• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor


thecitystainedred-220x330Congratulations to Sam Sykes, whose newest novel, THE CITY STAINED RED, is out today (October 28, 2014) in Ebook! (The print version follows in February, 2015, according to the publisher, Orbit/Gollancz.) Sykes’s books are described most often as “epic fantasy”—which apparently means that they’re composed of serpentine plots executed by entertaining characters, and the humor is as high as the body count. While the setting is definitely of Another Place and Time, the people—and other things—you’ll meet there are so real that you’d like to hang out with them, if it wasn’t so dangerous to be in their vicinity.

(In the Interests of Full Disclosure, Sam Sykes is my son, and while he’s never read any of my books (none of my children has; as my Eldest Daughter says, “I don’t want to read sex-scenes written by my -_mother_!”), he rather eerily seems to have inherited my pacing, my sense of dialogue, and my penchant for Extreme Vocabulary. I had no idea that sort of thing was coded for in DNA.)

Here’s a brief excerpt from A CITY STAINED RED. (Another excerpt is available on Sam’s website.)

#ACityStainedRed #Excerpt1

_Right. Deep breaths. Try not to look crazy._

Lenk pulled himself out of line and began to walk past people toward the gate. Head down, eyes forward, wearing a face he hoped looked at least a little intimidating. The only way this was going to work was if this no-necked guard believed Lenk was mean enough to not be worth stopping.

“Ah.” A gloved hand went up before Lenk’s face. “Stop right there.”

_Of course_, he sighed inwardly.

“I didn’t specifically _say_ ‘no mercs,’ I know.” The surly-looking guard angled his voice down condescendingly. “But I did say no unstable types, didn’t I?”

Lenk’s hand was up before either of them knew it, slapping the captain’s hand away.

“Marshal your words with greater care, friend,” he whispered threateningly, voice low and sharp like a knife in the dark. “Or I shall hasten to incite you to greater discipline.”

_What the hell was that?_

The guardsman blinked. Once. Slowly.


_Well, don’t change now. He’ll know something’s up._

“Was I too soft in my verbiage?” Lenk asked. “Did you not feel the _chill_ of death in my words?”

“Look,” the guard captain sighed, rubbing his eyes. “I’ll tell you what I told the tulwar: no oids, no adventurers, no…whatever the hell you are.”

The captain looked him over with a glare that Lenk recognized. Usually, he saw it only a moment before swords were drawn. But the captain’s stare was slow, methodical. He was sizing Lenk up, wondering just how much trouble this was going to be worth.

Lenk decided to give him a hint. He slid into a tense stance, making sure to roll his shoulders enough to send the mail under his shirt clinking and show just how easily he wore the sword on his back.

“I don’t see any colors on your shirt,” the captain muttered. “I don’t see any badge at your breast. I don’t see coin at your belt. Which means you’re not someone I want in my city.”

“You’re wise to be wary,” Lenk said. “And I advise you to listen to that wariness and cut a path for me, lest I show you why my name in the old tongues means ‘bane of death.’”

The captain stared and repeated flatly, “Bane of death.”

“That’s right.”

He blinked. “You’re serious.”

Lenk cleared his throat. “I am.”

“No.” The captain clutched his head as if in pain. “Just…just no. Back to the harbor, bane of death. No room for your kind here.”

“What kind?” Lenk’s face screwed up in offense. “A person of my…uh…distinct verbotanage must not be denied righteous passage into—“

“Boy, I wouldn’t be impressed by this routine even if you _weren’t_ only as tall as my youngest.”

“Look, I don’t see what the problem is.” The bravado slipped from Lenk’s voice in a weary sigh as he rubbed his eyes. “I’ve got business in the city. In fact, my employer got in shortly before I got here. His name is Miron Evenhands. We both came off the ship _Riptide_. If you’ll just let me find him, he’ll—“

“Here’s the problem,” the guard interrupted. “You’ve got no colors and no affiliation, but you’ve got a sword. So you’ve got the means to kill people, but not the means to be held responsible.” He sniffed. “Parents?”


“Any parents?”

“Both dead.”


“Burned to the ground.”

“Allies? Compatriots? Friends?”

“Just the ones I find on the road. And in a tavern. And, this one time, hunched over a human corpse, but—“

“And _that’s_ the problem. You’re an _adventurer_.” He spat the word. “Too cowardly to be a mercenary, too greedy to be a soldier, too dense to be a thief. Your profession is wedged neatly between whores and grave robbers in terms of respectability, your trade is death and carnage, and your main asset is that you’re completely expendable.”

He leaned down to the young man and forced the next words through his teeth.

“I keep this city clean. And you, boy, are garbage.”

The young man didn’t flinch. His eyes never wavered, not to the captain’s guards reaching for their swords, not to the captain’s gauntlets clenched into fists. That blue didn’t so much as blink as he looked the captain straight in the eye, smiled through a split lip, and spoke.

Human garbage.”

For more information on THE CITY STAINED RED:



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This page was last updated on October 31, 2014 at 5:27 a.m. (PDT).