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Sunday, August 7, 2022

SPFBO 8: The Fifth Winnowing (Mihir's Batch)

 



 This year is the 8th edition of this wonderful competition and also our 8th time participating in it. It’s my pleasure to be able to review our last mini-lot. The books in my lot have been a wide variety across the fantasy spectrum.  I also had the unique distinction of having the biggest book (in terms of page count for this SPFBO edition) in my lot of six titles.

I must reiterate that the thoughts below are entirely my own and are subjective in  terms of opinion. Any reader might find their experience with any of these titles to be different than mine and so please keep that in mind. Here are the six titles that were randomly selected for me to read:

 


We Break Immortals – This was the first title, which I jumped into because of the exciting nature of the story, and of course I had heard praise for the innovative worldbuilding showcased within the book. I went in to the story with an open mind and while it was really a strange and exciting world. The story didn’t quite come together until I reached about 17-20% of the book. Now that’s not a lot to decide about the book but looking at the 1000-page plus page count that roughly meant that I had read about 150-200 pages and finally the story and characters started to make sense to me. I couldn’t in good conscience put this forward knowing that you have to read at least 150-200 pages to get intrigued by it (Malazan fans however might feel differently). I have to point out though, the worldbuilding is possibly one of the best I've read in indie fantasy and I plan to read it separately to see how the characterization & plot fare. 

I had to cut this book however I will be reading this book on its own and will be reviewing down the line as I do wish to see what happens next for the story. Kudos to the author for creating such a 

 

Quenched In Blood – This was a cool multi-genre book which based on the blurb was very exciting. It focuses on a dystopian world that has Norse gods and mythology and is also an action packed fantasy thriller. I dove into this book in with lots of anticipation. First things first, Sean Crow has to be lauded for coming up with the premise of this story that mixes corporate espionage, Norse magic, military action and the Fae. Seriously if that set up doesn’t excite your imagination, then I gotta wonder why are you even reading fantasy. The book is a bit confusing as it’s book 2 of a series but book 1 is a collection of short stories that flesh out character and world backstories. So this book 2 is the first full-length story and hence it qualifies for the SPFBO.

For me, this book was a mixed bag because while the world settings enamoured me, the story execution left me a little cold. The main reason was that often in the story, the characters refer to previous scenarios or reference certain events that were a tad confusing. Again maybe this would have made a bit more sense if I had read the previous book (short story collection). This was the biggest flaw of the book for me and so I had to DNF it at around 30%.

 

The Reborn PrinceJulianne Munich's debut had a very cool set up, the main character of Prince Renaud (Luc) has magically induced amnesia and what he does not know is that his own mother is the person doing so. I liked this set up and dove into it. The author recreates a historical and magical version of Paris, which was a real pleasure to read. The story takes a while to get going and the author takes her time to build up the characters and the plot scenario. The author also showcases a lot of politics and society nuances within this story and I enjoyed it. The central romance of the story plays out very slowly and solidly.  The one drawback was the pace was very, very slow and this was why I had to DNF the book around the 40% mark.

Again perhaps I wasn’t the best reader for this story and maybe other romance readers might have enjoyed this more than me.

 

Dying Wishes – This was a book that I was attracted too based on what the plot details were announced in the blurb. Focusing on dual timelines, we get to meet Infinity a collector of dying people’s wishes that helps them attain Moksha. In the past timeline, we meet a young child named Ananya who faces a rough upbringing and is loved by her mother. These two timelines are very enticing and kept me rooted. I must say though the past timeline was my favourite as it was set in the southern part of India. The story then slowly and surely causes the two timelines to converge and along the way, we get a solid dollop of Indian mythology (which I loved).

I have to highlight the author’s characterization with the young Ananya as well the elder Infinity. We are drawn in to a world wherein characters hold the interest throughout. The biggest drawback for me was the pace of the story that stayed on the slower side throughout and the ending was more on a personal note than an earth-shattering one. This was entirely a personal choice by the author and I respect her trying to buck the genre’s demands. The story leaves a decent opening for a sequel if the author should decide to do so. Overall this was a three-star read.

