Friday, 29 January 2016

Mountains vs Molehills

Checking In

Dear lovely reader,

This is my first post in over two months. And it will quite possibly be my last.

Somewhat dramatic, I know. Let me explain.


The last few years have been full of personal ups and downs (clichéd, I know. Sorry). I'll not bore you with the details, but in 2013 I suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of a really shitty job experience. Ever since then I've struggled with anxiety and depression. To paint a picture for those lucky enough to have never experienced it: it's like being weighed down with a heavy, sodden, stinking duvet (one that even the world's most desperate hobo would eschew). This duvet smothers you a little bit at a time, gradually snuffing out those gorgeous but struggling twin fires of imagination and positivity. And the duvet goes everywhere with you. It drags you down, leaking its filthy grey tendrils into everything around you until there is nothing but the duvet, until you begin to believe that it would be easier for everyone if you just hid yourself away and stayed underneath it forever.

Basically, it's shit.

For me the hardest part is that it's so unpredictable. It waxes and wanes, seemingly without rhyme or reason. But it's always there. It's always lurking, waiting to ruin a happy occasion, to spoil a perfectly lovely weekend, or to just make a bad day even worse. I've been on medication to help manage my symptoms ever since I succumbed to a particularly bad episode in the middle of last year. Thankfully, it seems to work, if only for most of the time. And so I'm able to maintain some semblance of normality, to project confidence and positivity even on those days when it really hurts, those days when just getting out of bed is the hardest thing in the world. 

I tell you this partly out of selfish indulgence (this is already proving to be way more cathartic than 90% of my counselling experiences); partly out of a desire to be open and honest (until very recently no one but my close family knew about any of this); but, mostly, I just want to give a bit of context. To explain why much of the following stuff - which, to many people, would seem to be nothing more than me making a mountain out of a molehill - is so important to me.


So. Late last year. I had writing goals. I had reading goals. In short: I had BIG plans. But a lingering physical illness subtly exacerbated my mental health issues, and without even realising how I'd got there I found myself partway under the dreaded Duvet. And so, when all my carefully laid plans didn't quite go to, er, plan, I found myself sinking further and further beneath that mouldy old cold duvet, where I silently dwelt on everything I hadn't managed to achieve.

The three that bothered me the most were these:

  1. I failed to read any books.
  2. I failed to review any books.
  3. I failed to write any books. (Which at that point meant that I failed NaNoWriMo. Utterly.)

It'd been going so well, too. Earlier in 2015 I wrote my first ever short story (or novelette, if you will). This is a big deal for me, because it's the first piece of fiction I've EVER finished writing. Not only that, but I managed it only a short time after crawling out from beneath the aforementioned Duvet of Mid-2015. I was pretty damn proud of it, if I'm honest. I still am.

Anyway. Still flushed with my sense of achievement, I re-visited the story a couple of months later; and after a couple of edits (along with an embarrassingly haphazard attempt at designing my own cover) I stuck it on Amazon at the cheapest price possible. Far from wanting to make money, I was merely hoping to reap as much feedback as I could manage in time for my next project: NaNoWriMo '16.

So I set up a free promotion. I spammed social media with posts where I practically pleaded with friends, family and strangers alike to download my book and - most importantly - to let me know what they thought of it. (I know, I know: sound marketing strategy, eh?)

And . . . meh. Yes, friends and family (and strangers) liked and shared my posts (for which I'm incredibly grateful), and yes, a fair few of them downloaded my story. And yes, I ended up with three awesome reviews on Amazon from three awesomely cool people (none of whom are family members, by the way. In fact, I've never actually met any of them in person).

But despite this my head kept telling me that nobody cared. My head kept telling me that I hadn't really achieved anything, and that publishing one crappy novelette that nobody wanted to actually read did not by any stretch of the imagination make me a writer.

Which put something of a dampener on my motivation for the following month.

I'd already spent a good few weeks in the run-up to NaNo writing notes and getting ready to begin my novel (the bones of which have existed since late 2013). I planned, plotted, prepared; I even told the whole world that I was participating.

As I said, it was going so well.


Until November. I managed barely half of the daily word count target on November 1st, and half that again on November 2nd. And by November 3rd? Nope, I was done with that shit. Done with staring at my meticulously-organised notes containing thousands and thousands of words, ideas, character profiles, and backstory . . . and, more than anything, I was done with feeling like crap as I scrolled past the celebratory word count updates that had begun to flood my Twitter feed.

So I gave up. I deleted my NaNo account. I said to myself, again: 'What's the point? No one wants to read my stuff anyway'.
It was a real downer for me. It shouldn't have been. But it was.


