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Friday, September 4, 2015

The Vishakanya's Choice by Roshani Chokshi & Mini-Q&A with the author (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the story HERE (US) & HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Roshani Chokshi is the author of the Young Adult Indian fantasy novel, THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN, forthcoming from MacMillan/St. Martin's Press in May 2016. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Book Smugglers and The Feminist Wire. Her writing draws from her half-Indian, half-Filipino heritage. Find her at her website and on Twitter (@NotRashKnee).

OFFICIAL BLURB: Did we have a choice? An honest one. A real Choice.”

Who would you be if you had a choice? What would you do?

Early in her life, Sudha’s fate was divined to be a lonely, fruitless future of young widowhood. So, it was considered a blessing when she was brought to the Hastinapur harem to become a vishakanya–a weapon, an assassin, a poison maiden whose very touch is toxic.

Sudha has never had a choice, has never known anything except the cold beauty of the harem’s stone walls. After years of living in isolation with her vishakanya sisters, Sudha is given her first mission: to end the life of a great man. Someone who, unlike her, leads a life full of glittering Choices fit for an emperor.

In their fateful encounter, a vishakanya meets a conqueror and a weapon creates a legend.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Roshani Chokshi’s short story debut caught my attention for two reasons: (a) it featured a tale that had its roots in Indian historical and mythology & (b) it also features Alexander the great at the end of his campaign across the plains of Punjab.

The story is told solely through the viewpoint of Sudha, a vishakanya or poison-maiden. Vishankanyas were women who were poisonous to touch and often assassins who could kill with a touch or that are how the stories go. In this story, we meet Sudha who is forced to enter the kinship of the Vishakanyas as her horoscope details an early widowhood. Never doubting the hor(r)oscope’s predictions, it’s implied that her family gave her away to become a Vishakanya. Sudha has always dreamed of getting a choice but so far all of her klife has been denied one.

When she gets her first assassination target, she’ s forced to re-examine her life as her target, a famed Maecedonian emperor begs her for a choice and gives her in return. This is the main them of the story of choice being given and choice being taken away. The author wonderfully highlights several Indian life facets through this story and also infuses the story with enough magical and steampunky elements to make it stand out.

With this being a short story we don’t get much page time with Sudha and I truly wish that this story was longer as that would allow us to peek longer into Sudha’s frame of mind. The story very beautifully illustrates the life Sudha lives and the agony she faces every time she’s feed poison until it becomes an integral part of her. I loved the descriptions and tiny details the author inserted into the story about the saris & food. It brought the story alive for me quite vividly and I absolutely hope that the author decides to expand the milieu this story is set in.

You can read the story in its entirety over here and enjoy it for the little gem that it is. I was also glad that the author agreed to answer a few of my questions about the story, her upcoming long-form debut & a few other things about her ancestry.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write and describe your journey to becoming a published author.

RC: Hello! I’m Roshani. I write fantasy with a South Asian twist and my first book, THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN will be released by MacMillan in May 2016. I can’t pinpoint what inspired me to write…I think it’s a combination of the rich folklore of my heritage and the feeling of absence when I never saw those stories in bookstores. But more than that, it’s the joy of telling a story and hoping it lingers in someone’s head like a favorite scent.

My journey to publication was one gigantic, ego-pummeling learning experience. I think there’s a lot of impatience in young writers to fling our stories to the world and expect immediate praise or just an immediate home. So often, that’s not the case. You’re a writer the moment you want to write. But honing the story you want to tell, combing through it and making it come alive with words is something that, for me, required a lot of rejection, a lot of reading and a lot of practice.

Q] The Vishakanya’s Choice was recently released. Can you tell us how your story got selected for the Book Smugglers publishing?

RC: I submitted after seeing Book Smugglers call for submissions based on a theme of “First Contact.” That was really interesting to me because although it felt initially very sci-fi, “first contact” encompasses a whole range of experiences. It’s not just one life form meeting another, maybe it’s bridging the space between lips, maybe it’s as simple as touch. After the story was accepted, we went through a couple rounds of edits and then it was graced with a gorgeous cover by Filipina artist, Mia Sereno.

Q] Can you please talk about the inception of The Vishakanya’s choice? How did this story come to be? What was your inspiration for it?

RC: I wanted to talk about choice, and what it meant to different people. I liked the idea of Choice as something tactile, something that you could truly possess. I didn’t have the idea until a family friend lost their daughter to cancer and I felt a lot of resulting anger for her helplessness. I wrote this story almost as wish fulfillment, where things could be different, where she might have had a choice in the matter.

Q] In the Vishakanya’ Choice, you have elements of history, fantasy & steampunk mixing easily. What was your intent with the amalgamation of these genre elements?

