashsas. Lenk is trying to cope with the fact that his pursuit of retirement may lose him the closest thing he’s ever known to a family. None of them are remotely ready for what they find.

After a footwar between the Jackals and the Khovura cult spills from the back alleys into the streets, every faction with an interest in controlling the silk trade comes out of their corners swinging, and Lenk and company can do little more than hope to survive.

I absolutely loved this book. Sykes blends dark humor and trope deconstruction beautifully. I’m already reading the sequel, The Mortal Tally, because I couldn’t wait to see what happens to these folks next. Reading about these characters is like watching my college Dungeons and Dragons group in action. There’s violence and bloodshed, but also fervent emotion. It’s a wonderful thing.

Edit: As of 7/26/16, a copy of this review can also be found here and here.

It’s National Library Week! In fact, today is National Library Workers Day.

That’s right, folks. It’s that time of year again. In celebration, I’m working 40 hours!

Well, I’m doing a few other things, too. It’s not just about being here for the community. As part of that, last week I attended my first ever library conference, PLA 2016. It was an absolutely incredible experience. PLA is held every other year, and by sheer luck, I was given permission to attend for the opening of the exhibits last Wednesday.

It’s a short drive to Denver. I got to the conference about an hour ahead of the exhibit hall opening, and wandered the convention center, marvelling at how weird it was to see the place devoid of cosplayers (since the last time I’d been there was Denver Comic Con in 2013). I watched the bustle of downtown Denver from a balcony, read some Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and waited as patiently as possible for the doors to open.

When 3:30 finally arrived, I entered the exhibit hall and was blown away by the sheer number of vendors on site. Book distributors Baker & Taylor and Ingram; publishers Hachette, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Dorling Kindersley; library service providers Overdrive and Mango… I spent three hours wandering the rows, chatting with representatives of companies like Lulzbot. I got to meet people from libraries around the country. I snagged some ARCs from publishers (stay tuned for some reviews!), got a free mango smoothie from the folks at Mango Languages, and chatted with some library school representatives about my desire to pursue my masters degree. I got to demo some software, play a game of Super Mario Bros. using a system of fruits and circuits as a controller, and drive a BB-8 Sphero toy around. I saw floor models of furniture designed for library use and new construction toys for kids. But the best thing that I saw at the entire conference? People like me. Young people who are just as enthusiastic about libraries as any generation before. People who want to challenge the stereotypes of libraries and librarians alike. People who are eager to spread their knowledge of and passion for libraries around the country and the world.

The future of libraries is bright and varied, folks. Please continue to support yours.

“It’s still National Library Week. You should be especially nice to a librarian today, or tomorrow. Sometime this week, anyway. Probably the librarians would like tea. Or chocolates. Or a reliable source of funding.”
Neil Gaiman

Go where there is no map.
Venture bravely into the
Lands that are yet unknown.
There be monsters, aye, but
There be heroes to slay them.

Go where there is no map.
Wander beyond the familiar
And find the strange and new.
You cannot be lost somewhere
If no one knows the way.

Go where there is no map.
Journey there on your own,
Or with a good friend.
You may be uncertain, aye,
But courage will find you.

Go where there is no map.
Stray from the paths you
Have known since your youth.
Adventure awaits everyone
If they start looking for it.

Go where there is no map.
Take whatever transportation
You find. Feet, bike, jet, train.
The only way to experience
This world is to see it.

Go where there is no map.
Flee the mundane and go
Where your heart takes you.
It is better than any cartographer’s
Work in your life’s quest.

Go where there is no map.
Leave footprints where none
Have ever been, nor will be again.
Blaze your trail and you
Will not be forgotten.

Go where there is no map.
The world you know is
Changing, and it will never cease.
Be willing to make mistakes
On each new road.

Go where there is no map.
No street sign, no satellite.
Be bold and do not falter.
This place is new, beginning
Here is the only thing to do.

Go where there is no map.
Take courage from all you
See and do. Become yourself.
With every dawn, you’ll see
New opportunities.

Go where there is no map.
Venture bravely into the
Lands that are yet unknown.
There be monsters, aye, but
Now you are the hero.

There’s no sense trying to hide the fact that I really enjoy visiting cemeteries. It’s something that’s been a hobby of mine for years now, probably starting with the fact that there was a small graveyard about a mile from my childhood home. There’s something beautiful and tranquil about wandering from stone to stone, finding names you know, and relishing our mortality. Now personally, I’m all for cremation for myself when I go, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the solemnity of the final resting place of others.

There’s an absolutely gorgeous cemetery about ten minutes away from my apartment, and I decided it was high time I took a trip to see what I could find. I was not disappointed. I roamed the grounds for nearly an hour, listening to the rain-like sounds of the leaves falling in the breeze, snapping photos with my phone whenever something caught my eye. Some of my favorites are here.

The most fitting thing I've ever found on a headstone.

The most fitting thing I’ve ever found on a headstone.

Meanwhile, near the entrance...