 

Yellow Tape and Coffee – This was an interesting book in terms of its plot setting. The story is set in and around Portland (Oregon) and features a war between a clan of werewolves. This isn’t a traditional urban fantasy and it was great to read something that had more of a horror edge to it. One of the biggest plus points of the story is set in Portland and now being a native Oregonian, it was fun to read a story set in the same city. The author is also a native and drops in a lot of cultural and geographical observations, which were spot on and fun to read.

The main story is more of a mystery as to what is causing this war and all the murders and the author lays down the metaphorical bread crumbs for the readers to make sense of it. There’s a myriad of characters (Veer Rosen, Gordon, Carl, detective Diaz, Victor the alpha etc.) and each of the their subplots begins and seemingly goes its own way. The author does eventually make it all come together in the end but that’s after nearly 700-plus pages. The plot pace is solid throughout which is a plus. For me I didn’t quite connect with the characters as much as I wished to. Overall while I finished this story, I would rate it as a 3-star read.

 

Wild Lands – This book was one that I wish I had read when I was started reading fantasy books more than twenty years ago. This book has a very effective hook in its set up about a potential powerful magic user in our MC Bree. She flees her poor life as otherwise she would be stuck in an abysmal situation however her father joins her to help her make the journey. The story is again a big one and the characterization wasn’t special for me to connect with the characters. Bree’s father is a unlikeable character & while I’ve no problem with unlikeable characters. Here there’s no reasoning given besides the plot needing him to be as such. For me this story didn’t work at all from a narrative purpose, neither did I connect with the characters nor the pace wasn’t anything to brag about. I had to DNF it around the 25% mark.

 


So those are my quick thoughts about the books in my lot, which brings to me to the next step of deciding which book could be a semifinalist. Here’s where I have to be truly apologize to all of the authors. None of the titles in my lot made an indelible mark in my mind and hence I cannot nominate any of the titles as a semifinalist.

I must reiterate that there’s nothing bad about these books and they will have their fans. For me, they didn’t quite work and hence I had to either DNF them or if I finished reading them, they were a 3-star read IMHO. Hence at the end of this round, Fantasy Book Critic has announced three semifinalists so far and that number will be staying constant. We will be presenting our joint reviews on all three semifinalists soon and will be revealing our SPFBO finalist in the next month or so.


Thursday, August 4, 2022

Book review: Priest of Crowns by Peter McLean

 


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Ten Thousand Stitches by Olivia Atwater - Review

Official Author Website
Buy Ten Thousand Stitches HERE
Read Caitlin's Review of Half a Soul

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

New Release Q&A with Phil Williams, the author of the Dyer Street Punk Witches


About Phil WIlliams: Phil Williams is an author of contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction, including the Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers and the post-apocalyptic Estalia series. He also writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English, two of which are regular best-sellers on Kindle. As a long-term teacher and tutor of advanced English, he runs the popular website “English Lessons Brighton”.

Phil lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.

Dyer Punk Witches linksAmazonGoodreads


Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Phil; how have you been?

I’ve been sweltering in the sun, growing concerned about the oncoming demise of our species, but otherwise toddling along rather well, thanks.

Please tell us about your new writing project; how did it all come together?

The latest book is Dyer Street Punk Witches, the 7th instalment in the Ordshaw universe but a totally standalone tale with the city as a backdrop. This one involves a punk magazine editor, local gangs, and a touch of witchcraft. It leans into crime thriller territory, as we dig up secrets of past crimes with a supernatural edge.

I’ve had this on the backburner for a long time, as I wanted to bring a classic witch-themed arc into the Ordshaw series, but of course these aren’t typical fairy tale witches. Ordshaw in general leans towards the shadows of society, and I always had in mind that these witches would be on the wrong side of the tracks.

I drew on elements from my own influences to flesh this out, including the times I’ve spent working with magazines and reflections on ’90s Fem Rock and classic Brit crime films.

How would you describe the plot of Dyer Street Punk Witches if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

Punk feminism and colourful characters collide with urban gang warfare and illicit magic in this contemporary fantasy thriller mash-up. Kit is forced to face the secrets of her rough past when an old enemy and a new witch both turn up to threaten her stable life.

What subgenres does it fit?

