See what happens when you dont pay...

Profound apologies. I've put up a couple of static pages so anybody browsing my blog can find my books more easily. Sadly, Blogger is messing around something aweful and I am havving enormous fun making changes only to find they have been ignored or - worse - something else entirely different was done.

Be nice while I bang my head against this particular wall

(And yes, I know I should hire a web designer and use something decent like wordpress)

(Update: And yes, I just figured out it would be much easier to just tap on the 'remove formatting' button and start again rather than trying to untangle automatically generated html)


See what you miss when you dont pay attention?

Lovely surprise review of White Magic from Joanne Hall , author of Spark and Carousel and the 'Art of Forgetting' duology 

The second volume in the Warrior Stone series sees young heroine Claire Stone firmly established as a Warrior in Underland, a strange, steampunky alternate London that forms the only line of defence between the Real, the human world, and the incursions of the soul-stealing, shapeshifting Morphs from the mysterious “Below”. She has formed a tentative friendship with Grenlik engineer Tolks, who has in his possession a mysterious cube which he is trying to track down the missing elements of to make it work, while Claire is trying to master her growing magical abilities. But there are sinister elements at work, in a conspiracy that extends to the very top of Underland and beyond, and all too soon Claire finds herself isolated and in deeper trouble than she ever has been in her life.
We learn more about Claire this time round, wincing along at her fumbling teenage relationships, her struggles at school, though this second volume is rooted more firmly in the Underland, and when the action swings back to the Real it takes a very dark turn indeed, and Claire is forced to make some harsh choices.
It’s quite definitely the middle volume in a trilogy, and I’d certainly recommend reading part one first. The business with the mysterious cube is hinted at, but left firmly unresolved as Claire battles her more immediate problems – a Morph incursion that has taken her parents, the loss of her friend Evie, and the knowledge that there will come a point, very soon, where she will forget Underland in much the same way Susan forgets Narnia. And the book ends on a cliffhanger that will have dramatic, and painful, consequences for Claire, that leaves the reader wondering how on earth this can possibly be resolved.
A recommended read – sassy and smart steampunk YA that touches on real-world problems in an unreal Underland.


Why people should read before they sign...

So, I just saw this post from George Takei (yes, him out of star trek) about this article from Good Magazine. Apparently, there are a bunch of folks campaigning to get this talented actress removed from a certain film because Hollywood is 'whitewashing' the cast. GOOD magazine article on Scarlett Johansson

For those who aren't aware of the term, 'whitewashing' is the practice of removing ethnic characters and replacing them with Pretty White People.

The film in question is an adaptation of the stunning and iconic Japanese anime 'Ghost in the Shell'. Well, its Japanese, right, so casting a white woman in the lead role must be Whitewashing, right?

Wrong. The film is about a security unit called 'Section 9', and not one of them is asian in appearance. In fact, through the whole show, the only people who look asian are politicians, android geisha, and peasants. Everybody else is european/american. The image over there is Major Kusanagi, the character Johansson is supposed to be playing. I see no conflict casting an american/european to play this role.

So I say, in this instance, there is no case to answer, and to me this is a classic example of people jumping on the bandwagon of a cause without checking their facts first, which to those in the community is making everybody who is support this 'call' look pretty stupid.

The sad part about it is, when people jump on a bandwagon like this, and make themselves look idiots, they damage the cause they are supposed to be campaigning for. Hollywood does whitewash, and its a terrible practice and should be called out and stopped wherever its seen - but this instance doesn't help.


Resistance is futile...

Yes, I know, bad man, haven't posted in six months. Slapped wrist.

Seriously though, life has been hugely complicated for the last six months thank to a new muggle job.

But, there is new, huge news, which I will share tomorrow,

For today, I shall heal the rift between myself and my alter ego. All my writing news will end up here now, and people can get to it either by www.rbharkess.com, or by www.robertharkess.com

Oh, who am I kidding - I cant keep news like this quiet. I am delighted to announce that I am now signed to Kristell Ink, with whom I shall be releasing my rather gritty and slightly dark Steampunk Novel 'Amunet', around this time next year. Looking forward so much to working with them

Kristell Ink Announcement


The Warrior's New Clothes

Look, don't blame me - I have to think of titles for these posts and its not always easy :)

Unusual day today. Not a re-release as such, but Warrior Stone's first book has a new title, and a  new cover (to match with the cover of White Magic). Say hello to Underland: Warrior Stone Book 1

Thanks to Amygdala Designs for another great cover

Happy book birthday to Terry Jackman: ASHAMET, DESERT BORN

Terry Jackman is an all-round busy person. Apart from running the British Science Fiction Associations 'Orbit Groups' (a wonderful organisation where new and experienced support each other), but she also edits and reviews. How she finds time to write, I have no idea, but I am privileged and honoured to have help crit and edit a number of Terry's books, including this one.

