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Review: The Heir to the North – Malessar’s Curse Book 1 by Steven Poore (Grimbold Books)

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

I’ve owed Steven this review for a long while now, so let’s get into it, shall we?

“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”

With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.

Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries.

As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle.

The North will rise again.

Let’s kick off with the novel’s opening – not only does it set the stage for various plot threads, but it leads the reader into the cool world building Steven has done, too. It also plays with our expectations – which then make the climax of the book even more powerful and effective.

We’re then introduced to the main cast – Cassia, forced to support and follow her story-teller father around; a capable and coldly handsome soldier; and a stoic warlock, protecting not only a legacy but some incredible secrets, too. Cassia starts off as a strong character -self-assured and aware of her strengths, weaknesses and the challenges her relationship with her father brings to her life- and becomes stronger, even as her world and her knowledge of it continues to change and broaden. The soldier and the warlock play important roles in helping her to grow, even as they also embody different aspects of Cassia herself – as their relationships with each other grow, they affect each other in different ways, too. Since they’re the core of the book, this works very well in setting up an important emotional aspect of the book’s climax.

There are all sorts of other characters in the book – soldiers, merchants, even scholars, which add nicely to the narrative by leading the reader into different aspects of the world Steven continues to reveal with each chapter. The characters and the world feel alive and vital, and there’s none of the ‘I think I know where this is headed’ – the smallest bits of information are important to the plot, and there’s no filler.

In terms of action and magic, Steven has a way of making the scenes urgent and spectacular, and I’d love to see what he does with a huge thousands-against-thousands battle.

I enjoyed every damned page, folks. Steven has written a book that not only entertains and is an excellent example of its genre, but which is also thoughtful and leads the reader into questions and discussions which need to be asked and had. It has all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect and enjoy in Fantasy and also reaches deeper and further, and that’s why I wouldn’t mind a huge saga in this world and with these characters. Goes without saying that I’m looking forward to the next book and will get stuck in as soon as I can. 🙂

A richly deserved 9 / 10 – highly recommended!

You can order the book from Amazon at the following link, and do check out Steven’s wordpress blog, as well as his publisher’s website.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

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Posted by on March 20, 2019 in Reviews

 

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Review: Vengeance – A Darkhurst Novel by Gail Z Martin

Hey everyone, I hope your Friday is treating you well!

I’ve owed Gail this review for a while, as she knows, so… Finally. 🙂

Vengeance‘ is the second novel following the adventures of the Valmonde brothers, their allies and enemies, and is the sequel to ‘Scourge‘ (reviewed here). Here’s the blurb for ‘Vengeance‘:

Brothers. Outlaws. Saviours.

Rigan and Corran Valmonde are not heroes. They are undertakers, lawbreakers, and monster hunters. Without them, the town of Ravenwood is finished.

But the more successful Rigan and Corran become at destroying the creatures, the more a greater evil is revealed – one larger and more monstrous than they ever could imagine…

In the first novel, Gail introduced the reader to a city plagued by monster-attacks, ruled by bickering guilds and aloof princes, in which simply surviving is a fine balancing act. This novel takes us out of Ravenwood and further reveals the greater world, other cities, and new characters, so the novel and the story feels more expansive – but not at the expensive of that which drives the plot: the characters. Gail expands the world-building considerably, taking us into the countryside and showing us how those living outside of the cities live and survive while dealing with threats both human and inhuman, and into a strange, creepy realm which is decidedly not human-friendly. This world’s magic, how that magic works, the cost of using it and the effects it has are also expanded with more details and information, as are the mythologies, legends and cultures of the world and its people. The backdrop all of this creates makes the ‘stage’ the characters play their parts on feel real and vibrant, and again, not at the cost of the characters.

Gail delves deeper into everyone, showing more sides to their personalities, into what drives them, and into what they are constantly fighting, their fears and worries and those small things that shake their belief in not only their self-appointed mission but themselves, too. Even the ‘bad guys’ are scared and increasingly reckless – helped in no small part by events they themselves set in motion. What this all does for the book is that there’s a great balance of action, world-building, intrigue, introspection, and plenty of character growth.

