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Friday, December 2, 2016

GIVEAWAY: Win A Thousand Nights Companion Series Prize Pack (Spindle and A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston)




Fantasy Book Critic is excited to partner with Disney-Hyperion to offer a giveaway of A Thousand Nights Companion Series by EK Johnston. One very lucky winner will receive a copy of A Thousand Nights and a copy of Spindle!

Spindle is the newest book in A Thousand Nights Companion Series. It is scheduled for release on December 6, 2016. For one lucky person, they will win both of these books! Giveaway rules are below.

A huge thank you goes out to Disney-Hyperion for providing the giveaway package and for sending a review copy.

Download The Garden of Three Hundred Flowers for free for your Nook or Kindle

The Garden of Three Hundred Flowers is an interstitial short story by E.K. Johnston set between her novels A THOUSAND NIGHTS and SPINDLE. For readers excited to learn more, this story also includes excerpts from A THOUSAND NIGHTS, SPINDLE, and Johnston's Star Wars novel, AHSOKA.

About Spindle: 

The world is made safe by a woman...but it is a very big world.
It has been generations since the Storyteller Queen drove the demon out of her husband and saved her country from fire and blood. Her family has prospered beyond the borders of their village, and two new kingdoms have sprouted on either side of the mountains where the demons are kept prisoner by bright iron, and by the creatures the Storyteller Queen made to keep them contained.

But the prison is crumbling. Through years of careful manipulation, a demon has regained her power. She has made one kingdom strong and brought the other to its knees, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When a princess is born, the demon is ready with the final blow: a curse that will cost the princess her very soul, or force her to destroy her own people to save her life.

The threads of magic are tightly spun, binding princess and exiled spinners into a desperate plot to break the curse before the demon can become a queen of men. But the web of power is dangerously tangled--and they may not see the true pattern until it is unspooled.
 
About E.K. Johnston:
E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes.

You can follow Kate on Twitter (@ek_johnston) to learn more about Alderaanian political theory than you really need to know, on Tumblr (ekjohnston) if you’re just here for the pretty pictures, or online at ekjohnston.ca.

*****************************************************************************
RULES FOR GIVEAWAY 

1. This contest is open to US addresses only. 

2. Giveaway starts December 2, 2016 at 12:01 a.m. EST and runs until December 10, 2016 at 12:01 a.m.

3. Please only one entry per person.
 
4. One lucky random winner will receive a copy of A Thousand Nights and Spindle by E.K. Johnston 

5. To enter please send an email with the subject "SPINDLE" to FBCgiveaway@gmail.com. Please include your name, your address (street address) and email address. 

6. One winner will be chosen at the end of the contest.

7. All entries will be deleted after the winner is choosen. 

Good luck!
Friday, November 25, 2016

Cover Reveal & Guest Post: The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions by Michael R. Miller (by Michael R. Miller & Mihir Wanchoo)

The 2016 edition of SPFBO has been a revelation, not only have we gotten wonderful indie titles that span a wide gamut of characters, plots and general awesomeness. This year we have also seen some fantastic cover art. This was evident to all of us blogger judges and Mark Lawrence even held a cover face-off.

The winner of this unique cover art contest was THE DRAGON'S BLADE: THE REBORN KING by Michael R. Miller. What was also über-cool about Michael's win was that his book was the joint numero uno among the bloggers as well as the general public. All of us agreed that the cover with its spartan style and swirling colors was truly unique and the most eye-catching.


THE DRAGON'S BLADE: THE REBORN KING was also reviewed by the lovely ladies over at Bibliosanctum and while they said some lovely things about it, sadly it didn't make the 2016 finals. The review however peaked my interest and I plan to read and review later whenever time permits.

Continuing on from the success of his debut title, Michael was kind enough to include us among the cover reveal for his second book THE DRAGON’S BLADE: VEILED INTENTIONS.

So read on to find how Michael and his book designer Rachel Lawston continued their terrific partnership and combined Rachel's genius and skills with Michael's vision to come up with an better cover for the sequel. The stage is all yours Michael:


Mihir had asked me to provide some thoughts on the book cover and my collaboration with Rachel Lawston for it, with the following questions – “Could I kindly get a write up from you describing what & if you provided any instructions to Rachel for the cover? Also what were you going for with the cover and what did you think of the distinct colour pattern?”

Instruction provided to Rachel:
As with book 1, I had the chance to fill out a substantial design brief for her It included competing authors, other covers I admired or wished to emulate along with their pictures, and my own ideas for the cover. All in it was well over one thousand words long.

My initial thoughts included a scene of a decaying cityscape around the tower, however, that would have likely cluttered the cover or required custom illustration. An advantage of having an experience designer is knowing they won’t be afraid to dissuade you from certain ideas. So, after a bit of back and forth we settled on the lone tower. I was absolutely sure that a round tower with a spire would look best and linked some sample images but it was Rachel who hunted down this version. It’s a woodcut image that we manipulated further by chopping off its base and adding more levels in to suggest a great height.

What was I going for? In the brief, I wrote, “The atmosphere should be one of intrigue, mystery and subtly dark.”



The spooky lone tower has been done before but it certainly gets the job done. I looked to Sanderson’s UK cover of The Final Empire, RothfussSlow Regard of Silent Things, King’s The Dark Tower: Wizard And Glass  and Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon (the edition with a creepy tower) for inspiration.

The colours and pattern The swirling pattern was used on book one’s cover to great effect, conveying fire from the sword without having flames drawn on. We decided it could be a way to unify the design of the series while still changing the image and colours with each book. As with book one, the swirls here do relate to the world – this time a specific location we visit in the book. Blue and silver are colours connected to magic in the series, and the tower in question is the now desecrated centre for the wizards of this world: the Cascade Conclave. My wizard POV character, Brackendon, will revisit this tower and uncover some rather nasty secrets. Both the tower and the area around it are pivotal to the story of book 2 for several reasons. To say any more would be to spoil too much.