So I stopped reading, I stopped writing reviews, and I stopped bothering to maintain this blog. I felt guilty for not keeping up to date with the awesome bloggers I used to follow, and even more guilty for my total lack of motivation in responding to comments and messages on my own blog and social media profiles.

But then something interesting happened. Around this time, I had my first ever experience in beta reading, which unexpectedly skewed my already negative attitude to my own writing. I found that beta reading was - and continues to be - an awesome and educational experience; however, I also found it strangely . . . demoralising. Despite the fact that the story I was reading was (naturally) a bit rough around the edges, I found myself enjoying it as much as I might enjoy any one of the books on my shelves. And yet, its author had confessed to making much of it up as he goes along! So I found myself thinking, more and more: how can I possibly hope to match this?

It took me a while before I realised.

I don't have to match anything.

I don't have to match anyone.

The only expectations I have to live up to are mine.

One person's molehill is another person's mountain. And every mountain climbed is a victory.

Obviously I'm not entirely done with needing the approval - hell, even just the acknowledgement - of others in order to feel like what I'm doing has any sort of worth . . . and I probably never will be. But since I've begun to get my head back under control - and, most importantly, back out from beneath that smelly grey Duvet - I've been able to (almost) let go of my failures, and focus instead on the things I've been getting right.


So, to counter the failures I mentioned earlier, here are three things I absolutely WIN at:

  1. Finally designing a decent(ish) cover for my novelette, as well as uploading it to Kobo and Nook in addition to Amazon.
  2. Getting the hang of Scrivener and using it to effectively organise multiple writing projects and notes. (Seriously, it's awesome.)
  3. Making new friends via social media.

Number three is by far the most important. I've made a LOT of online acquaintances in the 2+ years I've been blogging, and have been incredibly lucky in finding a few who are something really special. Through these I now feel part of what I like to tentatively refer to as my very own little writing circle, which has helped immeasurably with both my motivation and positivity. These lovely folks continue to offer nothing but honesty, humour and - above all - encouragement. And all without having met me in person.


It's thanks to this little circle of support - not to mention my ridiculously patient and doting husband - that I've been so productive during the last couple of weeks, finishing two small writing projects and beginning another. Writing no longer feels like a chore, and the words have been flowing much more freely as a result. I still feel bugged by my lack of reading progress, but maybe if I take the same approach then that too will come back to me in time.

With that in mind, I think it's time for the sun to set on The Half-Strung Harp. Much as I absolutely LOVE reviewing, the pressure of thinking I need to post something (and the guilt that plagues me when I fall behind) just isn't working for me any more.

I want to thank all the publishers, agents and authors who have been kind enough to engage with me. And an even bigger thank you to the awesome bloggers who have regularly commented on here over the last two years: Nathan and Pauline (Fantasy Review Barn); Mogsy, Wendy and Tiara (The Bibliosanctum); Bob (Beauty in Ruins); Kaja (Of Dragons and Hearts); Lynn (Lynn's Books); Rabindranauth (Drunken Dragon Reviews); Danya (Fine Print); Lisa (Tenacious Reader); Wendell (Bookwraiths); and many others.

Naturally, I'll still be around on Twitter and Facebook. And I'll still post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads; they just won't be as long or as detailed (or as prolific) as the ones I've previously written and published here. (Well, probably.)

Checking Out

On that note, I'll say goodbye. Thanks to all who've helped me climb this mountain. I'm off now to go and tackle a new one.

See you at the top.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Review: 'Pet Sematary' by Stephen King

The house looked right, felt right to Dr Louis Creed.

Rambling, old, unsmart and comfortable. A place where the family could settle; the children grow and play and explore. The rolling hills and meadows of Maine seemed a world away from the fume-choked dangers of Chicago.

Only the occasional big truck out on the two-lane highway, grinding up through the gears, hammering down the long gradients, growled out an intrusive threat.

But behind the house and far away from the road: that was safe. Just a carefully cleared path up into the woods where generations of local children have processed with the solemn innocence of the young, taking with them their dear departed pets for burial.

A sad place maybe, but safe. Surely a safe place. Not a place to seep into your dreams, to wake you, sweating with fear and foreboding . . .

Pet Sematary was one of the first 'adult' books I ever read. I must've been about thirteen years old when I got a bit tired of constantly re-reading Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, and Sabriel, and decided to go trawling my dad's bookshelves for something new. Of all the books in his modest collection (mostly Stephen King and James Herbert) I went with this one simply because of the title: not only does it have the word 'pet' in it (I've always been an animal-lover) but also the word 'sematary', intriguingly misspelt (yeah, I've also always been fairly morbid . . . and a spelling Nazi to boot).