And Gail also succeeds in ramping up the problems the protagonists face, and the lengths to which the antagonists will go to achieve their goals – this keeps the pace ticking faster and faster, until the memorable climax shifts the conflicts into a new, dangerous and epic direction. It’s obvious that the town-focus of book one will become a wider-world focus in book three, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the manure hits the fan. 🙂

Giving this a strong 9/10 – if inventive and pacey Fantasy with stand-out characters and high-stakes is your thing, Vengeance (and Scourge) will be, too. 🙂

If all goes well, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, head on over to Gail’s site for more info about Vengeance and her continuously growing body of work, and don’t forget to the add the book to your Goodreads shelf. 🙂

You can order the book online at the following venues: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million and Chapters-Indigo.

Until next time, Monday, probably,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2019 in Reviews

 

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Review: Kingshold – Book 1 of The Wildfire Cycle by D.P. Woolliscroft

Hey everyone, Dave here – it’s been a while, I know!

Being both a reader and writer (why it’s been a while) of Fantasy, I’ve noticed quite a cool trend – at least in the last couple of years, and I think this trend has shown itself because of different, but important, gears clicking into place. The two biggest gears would be the Mark Lawrence-championed Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off – if you don’t know what that is, or who Mark Lawrence is, I despair of one day meeting you and will endeavor to wear a disguise so that you don’t recognize me. But check out this post to get a good idea of what SPFBO is and does. 😉 The other big gear would be the fact that self published SFF is carving out a space for itself (as it should and deserves to do) and becoming more widely talked about, shared and celebrated. I’m not saying that there isn’t still oceans of garbage to wade through, but the writers who are serious about their craft have upped their game considerably, to the point where the ‘big publishers’ are the ones on the back foot and struggling to catch up.

A great example of this exciting and powerful trend is the book I’m reviewing in this post – Kingshold. Not what I expected at all, but better than all my expectations.

I came across this book on Twitter – David had tweeted that he would be giving away paperbacks of Kingshold to a lucky number of folks who RT”d the Tweet – I was one of the people who retweeted, simply because I knew that I have many friends in both the US and UK who would be intrigued by the book and would want to take part. I was one of the winners, (I know; books above the lottery, any day) and I DM’d him, thanked him, and let him know that he might want to draw another winner in my place because I’m in South Africa and postage here is both expensive and prone to the kind of mishaps you’d think a heist-gang was behind… Anyway, David said he’d send me an ebook, which he did, and a couple of months later, here we are. 🙂

The book opens with the king and queen in Kingshold, the capital city of Edland, gazing dully out at their subjects. When you, the reader, find out why the monarchs seem so dull, you realize that this isn’t what you’ve been expecting – and that it also may be the start of something cool. As the tale unfolds, we meet a varied cast of characters (all central to the main- and side-plots) and also get such a wonderful mind’s-eye picture of the city that I didn’t feel the need to flip back to the maps (yes, there are two; kickass, right?). So, I was immediately struck by how well David balanced not only the main plot (which kicks off on the first page; no joke), but the characters and the world building. Seems really effortless, and that’s how I know how damned difficult is probably really was. We meet the different characters in different districts and get to know them a bit as the districts become more detailed and present in our minds, and all the while events continue to keep the plot-threads ticking and twitching.

Swinging back to the characters, we meet a sorcerer, his servant, her sister, an inn-keeper, a bard, three mercenaries, assorted noble-people (mostly rich and few of them nice), the chancellor, the spy master, and a young woman with cool magic who has an important link to the sorcerer. And many others, but that there is the main cast – and another reason why I was really enjoying the book as I was introduced, because reading a book featuring a ‘main’ character invariably means that the character is safe, i.e. he / she won’t die. Of if they do, they come back. Or possess someone. Or something. You know what I mean. So, with many characters shifting into and out of the spotlight, the sense of that safety net isn’t there. At all. Which also means that there’s a constant thread of tension in each chapter, and calls for more investment from the reader because will they all survive?!

And the plot, which keeps rolling on from the point of dull-eyed royal gazes, makes many twists and turns while keeping the tension tight and also offering many moments of laugh-out-loud comedy (or misfortune). There are cool battles and duels, witty comebacks and cutting remarks, cool magic backed by a great magic system, and an ever-expanding sense of ‘this world is biiiig’. In my estimation, Kingshold is exactly the kind of novel which long-time readers of Fantasy will enjoy and which will also reel in newcomers. It’s evident to me that David had a lot of fun writing this novel, and also that, in it, he celebrated much of what makes Fantasy so inclusive, fun and memorable.