Urban fantasy is the main umbrella, but I prefer to say contemporary fantasy as it doesn’t fit the typical frame. It’s also a crime thriller, with a character-driven story that also leans towards general contemporary fiction.

What inspired you to write this story? Was there one “lightbulb moment” when the concept for this book popped into your head or did it develop over time?

This one has been germinating for a while; the initial idea came as part of my vague long-term plan for different storylines converging in the Ordshaw universe, to give regular tropes that Ordshaw twist. Witches, haunted houses and others were always pegged for different stages of the series, and my intention was to start on these once the Sunken City Trilogy and the Ikiri Duology were done.

Here, I wanted to create a story that didn’t directly impact the wider series, and it made sense to relegate witches to the backstreets and alleyways, caught up in the gritty, forgotten realms of Ordshaw crime.

In terms of the specific story, I spent a lot of time establishing the witches’ entire lives. The details aren’t all in the book, but I have timelines of life events for every major character in the book, and the more I established their backgrounds the more the story itself almost jumped out at me.

If you had to describe the story in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Raw, exciting, emotional

Would you say that Dyer Street Punk Witches follows tropes or kicks them?

I aimed to hit some particular tropes, which are in there, but not perhaps in their typical guise. We have, for example, a coven of three witches that roughly fit the crone, mother and maiden model, but seen through a narrative split over two timelines. More apparent, perhaps, are the tropes of crime fiction, with duelling gangs and rough characters. The twists come as the two aspects collide, so your typical gang war gets twisted up with magic, and your typical witches get bent out of shape by gangs. Things then go in rather unexpected directions!

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Dyer Street Punk Witches’ protagonists/antagonists?

The bulk of the story is split between two people. First, it follows Kit “Fadulous” Hamley, a former punk rocker/political activist turned magazine editor. She now makes a living by riling up local politicians, campaigning for her poor neighbourhood; a rough, tough, no-nonsense woman. But she also has a chequered past involving criminal gangs and magic gone wrong.

On the other hand, we meet Aaron Wise, a timid graduate who’s been struggling to find work. When his path crosses with Kit’s, he’s drawn into her world and starts uncovering her grim background. That, obviously, puts him in terrible danger.

They’re joined by Kit’s magazine staff, particularly diligent Ellie, and Kit’s estranged friend Big Mad, an Australian witch-turned-working mum. The conflict arises from the appearance of Terry Goddom, an ex-convict who has it in for Kit – as well as from a mysterious woman stalking through the shadows, stirring up magical energy. Then there’s also Kit’s old criminal friends to consider, including Oscar Tallice, an unstable thug who she never really got on with...

Have you written Dyer Street Punk Witches with a particular audience in mind?

I was aiming at fans of witch stories with a shared interest in something gritty and urban, providing crossover towards darker crime fiction. People equally at home, say, with Alix E. Harrow and James Lee Burke. I’m not sure what that audience looks like overall, but I know I’m in it.


Alright, we need the details on the cover. Who's the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it?

The cover design came before the book. I’ve been building a cover portfolio myself, and while I was scheming over producing urban fantasy designs I came across this image that gelled perfectly with what I had in mind for Dyer Street. I created the design to capture the feel of the book I intended to write, combining this female punk image with a pulp crime look. It’s been great to have the image to reference from the start; while I was writing the book, I used the cover to keep me in the mood!

Can you, please, offer us a taste of your book, via one completely out-of-context sentence.

“It wasn’t all because of me!” Kit snapped, knowing she shouldn’t, but unable to stand there and take it. “They all knew what they were getting into.”

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

In these difficult times, stay punk.
Monday, August 1, 2022

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne (Reviewed by Shazzie & Caitlin G.)

Order The Book Of Gothel over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mary McMyne's debut novel, THE BOOK OF GOTHEL, is forthcoming from Orbit/Redhook and Orbit UK in July 2022. She is also the author of the Elgin Award-winning fairytale poetry chapbook, WOLF SKIN. Originally from south Louisiana, she has a MFA in fiction from NYU. She lives with her family in the foothills of the Appalachian part of Georgia.

