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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Heritage: Book One of the Gairden Chronicles" by David L. Craddock (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)






 Visit David L. Craddock's Official Website Here
Visit David's Goodreads page Here
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Order Heritage from Amazon Here or Here

OVERVIEW: Book One of the Gairden Chronicles Prince Aidan Gairden's life was planned out for him 800 years before he was born. On his sixteenth birthday, he will take up Heritage, the magical sword wielded by his mother and generations of Gairden ancestors before him, and lead the kingdom of Torel into a new golden age of peace and prosperity.

That's how his mother envisions his impending reign. Aidan prefers to see it as decades of sitting in an uncomfortable chair listening to old men bicker over property lines and taxes. If Aidan had his way, he would leave the sword and throne behind for a life free of responsibility.

To Aidan's utter shock, Heritage grants his wish. In front of his parents and the entire kingdom, the sword rejects Aidan, leaving Torel without an heir.

While Aidan struggles to find his place, an ancient evil awakens and provokes a war between Torel and the warrior tribes of the west. Thrust upon a bloody trail of deception and corruption, Aidan is forced to make a desperate choice: lead Torel in a war he does not believe in, or be banished from his home and family forever.

FORMAT: Heritage is the first novel in the Gairden Chronicles. It is a YA fantasy novel that is filled with adventure elements. It stands at 326  pages and was published by Tyche Books Ltd. on July 30, 2014.   

ANALYSIS: Reading a debut author in the fantasy genre, or any genre, is always a hit-or-miss experience. There are authors who hit the ground running with a hit, there are authors with talent that just needs a little 'fine tuning', and there are authors who seem to struggle.

David Craddock, while not completely new to the fantasy world, has released the first book in his YA fantasy series, and he falls within the first category of authors. Heritage is a page-turning, captivating, well-written YA novel that really leaves you wanting more – in a good way.

One of the first things that is obvious right off the bat is that Craddock knows how to build an entire fantasy world without engaging in tedious info dropping. Many times authors will overload readers with lengthy explanations and backstories to help aid in the world building, while others have a 'fly by the seat of your pants' approach where readers learn as they read.

Craddock knows how to create a world that readers can relate to, understand, and feel a part of, without having to boggle down readers or waste time with lengthy explanations. This is vital to the next part –pacing.

Sometimes while reading, I notice that novels are either paced too fast or too slow. I found Heritage to be paced at a just right speed. It had me turning pages and wanting to read further ahead, but I didn't feel rushed.

Last, but not least, is character development. The norm nowadays seems to be that you can't write a good fantasy novel with great world building and character development, and keep it under 400 pages. Craddock shows that this is not the case.

I really felt connected to the characters. It did take a little time to warm up to them, get to know them a little, but by the end I wanted more. I wanted to see what happens next, go through more adventures with them.

Heritage is definitely a wonderful start for not only the series, but Craddock's future at a fantasy writer. The quality of writing and pure talent that is evident will only improve as time goes on. Readers will notice that the influences authors like Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordon, and David Eddings had on Craddock.  
I really look forward to seeing Craddock grow as a writer and hopefully leave a lasting impact on the fantasy genre. I will be awaiting book 2 and consider it a 'must read'. Fans of Brooks, Salvatore, Jordon, and pretty much any other fantasy author will be sure to enjoy this novel. Anyone who is thinking of venturing into fantasy will also enjoy it, as it serves as a great intro to fantasy.

AUTHOR BIO: David L. Craddock lives with his wife and business partner in Ohio. He is the bestselling author of Stay Awhile and Listen: How Two Blizzards Unleashed Diablo and Forged a Video-Game Empire - Book I, and Heritage: Book One of the Gairden Chronicles, an epic fantasy series for young adults. Please follow along with him on his website/blog at DavidLCraddock.com.
Monday, July 28, 2014

Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews (Reviewed by Casey Blair & Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read the first two chapters HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Magic Bites” & “Magic Burns
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Magic Strikes” & “Magic Mourns
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Magic Bleeds” & “A Questionable Client
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Magic Slays” & “Magic Dreams
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Magic Rises"
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of "Retribution Clause" & "Magic Tests"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Gunmetal Magic" & "Magic Gifts"
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Ilona Andrews