Now, what did I expect? Vast battles! Sieges! World-breaking sorcery! Why? (blame that on Steven Erikson). Is that what Kingshold gave me? Nope – and I’m glad, because the novel is so much better than what I expected. Too often we allow ourselves to pushed into a corner by reading almost exclusively in one sub-genre, and yes, I love Epic Fantasy and Grimdark, but those sub-genres couldn’t pull off what David has done in Kingshold. It’s fresh, fun, considered, and an absolute page-turner, joyfully using all that makes Fantasy such a damned cool genre to read – and write in. Seriously, order your paperback and begin reading the ebook while you wait; you’ll thank me. Or not. But I live sufficiently far away from most of you that I’ll be safe. 😉

10 out of 10 – read this!

kingshold_typography4

To order your copies, click here for Amazon US and here for Amazon UK. And don’t forget to check out David’s site, either – he goes into his writing process, introduces the characters, explores Kingshold and its environs, and you can also get a free ebook by signing up for his newsletter.

Over at Out of This World Reviews, Nick Borrelli revealed the cover and detailed the line-up of tales in David’s Tales of Kingshold  – a collection which features many of the characters you’ll meet in Kingshold, both before and after the events of the first novel. It’s on my MBR (must-be-read) list, and I’m sure it’ll be on yours once you’ve enjoyed Kingshold. 🙂

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2018 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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Review: The Hidden Face by S.C. Flynn

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

One of the reasons that I love reading Fantasy (whether it be Epic, High, Dark, Heroic, etc.) is that Fantasy writers take chances and aren’t afraid of doing things differently. Tales in which the exhausted trope of ‘the prophesied one’ are upended and refreshed; tales in which magic itself takes a backseat so that the world and he characters shine brighter. These kinds of tales give readers something new to experience, and The Hidden Face is on of those tales.

Here’s the novel’s synopsis:

A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask.

Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal death of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a warrior woman named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

Powerful enemies want the secret as well, including a dynasty of magician-kings who were thought to have died out long ago, a mad, murderous hunchback and a beautiful, deadly woman who is never seen. Sunniva and Dayraven fight to survive and to solve the mystery while their own pasts come back to life and the attraction between them deepens.

Looking at the great cover as a starting point (the cover was created by illustrator John Di Giovanni and designer Shawn King), we get the sense that this novel might have a religious-focus, because the cover brings to mind paintings of Jesus Christ – and not only does the cover echo those kinds of paintings, but also inverts them; we’re used to seeing a halo around Jesus’ head, yet in this cover, the focus is the obscuring of the figure’s face. The cover works absolutely as an eye- and interest-catcher, but works even better once you’ve read the novel – if there was an award for ‘Best Cover Accurately Representing a Novel‘, of something similar, the cover of The Hidden Face would win it. Damned well done, John and Shawn. 🙂

Shifting to the characters, Dayraven and Sunniva are both interesting and absolutely central to the plot. Dayraven has spent 15 years as a royal hostage and the tale kicks off upon his return to his home-kingdom; he returns to an seemingly ineffectual Emperor and has to contend with stepping into a situation in which one of his old rivals has amassed power and influence, and when Dayraven is asked to meet one of his old allies an teachers, the plot kicks off. If I have any qualms about the two main characters, one is when Sunniva was introduced- while she holds her own in the narrative and her past, like Dayraven’s, is important, the opening chapters’ focus on Dayraven as the main character and robs her of the shared-spotlight. This book is a book in which two characters solve a mystery, and so the book is about the mystery and not the characters – and even though the characters drive the plot forward as they should, it seems as if Dayraven is behind the wheel and Sunniva is the passenger. Their roles to achieve a balance as the narrative progresses, but due to the Dayraven-focus early on, it feels as if Sunniva is always trying to catch up. My second qualm is actually trite, but being a writer myself, it stood out: Dayraven’s name. Taking into consideration that none of the other characters have similar names (in terms of the name’s construction and meaning: Day-Raven), his name stood out as not really fitting him. The hunchback mentioned in the synopsis has a fitting name, but Dayraven’s name is never explained nor ‘used’, in terms of what it may mean. (if it is, I completely missed it and apologize for being a dumbass)

In terms of character development, the stand-out character for me was The Twister. He, too, is central to the plot, and commend the author on taking us into the mind of a damaged and manipulated individual while shifting the character’s role from that of victim to plot-driver.

One of the other characters, Dayraven’s ‘rival’ mentioned in the synopsis, was the only character I couldn’t remain interested in, but I do believe that this character’s role was well handled, especially when new antagonists are revealed, and even though these new antagonists steal the spotlight from the ‘rival’.