Rachel and I put a lot of thought into these covers. It took us about a month to get book 2 just right and I’m delighted with the result. I may even like it more than book 1 but it’s a close call!


Official Book Blurb: Rectar has always had his sights set on conquering the human lands. His demonic invasion of the west is gaining momentum – an unrelenting horde unhindered by food or sleep. Now, only the undermanned Splintering Isles lie between the demons and the human kingdom of Brevia. If the islands fall, the rest of Tenalp will soon follow.

The Three Races must work together if they are to survive, but they have another problem – Castallan. The traitorous wizard has raised a deadly rebellion and declared himself King of Humans. He believes himself safe in the bowels of his impenetrable Bastion fortress, but Darnuir, now King of Dragons, intends to break those walls at all cost.

To face these threats, all dragons, humans and fairies must truly unite; yet old prejudices may undermine Darnuir’s efforts once again. And as the true intentions of all are revealed, so too is a secret that may change the entire world.



Official Author Website
Order The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King HERE

Official Author Information: Michael is a young Scot living in London and getting stuck into writing his first epic fantasy series, The Dragon’s Blade. Book 1, The Reborn King, made the top 20 books in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016. The second in the trilogy, Veiled Intentions, releases February 10th 2017. Michael is ‘that guy’ who enjoys the mad fan theories of Game of Thrones even more than the books or show, and knows more about World of Warcraft than is probably healthy.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016

To Beat The Devil by M. K. Gibson (reviewed by Charles Phipps)


Official Author Website
Order The Book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: In his own words: "Hi, I'm Mike Gibson (Gib or Gibby to my friends). I'm a father, husband, writer and a retired US Air Force MSgt with 20 years of service. Back in 1980, when I was 5, I saw the animated version of The Hobbit and was a geek from then on. All I have ever wanted to do was to write and tell stories. I live with my wife, son, 2 dogs and cat in Mt Airy, Maryland.

I love to read, play video games, exercise and watch movies. I'm a lover of all things geek and I'm a highly opinionated, socially/politically neutral person. I feel those who live and die by a brand, or party, are doomed to fail as human beings. I also mock those who refuse to let go of the Oxford comma."

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 175 years have passed since God quit on mankind. Without his blessing, Hell itself, along with the ancient power of The Deep, were unleashed upon the world. Two world wars and oceans of blood later, a balance was reached. Demonkind took its place as the ruling aristocracy. Mankind, thanks to its ability to create, fell to the position of working proletariat. Alive, but not living. Lucky Us.

Welcome to New Golgotha, the East Coast supercity. In it you will find sins and cyborgs, magic and mystery, vices without virtue and hell without the hope of heaven. In the middle of it all is Salem, smuggler extraordinaire and recluse immortal, who has lived and fought through the last two centuries, but his biggest battle is just beginning.

To Beat The Devil is an incredible adventure full of cyborgs and demons, gods, magic, guns, puns and whiskey, humor and heart. Follow Salem as he embarks to discover the meaning of the very nature of what mankind is: our souls. And, who is trying to steal them.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: A warning before I begin this review, I read this book when it was in manuscript form and the author was so impressed that he asked me to do the Foreword to it. So, this might be considered a conflict of interests but, in the end, I'm just sharing my opinions here as I shared them there.

What do I think of To Beat the Devil? It's a very funny book which attempts to replicate the kind of Buddy-Cop action movies of the 80s with a Dresden Files pop-culture savviness that mostly works quite well. It's also set in a post-apocalypse cyberpunk dystopia ruled by demons, which certainly lends it an originality from other urban fantasy currently available.

As I mentioned in the book's Foreword, as strange as the premise appears, it's somewhat like the Shadowrun setting. Except, in place of fairies, the world has been taken over by demons. Functionally, the two are pretty much the same as the demons of the Technomancer universe aren't as bad as they could be. They're more corrupt than monstrous, interested in living lives of decadent luxury more than torturing humans.

In that, they resemble Shadowrun's corrupt executives. I don't think Michael Gibson was taking from that setting, though, so much as they were both drawing from the corporate culture of the Eighties where Weyland-Yutani, Gordon Gecko, and OCP were kings. Certainly, I don't think we've gotten any better about the subject in the past couple of decades.

Salem is an enjoyable protagonist who resembles Chris Pratt's Guardians of the Galaxy character to no small degree. He's an irreverent immature criminal who is just trying to make his way through a complicated and dangerous world. Certainly, he's a poor choice for the world's savior but the Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque Grimm is forced to make due since Salem is about the only option left for humanity.

One element I respect about the book is that it makes it clear the goal is not to overthrow demonkind. Humanity and demonkind have become so intertwined that it's not possible for humanity to go back to the way it was before. Instead, the crapsack nature of the world is something which must simply be endured. Salem can make life enjoyable for a small number of humans or improve things slightly for all people but he can't make life good for everyone. Also, he has to work with the system rather than against it.

The book is full of action, laughs, and some surprisingly poignant moments. I especially liked the fact Salem is a lot deeper character than he initially appears. The circumstances of the world are so harsh and the people so beaten down that he's taken to being an immature rogue just to cope with the trauma.

I would have appreciated seeing more of Salem as a self-interested criminal before he undertook his road to becoming a hero but I think the twists and turns of the book are quite good anyway. I also like the surprising addition of mythologies other than Judeo-Christian and how all of these interact. The world-building is very in-depth and you can tell Michael Gibson has put a lot of thought into the subject.

