Risen Release Week, US Edition

The UK & worldwide edition of Risen is now out in all formats – the paperback edition was released yesterday, on Thursday.  Everyone outside North American can now buy Risen in ebook, paper, and audio versions.

Which just leaves the North American edition!  It’ll be coming out next week, on Tuesday December 7th – hopefully there aren’t any mixups with the release dates this time.

In other news, the German translation of the Alex Verus series continues to do very well – the German edition of Alex Verus #7, Burned, debuted this week at #11 on the Spiegel bestseller list.  Books #8 through #12 will continue to release at six-month intervals in their German translations over the next few years until the full series has been translated.

And once again, I’ll be doing an AMA a week after the US release, on December 14th.

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Risen UK release today!

So, slight change of plans – turns out the electronic versions of the UK & worldwide edition of Risen have been released today, instead of on the 2nd.  Means you guys get to read it a couple of days early!

You can find the Kindle version here , and the audio version can be downloaded here.

US/Canada readers will have to wait a little longer – release date for North America is still December 7th as far as I know!

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Risen Release Week

Finally, we’re almost there!  After all these years, we’re into the last week’s countdown before the final Alex Verus novel, Risen, comes out in the UK on December 2nd.  The US release will be the week afterwards, on December 7th.

I’ll be doing a Reddit AMA one week after the US release date, on December 14th, so make sure to stop by then if you have any questions or want to hear some more!

There’ll be a lot of reviews coming out shortly, but for now, here’s one more from Grimdark magazine.  This one should be fairly spoiler-free.

Posted in News | 3 Comments

Alex Verus #11 – Forged

(This is part 11 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

The last three Alex Verus novels – Fallen, Forged, and Risen – are my personal favourites.  Unlike many of the earlier books, by the time I got to these last three, I knew exactly what I was doing.  It felt to me by this point as though I’d ‘solved’ the problem of how to write an Alex Verus novel:  I knew what I needed to put into the story, and I knew how to do it well.  In the past, I’d often been unsure of how much readers would like a book.  That wasn’t the case for Fallen/Risen/Forged – I was certain that anyone who’d read this far was going to like all three of them.  

Forged is the middle book out of the final trilogy, and out of the three, it’s the most straightforward.  By this point, Alex’s path is clear.  He’s made his choices, he knows what he has to do, and now it’s just a matter of whether he can accomplish it.  With all the big decisions out of the way, I was free to focus on playing out their consequences, and so a lot of Forged is taken up with big set-piece confrontations such as the fight around Heron Tower and the assault on Levistus’s mansion.  

In books #1-#9 and for part of book #10, Alex had been a relatively passive character.  That all changes in Fallen, and by the start of Forged, the old passive, hesitant Alex is gone.  He has a clear set of goals, and you can think of Forged as the story of Alex working through his ‘to-do’ list.  In the process, you get to see exactly what Alex is like when he’s focused on an objective and doesn’t care about being a nice guy anymore.

The biggest item on Alex’s list for Forged is the Council – specifically, Levistus.  One of the more common questions that I used to get about the Alex Verus series was “why doesn’t Alex just kill off his enemies?”, the assumption being that Alex could solve his problems by lying in wait and shooting Levistus with a rifle or something.  I’d usually try to explain to the questioner that things were more complicated than that, but they never seemed all that satisfied with the answer.  

In Forged Alex finally makes his move against Levistus, and you get to see what ‘just killing’ a Council member actually involves.  Unsurprisingly, it’s neither easy nor clean, and by the end of the battle, it should be obvious why Alex didn’t do it before.  Firstly, he couldn’t.  Secondly, there’s collateral damage – lots of collateral damage.  The assault on Levistus’s mansion leaves many, many people dead, including quite a few who were basically innocent bystanders who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The old Alex wouldn’t have been willing to accept that.  The new Alex is.  Whether this is an improvement is a question left to the reader.  

With Levistus’s departure, Forged is also the point at which we say goodbye to Levistus’s long-running rival, Morden.  I’d come to find Morden a rather interesting character by this point – out of all Alex’s adversaries, Morden is probably the most intelligent, and as such he’s the only one to decide that his best course of action is to simply walk away.  Since by this point everyone else is far too busy fighting each other to go after him, Morden is able to disappear in safety.

Morden’s method of departure was not an option for Rachel.  Forged ends Rachel’s part in the Alex Verus story, in a way that I’m pretty sure that few if any readers were expecting.  I know a lot of readers were shocked or unhappy with the way it turned out, so I thought I’d use this commentary to talk about it a little more.  