In terms of ‘place’, the history of the novel’s world takes a more prominent role than the world itself – but this isn’t a bad thing. The concept of the Face is really cool, and the manner in which the Face impacts the world and its peoples was excellently handled and explained (in a manner absolutely devoid of info-dumps and boring, lengthy ‘history lessons’).

The plot races along as Dayraven and Sunniva pursue the mysteries rearing into the path, and the author manages an excellent balance between keeping the plot ticking along, giving us glimpses of the world and it’s history, and allowing the characters their space to progress, change and grow.

Where the novel really shines is in how the mystery is pursued and solved – I never expected to read a Fantasy novel which presented a mystery that had to be solved by the decoding of clues, visits to hidden crypts and tombs, and the like. The effect is that we’re given a tight Fantasy Mystery novel in which the mystery and the solving thereof is as interesting as the plot and characters. If you’ve been looking for a Da Vinci-code type tale in a Fantasy setting, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this novel and the mystery at it’s heart.

All in all, The Hidden Face is a strong and entertaining debut and shows the author is adept at giving us the kind of Fantasy we’ve come to enjoy while spicing it with enough to make it stand out in a crowded field. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book, and to another excellent cover from Di Giovanni and King.

8 / 10

To order your copies, click the following links:

Amazon US, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, iBooks.

And do check out the author’s website for more info.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2017 in Reviews

 

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Those Above – The Empty Throne Book One by Daniel Polansky

Hey everyone, hope you’re well. 🙂

Daniel first came to my attention with the utterly excellent The Straight Razor Cure, and even though I have yet finish that trilogy (and the accompanying tale, A Drink Before We Die)-which I blame entirely on being a writer myself- Daniel’s work stands out, and I knew that Those Above would be something special.

The novel (which is the first in a duology, and Those Below has been available for a while) takes place in a world in which humanity has been enslaved by powerful, seemingly perfect race of beings, called Those Above by their unwilling subjects. It is a world of extreme riches and extreme poverty, and those who hover in the middle are constantly fighting to keep their heads above water  – kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 😉

These Eternals are at the very top of the food chain, in almost every sense of the word – nothing of importance happens without their input or say-so, and yet this is one of the reasons that their rule is being threatened. They are fallible and can be killed, though it doesn’t happen often; in fact, it’s happened only once, and that event led to a vicious crackdown which has reverberated down through the years, with repercussions affecting every level of society.

But folks aren’t happy with Eternal rule, and even some of the Eternals are showing a ruling-fatigue – it’s a situation ripe for revolution, and that’s what this first book focuses on through the POV’s (points of view) of three main characters.

One is a street rat, one of those living in constant poverty and assailed by crime and violence – assailed, and yet welcoming it all, because it’s where he finds his purpose and his strength.

One is the very person who managed to kill one of the Eternals – he’s struggling to find his own place and the way forward in a world which seemingly hasn’t changed, despite what he achieved; even as he’s been called on again to lead a new army.

And one is a female character, the wife of a deceased hero, who has involved herself in the deadliest of games against the Eternals and her fellow nobles. She, by the way, is one of the most epic female characters I’ve ever met – strong, independent, ruthless, intelligent, and even kind. She utterly stole the show, and I’m sure she’ll stand out for you when you meet her.

Further to the plot and events, Daniel manages to keep the focus on the above-mentioned characters (and many others) while taking the reader on a journey through this world and everything that makes it live – the various strata of society and how the rule of the Eternals affects them; the Eternals themselves and their games, beliefs, and cut-throat culture; the relationships between the characters; the history of the world and it’s peoples… Reading this book, I experienced a balance between everything that makes a book work: sometimes the world building overwhelms the characters, and sometimes the plot seems forced while the characters are shallow, but not in Those Above. Daniel is a masterful juggler – indeed, the juggling seems effortless. And I am most certainly jealous.

In short, if you’re looking for Epic Fantasy which doesn’t overwhelm, characters which shine, interesting and memorable world building and an intro to a world and plot which you haven’t encountered before, then Those Above should meet with your enthusiastic approval.