RC: I’ve always been fascinated with Alexander the Great. Even as a mere mortal, history has shrouded his reputation with magic, mystery and myth. I wanted to heighten those elements by exploring those final moments. How perhaps a legend (in this case, the vishakanya women) is the only way to finish off a man who wanted to be a myth.

Q] You have a full-length book titled The Star Touched Queen coming out early next year. What can you tell us about your long-form debut?

RC: Ahhh! The debut! It has stars and first-love, prophecies and silver trees. It has secrets that span reincarnated lives and a girl with the night sky on her skin. There’s a much better summary that will be released soon, but at the risk of giving too much away, I’ll just say that it’s the story I’ve always wanted to write. It draws on my favorite fairy tales and myths: Hades and Persephone, Savitri and Satyavan, Cupid and Psyche and Beauty and the Beast.

Q] Is this a standalone title or is it book one of a series?

RC: It’s a standalone! Although I’m working on a companion book set in the same universe right now.

Q] Tell us more about the world that The Star Touched Queen is set in and some of the series’ major characters.

RC: Which world? ;) I’ve always loved the rich settings of ancient India, so that’s one place where the story came alive. In particular, I found myself inspired by some of the subterranean step-wells you can still find in India. To me, they seem downright magical.

As for the other worlds in THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN, there’s a rather sinister Otherworld featuring a Night Bazaar and kingdoms where the trees grow memories instead of fruit.

The book’s main character is Maya, a neglected princess with a terrifying horoscope. She’s kind and clever, a little ruthless and a little mad. She’s ready to see magic in the world, but perhaps not ready to see it in herself. And then there’s Amar, the Raja of a strange Otherworldly kingdom who seems to know a lot more than he lets on.

Q] I believe you are on Indian descent, what mythology stories were you exposed to as a child and do you have any favorites?

RC: I’m half-Indian ☺ My Ba often told me stories when I was younger. Sometimes I still pester her for them. My favorites growing up were all the tales of Krishna as a child. I loved his mischief! My favorite love stories were from the Kalidasa plays, like Urvashi and Pururavas, and Shakuntula.

Q] Who are some of your favorite characters among the stories you read while growing up and why do they stand out for you?

RC: It’s strange because some of my favorite characters are the ones who have tiny, but important roles in the story and then, for some reason, seem to disappear. From the Mahabharata, my favorite character was Uloopi, the Naga-princess who fell in love with Arjun and later saved his life. She was critical in raising his child with another woman and she loved him selflessly from afar, but I don’t know why. She was so important as this deus-ex-machina character, but I always wonder what happened to her after the war.

In the Ramayana, my favorite character was Urmila, the wife of Laxman and younger sister of Sita. She’s praised for making the great sacrifice of sleeping for 14 years while her husband, sister and brother-in-law live as exiles in the forest, but I wonder what kind of character she was. I wonder what it was like to wake up and know the passage of time.

Q] What did you think was the most challenging part about writing your debut novel? What about the easiest or most rewarding parts?

RC: The most challenging part was knowing what I wanted readers to get from the story. I think, sometimes, I got over excited and tried to include too much information or would do the opposite. The most rewarding part has been listening to potential readers tell me how excited they are about an Indian Young-Adult fantasy being released. I can’t wait to share this story with them ☺

Q] What do you do when you aren't writing, what hobbies and proclivities engage you?

RC: I really enjoy traveling and going on walks. I think it’s so easy to become glued to our screens, and I really savor the time spent away from distractions and beeping phones.

Q] In closing, what are you working on now and do you have any parting words for our readers?

RC: Right now, I’m working on Book 2, the companion novel to THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN. To anyone who has taken the time to read my work or plans to, thank you so much. This community’s enthusiasm for new voices is the best inspiration in the world! So thank you ☺

The greatest thing I can ask of you is your time and I’m always humbled by how generous you are with it.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author. Indian stepwell picture courtesy of Victoria Lautman & Christopher Jobson.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off Round One Winners

So as of Tuesday (1st September 2015), we have ten winners from round 1 of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. Mark Lawrence has put up the scores each book has received from their respective bloggers and now each book will be read, reviewed and rated by the remaining nine bloggers to decide an eventual winner.