Here's a link to the publisher, Dragonwell Publishing

"A desert world. A warrior nation that worships its emperor as a god. But for Ashamet, its prince, a future filled with danger... 

Ashamet is confident his swordsmanship, and his arranged marriage, will be enough to maintain the empire’s peace. But when a divine symbol magically appears on his arm, closely followed by an attempt on his life, he no longer knows who to trust. Worse, the strange attraction he feels toward a foreign slave could be another trap. As events unravel, too fast, Ashamet must find out if this innocent young male is a tool for his enemies--or the magic key to his survival. 

"Ashamet, Desert-Born" is a debut adventure fantasy with an exotic Arabian-style setting and elements of same-sex romance."


Passionate, but is it appropriate?

I am so glad the latest exercise of 'democracy' in the UK is over and done with, hopefully for another five years. Don't panic, I have no intention of getting all political here. I have no interest in what colour ribbon your candidate wears, nor in convincing you to change your allegiance. Would be a bit late now anyway.

No, what I am passing comment on today is the way the election brought out the worst in people, so noticeably and so vigorously, on social media. I'm not going to post examples, and I will refer only to F-word and C-word -- not because I am a prude (I use the first regularly and the second rarely) but because there may be people reading this who are offended by their use.

Even now, there is vile vitriol still being thrown about because people didn't get the result they felt was the only ideologically righteous solution. Thankfully, the stones being cast at UKIP have largely ceased, but it is interesting to note that the worst of the diatribes and the spewing hatred during the election was reserved for them, but now the votes are cast, that same vile, vicious hatred is being turned towards the Conservatives and anybody who voted for them.

I do not support UKIP, but though the whole campaign I tried to recommend a little sanity to the more vigorous and vocal protests, at least on pages where my social media crossed others. I get the passion; I feel passionately about such things. What I don't get is the mob mentality that seems to infect groups that are supposed to be intelligent and erudite and largely above such things.

And perhaps that's the problem. Maybe we aren't going to be able to 'do' politics properly until we can do it rationally; without the hatred, without the verbal and physical assaults, without the mobs mentality and the pack-hunting.

Not looking forward to the next one :(


Note in haste as I rush through

Forgive me. Not being deliberately uncommunictive, but with the election in the UK is seems that there is an awful lot of toxic messaging going on and I am deliberately staying out of it (as much as I can). Also, I have a new day-job starting next week, so there is a lot of tidying up and re-arranging being done, as well as a really badly scheduled attempt at decorating the bedroom.
Hopefully, thing will be 'back to normal' in a week or two.


It's Leicester, Jim, but not as we know it

I spent the Easter weekend standing, on aching feet, behind a table at the National Space Centre, celebrating First Contact Day with a serious number of Trekkies/ers (depending on your persuasion).
A very lively event, well received by all accounts - thought I was unfortunately not able to see much of what was going on.

I spent Saturday in the company of steampunk author Steve Turnball and his charming wife, but things got a little out of hand on Sunday, when my wife joined me and seemed to both enrapture and upset a number of the locals. I think it was something to do with her attire.


Most enjoyable, and hope to do more events at the Space Centre.


Review: 'Breed' by K T Davies

I recently read and reviewed 'The Red Knight' by the same author, and I freely admit I was less than impressed - mainly because I saw so much more in K T Davies' style and ability than came out in 'The Red Knight'. 

I was so convinced there was better to come that when I heard she had a book out through publishers Fox Spirit, I actually bought it with my own hard earned and jealously guarded cash, rather than cadging an ebook from the publisher.

'Breed', I'm glad - and slightly surprised - to say, earned itself a permanent spot in my library. I can't remember the last book I read that I set aside and thought 'I'm going to read that again'. 

'Breed' is the name of the principle character; a cross between a human and a beast spawned in mysterious wars of the past. She (refreshing, to start) is like a cross between Hell Boy, Wolverine and the Hulk, and I love her. Her character is deep and complex even through the blunt and uncomplicated exterior. It is a real pleasure to read a story from a non-human perspective.