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ilona Andrews is the pseudonym for the husband-and-wife writing team of Ilona Gordon & Andrew Gordon. Together, Andrew and Ilona are the co-authors of the New York Times bestselling Kate Daniels urban fantasy series and the romantic urban fantasy novels of The Edge. They live in Texas with their children. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: No matter how much the paranormal politics of Atlanta change, one thing always remains the same: if there’s trouble, Kate Daniels will be in the middle of it…

As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear… 

FORMAT/INFO: Magic Breaks is 381 pages long divided over eighteen chapters, and a prologue and an epilogue. In this book, narration is in the first-person, exclusively via Kate Daniels and as a journal entry (prologue) via Barabas. There's also a short story included; "Magic Tests" which is set after the events of books 5. There's also a map of Atlanta, a character list as well as an author note included. Magic Breaks is the seventh volume of the series, therefore it would be very inadvisable to jump in to the series from this point.

July 29, 2014 marks the North American hardback and e-book publication of Magic Breaks via Ace Books. Cover art provided by Juliana Kolesova.

ANALYSIS (Mihir): For all Ilona Andrews fans, this has been the book that we have been waiting for. Magic Breaks is the first time when Roland makes an appearance and is about his introduction and his confrontation with Kate. However this is not the FINAL book in the series, we are assured of three more (atleast)...

Magic Breaks is set after the tumultuous events seen in Magic Rises and after the cross-Atlantic journey, Kate is not sure what to expect next. Things have settled comfortably with the Atlanta pack as Curran goes to work with Panacea and is able to fortify his territory. Things are going well as much as they can but when Curran is suspiciously called away for a hunt to placate a bordering pack that has access to silver. Kate being the consort is then is forced to attend a conclave meeting with the People. The plot thickens when a high-ranking master of the dead is found murdered. With all signs pointing towards a shape-shifter, things get tense as Kate's most hated adversary returns to give her 24 hours to hand over the murderer or Roland's war comes to Atlanta. From then on it's a race against time, as Kate and the pack have to figure what really happened and how to clear this mess from the Pack’s plate.

What can I say; Magic Breaks has been a very fast-paced & superbly satisfying read. Infact I'll go ahead to say this book will be in my top three of my year-end lists. If you love the previous books then prepare to have your mind blown. This book has all the positive attributes of the series that we all love. Awesome action sequences, terrific characterization and a great cast of characters; We get a POV from Barabas as part of the prologue and also Desandra takes center stage in pack politics. As a character, she’s pure gold as we (readers) are never quite sure what or how she’ll react. After the events of this book, I’m definitely interested to what happens within the Wolves now that Desandra is laying claim to certain positions.

Lastly the humor never truly fails to stop the story from becoming abysmally dark. Kate and all of our favorite characters are back in this one and so many others from the previous works make some memorable appearances. Their presence however is entirely justified and unlike the last Sookie Stackhouse book, wherein everyone just showed up to bid adieu. The authors make sure that the tension is never completely resolved and the readers will be flipping pages to see what all is encompassed within this tale.

For me, I loved how the authors melded a murder mystery, their version of "the mines of Moria sequence" which just simply will blow most reader minds and lastly a confrontation between a father and daughter. If you think that you can predict what will happen, I'll gladly inform you that you will be wrong. The action sequences are amped up and there's some new additions to the rich were mythology that the authors have built up so far. Then there are further revelations about Kate's past, Roland, her magic and some subjects that are highly spoilerific to eve mention. Safe to say that this book does everything but bring you to the edge of a mental orgasm before tipping you over savagely of course. 

CONCLUSION: This is truly Epic Urban Fantasy & Ilona Andrews are just the best (watch out Jim Butcher) when it comes to writing in this under-appreciated genre. Plus as a freebie, the authors have also included MAGIC TESTS, a short story about Julie , which I have previously reviewed HERE.

ANALYSIS (Casey): Magic Breaks is the latest (not the last!) of author duo Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels urban fantasy series, and it's a strong addition to the set. For me, the most important part of a story is the characters, and over the last six books the authors have introduced a ton of fabulous characters. Sadly some of my favorites aren't on screen for much of Magic Breaks (Julie, Raphael, Dali, and even Jim is mostly in the background). On the other hand, a fan-favorite villain is back and causing all kinds of problems (I won't spoil it for you), my favorite volhv Roman makes a cameo, we get to explore Master of the Dead Ghastek's character a lot more, and the pack's newest werewolf from the previous book is hands-down my new favorite character.