Here’s the list of the 2nd round SPFBO candidates:
- A Soul for Trouble by Crista McHugh (Speculative Book Review finalist)
- City of Burning Shadows by Barbara Webb (Bibliotropic finalist)
- What Remains of Heroes by David Benem (Fantasy Book Review finalist)
- Shattered Sands by W. G. Saraband (Beauty In Ruins finalist)
- Under a Colder Sun by Greg James (Fantasy Book Critic finalist)
- Blood Rush by Ben Galley (Bookworm Blues finalist)
- The Weight of a Crown by Tavish Kaeden (Lynn's Book Blog finalist)
- The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids by Michael McClung (Elitist Book Reviews finalist)
- Priest by Matthew Colville (Fantasy Faction finalist)
- Sins of Sovereignty by Plague Jack (The Fictional Hangout finalist)

Dylan Moonfire was kind enough to list all the books & reviews/mentions on this page for those interested to see how each and every title faired.

Lastly congratulations to all the Round 2 finalists and my commiserations to all those whose titles didn't make it through.  I’ll look forward to reviewing all the titles listed above and also next week, there'll be an interview with a few of the authors about their side of this SPFBO process.

NOTE: Cover collage courtesy of Mark Lawrence.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: “Don’t you wonder sometimes,” Ursula said. “If just one small thing had been changed, in the past, I mean. If Hitler had died at birth, or if someone had kidnapped him as a baby and brought him up in—I don’t know, say, a Quaker household—surely things would be different.”

Kate Atkinson, author of eight previous novels, including four Jackson Brodie crime books, has come up with a nifty notion for a story. Kill off your heroine, early and often, while offering a look at the history of England from 1910 to the 1960s. I would love to tell you more but an SUV appears to have run a red light at the corner, had a too close encounter with a very large truck and seems to be heading into this café…Gotta go. Damn!

Now, where were we, a review? Yes, I seem to recall something about that. More of a feeling really. So, England, 20th century, perils of Pauline, well in this case Ursula, little bear, of Fox Corner, the manse of a well-to-do sort, not Downton rich, but, you know, comfortable. She has a prat of an older brother and a decent elder sis, with a couple of brothers arriving later.

(Kate Atkinsonfrom The Telegraph)

Life is full of decision points. Walk this way, survive, walk that way and splat. It begins early with Ursula, who is offed before her first breath the first time around. She gets a better deal on the next go, managing to remain with us into childhood, and so on. The structure seems to employ the backstitch a fair bit, starting Ursula up a few chronological paces before the deadly decision point. She seems to be born again more than an entire congregation of fundamentalist Christians, or, maybe more likely a band of Buddhists, as she seems to pick up a bit of wisdom, a bit of strength with each reincarnation. I counted 15 passings-on, but sure, I could have missed one or two. 

The lady must have G. Reaper on her autodial. What if I had done this instead of that? How might that have changed the outcomes? One can imagine the fun, and challenge an author experiences. Taking her main character, and plenty of secondary characters as well, in one direction then another, then another. It must mimic, to a degree, the authorial process. What if I do this to Ursula? What might happen? What if I point her in a different direction? And as for stuff happening, while it is usually pretty calm here, writing while on a bench in Prospect Park, I must admit I have never seen tentacles that size emerging from anywhere let alone the very modest Park Lake. The slurping sounds are getting rather loud. That sumbitch is faster than he looks…Gotta go. Damn!

So, I felt like sitting with some coffee but the local café just seemed, I don’t know, not what I wanted. Then I considered maybe heading over to the park to work on a review, but it looks like it might rain, so I think I’ll stick at home for now. Of course the desktop has been a bit dodgy of late, but no big whup. I will dip into the special Kona stash, brew up a nice cuppa and set to, shoes off, no shirt. Maybe a nice bagel with butter and strawberry preserves. Yummm! Review, yes, Atkinson, Ursula, do-overs. Oh yeah, it does call to mind a bit of Groundhog Day, although Phil the Weatherman knew early on that he was coming back each time. 

Not Ursula, although as time goes on she does develop a bit of a sixth sense about some things. And the other major difference here is that Life After Life takes on some heftier purpose than Phil getting the girl and becoming a better person. Ursula is faced with some immediate challenges, like evading a rapist, a girl-killer, those annoying Nazi bombs during the blitz, not falling out windows, you know, stuff. But she also must contend with moral choices, and larger scale. Not only figuring out what the right thing is to do and then deciding, for her life, but thinking about how events affect other people, the nation, maybe the world. What sort of life does she want to lead? How can she help the most people? What sort of person does she want to be? Can she make an impact beyond her immediate concerns?