In short, I highly recommend the book.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

SPFBO 2016 Final Round Update & some thoughts about SPFBO 2016 (by Mihir Wanchoo)


With my selection of The Moonlight War and as of November 1st, we have the final tally of books that have reached the 2016 SPFBO Final Round. Many congratulations to all the ten authors and to Mark Lawrence for running this contest (& making this awesome cover montage).

Here are all the ten finalists (in alphabetical order) listed with the review and the blogger who choose them:

1) Assassin’s Charge by Claire Frank – Chosen by Mogsy (The Bibliosanctum review)
2) Fionn by Brian O’Sullivan – Chosen by Sarah (Bookworm Blues review)
3) Grey Bastards by Jonathan French – Chosen by Ria (Bibliotropic review)
4) Larcout by K. A. Krantz – Chosen by Vanessa (Elitist Book Review)
5) Outpost by F. T. McKinstry – Chosen by Lynn (Lynn's book blog review)
6) Paternus by Dyrk Ashton – Chosen by FF team (Fantasy Faction review)
7) Path Of Flames by Phil Tucker – Chosen by Jared (Pornokitsch review)
8) The Moonlight War by S.K.S. Perry – Chosen by me (Fantasy Book Critic review)
9) The Music Box Girl by K. A. Stewart – Chosen by Melanie, Tracy & Qwill (The Qwillery review)
10) The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis - Chosen by Fantasy Lit team (Fantasy Literature review)

You can check out all the scores and reviews that each book gets over at Mark’s blog wherein he’s keeping track. All of us bloggers have 6 months to review as many books (if not all) and rate them to select one winner.

As for me, while I’ll be doing my best to do a proper review for each book. I’m also hoping to interview all ten authors so that the readers can get to know them better. Lastly with so many intriguing books, it will be fun to see which book ends up as the winner. All the very best to all ten authors and I can't wait to read all of your books.


With the end of the first round of SPFBO 2016, I have to say this time around, we had an influx of books with amazing cover art. Mark also had a contest wherein each blogger choose their 3 top choices within their lot and then we all got to vote on the top 3 among those 30 chosen books.  Check out the winners based on our votes as well as by votes from the general public.

Amidst the fantastic covers such A Touch Of Iron (Timandra Whitecastle), The Dragon's Blade (Michael R. Miller) & They Mostly Come Out At Night (Benedict Patrick). There were also other beauties such as:
Shadows Bear No Names by Oganalp Canatan
- It Takes A Thief To Catch A  Sunrise by Rob J. Hayes
- Masque by W. R. Gringell
- Path Of Flames by Phil Tucker
- Assassin's Charge by Claire Davis
- Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

There were some books that weren't in my lot and they caught my fancy based on their reviews and blurb matter. So I'll be hoping to contact the authors and try to review them myself.

Overall I'm very glad to see SPFBO's growth and I've high hopes for the future ahead. Maybe someday down the line, we can even have an SPFBO anthology.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Novella Review: Devil's Due by Andrew Warren & The White Gold Score by Craig Schaefer


Official Author Website
Order Devil’s Due HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’m always on the lookout for exciting thrillers and new writers in this genre. So recently when I came across Devil’s Due by Andrew Warren thanks to Amazon’s amazing algorithm for suggesting books that you might like. I read the blurb and immediately bought it as managed to hook my interest instantaneously.

This was a novella and supposedly a prequel so I was glad that it wouldn’t take up much of my ever-decreasing reading time. Also this would be a good introduction to the Thomas Caine series which seemed a tad alike to the John Rain series by Barry Eisler. The novella is of twenty chapter only and gives us a decent idea about who Thomas Caine is and the world which he inhabits. The main story opens up in the second chapter as we meet Thomas in a small, rundown bar in Pattaya, Thailand as well as Naiyana a prostitute/stripper. Things get a tad hairy for Naiyana due to Alexi a Russian and Thomas has to get involved. From there we get to see how Thomas operates and why he strikes up a friendship with Naiyana. Due to the events occurring in the bar, things unravel as they do and Thomas will have to retrieve his previous skills if he has any hope of helping Naiyana.

This is a brutal punch of a story and doesn’t take at any time at all to ramp up the action. It sets up all of the characters quickly and gives them believable personas. I liked reading about Thomas and his mysterious past which gets highlighted nicely and there are some pointers given about the future direction of the books. The author also makes sure that his secondary characters like Satra, Naiyana, Anna, etc are three dimensional as well. Case in point is the main antagonist as well as Anna who while not being very friendly but are mysterious and deadly at the same time. The action sequences are quick and will make the readers zip along for the ride. What made the story stand out from its inherent darkness vis-à-vis the bombings, human trafficking & mafia, was the depth the author added to the story via the characters and the world showed within.

We get a dark but strong look into the underbelly of Thailand, it’s made up of folks that will make your stomach churn but also honorable characters who are striving to do the right thing. The character cast is suitably intriguing and a special tip of the hat to author for not sticking to the prostitute with the gold heart stereotype. Naiyana is a fine character who tries to make the best of her circumstances but she’s no fool and she’s no coward either. You will have to read till the end of the novella to see why I say that. Thomas Caine who is the main focus of the story is intriguing to say the least and we get enough hints about his past that readers will want to know more about this dark knight.

Devil’s Due is a very good thrill ride that does exactly what it promises, it delivers a bunch load of action in noir settings of Thailand while also peeling back the curtain on the enigma that is Thomas Caine. I very much enjoyed it and upon finishing it immediately bought Tokyo Black (book 1 of the Thomas Caine series). Oh and so far it’s wildly different from the John Rain books while sharing a similarity that the main character is a loner who chooses to be that way.