 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Blog Tour: Oath Bound & Shield Breaker by Richard Cullen (review by Matthew Higgins)

 


Today Fantasy Book Critic via Matthew Higgins is excited to be a part of Richard Cullen's blog tour for The Wolf Of Kings series. Matthew will be reviewing the first book Oath Bound which can been read below.
Friday, July 29, 2022

Hugh Howey's SPSFC's submissions are Open Three More Days. Self-published Sci-fi Writers - Hurry up!


As huge fans of literary contests promoting indie books, we want to remind you that Hugh Howey's SPSFC is still open for submissions. 
Thursday, July 28, 2022

A Strange And Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows (reviewed by Shazzie)

 


Official Author Website
Order A Strange And Stubborn Endurance over HERE
Read an excerpt from the book here
 
Wednesday, July 27, 2022

A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys (Reviewed by Daniel P. Haeusser)

 


Official Author Website
Official Author Twitter
Order A Half-Built Garden HERE
 
 
OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ruthanna Emrys lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, DC with her wife and their large, strange family. Her stories have appeared in a number of venues, including Strange Horizons, Analog, and Tor.com. She is the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series, which began with Winter Tide. She makes home-made vanilla, obsesses about game design, gives unsolicited advice, and occasionally attempts to save the world.
 

SPFBO Semi-finalist interview: Holly Karlsson, the author of Kingdom of Essence


About Holly Karlsson: Holly Karlsson writes epic and adventure fantasy filled with magic, dangerous quests, compelling characters, and mythical creatures. Holly is the author of the Daughters of Fire & Sea Trilogy, and Kingdom of Essence.

She enjoys connecting to her readers and regularly releases flash fiction stories on her website www.byhollykarlsson.com. Follow her on Instagram @byhollykarlsson, Facebook www.facebook.com/byhollykarlsson/ or Goodreads.

Kingdom of Essence links: AmazonGoodreads

INTERVIEW

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m originally from the west coast of the United States, but moved to northern Sweden two years ago. I’ve always had a big imagination, so I knew early on that I wanted to write stories about epic lands and fascinating magic. Of course, if I’d chanced upon the opportunity to become a mage or befriend a dragon, that would be my first choice!

The one question everyone gets: how long have you been writing and what made you decide to become a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was a child, but I didn’t finish my first novel until my thirties. In high school, I thought my only career path to becoming an author was to work as an English teacher. That didn’t appeal to me, so I dabbled in numerous subjects and career paths until I had the lucky opportunity to write from home while on maternity leave with my first child.

What made you decide to go the self-publishing route? What were the advantages, and what do you think you missed by not being traditionally published?

I wanted to have more control over how and when I published and what cover artists I worked with. Finding the right agent and publisher can take years and be very difficult, and I decided I’d rather release my work on my own terms. A definite advantage is being able to make updates quickly, such as updating a cover or something in the book or blurb.

The biggest downside has been that I don’t particularly enjoy marketing, so it would have been very useful to have help in that regard. It’s also harder to get a book into physical bookstores as an indie author, so my reach isn’t as wide as I’d like.

Can you tell us about your editing process? Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or hire professionals?

I’m relatively good at self-editing my work, and my critique partner — a fellow author — often picks up on anything I miss. I then read my entire book aloud, as this helps to find awkward phrasing, and then send it to my copyeditor who does a final pass. Usually, my final work is pretty clean, but I love working with a professional editor as the last step to ensure it’s as polished as possible.

Why did you decide to enter SPFBO? And seeing as you have others novels- what made you choose Kingdom of Essence, to put forth over your others?

I heard about the competition last year and considered entering Kingdom of Essence, but it wasn't until J.D. Evans won SPFBO 7 — we have the same incredible cover artist — that I decided to see how far I could go. Finding new readers is challenging, and I thought the competition might help put my stories in front of new eyes.

I chose to enter Kingdom of Essence because I think my Slavic-inspired world and magic system are fairly unique, and I believe it’s my strongest work so far. I love the close friendships in the book, and thought many of the themes would resonate with other adult readers.




I personally loved the pen and ink style of your cover art for Kingdom of Essence. Who's the artist/designer? What drew you to that style and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it?