And within that context, others face similar choices. Ursula is not the only one with multiple exit scenes. There are plenty in the chorus of secondary characters who come and go, or should that be go and come back in varying iterations. What if so-and-so did A this time and B the next? How might that change things? This is part of the fun of the book. Not all the decisions are of the life-threatening variety, but they can seriously impact one’s life, other lives as well. Excuse me a moment, Nala, sweetie, off the desk please. I will be happy to scratch you. No, do not rub up against my coffee cup. Nala, DOWN, NOW! Too late, brown milky liquid splatters from the cup on the desk, rushing over the top of the desktop tower, which is sitting on the floor between desk and couch. I get up to fetch some paper towels. Nala’s tail is vertical as she scampers from the room. Maybe I should have worn slippers. I step away from the desk chair, contact enough wet to matter, and only feel it for moment when my body hair begins to ignite and my heart goes into highly charged spasms. I hear the beginning of a scream and then….sonuva..!

Seems a lovely morning for some reviewing. Rainy out? Well, not yet, but you can feel it coming. So, open a few windows. Sit at the desk. Well. Maybe not. Might be a bit too much breeze there. Maybe the couch for a change. Yeah, book, they killed Kenny. You bastards! England. Ursula. War. 

I’d always meant it to be very focused on the Second World War, and I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to start in 1910, to get her born…I think that’s when the coming back again and again kicked in. And I was, on, oh, page 250 of the manuscript and still in the 1920s. I kept saying to people, “Yeah it’s a book about the war!” and then I’d think, it’s not a book about the war. I hadn’t realized how much I would get entangled in 1910-1939 as opposed to 1939-1945.from the Chatelaine interview 

There have certainly been some wonderful novels in the last few years that play with structure. A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of the more dramatic of that sort. The rise of the novel comprised of linked stories has seen a boom in popularity. This year’s Welcome to Braggsville takes some chances with form as well. And so it is with Life After Life. While the notion of reincarnation is hardly new in fiction, how it is handled here is far beyond what we have seen before, a real risk-taking. And so effective.

Ursula is a very engaging character. Each time she comes back, you want her to stick around. And even when she makes bad choices you will be rooting for her to fix those in the next round. Her sister Pamela seems as decent a sort as their brother Maurice seems insufferable, maybe a bit too insufferable. We get to see dimensions to Atkinson’s characters over the many iterations, learn something new about them, sometimes surprisingly so. I found it to be entirely engaging, and was always sad with Ursula went dark yet again. The book opens with her taking aim at the worst baddie of the 20th century and you will keep hoping she finds her way back to that place and completes the mission. Will she?

One of the most riveting and memorable elements in Life After Life is the description of London during the Blitz, on the ground, you-are-there, offering considerable nightmare material, and making it clear just how hardy the survivors must have been, and how fragile the hold on life, whichever iteration a person is in. The best part of the book, for me.

There are many uses of animal references here. Ursula means little bear, The family name, Todd, means Fox. A group of Nazi wives is referred to as a wolf pack. Actual foxes move in and out of the story, residents of Fox Corner, the Todd family home. A German is named Fuchs which also means fox. There are more. A warden during the Blitz is named Woolf. At one point, Atkinson offers a wink and a nod to readers as her characters discuss time travel questions. There is much consideration here of the role and rights of women in the first half of the 20th century, and the changes in mores that marked the era. The difference between love and gratitude when considering marriage is considered. The effect of World War I on the nation is noted as well, the loss of a generation of men in the war, and the loss of vast numbers from both genders from the Spanish flu. 

While florid passages do not characterize the novel, there are some wonderful descriptions. One of my favorites regards the night sky during the Blitz:  

“It’s almost like a painting, isn’t it?” Miss Woolf said. 

“Of the Apocalypse maybe,” Ursula said. Against the backdrop of black night the fires that had been started burned in a huge variety of colors—scarlet and gold and orange, indigo and a sickly lemon. Occasionally vivid greens and blues would shoot up where something chemical had caught fire. Orange flames and thick black smoke roiled out of a warehouse…” 

“It’s spectacular, isn’t it? Savage and strangely magnificent.

Yes it is.

CONCLUSION: Now that the task is done, I think I will bring in a glass of juice and have some of these lovely hard sourdough pretzels. Maybe catch something from the DVR. Always loved these pretzels, except, of course, when bits get stuck going down. Sometimes large bits, uh oh, a very large bit…trying to self-Heimlich, but no go, hitting my head on the edge of the coffee table as I stumble and fall while trying to stand up. Maybe if I can get some liquid in there it will soften it, but the noggin-knock and the inability to get any air makes decision-making a tough go. Damn!

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"The Fixer: Fixer Series 1" by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather's ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess's classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.

Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for this compelling teen drama with a political twist.

FORMAT: The Fixer is the first book in a proposed YA series. It is a combination of contemporary fiction and political thriller. It is filled with lots of mystery and intrigue.

The Fixer was published July 7, 2015 by Bloomsbury USA. It stands at 384 pages.