If you're less familiar with the series, none of that means much to you, so let me say this as well: we spend a lot of the series meeting and developing side characters, and the authors don't forget about them. They're starting to tie all of them in to the main plot and it's wonderful to see how they all fit together.

I loved the political maneuvering not just within the magical community (shapeshifters, masters of the dead, witches, etc.) but also with the police and the knights. The authors effectively used the limits of each group's power and authority to heighten the tension. The resolutions for the continuing problems of Ted Moynohan and Jennifer hit the mark perfectly. It isn't just the characters that are coming together in Magic Breaks: the world-building and all of the subplots are paying off.

Now, the authors have made no secret of the fact that this is the book in which Roland, Kate's mythological father and our series' Big Bad, appears on stage for the first time. I think they did a great job with Roland of balancing portraying him at once as evil yet also extremely intelligent and only dubiously insane, because the ethical ambiguity (especially from his perspective, inasmuch as we can tell) makes him even creepier. Like, fantastically creepy. The final note of this book is absolutely perfect in that respect. 

After all the build-up for Roland, though, I have to say the climax lacked some tension for me. Once Kate actually got to Roland, their meeting went remarkably smoothly. And the action Kate has to take during the climax in order to save everyone — while a serious move — didn't seem anywhere near as difficult a decision for Kate as other confrontations in the book. Maybe because it's the only one that ever had a chance of working (the authors drop enough hints early on about Roland's goal for Atlanta so that we already know it had to be coming), her choice didn't feel all that momentous, but more like a matter of course. It is, however, still an epic throwdown.

It also bothered me that no one even tried to fight Roland. Without even attempting, everyone simply understands that he's too powerful to defeat, so they back off or negotiate terms each time a real confrontation seems imminent. So far we've mostly seen his power used indirectly, which, while in character for him, makes the stakes a little ambiguous. Kate may not be ready to face him directly yet, but that is something I'll want to see in later books.

Of everything the authors do in this book, I think my favorite part is how much trouble being in charge causes for Kate and Curran. It makes spending time together nearly impossible, not to mention time together alone. It makes taking a day off to rest and recover from nearly fatal wounds actually impossible. It means all the most serious problems are their day-to-day lot; there are no easy ones. It means everything they say or do, even the most innocuous side comments, is watched, analyzed, and interpreted, and their most casual and innocent interaction has dire consequences down the road. It means they're responsible for every one of their people, no matter if they're stupid or obnoxious or insane.

And while they handle it, we see the toll it takes on them. We see that while they both do the work — and it is undeniably work — because they care about their people and about each other, the power brings them no joy. In point of fact, it only brings them trouble. And in the end, faced with Roland, it doesn't bring them safety, either.

CONCLUSION: The authors have been building this for a while, and I love how all those tensions boiled over in this book. They handled it beautifully. I'm really excited about where this series is going. Everything seems to be culminating at last, and given the course and foreshadowing of Magic Breaks it looks like the authors have great things in store for us.
Friday, July 25, 2014

GUEST POST: "Getting Started Is The Hardest!" by Jason K. Lewis


My fantasy series 'The Adarna Chronicles' is set, for the most part, in the empire of Adarna. The world that the empire of Adarna exists within is directly comparable (in many respects) to Earth in the classical period. I refer to it as a historicalish fantasy world. It's not a parallel universe or a world with a slightly different history, but it does share some striking similarities to the real world.

I debated for some time whether I should go for an alternative reality version of Rome, but by creating Adarna I gave myself the freedom to stray from reality to a greater degree whilst at the same time allowing myself some scope to surprise the reader with the differences (which are many), between the world of Adarna and the real world, that are revealed as the series progresses.

The tale came together in my mind around a single scene that I just could not shake out of my head. The problem was that the scene took place in the middle of a battle. I spent a year dismissing the idea as I knew that starting a book in the middle of a battle was not the best way to engage the reader, as they would not be invested in the characters (essentially they would not care if the characters lived or died). Having wrestled with this problem for what seemed like an age, I decided that I just had to start writing. For some strange reason, whilst anything after the battle was easy to write, there simply wasn't anything to find (in the depths of my subconscious) prior to the battle that had any real relevance to the story. It was as if (and this sounds a little corny, I know) the story just wasn't there before the battle.