Official Author Website
Order The White Gold Score HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Craig Schaefer

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The White Gold Score by Craig Schaefer is not a prequel novella however serves as an exciting introduction to the crazy world of Daniel Faust. This novella is actually set between the events of The Wrong Way Down (book 1) & Redemption Song (book 2) however is a good starting point (because of the standalone nature of its plot) for those readers who want to dip their toes before jumping all in this exciting series.

For me this novella was just perfect, as I wasn’t all too thrilled by The Long Way Down, the first Daniel Faust book but this novella completely changed my mind about this series and boy am I glad for that. The Long Way Down was an interesting introduction to Daniel and his world however suffered from many of the foibles that cling to introductory works. The White Gold Score doesn’t share any of those and focuses on Daniel Faust, sorcerer and low-level conman who gets asked to rid a top class hotel suite of its resident ghost. Thinking that this ghost exorcism will be the easy kind, leads Daniel to underestimate the seriousness of the extra-corporal inhabitant (I’m being vague about the gist of the story as that way lie spoilers). Daniel quickly learns what exactly happened for the ghost’s raison d'être and soon gets sucked in to the Hollywood music scene and the crazy shenanigans that this job unravels. This novella neatly showcases the dark side of the music industry while also getting you hooked on to Daniel Faust.

I have to thank Craig Schaefer for writing this novella, because if I hadn’t read it. I most certainly wouldn’t have entered the darkly alluring world that he has created. The story setting is a bit different from the regular series books as majority of the plot unfolds in Hollywood and showcases the power trappings & underhand dealings of the music industry. This being an urban fantasy story we get a proper eyeful of the craziness that the Daniel Faust's life entails. Also while most of the books (except book 4) are centered around Las Vegas, this short provides a nice side-angle view out in the world beyond the deserts of Nevada. Daniel Faust is a fascinating narrator as the first person voice hooks us in with his rogue-ish charm and moral ambiguous choices. He makes us believe that not only is his action plan the correct way but also the only way to do such things. However amidst all of this grey narrative, there is a heroic streak to him as well as a loyal core which makes him that much more conflicting as a character to root for.

Overall I liked how this novella introduced some major plot twists (with some nifty hat tips to classic hardboiled stories) and had a grim but fascinating take on Slavic/Russian mythology. I can’t wait to see if the mythological character introduced in this story, shows up in the main DF books (mini-spoiler: after reading further in the series, he does). The plot is smoothly paced and some terrific action packed into it, this is especially true of the climax. Also kudos to the author for giving us such well-developed characters and a fascinating magic system within this 46K-plus word novella.

The White Gold Score is an absolute blast to read and serves as an excellent stepping stone to the world of Daniel Faust. I heavily recommend that you read this novella and also the rest of the series to see how crazy good it is. I devoured the six books (that have been released so far) in rapid succession & now I strongly believe that Craig Scahefer’s books are a serious contender to the granddaddy of urban fantasy Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. DO NOT MISS this book or any other ones by Craig Schaefer, I’m hooked and will be reading anything and everything that the man writes in the future.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Interview with Ilana C. Myer (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Last Song Before Night HERE

Ilana C. Myer burst onto the speculative fiction scene last year with her fantasy debut Last Song Before Night. It was a spectacular debut IMHO and I enjoyed it so much that it was #3 in top 10 debuts for 2015. I very much enjoyed Ilana's writing style and her subversion of fantasy tropes. Since then I've gotten to know her a little more thanks to Twitter. She was very kind to accept my request for an interview and so read ahead to know more about Ilana, her writing credentials, & her thoughts on her book, the fantasy genre and much more...

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

ICM: Thank you, it’s such a pleasure be here! Last Song Before Night is my debut novel from Tor Books, with two follow-up novels on the way. I have also done quite a bit of writing about books for publications such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Globe and Mail, the Huffington Post, and Salon.

My journey to becoming an author began in my teens, when I wrote my first novel—an epic fantasy. I was new to Israel and didn’t understand a word in school, so I wrote a novel instead. My teachers knew what my notebooks were, and were exasperated, but I think they didn’t know what to do with me.

For me, becoming a published author meant working around the other demands of life—school, work, making rent—toward a dream that seemed as likely as winning the lottery.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of the Last Song Before Night occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

ICM: Writing Last Song Before Night took seven years. During that time I was a college student, administrative assistant, journalist in Jerusalem, and book critic.

The seed of the novel was planted in college, in a course on Celtic Myth and Literature. I loved the idea of the Celtic Poets, whose words could shape the fate of a kingdom. The concept of art as power. That was the starting point. I went on to incorporate the troubadours into my research, because I love them too. Later on, Greek mythology went into the mix. The first book—as opposed to the one I’m working on now—is laser-focused on touchstones of Western culture.

Q] For someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write? What would be your elevator pitch for your work?

ICM: My work is at the point where psychological complexity and mythmaking intersect.

Q] Your debut novel while being a standalone can also be considered an opening salvo into your world. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, offer any details about the sequel (hints or title), and outline your plans for the series (if it can be considered as such) as a whole?

ICM: While Last Song Before Night was meant to be a standalone, I soon realized that there was still so much to explore—in the world and the (surviving) characters. The second novel is called Fire Dance, and explores the consequences of the events in Last Song on a larger geographical and political stage—incorporating Middle Eastern myth, cosmology, and history along with the Western mythos already in place.

The third and final novel will complete the series.


Q] Within your debut, you write about many characters some heroic and some vile. However all of them were three dimensional and had their own agendas and reasons for their behavior. What’s your secret for writing such believable and vivid characters?

ICM: I think empathy is the secret to writing three-dimensional, believable characters. The ability to put ourselves in the position of people who are nothing like us, and to understand their motivations even if we’ve never felt that way ourselves. There’s another component to this, too—being aware of our own motivations, being really honest with ourselves about who we are, can be an asset in exploring the depths of a character. Being unafraid to look at the most uncomfortable truths and acknowledge them can make us better writers.