ANALYSIS: Over the years, there are only a handful of books that I can say I instantly fell in love with from the moment I started reading. Sure, there are books that I grow to love or the series evolves in a way that makes it one of my favorites, but I'm talking about insta-love for a book. The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is my insta-love book for 2015, at least so far.

I was perhaps 15 pages into The Fixer and I knew drawn in. The style of writing, character development, mystery, and pace all had me drawn to this book within such a short period of time. There was a small part of me that worried that because I loved the book so quickly, I would be disappointed by the end. Luckily, that did not happen.

The Fixer had a number of things that I truly enjoyed. First, was the ability Jennifer Lynn Barnes has of creating detailed, relatable characters throughout the entire novel. There are so many characters thrown into the mix that it could quickly become overwhelming to readers, but it doesn't. Every character is unique, every character is developed and every character has a bit of a mysterious aura to them.

Tess, our main character, isn't the warmest, most likeable individual at first, but her running commentary of the situation and voice really make the story. She is relatable and readers will quickly feel a kinship to her within the first few pages.

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the plot development. It can be very tempting, when writing thrillers, to go with the same old, same old mentality. The Fixer doesn't really do that. There are plot elements that once I finished the book, I realized I should have seen coming, but there were definite twists and turns that shocked me. It just felt refreshing to have the somewhat unpredictable nature of the book play out in front of me.

And of course, there is the lack of a romance. There are hints of a possible romance to come, but for the most part this entire book revolves around uncovering a government conspiracy, working through people's lies and sorting out your own family secrets/problems.

I am not one that typically gravitates towards political thrills, but The Fixer was a hit and one of my top reads for 2015. It is detailed, but not so complex that the reader is lost. It was a quick, satisfying read that leaves me waiting anxiously for the next book in the series.
Monday, August 31, 2015

GUEST POST: "Why A Nice Dragon" by Rachel Aaron

One of my biggest rules as a writer is that once you figure out what a book’s about, you never mention it explicitly again. Silent themes should be just that: silent. This isn’t to say you can’t write a book that has a definite and clear message, just that you should never stop and draw an arrow pointing to it. The moment you say “this is what my book’s about,” you’re writing a sermon, not a story.

This rule always applies inside my fiction, but I try to obey it outside my books as well. I could write a thesis on the themes of free will and choice in the Eli books, but I prefer to let the text speak for itself. That way, if you don’t want to bother with the bigger questions of meaning and what it’s all about, you’re just left with a fun story, which isn’t a bad thing at all!

Today, though, in the spirit of “Talking about things Rachel cares about a lot,” I’m going to break my rule a little bit. Nearly a month ago, my new book, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, was released with much hoopla (I am a giant fan of hoopla!). The reception so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and I can’t say how happy I am that so many of my fans are enjoying a book I worked so hard on. But the release of OGDDA has also kicked off a kind of unique phenomena.

Recently, I’ve been getting emails from my young male readers. These are not bad emails at all! They’ve actually been almost entirely positive except for one repeated complaint where the reader wants to know when Julius is going to “grow a pair,” grab a sword, and start kicking butt. “All the lady dragons are super badass,” one reader pointed out. “When is Julius going to get his turn?”

If you are at all familiar with Nice Dragons Finish Last (and if you’re not, here’s Mihir’s excellent review), then you probably understand why these emails left me scratching my head. Invariably, I write these people back thanking them profusely for reading, but explaining that, unfortunately, the thing they want is never going to happen. Julius is never going to be an ass-kicking dragon like his sister Chelsie or brother Justin, because to have him pick up a sword and smash his enemies would negate the entire point of his character and the series as a whole.

When I sat down to write the Heartstriker series, I set out to do a lot of things. Some of these balls are already in play, and some have yet to be served, but the overarching theme tying them all together is a simple question:
1) do we need to be cruel to get ahead?
2) Is it possible to be both kind and successful in the long term, or will you just be hopelessly taken advantage of?

Throughout the Heartstriker novels--starting with Nice Dragons Finish Last and continuing with One Good Dragon Deserves Another—I pose this question from as many different angles as possible, but the instigator and primary example is always my main character, Julius. He is the titular Nice Dragon. He’s meek, he’s non-aggressive, he’s kind, and he doesn’t enjoy hurting others for any reason, even if they arguably deserve it. He is, in short, exactly the opposite of everything a ruthless, magical, cunning apex predator should be.

Right from the very first chapter of the first book, these undraconic traits make Julius’s life hell. In Nice Dragons Finish Last, I went out of my way to make sure every single dragon makes fun of or actively torments Julius for being like he is. At any point in the book, Julius’s life would have been made infinitely easier if he’d just “dragoned up” and done something ruthless or cruel, but he never does. Even when he actively tries to buy into the ruthless dragon ideal, he just can’t make himself do it, both because it feels wrong and because acting that way would make him just as bad as the dragons who’ve been bullying and taking advantage of him his whole life.