From a writer’s point of view, there are two main ways to tell a story.  The first is the ‘architect’ way, where you plan everything out.  The second is the ‘gardener’ way, where you let things develop naturally, and what happens, happens.  Most stories are a mix of both – there are some parts to the story that are decided right from the beginning, while there are others that develop on their own.  I think a lot of people find the ‘gardener’ concept confusing, but it’s the best metaphor that I’ve found – you can choose what kind of seed to plant and you can choose where to plant it, but ultimately it’ll grow in its own way.  

Rachel’s story was a ‘gardener’ one.  Back when I had Shireen ask Alex to redeem Rachel in Alex Verus #1, I had no idea what was going to happen when he tried.  I didn’t know what the story’s end would be, and so, as the series progressed and Rachel appeared in book after book, I watched Alex’s attempts to redeem her, to see how they would go.

The short answer was ‘badly’.  Alex’s attempts at building a rapport with Rachel were all complete failures – in fact, they were counterproductive if anything.  As book #4 turned into book #7 which turned into book #10, I was left with the question:  how do you resolve a redemption storyline which isn’t going anywhere?

The classic way to end a redemption storyline is for it to succeed – the character resists a bit, but eventually sees the light, decides to be a better person, etc etc (often with some sort of romantic subplot as well).  The more that Rachel interacted with Alex, though, the more I came to realise that this didn’t make any sense.  While Rachel was a tragic figure, she was also unprincipled, self-centred, and vicious.  She didn’t care about being redeemed.  

The second option was for Rachel to stay evil, but for her to come to some sort of understanding with Alex, possibly becoming an ‘evil ally’ on his team.  This is something a lot of TV shows do when they have a villain who’s too popular to get rid of – they come up with some more- or less-plausible explanation for why the villain and the protagonist don’t have to fight each other any more, and the villain’s crimes and their enmity with the protagonist get shelved.  I didn’t really like this resolution either, because, quite honestly, I didn’t WANT to keep Rachel around as an ally.  The more that I wrote her, the more I realised that I just didn’t like her very much, and I don’t think many of my readers did either.  Many of the Alex Verus villains had become quite popular by this point – Richard, Morden, and even Vihaela all had their fans due to their ‘evil virtues’.  Rachel didn’t have any fans.  Almost no-one liked her, in-universe or out.  

Morden’s method of departure wasn’t an option either.  Rachel hated Alex too much and was too committed to her place as Richard’s Chosen.  She wasn’t willing to walk away.  

So that only really left one realistic resolution.  Eventually Rachel was going to push Alex too far, or she’d finally piss off the wrong person, and they’d kill her.  So that was exactly what happened.  

Rachel’s story showcased both the pluses and the minuses of the ‘gardener’ approach.  ‘Gardener’ stories tend to be more unpredictable, and often feel more real as a result.  On the downside, they can also end in a way that’s anticlimactic or disappointing.  They also often end up with morals that are somewhat harsher and less idealistic than is the norm.  In the case of Rachel’s story, the moral ended up being:  “some people are just a lost cause”.  Not the most family-friendly of morals, but a fairly realistic one.  

Moving on to a more cheerful subject, Forged also introduces November, the last significant recurring character to join the series.  I liked November, and found his interactions with Alex pretty amusing, and if the series had run much longer, I think November would have become a series regular.  As it turned out, there wasn’t much space for him, but he still gets a fair bit of time on-page (and it’s probably no surprise that he reappears in Risen).  

The same is not true for Cinder, who in Forged walks out of the Alex Verus series for the last time.  I enjoyed writing Cinder, and he had a good dynamic with Alex during the Heron Tower fight, but when I tried thinking of ways in which he could join the cast in Risen I found myself struggling.  In the end I realised that it just didn’t make sense for Cinder to come back.  His link to Alex was Rachel, and with Rachel gone, there’s no reason for him to stick around – not to mention the little detail that Alex was the reason Rachel was gone.  It seemed to me that Cinder needed to go off and rethink his life, and so that’s exactly what he does.  Cinder’s story isn’t at an end, but his part in Alex’s story is.  

And finally, there’s Luna, whose part in Forged is relatively small, but important.  When Anne comes to the Arcana Emporium and invites Luna to join her, the Luna from books #1-#2 would have said yes.  The Luna from book #11, on the other hand, has learned a few things over the years, and she’s now wise enough to ask (a) what the jinn is getting out of this deal, and (b) what Anne’s endgame is.  Anne doesn’t have answers to either question, which foreshadows that Dark Anne’s rampage isn’t going to end well for her.  Dark Anne might be more decisive and better at defending herself than Light Anne, but she’s also terminally short-sighted and considers long-term consequences to be somebody else’s problem.  Book #12 will show how well that attitude works out. 