Q] In your book, besides the actual characters, music plays quite an important role. Especially since the main plot is focused on a poem and the main protagonist is a musician. What drove you to focus such a vital part of the story on it?

ICM: This evolved naturally from choosing to focus on Celtic Poets and troubadours, both of whom worked with music and verse together. I came to the idea as a writer, and then had to do some research about music. It didn’t hurt that music has always been an important part of my life and creative process.

Q] Could you talk about the research you undertook before attempting to write this book. What were the things you focused upon? Were there any fascinating things that you unearthed amidst your research?

ICM: This is hard to answer as my research process began in…2004? But I can tell you that I steeped myself in Celtic myth, from the Mabinogi to more obscure texts to Seamus Heaney’s magnificent (and actually life-changing) Sweeney Astray. I explored the history and verse of the troubadours of medieval France, and this was crucial. While a lot of Last Song was influenced by Celtic myth, the interrogation of idealized romance and love came from the troubadours.

I also read a lot about Irish and Welsh harps, and was able to visit Dublin and see one. In the course of my research I was surprised to learn that the strings of these early harps were made of metal, and that poets actually plucked the strings with their fingernails, which they grew long. A sign of prestige was if you could afford a harp with strings of gold.


Q] You also talk about the difficulties of self-promotion & how new writers are unprepared for book signings. What would be one thing that you can tell newbie writers with regards to book tours that they might not know?

ICM: You will need to develop social skills. That’s a process I began as a journalist, but was definitely compelled to up my game when it came time to promote my book. I still don’t know how to pitch my book in a sentence and I am not sure how much I really value that as a skill.

Q] You have previously worked as a freelancer and worked with several prestigious publications such as Huffington Post, Globe and Mail, Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books, Jerusalem Post, Strange Horizons, etc. How have your experiences been? And are there any particular experiences that have helped you in your writing?

ICM: Writing about books is something I’ve always done. Fiction is my great love, and I always have an opinion. The opportunity to share my thoughts about fiction has been irresistible and has led to more attention than I anticipated. I certainly never envisioned writing a piece about Tyrion Lannister that would go viral and make a lot of people angry. (But on the other hand, I wrote a piece in defense of HBO’s Game of Thrones when it was maligned by the New York Times!)

Being a journalist in Jerusalem was a different sort of thing altogether. Long ago, I read some advice from Tad Williams—maybe it was in an interview—that urged aspiring writers to learn as much as possible about everything, even things that seemed irrelevant to their writing. That’s something journalism did for me. I researched topics ranging from cleantech to earthquakes to social issues in Jerusalem and the plight of African refugees in Tel Aviv—and I always, always, learned something new. Even better—something that came as a surprise to me. I learned that it’s human nature to make assumptions, and that our assumptions are often wrong. I learned to value open-minded inquiry and respect for people who spend their lives carving out expertise in a field of study.

Q] You have lived in Israel and often talk about it on twitter. What do you think of the complexities of life in the Middle East? Plus what do you think of the general narrative that is propagated by both the left & right?

ICM: I hesitated to answer this question because I’m not sure there is a topic that is more toxic than that of Israel, especially on the left where I most often identify politically. What I think is the greatest problem with the current narrative is that it does not allow for complexity. When a left-wing intellectual like Moshe Halbertal is boycotted from speaking on an American college campus, conversation becomes impossible. And that’s a loss for everyone.

Q] Your essay about strong female characters generated a lot of debate and still provokes heated discussions on social media. If you had to provide an update or revise it in any way, what would you add? Conversely is there something in it that you would like to change?

ICM: I had no idea the piece had led to heated debate! That’s great.

There’s only one way to make an opinion piece acceptable to everyone. It’s to write something anodyne.

Q] In Last Song Before Night, you expound about history and how surreptitious events in the past often cause giant problems in the future. I found this to be a very fascinating thing and it reminded me of a book I had read quite a while ago (Song Spinners by Sarah Ash) and coincidentally both you and her share similar traits such as being Jewish and having a familial legacy of writers. I was wondering how much emphasis of history helped fuel the story for you?

ICM: Nothing happens in a vacuum…not in our world and not in an invented world. Everything that happens is in context of what has come before. I think this is very important.

In Last Song there is a question of whether events were history or legend, if enchantments are real, and in that sense it’s about how the stories that drive us are often the ones we choose or create for ourselves.


Q] World-building is one of the key ingredients of epic fantasy; your series is very strong on this factor. What is it about world-building that you love, and what are the keys to successfully crafting such a believable, yet fantastical world like that seen in debut?

ICM: When I think about world-building I always come back to Ursula LeGuin’s marvelous essay, “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” where she makes a case for language as the basis for worldbuilding in fantasy. I do exhaustive research, certainly, and if you ask me which details I think are most integral to an invented world, I’d say—probably—history and religion. But as LeGuin writes of fantasy world-building, “There is only a construct built in a void, with every joint and seam and nail exposed.” That construct is made of words. LeGuin’s Earthsea novels are very slim—they don’t go on for pages about worldbuilding. Yet despite that, Earthsea is the one of the most real fantasy worlds we possess, because the words take us away.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

ICM: When I was growing up, “books with magic in them” were my favorites. There was no other way to describe them—we didn’t have the publishing term fantasy, not yet. I devoured the works of E. Nesbit, Lloyd Alexander, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Frances Hodgson Burnett, T.H. White. I also loved beyond reason Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, which is not fantasy at all.

In my teens I discovered contemporary fantasy and the works of Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula LeGuin, and Robin McKinley were formative.