This active refusal to join the cruel, ruthless, dog-eat-dog brawl that is dragon culture is the core of Julius’s character, and in the books, it is the unique reason he succeeds where bigger, stronger, meaner dragons fail. Julius wins not because he is strong or has special powers, but because he is clever and compassionate, and an actual friend in a culture where friendship is considered nothing more than a set up for future betrayals. Even when he does eventually get power over other dragons, he refuses to put his boot on their necks and instead treats them with respect and compassion. He is nice, and in my books, that’s what makes him interesting enough to be worthy of being the main character.

This is not to berate or make fun of the readers who wrote me wondering when Julius will get a chance to kick butt. I absolutely understand where they’re coming from. Kicking butt is the standard path for a genre hero. My own books (especially my Paradox series) are full of ass kickers and badasses of every stripe, but not Julius. He was created to be fundamentally different, because in these books, he’s more than just the main character. He’s my answer to the question “is it possible to get ahead without hurting others?” because that is exactly what he does over and over again.

This isn’t to say I make it easy on him. Julius actually has had the hardest ride of any of my main characters to date, and we’re only two books into the Heartstriker series. There’s still three more of these suckers to go, and it’s no spoiler to say that I intend to test Julius’s commitment as hard and as cruelly as I can in each one. I don’t do this because I enjoy watching characters suffer (or, at least, not just because I enjoy it), but because I want to show people in the most brutal, absolute, and inarguable way possible that the “dragon” way of doing things---which, no coincidence, is very similar to the hyper-masculine, violence worshiping, alpha-dog culture modern men are still expected to conform to—is wrong.

All throughout the series, dragons are constantly telling Julius to “be a dragon” or “grow some fangs.” These comments are very similar to the reader questions I got about Julius growing a pair,” and my ultimate reply to both is the same: never. Julius will never act like that. Not because he is weak or cowardly or effeminate (and hoo boy, that’s a whole other angry-typing post about how acting nice=weak=female=bad), but because ruthlessly stomping on your enemies and pushing others out of the way to get ahead—all aspects that are held up as positive traits by dragon culture and in certain areas of our real world that I’m sure we can all name--is a fundamentally bad way of doing things that drags us all down as a species.

That’s the point. That’s the underlying truth of the whole series. That’s why I picked Julius as the viewpoint character over the literally hundreds of other ass kicking, properly draconic Heartstrikers. Because he’s not like that. He’s nice, and no matter how much I make him suffer for it, he will always choose to keep being nice because he believes all the way down to his bones that the cruel, ruthless “dragon” culture is wrong, and so do I.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I try never to come out and say what my novels are about, but you only have to read a few pages to know that I believe in Julius. This isn’t to say he’s one of those “author voice” characters (I’m much more like Marci!), but he is the moral heart of these books. I don’t agree with everything he does, and he still has a lot of growing to do as a character (we’ve still got three books left, after all), but the fundamental “Julius-ness” has been there from the very beginning. Every other character in the books calls it weakness, but the truth is that being compassionate and resolving conflict with compromise instead of violence takes a hell of a lot more bravery, cleverness, and conviction than picking up a sword and kicking your enemy’s ass. Julius might be hopeless in combat, but he has those qualities in spades, and that’s why he, rather than any of his fire-breathing, city-destroying siblings, is the hero of the story.

If you haven’t read the books yet, I hope all talk about themes hasn’t put you off the books. I swear all this stuff isn’t a tenth as in your face as I’m making it sound here! Like I said, I normally avoid talking about themes like the plague, but this subject is very near and dear to my heart. So if you like the sound of a fast paced story about dragons in a cyberpunk, Shadowrun-esque future Detroit and you can stomach the idea of a main character who wins through the power of friendship and civility rather than violence, I hope you’ll give the Heartstriker series a try. Do it to find out what all the Bob comments are about, if nothing else. ;)

Thank you for reading, and thank you as always to Mihir for letting me come on the blog!


Official Author Website  
Order “One Good Dragon Deserves AnotherHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "One Good Dragon Deserves Another
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach
Read Paradox Trilogy completion interview with Rachel Aaron/Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Aaron is the author of ten novels, including Fantasy fan favorite The Legend of Eli Monpress and the bestselling Nice Dragons Finish Last. She also writes action packed, romantic Science Fiction under the name Rachel Bach. When she’s not holed up in her writer cave, she lives a lovely, nerdy, bookish life in Athens, GA with her five-year-old son, very understanding husband, and obese wiener dog. Other than her own books, the internet knows Rachel best for writing very fast. To find out exactly how fast (and to read sample chapters from all her books), visit her website!

