Anthony Huso's Black Bottle (a sequel to The Last Page, Tor Books 2010) was published by Tor Books in August 2012.
Here's information about the author:
Anthony Huso was born in Minnesota and has lived in Asia, Europe, and around the United States. When not writing, he is a video game designer. Titles he has worked on include Call of Duty: World at War and Boom Blox Bash Party. He currently lives and works in Austin, Texas, with his wife and daughters.
Click here to visit Anthony Huso's official website.
Here's a description of Black Bottle:
Beyond the Last Page...
Tabloids sold in the Duchy of Stonehold's streets claim that Caliph Howl, the country's High King, has been raised from the dead. His consort, Sena Iilool, both blamed and lauded for this impossible act, has been labeled as a charlatan by some and a blasphemer by others. But even so, a macabre cult has sprung up around her.
As news of this improbable story spreads to other nations, Stonehold - long considered backward and unimportant - comes to the attention of mighty emperors in the southern countries. They have learned that the seed of Sena's immense power lies in an occult book, and they are eager to claim it for their own.
Facing their plots requires Caliph to use diplomacy rather than might. Hoping to maintain his country's sovereignty, Caliph is drawn into a summit of the world's leaders despite the knowledge that the meeting is a trap. As Sena's bizarre actions threaten to unravel the summit, Caliph watches her slip through his fingers into madness.
But is it madness? Or is she hiding some inconceivable truth - something she would choose to share if she were not so terrified? For only Sena can see the spirit that has crawled from the book. She must play a dangerous game of strategy and deceit as she attempts to outwit a force that has spent millennia setting subtle traps in preparation for this day. Caliph is the only connection left to her former life, but it's his blood that Sena needs to sustain her and see her plans through to their explosive finish.
Dark and rich, epic in scope, Anthony Huso's fantasy is crafted like no other, teeming with unthinkable horrors and stylish wonders.
A REVIEW OF ANTHONY HUSO'S BLACK BOTTLE
Anthony Huso's The Last Page was one of my favourite books of 2010, because it was an original and fresh piece of new weirdish dark fantasy. That's why I could hardly wait to get my hands on Black Bottle. (It didn't take long for me to read this book, because it was an excellent and delightfully weird book.)
Black Bottle is a an entertaining and complex sequel to The Last Page. It tells what happens to the characters after the first book's shocking and surprising ending. In the first book the author took the story to new heights of weirdness, which was very nice, because it's fascinating to read about weird things. He does similar things in this book and suprises his readers with new twists and morbid horrors.
I think it's very brave of Tor Books to publish a new weirdish dark fantasy book for intelligent readers, because the markets are full of epic fantasy stories. It's wonderful that the publisher has had enough courage to publish this kind of fantasy, because there are several readers who want to read dark and weird fantasy. As a long time fan of dark fantasy, horror and weird fiction stories I am very pleased with Tor Books for publishing The Last Page and Black Bottle, because we need complex fantasy stories like these (general fantasy is often too easy and avoids complex plot structures, but dark and weird fantasy offers more food for the brains).
This book will delight fans of new weirdish dark fantasy and weird fantasy. It will also be of interest to readers who want to read something different. As many readers may have noticed, it's difficult to find originality in today's crowded fantasy markets, because mainstream fantasy tends to rule the markets. That's why it's great that there are authors like Anthony Huso who refresh the fantasy genre by combining fantasy, science fiction and horror elements in an unusual way. I also think that readers who like steampunk will be interested in this book, because the steampunk elements are compelling.
It's possible that there are readers who wonder if Black Bottle can be read as a standalone book or not. The answer is that you can try to read it as a standalone book, but you probably won't understand what's going on. Black Bottle moves the story forward and reveals more things about the world, so it's imperative that you're familiar with the previous events.
The events of Black Bottle take place a few months after the events of The Last Page. At the beginning of the book, Taelin Rae comes to Isca and wants to stop people from worshiping people, because she has heard that people worship Sena Iilool. She wants Sena to denounce the groups that worship her. Caliph is waiting for Sena to come home from a trip. He is going to attend a meeting, although he knows that it may be a trap. Sena has been changed by the events that led to Caliph's death and resurrection at the end of the first book. She seems to have gained almost godlike powers from the ancient occult book, Cisrym Ta... (That's all I'll write about the plot, because I don't want to reveal too much.)
Caliph Howl and Sena Iilool are as interesting in this book as they were in The Last Page. Sena seems to be an even more mysterious than before, which is very nice. Caliph is a similar character, but in certain scenes he seems to be a bit more impatient and courageous than before. He isn't proud and happy about certain things - especially about the horrible scientific inventions - but he knows that he has to try to accept them.
The author introduces a new character, Taelin Rae, to the readers. She intends to form a church of Nenuln. She is a fascinating character, because has her own agenda and her own fears. Her mission is to stop the cult that worships Sena.
The dialogue between the characters works well. For example, the scenes where Taelin talks with Specks are perfectly handled and nuanced. Anthony Huso brings these scenes to life by writing about the characters' feelings, thoughts and acts. He manages to make the readers feel sad for Specks and his disability, but also manages to make him look like a survivor.
The political things are handled well. The author manages to keep the politics interesting, because it involves several things (the politics concerning the solvitriol power is very interesting). Cultural differences add quite a lot of tension to the politics, because the northeners and the southerners are different kind of people.
It's amazing how fluently Anthony Huso writes about the events and keeps the story entertaining. The mysterious happenings, religious differences, political tensions and cultural differences meet each other in a fascinating way, because Anthony Huso manages to combine them perfectly (the descriptive prose and beautiful crafted sentences make this combination enjoyable).