NOTE: Both author photos courtesy of the author.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Mini-review: Find Her by Lisa Gardner (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Lisa Gardner is a NYT bestselling author with over 19 books and several short stories and novellas in publication. She was born and brought up in Oregon before moving to the east coast for her degree. Lisa graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania and sold her first novel when she was just 20 years of age. Four of her books have previously graced the small screen in TV movie format. She currently lives in New Hampshire with her family.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Flora Dane is a victim.

Seven years ago, carefree college student Flora was kidnapped while on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure.

Flora Dane is a survivor.

Miraculously alive after her ordeal, Flora has spent the past five years reacquainting herself with the rhythms of normal life, working with her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. She has a mother who’s never stopped loving her, a brother who is scared of the person she’s become, and a bedroom wall covered with photos of other girls who’ve never made it home.

Flora Dane is reckless.

. . . or is she? When Boston detective D. D. Warren is called to the scene of a crime—a dead man and the bound, naked woman who killed him—she learns that Flora has tangled with three other suspects since her return to society. Is Flora a victim or a vigilante? And with her firsthand knowledge of criminal behavior, could she hold the key to rescuing a missing college student whose abduction has rocked Boston? When Flora herself disappears, D.D. realizes a far more sinister predator is out there. One who’s determined that this time, Flora Dane will never escape. And now it is all up to D. D. Warren to find her.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’m a newcomer to Lisa Gardner’s books but I’ve heard of how thrilling they can be. When I was approached for a review for Lisa’s most recent book, I wanted to jump in and see how they held up to the reputation that I had heard about. I knew before hand that this book was the 8th in the D.D. Warren series but each book is supposed to be a standalone entry as well.

The story is divided into three separate point-of-view sections, the first one focuses on Flora Dane nearly six years ago when she was abducted and physically, mentally tortured. The second time when we see Flora, she has been “changed” by her ordeal however she’s now actively looking out & helping other women like her. Lastly the perspective we see is from our protagonist D. D. Warren. While D.D. is the main protagonist, Flora on the other hand is a solid counter protagonist who the readers will be conflicted about.

The story will have the reader trying to piece the events happening in Flora’s life as well as the aftermath which is investigated by D.D. Both of them are strong characters and tough women, plus both have led complex lives due to actions of others. The author has to be lauded for writing a complex plot wherein the readers will be rooting for both of them even though their actions might run contrary to each other. The plot is very twisted and with the dual timeline structure, we get to see events unfold in the past (with Flora) and in the present (with Flora & D.D.). Kudos to the author for making both very sympathetic as well as introducing a good side character cast.

What really got me invested in the story (besides characterization) was the plot pace, the story is unrelenting in its scope and the readers are constantly shown different angles and the plot twists will literally shake your orientation. This book explores the psychology of victims and people who don’t wish to identify as victims anymore. The story then further peels back the curtain on certain characters and this story truly works on a psychologically creepy level. The author makes use of certain facts that would surprise the hell out of you (I know I was shocked), this is especially seen with Flora and the things she learnt during and after her captivity.

Overall this story ends in such a terrific way that I want to learn more about D.D. and the other characters that we met. I will definitely be reading the previous books in the D.D. Warren series and will be looking more into Lisa Gardner’s writing as she’s proven herself to a be a master thriller writer.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Wall Of Storms by Ken Liu (Reviewed by Achala Upendran & Mihir Wanchoo)


Order The Wall Of Storms HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Grace Of Kings
AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ken Liu is a Chinese-American science-fiction writer, poet, lawyer and computer programmer. His short stories have appeared in F&SF, Asimov's, Analog, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and other magazines, as well as several anthologies, including the Year's Best SF. He is also a translator of science fiction and literary stories from Chinese into English. He is a winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards for his short story "The Paper Menagerie". The Grace Of Kings is his debut fantasy novel. He currently lives near Boston with his family.

OFFICIAL BLURB: In the much anticipated sequel to The Grace of Kings which NPR called “A magnificent fantasy epic.” returns with Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, running the archipelago kingdoms of Dara and struggling to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people.

But when an unexpected invasion force from the far distant east known as the Lyucu Empire comes to shores of Dara, chaos erupts from fear. Emperor Ragin cannot go and lead Dara against the threat himself as he has a recently healed empire fraying at its weakest seams, as conflict within rival faction, even with the Emperor’s own family threaten the raw peace that he has established.

Amidst traitorous rebellion and false accusations the emperor’s grown children rise to face the invaders, some with armies, and one with the guile and savvy intuition to empower the unlikely genius that surrounds her, his eldest daughter Théra.

The Wall of Storms is a breathtaking sequel that builds with a towering diversity of action and tragedy that embodies the best of epic fantasy.

FORMAT INFORMATION: The Wall of Storms is 880 pages long divided over sixty-two chapters that are spread over four titled sections. The book features multiple third-person POV characters and also has a glossary, a pronunciation note and a list of characters. The Wall of Storms is the second volume of The Dandelion Dynasty chronicles.


October 4, 2016 marked the hardcover and e-book publication of The Wall of Storms via Saga Press.

ANALYSIS (Achala): When I finished Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, I felt as though I’d been on a long, satisfying journey. It had begun with that most reliable of fantasy openers: a seemingly invincible ‘evil’ empire, a heroic prince thirsting for vengeance, a cunning and street-smart nobody who knows better than most lords and ladies how to play a political game. But the reliability didn’t last for long, and through the course of its long and episodic length, Liu tweaked and pulled at expectations and conventions, landing up with a conclusion that was as spectacular as it had been, for me, unforeseen. I couldn’t imagine what he might follow this first serving with, and it’s a good thing I didn’t try, because The Wall of Storms will take almost every ‘settled’ notion or attitude you might hold, and shatter it as effectively as the ‘wall of storms’ in the book breaks apart the ships of those who dare to push beyond the boundaries of Dara.