I don't, as I have often said, get into explaining story-lines. Other reviewers seem to delight in doing that, and I wouldn't want to rain on their parades. I will say the story was a classic 'hero's quest' format, but with enough wrinkles in plot and character to keep it fresh and the pages turning. As a bedtime reader, my only complaint would be in the amount of missing sleep this book cost me.

An absolute delight, and I hope, as is suggested at the end, we may hear more from Breed - and i wouldn't mind knowing more about the Schism War

Lastly, I want to share with you the description from Amazon, which is one of the best I have seen for some time (and certainly swayed me):

"After Breed, a Guild Blade of small renown, is chased by a dragon, tricked by a demon, almost killed by a psychopathic gang boss and hunted by a ferocious spider-like arrachid assassin life really takes a turn for the worst. Sentenced to five years bonded servitude to a one-handed priest magician, Breed must find the hammer of the ancient hero known only as the Hammer of the North within a year and a day… or else. And so, with only a drug-addicted vagrant, a rat-faced child, and a timid priest for back up, Breed sets out for the mighty city of Valen and the tomb of the Hammer. What could possibly go wrong? I’ll give you a clue."


...and a step beyond

Well our little trip to Birmingham went remarkably well, as you can see from these shots of me and my Beautiful Assistant :)


We are out and about over Easter, too. On Saturday and Sunday will will be at First Contact Day, at the Space Centre in Leicester. Apparently they are very sympathetic to star fleet crew wearing red shirts, and Commander Ivanova (Babylon 5) will be there, so we had all better be on our best behaviour.


A Step into the Unknown

Big first for Metaphoric Media (my publisher) and a for me. On Saturday 21st we will be running a trade stall at Birmingham MCM Comic Con.

We will have most of my books published so far for sale (including Maverick), and we will be launching the second book of the Warrior Stone series - 'White Magic'

Also, we are really pleased to be offering tablespace to Tau Publishing, and several of the works of Steve Turnball, particularly from his Maliha Anderson series

This will be the first time we have engaged with anything like this, so we are hugely excited (and somewhat nervous); cant wait, and yet there seems to be no time to get everything ready.

If you are at Birmingham Comicon, come by and see us on table T12. Or, if you are near Leicester over the Easter weekend, we will also be at the Space Centre, for First Contact Day.

Review: 'Spark and Carousel' by Joanne Hall

I like writers who stage several stories in the same universe. Raymond E Feist, Joe Abercrombie, and Iain M Banks come instantly to mind, and now I add Joanne Hall to that list.

Some people say it is lazy, but I disagree. It takes a lot of effort to create a universe, and I think using it more than once gives the whole world-concept, and the stories from it, more depth. 

If it is done properly.

Like those mentioned in the first paragraph, Joanne Hall can now firmly lay claim to ‘doing it right’. Her stories are separate enough that they don’t crowd each other, or feel too familiar, but still have a sense of belonging to them. A glimmer of ‘I remember that place’, or name, or pseudo-legal recreational narcotic. It’s a neat trick.

Another strength I see in all Joanne Hall’s books is that she has a knack for making her readers think; not in any way that disrupts the flow of the story, but with stuff that comes back to nudge you after you put the book down. Joanne has managed this in all her books, and ‘Spark & Carousel’ is no exception.

‘Spark’ is a young apprentice who is forced to kill his master, and has to come to terms with this, the misunderstanding of his master’s peers, and his inability to control his power. Carousel is a young woman, a circus performer, living and working in the criminal underground, looking forward to a new life and a new job, only to find being a whore wasn’t as glamorous as she expected.

The stories builds deliberately, weaving threads together until all Hell breaks loose and the reader is thrown into a maelstrom of action and revelation.

I very much devoured this, rather than just read it, and highly recommend it to lovers of fantasy fiction. Available from all the usual outlets.


Most good things should come to an end

I listened to 'The Endless River' last night - Dave Gilmour's new album. You'll probably guess that as I dont attribute it to Pink Floyd, I wasn't impressed. Frankly, I found the last three albums from 'Pink Floyd' to be indulgent and pretentious - but there are those who would say that is the very definition of 'prog rock'. Ever and ever more Gilmour/Wright, and ever less the dynamic drive that was Pink Floyd, and yes I am lamenting the loss of Roger Waters' angry energy and penetrating lyrics.