Posted in Author Commentary | 13 Comments

November Update

With Risen’s release now less than a month away, here are some bits and pieces of news for November!

The first reviews of Risen are coming in, and they’ve all been very positive so far.  Here’s the one from Publisher’s Weekly – one final starred review to round out the series!

A reminder of Risen’s release schedule:

• December 2nd:  UK/worldwide release of Risen (paper, ebook, and audio)
• December 7th:  US/Canada release of Risen (paper, ebook, and audio)
• December 14th:  Reddit AMA on r/fantasy to follow the release of Risen

We’re also coming to the end of my Author Commentary series.  The second-to-last one will be next week, covering Forged.  I’d originally planned for this series of posts to lead up to the release of Risen, and that’s exactly what I’ve done – we’ll reach part #11 just a couple of weeks before Book #12’s release.

For my part, though, I put the last touches on the manuscript of Risen nearly half a year ago, and I’ve been spending all my time working away on my new series.  The book’s about 80% of the way through its first draft if I’m measuring by word-count, but I’ve been doing some thinking and I’ve decided to change a few things.  It turns out that I wrote most of the book without a very clear idea of what the series theme would be.  That’s no longer true:  I now know exactly what that theme is.  However, this means that I’ll have to adjust the earlier chapters – two characters in particular need to be significantly rewritten.

This kind of rewriting is a lot of work, and will take a lot of time – I’m now expecting the first draft of the book not to be complete until January or so.  To me, though, it feels as though it’s worth doing.  I’m planning for this new series to be my major project for at least the next five years or so, so I think it’s worth taking a bit of extra time at the start to make sure the foundations are good.  Getting the first book right is important!

Posted in News, Reviews | 15 Comments

Risen Chapter 2 Online

I put the first chapter of Alex Verus #12, Risen, online two weeks ago – now as promised, here’s chapter 2!

This will be the last preview chapter as we’re now only a month away from release.  Risen will come out in the UK on December 2nd, and in the US on December 7th.

Posted in News | 13 Comments

Alex Verus #10 – Fallen

(This is part 10 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

Fallen is the third, last and most important of the transition books in the Alex Verus series.  Although it’s not the end of the series, in a way, Fallen is its climax.  Fallen is where the big decisions get made, while Forged and Risen play out the consequences.  

Back in Burned, Arachne tells Alex that he has three choices:  align with a greater power, become a greater power, or die.  Alex puts this decision off as long as he possibly can, and the events of the first 1/3rd of Fallen are all designed to make it clear to Alex that this isn’t an option any more.  One by one, all of Alex’s other options are stripped away until he’s forced to make his choice.  

From the beginning of the series, readers had tended to react towards Alex in one of two ways.  Some had seen him as a basically decent guy who’d made some bad decisions in the past but who was generally trying to do the right thing.  Others had seen him a morally grey anti-hero.  (For whatever reason, female readers were more likely to see Alex the first way, while male ones were more likely to go for the second.)  Both viewpoints were reasonably accurate, but the ‘trying to do the right thing’ comment was probably closest to the mark.  An awful lot of Alex’s behaviour stems from the fact that he’s a Dark mage by temperament and is trying not to be.  His instincts push him towards being power-focused and ruthless, but since he’s seen first-hand just how ugly that can get, he deliberately chooses to be more restrained and to give people second chances.  Until he can’t.

Alex’s dark side had been on display many times in the series.  When pushed to his limit – the encounter with Khazad in Fated, or with the Nightstalkers in Chosen – he’d always been ruthless.  But with hindsight, probably the most revealing interaction is one that I think most readers forgot about completely:  his conversation with Martin at the end of Cursed.  Out in the darkness on Hampstead Heath, where there’s no-one else to hear, Alex admits to Martin that he sometimes finds it really hard to act like a good person, and that when he looks at the kinds of things that he’s pushed into doing, he wonders how big a deal it would be if he just went the rest of the way.  

On that occasion, Alex (reluctantly) takes the moral high road.  But back then, he has the option to – he’s more powerful than Martin, with resources and allies.  In Fallen, he’s forced into a similar position, except that he’s alone, outmatched, and facing much worse consequences if things go wrong.  And when Richard orders Alex to hurt and manipulate Anne, and Alex tries to take the high road again and refuses, he gets treated extremely harshly as a result.  (This in effect was the universe telling Alex “you’re not in a privileged position anymore, you don’t get to keep your hands clean.”)  His old ways of doing things haven’t worked, and he’s going to have to change.