The second book in the Dandelion Dynasty begins shortly after the first leaves off, and in an almost comically similar manner. The royal children, Timu, Thera, Phyro and four-year-old Fara have sneaked out of the palace in Pan, and are enjoying a day of truancy in a tavern, listening to a storyteller spin tales of days past. Only, these are days we know about, if we’ve read Grace of Kings. The storyteller speaks of the dead Hegemon, Mata Zyndu, perhaps the greatest figure from the uprising against Emperor Mapidere. Phyro, the more military-minded of Kuni’s sons, is quite the fanboy of the Hegemon, and the children are having a good time, until someone thinks to stir up trouble by proclaiming the storyteller is being treasonous by invoking the dead Zyndu in such an admiring spirit. After all, the Hegemon did try, multiple times, to kill Kuni Garu, the man who now rules Dara. A new character, a young woman looking to sit the Imperial Examinations, enters the fray, and her life and those of the royal children are never the same again.

It’s impossible to fully communicate the sheer range of events that take place within the covers of Liu’s book. There’s the slow, boiling politics of discontent that were hinted at towards the close of Grace, with the court splitting between the more militaristic mindset of Gin Mazoti, Marshal of Dara, and the bureaucratic organisation watched over by Empress Jia, a conflict that finds new pawns in the persons of bookish Timu and adventurous Phyro, both of whom are sent off to test their skills in governing their father’s empire. There’s the inevitable fallouts and rebellions that take place between old allies, a result of misunderstandings and the all too human failings of pride and ambition. There’s the meddling of the gods, the same unpredictable figures we met in Grace, each of whom has a stake in the events that unfold, and a pawn to help make their ends come to pass—though some of these gods have a more obvious and kinder agenda than others.

But the event that really rocks the crumbling empire arrives only about a third of the way through the book: a force from outside the islands, intent on crushing the world Kuni and his peers, his allies and enemies, and all his subjects, live in. The Lyucu, a strange and ‘barbaric’ people, have done what none in living memory have managed to do: pass through the ‘wall of storms’ that barricades the seas of Dara from the rest of the world, and they certainly don’t come in peace.

The Wall of Storms is a huge book, and I mean that not just in terms of volume. The sheer amount of action and events packed into its pages is stunning, and it amazes me time and again how Liu, with just a few strokes of a pen, conjures into being worlds and characters, has them move through events that would, in the hands of a less deft writer, take chapters, if not whole novels, to recount. In the space of a few paragraphs, Liu paints the complete portrait of a character, giving you a reason to love them, root for them, fear for them as they move through inhuman trials and come face to face with the gods themselves. I will always envy this talent, and admire him for it. He proves that to be a truly ‘epic’ writer, you need not lose yourself in long-drawn out descriptions and conversations; a few well placed words, some quick exchanges and pointed comparisons, and your readers can gain as good an understanding of your world and the people who dwell in it as any companion encyclopaedia might give you.

But what makes The Wall of Storms great is the manner in which Liu handles his themes. In Grace, Liu allowed his comic spirit to roam free, and while kingdoms and an empire rose and fell, there was never an overwhelming sense of darkness or dismay. Sure, readers felt sadness when Mata Zyndu died, but it was a bittersweet feeling; we knew he had no place in the world that Kuni had built, and he went out in a matter worthy of his mythic status: falling in combat, and being whisked away by the gods. The world was a more stable place for his absence, and that was a price Liu makes you think worth paying.

But there is no such palliative here. Storms has much more brutal themes running through it, most obviously (and perhaps importantly) the question of who has a ‘right’ to a land, who can claim a territory as their ‘own’. The Lyucu come in force, and they strike hard, forcing the inhabitants of Dasu (the site of their landing) into servitude, slaughtering thousands, and unleashing their garinafins—dragon-like creatures—upon peaceful towns. Honestly, the chapters detailing their arrival, and all that precedes it (for Liu, brilliant storyteller that he is, makes sure you know about their background, and refuses to paint the Lyucu as purely evil) are quite difficult to read, but it is precisely his delicate handling of such thorny issues that cemented, for me, Liu as a master novelist. 

He writes without ever becoming preachy, without clumping you over the head with morals and easy dismissals of characters and their goals; like Martin, he makes you appreciate each and every person in his universe, god or mortal, Lyucu or Daran, as a being capable of both ‘good’ and ‘evil’. ‘The individual is the intersection of multiple spheres of identity,’ he once commented to me in an interview; he bears that out in the stories in Paper Menagerie, and even in the fantasy world of Dara, he ensures that it holds true.

ANALYSIS (Mihir): Ken Liu's epic fantasy debut The Grace Of Kings was a book that fascinated me and won over my friend Achala entirely. It was a book that managed to mix Chinese mythology along with epic fantasy tropes however the author's prose and characterization made this a standout story. The book focussed on Kuni, Zyndu, Jia and many others and ended on such a terrific climax that it seemed almost hard to imagine how the sequel could top its predecessor.

The Wall Of Storms opens up Kuni who is now Emperor Ragin and his various children who are different as can be expected. The story in the first half also introduces a new character by the name of Zomi Kidosu, she's a strange one and her path to importance will be difficult and fantastic. The story then runs on two parallel tracks as we see things happening in the royal court as well as the lands of Dara. The story focusses less on action and more on characters, setting them up and letting us know what their motivations, thoughts and personas might be.  The second half then focusses on an invasion as well as internal rumblings that threaten the peace and integrity of the empire. That's when the story goes into action overdrive but the author also manages to make the characters shine. The children and newer characters introduced are as good if not better than the ones in The Grace Of Kings.