It's fair to say that back then I was impressed by my first foray into the world of grown-up horror fiction; I must have been, given that I quickly moved on to devour some of the other books my dad had on offer. Re-reading Pet Sematary now - fifteen years or so since that first time, dear god I feel OLD - I found it just as enjoyable, yet can also appreciate just how much of it must have gone right over my head when I read it as a kid.

An example of this is the foreshadowing. Alright, so this time I had the advantage of a fairly solid recollection of most of the novel's key events, but still. So many things, both big and small - dreams, casual one-liners, omens and relentless symbolism throughout - conspire to make the story feel much more thrilling, and somehow much more than just the sum of its parts.

Another thing that took me by surprise is the sheer sense of tragedy that permeates the story right from the beginning. From a horrific death on protagonist Louis Creed's first day at work, along with both of his children suffering minor injuries on their first day in their new house, to his wife's traumatic past, and right up to the key events of the story, the whole thing is a rockslide of tragedy and pathos, gaining in momentum and horror as the story progresses. Although a bit slow to start, and with some relatively uneventful chapters throughout, I felt utterly compelled to read the last 150 pages or so all in one sitting.

Throw in creepy nightmares and disturbing local history, casual references to local superstitions and universal zombie-lore, gore-laden descriptions and settings that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end . . . yep, Pet Sematary is one hell of a horror story.


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Review: 'Best Served Cold' by Joe Abercrombie

Springtime in Styria. And that means war.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso's employ, it's a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular - a shade too popular for her employer's taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto's reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

Her allies include Styria's least reliable drunkard, Styria's most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that's all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started...

Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

Damn, but I’d forgotten how bloody awesome this book is. Darker, bloodier and even more entertaining than Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, Best Served Cold is the ultimate tale of revenge, a tale packed with pain, fury and absurdity from its spectacular opening sequence to its final poignant pages.
The story is of course set in the world of First Law, though several years after the events of the original trilogy. Here we are introduced to the ‘exotic’ land of Styria, a fractured continent hosting a decades-long civil war at a time commonly referred to as the Years of Blood. Although Best Served Cold could probably be read as a standalone story, the sheer amount of references to the original trilogy that it contains – not to mention cameo appearances from several characters – means that those already familiar with the events of First Law will likely enjoy it considerably more than those new to Abercrombie’s world.
The premise of Best Served Cold is simple: heroine is betrayed - heroine gets back up again - heroine sets out to get revenge. And at first it really is that simple. Monza Murcatto, the infamous Butcher of Caprile, sets her sights on seven enemies, and vows to do anything she needs to in order to see them all dead. Recruiting a merry band of thugs – including a poisoner, a Northman and a torturer – she embarks on her glorious mission. But perhaps revenge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Perhaps the people she trusts are the ones holding the knives . . . and perhaps Monza herself isn’t quite everything she appears to be.
Best Served Cold is Abercrombie’s absurd and bloody take on the otherwise ordinary revenge trope: absurd because of its eclectic mix of characters, and bloody because of the chaos they cause. But it’s also an insanely fun and entertaining journey, with the plot taking something of a backseat to colourful characters who gradually reveal themselves to be so much more than the exaggerated caricatures they first appear to be. The world in which they live is equally colourful, with vicious politics and treacherous leaders continually influencing critical events. The settings in particular are fantastically vivid and immersive: even now I can clearly visualise every bloody sunset, picture every pane of glass in the roof of the Banking House of Valint and Balk, startle at the canal boats looming out of the fog in gloomy Sipani and wonder at the majesty of impregnable Fontezarmo. Though Styria is certainly not a place anyone in their right mind would choose to live, I found I could picture its various regions just as vividly as if I’d actually been there.
Although often dark and suffused with bleakness, Best Served Cold is also frequently hilarious, particularly those chapters told from the viewpoints of Nicomo Cosca and Castor Morveer. Ironic observations, humorous dialogue, self-deprecating comments and hilariously inappropriate remarks are particular specialties of Abercrombie’s, and Best Served Cold abounds with all of them. Abercrombie cleverly blends grit and gore with laughter and levity, all of which conspire to create a perfectly dark, gritty tale of revenge and ruin. This is Abercrombie at his absolute best.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Review: 'A Natural History of Dragons' by Marie Brennan

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.


I’ve got nothing against dragons, especially when they play such a vital part in so many awesome fantasy series. After all, dragons are integral to the whole mythos of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen; dragons feature prominently in such celebrated fantasy works as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Cycle; and of course the entire plot of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit couldn’t have existed without that most iconic of dragons: the mighty Smaug.