Anthony Huso's writing style is beautiful and he has clearly matured as a writer. I admired his writing in The Last Page, because he wrote beautifully, but now his writing is better. He uses the same kind of writing style as before, but now he seems to be able to write more fluently.
It's wonderful how the author writes about the world and its different areas (the Atlath continent), because it's fun to read about them. The world consists of several different areas.
I also enjoyed reading about the shade of Caliph's ancestor, Nathaniel Howl, because the shade haunted Sena and Caliph. I'm not going to write more about this subject, because I want to avoid spoilers, but I'll mention that reading about the shade and its doings is fascinating.
The Last Page featured several mystical and mysterious wonders and happenings and Black Bottle continues to amaze the readers in the same way. The cult that has sprung up around Sena is quite an invention and offers lots of fascination to the readers. There are also such wonders as iatromathematique and a strange disease and such happenings as the attack of the Shradnae witches on the zeppelins - these things will delight and horrify the readers.
The steampunkish scientific wonders, which were introduced in the first book, are present here too. Readers will notice than the author mentions several interesting scientific wonders: chemiostatic cells, holomorphic anchors etc. Some of the inventions will probably shock several readers, because the author also lets his readers see how dogs have been turned into weird watchdogs etc.
There are many great moments in this book. For example, Sena ja Taelin's first meeting is interesting. It's easy to imagine what kind of an atmosphere fills the room when they meet each other for the first time, because Taelin is slightly afraid of Sena. This scene features excellent writing.
One of the best things about Black Bottle is that the author lets the readers read about ancient happenings when Caliph reads Sena's notes and journals. The revelations are both surprising and a bit disturbing. Another excellent thing is the introduction of Taelin, because it gives the author a way to show other characters feel about Sena and the cult.
I think it's fantastic that the author trusts that his readers have enough intelligence to figure certain things out for themselves. He uses several difficult and weird names, which make the readers fall in love with the weirdness of the story. These weird names add quite a lot to the strange atmosphere of the book. It probably would've been easy for the author to write a glossary about these names, but I think it's good that there isn't a glossary, because the readers have to think about things.
I've noticed that some readers/reviewers have had trouble liking and understanding Black Bottle (I've seen similar comments about The Last Page too). This is interesting, because I enjoyed this book very much and understood what was going on. It's understandable that Black Bottle doesn't please everybody, because it's a totally different kind of a fantasy book and the story is weird, but I honestly don't understand why people complain about its quality, because there's nothing to complain about.
This book requires a lot more attention from the readers than plain mainstream fantasy, because you have to use your brains when you read it. It's also important to remember what happened in the previous book, because the previous happenings mean a lot (reading or re-reading the first book before this book is recommendable). This duology is like a British quality drama series, because it builds itself on previous happenings and goes full speed ahead without looking back - if you don't know what has happened before, you won't be able to understand the story.
As you may have already guessed by the last two paragprahs, The Last Page and Black Bottle may not be to everybody's taste, but why on earth should they be? I'm sure that there are other readers like me who want to read something different and want to be entertained with shocking and surprising details. These two books are dream-come-true-books for readers who enjoy the darker side of fantasy fiction and want to read about macabre things and situations. Hmm... I guess I could say that these books offer the same kind of thrills and excitement as Felix Gilman's Thunderer duology and China Miéville's new weird books.
The Last Page and Black Bottle are intelligent and richly detailed books (to be honest, I was surprised by the amount of information and small details). These books differ so much from conventional fantasy books that they require a bit of knowledge of science, technology, mathematics and physics from the readers to understand certain things. This kind of complexity is charming, because it's a pleasure to read intelligent new weirdish dark fantasy, which gives its readers a chance to think about what's happening.
It's also good to have a bit of knowledge about weird fiction and weird stories before reading these books, because weird fantasy is different from the typical fantasy fiction. Describing weird fantasy to somebody who has never read it is a bit difficult, but I'll try to describe it. Weird fantasy tends to focus on weird elements and how they affect the characters and happenings. In other words, weird fantasy highlights several weird elements and emphasizes the weirdness and otherworldliness of them. What is common to most weird stories is that the weird elements are revealed gradually. Several weird fantasy stories owe quite a lot to H. P. Lovecraft, who is the undisputed master of weird fiction. (Everybody who has read Lovecraft will notice that Lovecraft's weird stories have had a direct or indirect influence on Anthony Huso's writing style.)
Black Bottle is like a beautiful and artistic painting, which must be looked at for a while before you begin to appreciate its beauty. At first you'll notice the lines and the forms, but then you'll begin to notice that there's more to it than just the surface. The details reveal themselves to you and you begin to understand the big picture... and suddenly everything becomes clearer.
Black Bottle is a perfect sequel and a masterpiece of weird dark fantasy fiction, because it takes the story to a whole new level and reveals several secrets (this book features more haunting elements, visions etc. than The Last Page and it hooks the readers immediately). I loved every page of this book and I loved the ending, because this book was as shocking and macabre as it was beautiful and stunning. After reading both books I can say that they're definitely my kind of weird fantasy books and they made a huge impression on me.
In my opinion The Last Page and Black Bottle form a unique, stunningly original and highly imaginative fantasy duology, which must not be missed. These books are among the best fantasy books written during the last decade, so everybody who likes good and imaginative fantasy should read them (if you like weird fantasy, you're in for a treat).
I sincerely hope that Anthony Huso will continue to write more books (and especially new weirdish fantasy books), because he's one of the fantasy genre's brightest and most talented rising stars.
Highly recommended (especially for fans of the darker and weirder side of fantasy)!