Meanwhile, near the entrance…

Beautiful view of Pikes Peak

Beautiful view of Pikes Peak

Sad but beautiful.

Sad but beautiful.

The way out.

The way out.

 

 

 

 

 

This week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge word was “band.” This is “Travelers.”

I wrapped my cloak tightly around me as the breeze threatened the wanderer’s attempts to maintain a fire. He laughed, shifting into position to block the wind as he added more kindling.

“You know,” he said, “you’re not doing too well at this whole adventuring thing.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked, indignant. “After all, you were the one who was walking through the desert at mid-day with nothing in your waterskin.”

“Oh, sure, you’ve got supplies. I saw them. But have you got a weapon?”

I stared blankly at the man. The fire crackled as he stoked it.

“Of course I’ve got a weapon. I’m not about to go away from the city without something to defend myself.”

“Some raggedy stick?”

I clutched my staff. “They’re the weapon of my order. We train with them from the time we’re able to walk. If I wanted to, I could kill you seven different ways with it before you could shout for help.” I found myself briefly wishing that I’d never stopped to help him.

“My blade could slice it in two before you noticed, boy. Case in point.” He glanced at my neck, and I followed his eyes down. A sword extended from his hand to my throat, the blade a hair’s breadth away. “But I think,” he went on, his eyes flicking back up to my shoulder, “that it would be for our mutual benefit to band together. At least until we cross the Sand Sea.”

“…”

“Don’t be scared of me, boy. It’s just that there are things out there in the dark, and it doesn’t seem that you can see them. Otherwise you’d have noticed…HIM!”

I felt the blood dripping down my arm as the wanderer’s sword flew from my neck and pierced something behind me.

“A…agreed…” I looked down at the bleeding creature.

“You and me, kid. We’ll do okay.”

“I hope so.”

“You’ve got supplies. I can see these things. It’ll be fine.”

The wanderer stoked the fire.

Last week I wrote that I had made a trip to Denver to purchase a copy of Neil Gaiman’s new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. On Tuesday, I returned to Denver with my new book (which I had just finished) and my copy of The Annotated Sandman Volume One tucked safely away in my messenger bag. Along with two of our other friends, V and I trekked down the 16th Street Mall to the Lodo Tattered Cover and joined the queue.

While we arrived too late to be seated in the room where Neil was speaking, we were able to find space on the carpet of the second floor, where the audio was being broadcast over the sound system. We got to listen to him read an excerpt from his new book (he also reads the audio version, and given the autobiographical tones, no one else could have) and answer a handful of questions from the audience. After describing his life as “realism splashed with the supernatural,” it was time for the signature line to form.

First up, the new book.

First up, the new book.

The remarkable Neil Gaiman in mid-signature.

The remarkable Neil Gaiman in mid-signature.

And finally, a close-up of the personalized signature.

And finally, a close-up of the personalized signature.

There is no way to accurately state how awesome this entire experience was. Mr. Gaiman was polite, professional, and incredibly enthusiastic to see all of us, despite the exhausting touring schedule. I, for one, cannot express my gratitude.

About two weeks ago, I was approached by a coworker to craft the opening lines to a collaborative story that would be taking place in my library’s lobby. The starting words I wrote were posted on a large paper tablet on an easel. Patrons are free to come up and add a sentence to continue the narrative. As of this morning, we’re onto the fifth page It’s been an intriguing community effort, and I will try to post the whole thing once it is done. For now, however, here are the first one hundred words. I was given two themes to weave into this intro, summer and the library. This is what I wrote.

* * * * * *

The summer sun was hanging low in the sky, lazily dropping toward mountains. A light breeze carried a leaf from behind me and whisked it across my path before dropping it to the ground. I could still hear the laughter of the children playing games in the park I’d passed a few minutes before, mixed with yells that the ground was lava. I paused briefly to look toward my destination. The library stood tall amid the growing shadows, as if it were waiting for my arrival. I shivered in anticipation and approached the entryway, placing my hand on the door.

* * * * * *

I can’t wait to see where they go with this one.

Have you ever been a tourist in your own town? It’s amazing what a slight shift in perception can do for you. For example, I’ve been living in Colorado Springs for the last six years. In that time, I’ve done almost none of the cool stuff that visitors do. Why? Because it’s been just me.

In the last two weeks, however, I’ve been changing that. When my sister was in town, I finally took the opportunity to visit Garden of the Gods. Ever been there? I lived down the street from there for four years and never went. Four years. There’s no price for admission, and it’s open almost all day every day. Over Labor Day, my parents were in town, and we drove up Pikes Peak. I’m a Colorado native, and I didn’t go up my first 14er (mountain with a summit altitude of over 14,000 feet) until a few days ago. I feel a little ridiculous, but simultaneously accomplished. There’s nothing to give you perspective like the view from 14,110 feet. Anyway, dizzying vistas aside, it’s quite inspiring to have made the ascent. Luckily, I have just the outlet for this. Time to write.