This is all well and good; I’ve no objection to a few dragons here and there so long as they’re serving some kind of function within the story, be it as an awesome plot device or as a way of setting the scene. But when their presence in a novel seems to serve no other purpose than just sort of existing . . . well, that’s when dragons start to feel kind of stale. And ‘stale’ is not a word that should be used when referring to giant flying monsters.

And this is where the first of the Memoirs by Lady Trent makes its grand entrance. Here, Marie Brennan has accomplished something extraordinary: she has made dragons fresh and exciting again, no easy feat in today’s competitive and draconian-saturated SFF market. Remember when you first discovered fantasy, and felt that awesome thrill of wonder and possibility? A Natural History of Dragons takes us back to that giddy moment through the wonderful character of Isabella, and the captivating tale of her childhood passion for dragons.

Unlike so many modern female fantasy protagonists – who are often termed ‘strong’ characters as a result of their skills in either weaponry or manipulation – Isabella is strong in that she remains true to her own nature in the face of her male-dominated surroundings. Despite her outwardly ‘outrageous’ behaviour, Isabella retains her girlish charm and naïveté; she never compromises her femininity, in spite of her ongoing struggle against the social restrictions of a strictly patriarchal society; and most importantly of all, she continues to cling to her lifelong passion – the study of dragons – even when the pursuit of this passion seems like an impossible dream. She is, quite simply, a hugely likeable and sympathetic protagonist. Furthermore, Brennan’s narrative voice is beautifully elegant and consistently engaging. In fact, the entire novel is suffused with the observant wit and wry humour of Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, with the fantastical subject matter providing an intriguing vehicle through which the author probes issues of class, gender and morality – though it never once sounds preachy.

Add to all this a delightful cast of secondary characters, continually subtle yet vivid settings – particularly the eastern-European-esque wilderness of Vystrana - and frequent injections of self-deprecating humour, and you have the essence of Marie Brennan’s wonderful tale. A Natural History of Dragons is always engaging and entirely charming, and abounds with moments of tension, humour and emotion. Isabella may just be my new hero, and the Memoirs by Lady Trent my new favourite series.



Saturday, 3 October 2015

Review: 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' by J.K. Rowling

The summer holidays are dragging on and Harry Potter can't wait for the start of the school year. It is his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and there are spells to be learnt and (unluckily) Potions and Divination lessons to be attended. But Harry can't know that the atmosphere is darkening around him, and his worst enemy is preparing a fate that it seems will be inescapable...

As I opened my oft-read, yellowed and rather battered hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I felt a thrill of excitement. As testified by its well-read condition (the corners are dog-eared, and the cover is held together with liberal amounts of sticky tape) this was one of my favourite books as a teenager. In fact, the only book I liked better back then was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. So it was with much excitement – and some trepidation – that I returned to it now. Would it be as good as I remembered? Or would it disappoint me like its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?

Reading Goblet of Fire felt like sinking down into a cosy and long-forgotten armchair, one that is loved for its familiarly threadbare exterior as much as for its comfort. From the first page until the very last I was enveloped in nostalgia, and charmed anew by the easy prose and lightly humorous tone that suffuses so much of this entire series. Furthermore, Goblet of Fire is the first Potter book to really start to explore social issues like class and racism (it’s been so long since I read the book I’d almost totally forgotten about S.P.E.W!), and also to introduce lots of new characters and concepts. After reading Prisoner of Azkaban I realised that that the series was beginning to feel kind of stale – after all, how much can you really do with just classrooms and Quidditch? – but this is remedied in Goblet of Fire, which is simply packed with tons of new stuff: foreign wizards, new students, exciting events, and more. From the very first chapter it feels different from the previous books: the Quidditch World Cup is not only fun to read about but also grants us an extended change of scenery from the usual Privet Drive/Hogwarts fare. The pacing is also new and different, with the Triwizard tasks providing exciting mini-climaxes at key points in the story. The whole book just feels fresh, yet also much more mature than each of the previous instalments.

Much as I loved Goblet of Fire I have to say I felt it outstayed its welcome towards the end, largely due to the pages and pages (and pages) of anticlimactic exposition. I found myself skimming the long, wordy monologues in the final few chapters, wherein certain characters take the opportunity to drone on about what feels like their entire life story. The last few chapters are essentially one long infodump, which is a real shame considering that the previous events are so exciting. Still, the actual main event is just as chillingly awesome as I remembered, and it’s quite possible that it’s only my total over-familiarity with the story that made the explanations seem dull.