This change is a long time coming, and Alex spends a long time turning it over (represented in the conversations he has with Richard, Luna, Variam, and Arachne).  But he doesn’t make a final decision until about two-thirds of the way through the book, in the bubble realm, just before picking up the fateweaver.  It’s probably my favourite scene in the book, and it’s the last time in the series that you see the ‘old’ Alex.  It’s just him, alone, with his choice.  He can devote himself to defeating Richard and saving his friends, whatever it takes.  Or he can draw the line and decide that he won’t go back to his old Dark mage ways, no matter what.  

He picks option number one.  

At which point the whole tone of the series changes, very fast.  

Probably the single most frequent question I used to get about Alex prior to the release of Fallen was “is Alex ever going some sort of power-up”.  Alex isn’t a lightweight by any means, but he does spend a lot of time going up against opponents who outmatch him, and I think that by this point in the series, a lot of readers had become a bit tired of Alex getting pushed around.  They really wanted to see him turn the tables on the bad guys, instead of running and hiding all the time.  

I’d known for a long time that the answer to the question would be “yes” – yes, Alex would get a power-up, and yes, you’d finally get to see him cut loose on his enemies.  However, what I think a lot of readers didn’t realise was that the biggest change that this would involve wasn’t to do with Alex’s magic, it was to do with his mindset.  Throughout books #1-#9 and the first part of book #10, Alex is holding himself back much the time:  he can see the solutions that are maximally ruthless and efficient, he just makes a conscious choice not to take them.  In Fallen, he stops holding himself back, and you get to see what Alex is like when he’s not trying to be a nice guy.  

It’s not a coincidence that the first person Alex faces once he comes out of the bubble realm is Onyx.  Onyx has been a thorn in Alex’s side ever since book 1 – he represents the brutish, crude aspects of Dark mages, and up until now, every time they’ve met, Alex has had to trick and outmanoeuvre him.  This time things go very differently, and it foreshadows the way the new Alex is going to deal with his enemies (they get one warning, and that’s it).  Alex has been learning and changing throughout the series, while Onyx hasn’t, and as a result, by this point, Alex has outgrown him.  Despite the numbers on Onyx’s side, the fight isn’t close. 

Fallen is also the point at which I made the final decision about Rachel.  I’ll go into more detail about that in the commentary for book #11, but the key conversation here is the one Alex has with Shireen in chapter 8.  When Alex points out to Shireen that redemption isn’t something that can be done to you, the writing was on the wall.

On the subject of characters having their stories end, Fallen is the beginning of the last act of the series, and as part of that, a lot of recurring characters start getting written out or having their storylines wrapped up.  Most of these characters (Crystal, Onyx, Sal Sarque, Meredith) are ones that I suspect that the majority of readers didn’t miss very much.  But there’s one character who leaves that I’m sure readers did miss, and that’s Arachne.  Arachne doesn’t die, but she does disappear, and that disappearance takes away one of the main sources of support that Alex has tended to rely on, forcing him to make his most important decisions alone.  

Finally, Fallen introduces a new character – Karyos, the hamadryad that Alex and his friends faced in Bound, now reborn.  Unfortunately, at this point it’s a bit too late both in the series and in Alex’s journey for Karyos’s character to be thoroughly developed or for Alex to form a strong bond with her.  In the last two books, Alex will stand or fall on his own.

Posted in Author Commentary | 17 Comments

Risen Chapter 1 Online

The first chapter of Risen, the twelfth and final book in the Alex Verus series, is now online!  You can read it here.

I’ll be posting one more preview chapter two weeks from today, on the 5th of November.

Posted in News | 15 Comments

Book Festival This Sunday

I’ll be appearing online at the Hugendubel Bookstock Festival this Sunday!  My event’s at 9:20 pm German time – I’ll be on with Kevin Hearne and it should run for half an hour or so.  Hope to see some of you there!

In other news, with Risen’s release a month and a half away, I’ll be releasing the first chapter next week, on the 22nd.

Posted in Events | 1 Comment

Alex Verus #9.5 – Endgame

(This is part 9.5 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

I finished the first draft of Marked in the summer of 2017.  Its edits would take a while, and I wouldn’t send off what would become the final version until much later that year, but the summer and autumn of 2017 was the point at which I had to make the decision about how long the Alex Verus series would be.  

“How many books will there be?” was a question I’d been asked many times by this point, and I’d usually given an answer between 10 and 14, with my most common guess being 12.  This guess turned out to be exactly right, but this wasn’t because I’d been working from some kind of master plan.  When I started Alex Verus #1, I wasn’t thinking in terms of a series at all, and it wasn’t until I reached books #4-#5 that I started planning out the story arc in any sort of detail.  Instead, I’d said 12 because that felt vaguely to me like the right sort of length.  