Gilmour, Wright and Mason are talented performers, but this album really shows itself as being the sweepings off the cutting room floor (if you'll forgive the mixed metaphor) left behind when they were producing Division Bell. Ever and ever more Gilmour/Wright, and ever less the dynamic drive that was Pink Floyd

The sad thing is, they should probably have stayed there. I found the album very derivative and, frankly, somewhat boring. I am now listening to Atom Heart Mother, *real* Pink Floyd, to flush my system.


Psst - want a sneak preview?

On Goodreads there is a group called Making Connections: YA Edition (link here). In exchange for impartial and unbiased reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, you get a free e-copy of the book you offered to review, often ahead of publication.

White Magic (Warrior Stone Book 2) just went live on Making Connections (link here), so if you fancy a look (two months ahead of anybody else), click on the link.



Review: Red Knight by K T Davies

I almost put this book straight on the charity shop pile when I opened it and a slip of paper fell out exhorting me to post reviews if I liked it, or to keep my mouth shut if I didn't. After a moment's reflection I decided to believe the latter comment was meant humorously and ploughed on, but it was a risky gambit, in my opinion.

I am, generally, put off by meaty tomes, and this one clocks in at about 500 pages. They tend to be hidden or badly disguised trilogies. I dont like long epic fantasy series. Had my fingers burnt by Robert Jordan and they are still tender.

But, Davies pulled off a neat trick in that she not only got me to read it, but finish it. A rarity. These days I have so much lined up to read that i am unforgiving of books that don't keep hold of me. There were a couple of wobbles along the way, but we got there.

The Red Knight didn't turn over any new ground for me. It was well written, well paced, but a fairly standard fantasy novel; Brave Soldiers and Honourable And Attractive Princes, Troubled Realms, Uncouth Savages, Dark Magic, and Fey Of Dubious Intent. I do not mock. On the rare occasion I write fantasy, I use the same stereotypes, and most fantasy I read these days falls into the same trap. It's the jam in the porridge that makes a fantasy book stand out (see Art of Forgetting by Joanne Hall)

Whilst I applaud sexual equality in general, I found myself not quite able to believe in the universal equal-opportuity policy in the military and the casual way it was passed off made the female soldiers seem male, or homogenised them all to asexuality. Again, I recommend Art of Forgetting.

In fact, the whole military thing was what nearly made me put the book down a couple of times. I have a feeling that Ms Davies may be a practitioner of EMA (European Martial Arts), or someone in her creativity vortex is. I found the military passages over detailed, using many specialist words I wasn't familiar with (and couldn't be bothered to look up). Combat sequences tended to be over-long, and made me think of Military SF or Warhammer. For somebody who is interested in such things, though, a real treasure-trove.

What kept me going through the book, though, was the secondary characters, and the secondary interactions of the primary characters. The adventures of Garian Tain were compelling, and
I found hints of Hobbs assassins from the Farseer trilogy. I sensed a hint of Joe Abercrombie's 'Best Served Cold' in the conclusion to The Red Night, dark, sombre and unexpected. Not a bad end, but one you have to think about.

For all the points mentioned above, and enjoyable read, and I thank the author for making it self-contained (even though there are hints there may be more in the same universe).


Monk Punk, born again

A while ago, my evil older twin who writes grown up stuff and uses more of my name than I do, was lucky enough to get a short story published in an anthology called Monk Punk.

Found out recently that Monk Punk is being republished as an omnibus edition with 'The Shadow of the Unknown'; 500 pages of entertainment. Who could resist?


US            UK


I just finished The Lady Astronomer by Katy O’Dowd. Very remiss of me - it has been on my kindle for ages but I’ve been doing a lot of paper, and working on my own writing projects.

This book is wonderfully difficult to define. Having said that, it is unmistakably steampunk. In fact it almost defines the genre. After that, things get a bit more difficult. There is a huge dollop of the surreal in this book. I’m reminded forcibly of Jasper fforde’s SpecOps books, and there are flavours of Roald Dahl, too.

Robot butlers and lemurs far to smart for their own good vie with seven-strong teams of vertically challenged builders and mechanical body-mods, and underlying it all are plots mysterious and duplicitous.

In short, it was one of the most ‘fun’ reads I’ve seen in a long while, without sinking to actually outing itself as comedy. Most enjoyable