NOTE: Dragon art by J. S. Rossbach.
Friday, August 28, 2015

Interview with Tim Marquitz (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author website 
Order Aftermath HERE
Order Influx: Clandestine Daze #1 HERE
Read The Nocturnal Library's review of Influx
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Armageddon Bound 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Resurrection 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of At The Gates and Betrayal 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Echoes Of The Past 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Beyond The Veil 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of From Hell
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Best Of Enemies 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Skulls
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Witch Bane
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Prey and Anathema
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Tim Marquitz

Tim Marquitz is an indie writer and the editorial head of Ragnarok Publications. He's also one of my favorite writers because of his dark, humor-laced Demon Squad series. I've been following his career with interest as I count him as a good friend.  Please join me in welcoming Tim as he chats about his newest release Aftermath as well as his other new series titled Clandestine Gaze.

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, since the last time we spoke you have completed nine volumes in your debut series and have begun another series as well. Please talk to us about how you delineate your writing time? How you elevator pitch both of them?

TM: I just write the project that’s in front of me, which often makes it easy for me. I don’t normally have to worry too much about market trends or any of that stuff. I simply tell the story that’s kicking to get out. And since I tend to do one project at a time—normally—I just pile them up one after the other and slap keys until they’re done. As for the Demon Squad books, the pitch would come across something like this: "In a world God and the Devil have abandoned, there’s only one man who stands a chance of piecing it back together. That man is Frank Trigg and humanity is so screwed."

Clandestine Daze is a bit more noir in its approach: "No one trusts a doppelganger, and for good reason. Behind every stolen identity lies murder. CD is about a doppelganger Z who’s come to earth and taken over the life of a man positioned to stave off a war between humanity and a faery like race of beings while agents of both sides provoke conflict."

Q] Talking about your most recent release AFTERMATH, what can you tell us about this book? What new horror have you unleashed in Frank’s world?

TM: Aftermath begins five months after Collateral Damage and Frank is drugging and boozing his way toward oblivion when a small nuke is detonated in the small Louisiana town he’s been hiding out in. This event brings all of his trouble right back to his doorstep and opens up the Demon Squad universe to a whole new series of grief.

Q] Going over the past few books, you have taken the story in quite new worlds literally. What was your aim with the multi-dimensional nature of the tales being told?

TM: I wanted to create a world that was more than just one world. I wanted an open-ended universe, something like the Marvel Universe, where there is more to the story than what is happening on the pages. There’s all these bigger issues erupting out of view but I wanted them to impact Frank and his allies. The only way to do that was to broaden the scope of the series and take Frank off planet where the reader could get some glimpse of what was going on.

Q] In book 7, we get a new POV character. This was huge as Frank has been the sole narrator for the previous six books. What was your intention for Scarlett getting a POV role?

TM: I never intended to take the view point away from Frank in any major way—at least not in the DS books—but I felt it was a great way to tell both sides of the story by bringing Scarlett into the mix. She’s so different from Frank that it was fun writing her parts from the first person and delving inside her head and giving readers a deeper understanding of her on top of it working for that particular story.

Q] A lot of Demon Squad readers are big fans of Scarlett. I count myself among them as I enjoy her straight forward worldview & badass talents. I was wondering if she will get her own book/novella to add to the Demon Squad milieu.

TM: I always worry that I would screw up a story with Scarlett at the helm. She’s the complete opposite of Frank in so many ways that I’m concerned I might fumble her perspective and ruin the character. For me to sit down and write a bigger piece for her I’d have to be certain I could do so without sacrificing the nature of her character first.

Q] In book 8 we get to see Frank as a father, how big of a change was that for him especially from the carefree rogue that we saw in the earlier books? What was the most enjoyable part for you in writing those scenes?

TM: Frank isn’t good father material and he knows it, but for a while there he gave it his all and had Karra to rein him in. With those two in his life he finally found something to fight for and something to avoid fighting for. It’s the love he never truly felt or understood and that changed him in a lot of ways that will become evident as the series progresses.

I think the most enjoyable part was that it was so familiar. I remember sitting with my daughter on my lap, listening to heavy metal while she laughed and farted and had a grand old time.

Q] Within the last few books, the action has been extra-terrestrial/dimensional to say the least. Will Aftermath be grounding the action to Earth then?

TM: Mostly. The overreaching issues will always pull Frank away from earth somewhat and always have an impact on the story. I’ve been focusing the series more closely on earth lately and will continue that for a while but the story will take Frank wherever it needs to.