Around this same time, my agent negotiated contracts with my US and UK publishers for three more Alex Verus books.  I’d asked for 3 because I felt that that would probably be about the right length to end the series . . . 

. . . if I wanted to end the series.  Which was the big question.  

The most common reason for a book series to end is that the publisher drops it.  I didn’t have this problem:  both my US and UK editors were quite happy for me to keep on writing Alex Verus novels, and in fact encouraged me to keep the series going.  From their point of view, the Alex Verus series was a modest but clear success – it was obvious by this point that any Alex Verus novel that I put out was going to sell, so as far as they were concerned, the natural thing to do was to keep churning out Alex Verus books until I was totally out of ideas or my readership got sick of them.  

There were other reasons to continue the series.  My readers seemed to enjoy it, and on the occasions that I talked about bringing the series to a close, I’d always get comments asking me to make it as long as possible.  There was also the world development to consider – I’d spent a while developing the Alex Verus world, which meant I had a lot of work to draw upon whenever I needed it.  Writing more Alex Verus novels was much easier than the prospect of starting something new.

But far and away the biggest reason to keep the series going was security.  By 2017 I was an established author, but I wasn’t THAT established – certainly not famous enough that I could write something new and expect it to sell just on the strength of my name.  By this point I’d been able to call myself a “successful” author for maybe 2-3 years, but I’d been an unknown/failed author for a good 15 years before that.  For all I knew, this was just some temporary blip, and as soon as I stopped putting out Alex Verus novels, things would go back to how they’d been before.  Ending the series, and committing to starting something new, felt like burning my bridges.  I was effectively betting my future career on the idea that I MIGHT be able to write something else that would be successful in the way that the Alex Verus series had been, despite not knowing for sure exactly what the Alex Verus series had done right.  It was a scary prospect.  

Those were the arguments against ending the series.  All of these played out throughout 2017 (and for a couple of years before that) at the back of my mind.

Set against that were the arguments FOR ending the series.  

Ending the series would let me create a new world.  This would admittedly be a ton of work, but a lot of things in the Alex Verus setting had been locked in by choices I’d made very early on, some of which had had far-reaching effects.  Just to take one example, the fact that most mages in the Alex Verus setting could make teleportation gates had an ENORMOUS impact on the world.  Conflicts worked differently, transportation worked differently, and entire types of story that revolved around travelling to or from a place just couldn’t be told.  It also led to all kinds of awkward questions such as “why haven’t mages used this power to completely reshape the world economy”, though in practice, from a story point of view, I had much bigger problems with the fact that it was ridiculously difficult to force a mage into any kind of confrontation that they didn’t want to have.  This wasn’t a big deal, but by this point I was thinking that I’d quite like to be able to write something without being quite so restricted by the decisions made by my younger self.

Much more important, to me, was my vague feeling that twelve-ish books felt like about the right number.  I’ve always believed that stories have a natural length.  It isn’t just a matter of the author’s decision – there’s a ‘right’ length for any given story, and the more you diverge from that length, the worse the story gets.  I think the biggest reason for this is the story’s themes.  Some stories aren’t long enough to explore their themes fully, and those are the ones that feel disappointingly short.  But much more common (especially in the fantasy genre) are the stories where the author runs out of big ideas or themes to explore, but keeps the series going anyway.  The characters stop growing, the world stops changing, and the story becomes static, to the point that you can read an entire book and realise at the end that nothing has really happened.  This is very common on TV (The Simpsons is the best-known example) but it happens more than often enough in fantasy books too.  Usually when I realise that a series has reached this point, I drop it.  I didn’t want that to happen with the Alex Verus series – I wanted to create something that I could look back on and be proud of, and that meant giving it a proper ending.  

But the final and strongest reason for me to end the series was interest.  By the end of Book #9, I wasn’t bored with the Alex Verus series.  But I had the feeling that if I kept on writing it for too much longer, I would get bored.  And once I got bored, I knew it would show.  Better to end on a high note.  

I didn’t make the decision quickly – I turned it over at the back of my mind for months, if not years.  But at last, I decided to end the series.  12 had been my initial guess for the number of Alex Verus books, and 12 was where I’d leave it.  

As to whether that was the right decision . . . well, given that I’m writing this in 2021, it’s too early to tell.  Maybe I’ll come back to this post in a few years when I know the answer!

Posted in Author Commentary | 5 Comments