Re-reading the books as an adult is something of an exercise in cynicism. All the way through Goblet of Fire I found myself asking questions such as: why does Harry *have* to compete in the Triwizard Tournament? What will happen if he doesn’t? And what exactly do the students from the other schools do during the months between tasks? Why couldn’t they go home and just come back again when they need to? Would Krum really miss Hermione more than his own parents? Really? And if Moody can see Harry’s socks through his robes, doesn’t that mean he can also see . . . everything else? (Parvati’s got a point: “that eye shouldn’t be allowed!”) Why isn’t Veritaserum used at criminal trials? How the hell was Karkaroff allowed to become headmaster of a school? Don’t they have a wizarding equivalent of a CRB check? Oh yeah, and how did they swap the dragons over so quickly during the first task? And what was the point of having everyone watching the second task when it was entirely underwater? Why can wizards arrive at Hogwarts via Portkey when they’re unable to use other methods like Apparition? And why on earth would that Portkey have been enchanted to return to Hogwarts? And most of all, why doesn’t any of this stuff stop me from thoroughly enjoying these books???


Saturday, 26 September 2015

Review: 'Last Argument of Kings' by Joe Abercrombie


The end is coming. Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but it's going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there's only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. It's past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no one is safe, and no one can be trusted. His days with a sword are far behind him. It's a good thing blackmail, threats and torture still work well enough.

Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is far too painful, and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too, and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.

While the King of the Union lies on his deathbed, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is falling across the very heart of the Union. The First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, as he always does. But there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, after all, than to break the First Law...

 I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Logen Ninefingers and Sand dan Glokta are two of my favourite fictional characters ever, and re-reading the third instalment of the First Law trilogy has firmly cemented my opinion. Glokta’s sardonic internal monologues are a continual source of entertainment, and he continues to shine as a despicable yet pitiable anti-hero; while Logen’s increasingly difficult struggle against his own nature provides a sympathetic and captivating counterpoint to Glokta’s dry wit. Almost as enthralling are Jezal dan Luthar and Major West, each of whom are interesting, sympathetic and likeable in different ways; and of course let’s not forget the jewel that is Ardee West. As always the dialogue is superb, totally engaging and frequently funny, and Abercrombie has an incredible knack of conveying a huge amount of character information through just one or two lines of conversation.
So, as far as characters go, Last Argument of Kings is almost faultless. But is the plot up to scratch? I said in my reviews of The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged that, although entertaining, both books were considerably lacking in action. Not so with Last Argument. Here, everything set up during the first two books finally – finally! – comes to a head. In short: stuff happens. And it’s awesome.
Gone is the endless travelling; gone is the continual bickering between characters. We’re no longer being prepared for huge events: we’re being thrust into the centre of them. Goodbye setup, hello payoff! Last Argument is full to the brim with spectacular set pieces, bloody battles and malevolent magic, not to mention a plot twist or three. Having read the book before, albeit several years ago, I was able to fully appreciate the way the final events were set up: the pacing is outstanding, and if anything I enjoyed the twists even more because this time I was able to spot all the little clues and hints leading up to them.
I’ve said before that Abercrombie is a master at pulling the rug out from beneath us, and has frequently shown a fondness for manipulating characters and events in ways that totally shock (and sometimes outrage) his readers; Last Argument is the first, and perhaps finest, example of his skill at doing this. Readers of the First Law trilogy will have known from the beginning that none of the protagonists are squeaky-clean (far from it!); in fact, pretty much every single character we meet is highly flawed in some way or another. However, we as readers like to believe that we know exactly who is a ‘goodie’ and who is a ‘baddie’ . . . and this is the point where Abercrombie kicks us where it really hurts. Last Argument makes it agonisingly obvious that the characters we all know, and love, and root for . . . are actually rather despicable. And vice versa: those characters we love to hate may indeed be better human beings than those we previously identified with the most. In short, our heroic protagonists are, in fact, pitiful wretches, with one or two who could accurately be labelled as villains.
Last Argument is where Abercrombie really begins to show his (rather gloomy) fascination with the futility of attempting to change one’s nature, a theme continued in Best Served Cold. It makes for a truly engaging and captivating read – as long as you’re not too bothered about happy endings, of course. Abercrombie characteristically ensures that not everyone gets what they deserve: he rewards the ruthless, screws over the virtuous, and even sends a fair few unlucky ones back to the mud.
Revisiting the original First Law trilogy has been insanely enjoyable. I actually felt kind of sad as I neared the end of this Last Argument re-read – as though I was saying farewell to old friends, despite knowing that a few of them reappear in later books. Abercrombie's latest project is a collection of short stories set in the world of First Law, which is bound to be completely awesome, and I already can't wait to be reacquainted with some of my old favourites.