It’s one of my favorite art styles! My cover artist is Tatiana (Tanya) Anor, who created the covers for J.D. Evans’ Mages of the Wheel series. That’s how I found out about her. I thought Tanya’s illustrations were unique and distinctive and perfectly fit the tone of Kingdom of Essence.

I love working with artists and seeing how they interpret my character descriptions. I shared with Tanya which of her existing illustrations I loved (for style and composition), loosely described the background, and gave her Elitsa’s physical description with Pinterest images for clothing inspiration. After sketching, Tanya suggested a bird silhouette in the swirl of air coming from Elitsa’s hand, and we settled on a swan, which has significance in the story. There wasn’t much back and forth after that, as all of Tanya’s sketches were amazing, so I was mostly just thrilled with every work-in-progress she sent!

What was your initial inspiration for Kingdom of Essence? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

It started as a random idea to write a short, fall-inspired murder mystery in October 2020 with a magic system that involved metal and the question, “how would you extract magic from plants?” From there, my imagination just ran wild (there is a bit of a murder mystery, but not quite what I’d envisioned) until it eventually became the book you have in your hands! I also wanted to write a Slavic-inspired world to bring some of my Ukrainian heritage (my great-grandparents emigrated from Ukraine) into the story in the mythology, food, and fashion.

It was supposed to be a short break from working on my other series and only take a month or two, but as it became a full-length book, it took most of a year to finish writing.

I’m very curious to know what inspired your magic system? The amount of thought put into its varied uses- from the relics to the harvesting of the essences, must have taken quite a bit of your time to work out the details and to add all those little finishing touches- like the use of scent upon release (something I loved a lot). Was there anything you regret adding, that made it a nightmare to work around as the story progressed?

I’m always dreaming up new magic systems and talking through the limitations and consequences with my husband, who loves fantasy worlds as I do. Usually, they come about through a question, like what I mentioned above, and then evolve as I think about what world they would exist in and how magic would affect the lives of my characters. I love nature and plants, and I think stories come alive and are easier to immerse in when you can feel and smell the world by engaging the senses.

I wouldn’t say I regret anything in particular, though I always worry I’ve forgotten to explain something that exists in my head but not on the page. It was occasionally challenging to think of unique scent combinations for the different ways magic was used in the book, but I also loved that part.

Your bio mentioned Nancy Drew, as some of the books you grew-up reading. As a Nancy Drew fan, there were many times during reading Kingdom of Essence, that I thought to myself that Elitsa, had Nancy’s spirit. After seeing your bio, I had wondered if she was an influence on Elitsa as a character? Or were there others that helped inspire you to bring Elitsa’s story to life?

Yes! I’m glad Elitsa reminded you of Nancy! I hadn’t thought about that, but she does have the same investigative spirit. I’ve always been drawn to resourceful, courageous characters who want to unravel mysteries and know the truth of things. For Elitsa, I didn’t have any particular influences in mind, but I wanted to write about a reserved character who is world-weary and figuring things out. Living through the pandemic while relocating to a new country gave me a lot of emotions to draw on, and she just became clear in my head.

The interactions between Elitsa, Pipene, and Cas were a lot of fun. Enquiring minds…well, this mind anyway, wants to know- will there be more of them to look forward to in the next book?

They are so much fun to write! Yes, the three of them are returning in the second book. I love Elitsa and Pipene’s friendship, and I can’t wait to see what trouble Cas causes during their travels.

How many books have you planned for the series? What are you working on at the moment? And what’s your publishing schedule for 2022/2023?

I have at least one more book planned for Kingdom of Essence and maybe a third, depending on how the story unravels during the drafting stage. Elitsa and her friends have many adventures ahead of them.

Currently, I’m working on the final book in my epic trilogy, Daughters of Fire and Sea, and hope to publish it this winter. After that, I’ll most likely begin on the sequel to Kingdom of Essence and then pick from my long list of ideas. If I can publish two books next year, I’ll be happy. I wish I could write faster because I have a lot of interesting worlds and magic systems I want to explore.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

I want to say a big thank you to all the judges for giving their time — and to you for your wonderful review of Kingdom of Essence — and to Mark Lawrence for hosting this incredible competition. It’s been fun to find new authors and books I’m excited to read, and I’m so grateful to still be in the running. Thank you!

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