Ken Liu is an absolute genius with his prose and characterization and he doesn't make it a black-white situation. There are flashes of good and evil on both sides and he makes sure that the readers see that. I loved this aspect of the storyline and in the end the story ends on such a terrific note that I can't wait to see where the author takes the story next. This book though is a solid sequel and is the Godfather II to its predecessor. I loved it and the many characters within. For sure, this volume will be featuring in my year-end lists and Ken Liu makes himself known as a talent that will only brighten in future.

CONCLUSION: I cannot stress it enough: read The Wall of Storms. All the old favourites are back, Kuni, Jia, Luan (my personal favourite), Gin. Then there is the new, younger batch, coming into their own: Phyro and Timu, the clever Princess Thera and the ambitious, idealistic Zomi Kidosu. There are fun capers, incredibly detailed worldbuilding, surfacing crubens and swooping garinafins, supernatural encounters and ‘silkpunk’ science fiction devices that (sometimes) save the day. There’s an ending that makes you realise that sometimes, the old world has no choice but to be swept away completely to make way for a new, exciting one. Sometimes, change is a risk worth taking; just ask Luan Zya, or his divine mentor, Lutho, God of Wisdom.

Or better yet, don’t ask; just read Liu’s saga, and see for yourself.
Thursday, November 3, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Some Thoughts on Overpowering & Balancing Characters in Fantasy by Blake Charlton





Blake Charlton is a favorite author of mine. His fantasy novels are detailed, unique and a pure joy to read. In honor of his recently released novel, Spellbreaker, which came out in August, he has decided to stop by and talk with Fantasy Book Critic about writing within the fantasy genre.

To learn more about Spellbreaker and even read the first chapter, visit our blog post from August. Click here to go to the blog post.

Without further ado, I give you Blake Charlton. Enjoy!  

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Some Thoughts on Overpowering & Balancing Characters in Fantasy

Recently, I’ve formed a hypothesis about overpowering characters in fiction. I doubt it’s an original observation or even a very profound one, but it’s helped me develop as a writer, and for some reason it took writing three books for me to form it, so I thought I share it. Here’s the hypothesis: The caveats regarding overpowering characters extend to morality, characterization, and voice.

First let me define my terms. Usually “overpowering,” as I understand it, happens when an author--perhaps too much enjoying the personal wish-fulfillment aspect of writing--gives one or more character abilities so powerful that they weaken the story. Epic fantasy and space opera can be especially vulnerable to overpowering: technology that confers invisibility, magical powers that confer omnipotence. It’s hard to develop meaningful conflict and tension when a character is so power that they don’t have to change to achieve their goal. The quick fix is to power up the antagonist, while this sometimes works, it often lead to uninteresting polarizing escalation. While many starting out writing science fiction and fantasy initially overpower their technology or magic, most quickly learn to limit the speculative elements or impose a cost on the use of the magic or technology. My personal favorite, of course, is to create a character with a disability, which interacts in some meaningful way with the speculative element.  

What I hadn’t until recently realized, and perhaps what others might find useful to contemplate, is that the phenomenon of overpowering extends to basic aspects of fiction. One easily demonstrated example might be morality. If you “overpower” morality in your story, you may end up with a protagonist who is an angel and an antagonist who is a demon.  A few years back, there was much made of the GRRM’s minimal use of magic in A Song of Ice and Fire. There was a parallel conversation about the “gritty” or even “grimdark” characterizations in fantasy, where no one character was wholly good and wholly evil--though most were wholly unsavory. I find it interesting now to look back at those two discussions and see them as interconnected. Epic fantasy had had too many “overpowered” magic systems in the past, and, if you will, it also had too many “overpowered” moral systems.  The movement then was one of balancing both magical and moral power.

Hopefully this is useful to you in more than just an exercise in semantics. What I’m driving at is that, maybe, in fiction the balance of power is important across many different qualities.  As I think of it now, characters can be overpowered not only in terms of magic or technology or moral standing, but also in terms of voice and characterizations. If only one character has a unique and lively voice, they will drown out the other voices. If you have a massive number of characters described in great depth and given great detail, it may be too much for the reader to track--perhaps you have “overpowered” the deep characters and you need to make some of them more “flat” for contrast.  

I don’t mean to imply that balance is always better. Balance or lack thereof is subject to trends. We certainly seem to be going through a trend of complete moral balance, almost moral equivocation; in almost every medium there are now successful franchises about sympathetic villains, anti-heroes, or morally ambiguous protagonists. I found thinking about balance useful when writing my last novel and find it useful even today as I think about what it might mean about our current global society and political atmosphere that we are so fascinated by moral balance in our stories.

If you’re the type of person who is curious, I wrote the lead character of my latest book Spellbreaker as a way to explore this interest in moral balance and “overpowering” a character in morality. My goal was to make her anti-heroic, but rather than being neither wholly good or bad I wanted her to demonstrate great capacity for both.  The book starts out with her acquiring a prophetic spell that allows her to know that in one day’s time she will have to choose between murdering someone she loves or dying herself.  She readily accepts that she will soon become a murderer and sets off on a sort of “inverse murder mystery.” That is to say, rather than an investigator trying to figure out who killed the victim and why they did it, we have a murderer trying to figure out who her victim will be and why she will do it. I also gave her the ability to misspell any magical text she touched but at the price of exacerbating a chronic autoimmune-like disease she has had since childhood and, she has always known, will condemn her to die while still young. I like to think it provided for some interesting character development. If you should pick up the book, I’d be curious to hear if you agree.

So, anyway, overpowering and balancing, that’s it. Fairly simple thoughts. I hope they’re useful or at least interesting. I’m always curious to hear what others think about such things.

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