A definite 10 / 10, and I’m really looking forward to eventually reading Those Below. 🙂

To get more info about Daniel and his work, visit his website, and to order Those Above, check out the links below:

Amazon US,

Amazon UK,,

Kobo,

Exclusive Books (South Africa)

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2017 in Reviews

 

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Spotlight: Shadow of the Mountain by D. A. Stone (Luthando Coeur – Zharmae Publishing Press)

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well! 🙂

Here’s a spotlight of a great-looking book from Luthando Coeur, the Fantasy imprint of Zharmae Publishing Press. Take a look!

Shadow

If Tenlon had his way he’d be working with dragons, practicing a bit of magic, and racing horses in his free time. Unfortunately, when the kingdom starts to crumble and the world comes crashing down around him, his dreams of dragons and days of carefree racing quickly come to an end. When war washes over the land, and dragons of legend fall from the sky, Tenlon is reluctantly thrust into an adventure greater than anything he could have imagined. Given a gift that could change everything, he becomes the only hope in a land invaded by a growing darkness that threatens to destroy all that stand in its way. 

Can a dying people rise once more to shine a light into the darkness? Will Tenlon’s most important race, the race to save the kingdom and the people he cares about, be his last?

About the author:

D.A. Stone lives in Philadelphia, keeping good friends close as family. Raised on stories of fantasy, science fiction, and horror from an early age, he continues to expand his horizons into other genres, though his heart will always be in fantasy. He firmly believes that there can be reality in fantasy tales, that there can be truth. Finding it can be one challenge and delivering it on the page can be another, but as in all creative mediums, the pursuit of that truth is essential.

To order copies of the book, click here for Amazon US, an check out the book’s Goodread’s Page here. 🙂

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

P.S. Apparently the photo I received was not of D. A. Stone, so I removed it. 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Spotlight

 

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Review: The Triarchy’s Emissary by Nyki Blatchley (short story / novelette)

I’m (finally) back with my second review of the short stories published by Fox and Raven Publishing, and this time the focus in the Epic Fantasy story, ‘The Triarchy’s Emissary’ by Nyki Blatchley.

FRPublishing

Here’s the blurb:

“An Empire in ruin. The power of the gods corrupted. Nations shattered.

Novesh, once the Empress of Shebal, must now carve out her political career in Faiz – a city tearing at the seams as different factions vie for its control. From her fortified seaside mansion, she silently orchestrates the rebirth of the Empire. Her Empire.

But there are those who would see her fail – those who would pay great amounts to topple the would-be Empress.

The enigmatic Triarchy of the Mountains need to see Novesh dead. The former Empress stands on the precipice of overthrowing their decades-long work: The work of the gods. And they have just the person for the job.”

The first short story published by Fox and Raven was a gripping, horrific tale (reviewed here), and this tale by Blatchely is a great example of Epic Fantasy.

The story opens with Edralit, a mysterious visitor to Faiz – she’s from the Highlands, which makes her arrival in Faiz an event that is noticed by many.

Novesh is an empress without an empire, struggling to marshal what support she can gather for her cause while suffering nightmares regarding the events that saw her Empire collapse.

From the beginning I was curious about Edralit – she’s capable, intelligent and wary, trying to hide a past that would lead most people to giving her entirely too much attention. From her opening conversations with a serving girl right through to the tale’s climax Edralit is compelling and interesting, a great counter-character to Novesh.

Novesh plainly struggles with the trappings of her station and birth, and her need to ensure the rebirth of her empire brings a constant, sad tension her scenes – her strength and resolve come through wonderfully, as does her political acumen.

The back-story of this tale raises some very interesting questions that I hope Nyki will deal with in a full-length novel – the settings (the places we as the reader visit  and those only mentioned) really made me curious and world-building was interesting and imaginative, with a hint of the magic which exists in this world. Nyki has a great eye for scene-detail and he handles character-interaction well – the action-oriented scenes are also thrilling, adding the physical element to the tale and also mixing in great tension.

All in all, ‘The Triarchy’s Emissary’ is a great snapshot tale, beautifully self-contained yet evocative of a larger world, and Epic Fantasy fans everywhere will enjoy it! Perfect for a quick read and when you want to discover new voices in Fantasy without having to read a full-length novel. Well done, and looking forward to more! J

8 / 10


Triarchys_Emissary1

To order your e-copies of ‘The Triarchy’s Emissary’, click here for Amazon US and here for Amazon UK.

Follow this this link to Nyki’s website for more info on his work, check him out on Twitter here, and click here for an interview with Nyki. Also, check out Fox and Raven Publishing for more information about previously published stories as well as upcoming publications!

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Fox and Raven Publishing, Reviews

 

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