Q] You have also been writing about the Clandestine Daze series, what precautions did you take to differentiate it from your Demon Squad books?

TM: Clandestine Daze is more steeped in a noir influence, the scale smaller, more focused. While there are two conflicting worlds there are no overly-powerful beings who can shift the tide, no aliens or gods to muddy the waters. CD also deals more closely with the impact the story has on the main character and the people in his life.

The series is also a bit darker in attitude. While the Demon Squad books are certainly dark there is a lot of humor that lightens the worst of moods. There’s less of that in CD. It’s a more serious series overall.

Q] What can the readers expect next from the next volumes in the Demon Squad & Clandestine Daze series?

TM: The Demon Squad series will continue to be fantastic in scope, diverse and weird. The new books open a long hinted at change in the dynamic of the world. I’m going to explore that and see where it takes me.

Clandestine Daze will likely wrap up the current storyline within another two books, and then Z will be free to explore other lives and scenarios.

Q] I recall that a cover was revealed of your next big anthology, MECH: Age of Steel, the sequel to Kaiju Rising? What can you reveal about its inception and author lineup? When will it be launched?

TM: Ah, the eternally delayed project that is MECH. We’re still working on it but it’s been a matter of getting our chaos under control. It will be out on Kickstarter in a couple months. We’ve had to get some organizational crap under control with Ragnarok but we’re definitely going to do the book.

As for how it came about, Nick Sharps brought the idea to us alongside Kaiju Rising. And after that campaign went gangbusters MECH just fell into place with a fantastic lineup and great art and all the hallmarks of Kaiju Rising.

Q] Thank you very much for your time and for answering all the questions. What would like to pass on to your fans both old and new?

TM: Appreciate you having me. I just want to say thanks to everyone who’s supported me over the years and have spread the word about my writing. It’s been a hell of a journey and I couldn’t have done it without you folks.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty" (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Robert Beatty's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: "Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there and they will ensnare your soul."

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There's plenty to explore in the shadowed corridors of her vast home, but she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate's maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore's corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore's owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak's true identity before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina's hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

FORMAT: Serafina and the Black Cloak is a standalone children's mystery/thriller with historical fiction elements and supernatural twists. It stands at 304 pages and was published July 14, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion.

ANALYSIS: Sometimes in children's literature, especially the fantasy genre, authors try to overcomplicate books. It seems as if there is this fear that simple doesn't work or that readers will only read a book if it is overcomplicated, which isn't true. When done correctly, simplicity works and it is shown in Serafina and the Black Cloak.

Serafina and the Black Cloak is an adorable children's novel with a fairly straight forward plot. Yes, there are twists and turns along the way, but there isn't anything overly complex. Even though the novel's main plotline is simple – and I hate calling it simple because it makes it seem like the book wasn't good – it was captivating because of its characters.

I knew within the first few pages that this was going to be an enchanting novel. Serafina, our main heroine of the novel, is a young girl who has been hidden from the world and living in the basement of the Biltmore estate with no one the wiser to her existence. Serafina has this aura about her that makes her a bit loveable, yet mysterious.

Combine Serafina's mysterious storyline with her character development and you have a winning combination. It allows Robert Beatty to create a story that I would certainly read over and over again.

Serafina wasn't the only character to really pop out of the book and captivate my attention. Other characters, including the Young Master of the Biltmore Estate and Serafina's dad, were each captivating and unique in their own right. Considering the relative short nature of the book, it was amazing just how developed and unique every character became.

Another aspect of Serafina and the Black Cloak that I enjoyed was the mysterious or eerie plot. The entire plot revolves around not only discovering who this mysterious Black Cloak is and why he/she is stealing children, but it involves a haunted off-limit wooded area. It wasn't overly scary and really helped downplay what could have been a sugary sweet children's read.

In addition to the characters and eerie nature of the plot, the choice of having it set at the Biltmore Estate just felt right. I loved the way that Beatty really used the Biltmore Estate to his advantage when writing and created this whole mysterious maze-like world that kept me wanting to read.

I will admit that around the half-way mark, it was fairly obvious to me where the author was going with some of the plot elements. I wouldn't say the entire book was predictable, but some parts were – for adult readers. I do think younger readers, who are the main target audience, will not find it as easily predictable.

Overall, I will admit I enjoyed reading Serafina and the Black Cloak. It certainly wasn't overly complicated, yet the captivating characters and eerie plot/atmosphere created by the author made it an enjoyable read. It really shows that not every children's fantasy book has to have an overly complex plot to be good.


Click here to find out more about “Book Scavenger”
Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “The Instruments Of Control”
Review HERE


Click here to find out more about “Queen of Fire”
Review HERE