'Empire Under Siege', the first book in the Adarna chronicles begins in the chaos of battle and because of this the writing style for the first few pages is urgent, staccato and, perhaps, disorientating, but I would imagine that is exactly what a battle is like. I had to get through the first few chapters to establish some key plot points going forwards. There have been a few comments from reviewers in this regard but most agree (thankfully) that it works out alright as the rest of 'Empire Under Siege' deals with the aftermath of the battle itself and builds the characters and the interactions that (in my mind) are an essential build up for the rest of the series.


A large part of the book revolves around the impact that trauma can have on individuals and it is fair to say that at least one of the main characters may be suffering from a form of post traumatic stress disorder. I wanted to try to look at what really happens to men who survive these situations as (I think) in many fantasy books this is not addressed and the hero just struts through the book, essentially invincible, to the end. This aspect of the series is definitely influenced by stories that I have heard from my grandfather, whose own father survived the first world war and was highly decorated for bravery. I never met my great grandfather and I don't think he had PTSD, but his story (which I may try to tell one day) and that of his family has made me think deeply about the nature of good and evil and how the 'little man' must feel when caught up in events beyond their own control.

Having been an ardent fantasy fan from the age of nine, when I first read 'The Lord of the Rings', I would say that I have a diverse portfolio of influences. Professor Tolkien stands head and shoulders above all in my mind and I don't think he will ever be equalled, but other influences include:-

Stephen Donaldson(both the excellent 'Thomas Covenant' books and the 'Gap into conflict' books), who brings stark realism and harrowing themes to his work on occasion. He also builds great characters with depth and realism. I hated Thomas Covenant on sometimes, but I hated him because he was written as a complete and imperfect human being.

David Gemmell - What is there left to say about the late, great master of action? I read 'Legend' and fell in love with his writing. No one writes battle scenes quite as well as he did and I think I drew much from him when writing the action scenes in 'Empire Under Siege'.

Terry Pratchett - This might seem like a strange one but there is a lot to be said for using a fantasy world to highlight the inadequacies of our own society and its rules and institutions.

Julian May - A great science fiction author whose influence can probably be seen in the 'bear, bull and hawk' in my work- although not directly, for the record (slight spoiling ahead) they categorically are not aliens. The 'Saga of the exiles' is, in my view, a truly brilliant piece of work.

There are, of course, many other influences, but I think these are the ones that have most affected my writing of the 'Adarna chronicles' the most. I am now working on the second book of the Adarna chronicles, which is entitled 'Phoenix Rising' and should be out before the end of July. I love it when readers reach out to me through social media, it is really good to get constructive feedback so I would encourage anyone who wants to know more about my work to do just that....


Official Author Website
Buy the book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jason K. Lewis lives in Britain with his wife and young son. He spent his childhood glued to books by authors such as David Gemmell, Stephen Donaldson, Julian May, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, C.S. Lewis, George R.R. Martin and J.R.R.Tolkien. He is the author of the science fiction Novelette 'Paradise' and the fantasy 'Empire under siege' which is the first book in the epic 'Adarna chronicles'.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy" by Karen Foxlee (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)





OVERVIEW: A modern-day fairy tale set in a mysterious museum that is perfect for readers of Roald Dahl and Blue Balliett.

Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help.

As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.

A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale is about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

FORMAT: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a children's novel based off of the retelling of Anderson's 'The Snow Queen'. It has elements of magic and a whimsical fairy tale like quality to it. The novel stands at 233 pages and was published January 28, 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf.

ANALYSIS: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a partial re-telling of Anderson's "The Snow Queen", and with the success of Disney's Frozen, I thought it would be an amazing children's novel. Unfortunately, this novel just didn't click with me, but that isn't to say it won't click with its general audience.

There is really very little to set this novel apart from the dozens of other children's novels that have similar storylines. There is the girl who doesn't believe in magic, the mysterious boy from another magical land, and the fate of the world rests on making said girl believe. If she doesn't, the world will end. Change a few names, add a few quirky characteristics and you have Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy.

One of the major things that make a novel strong is the author's character building. While I understand a 230 page novel can't have extensive background on the characters, this novel just didn't feel like it promoted the characters. They came across as very one-dimensional and really they were just vessels to move the storyline along.

Karen Foxless tries really hard to make the characters – or at least the main character – have all these little quirks that make her stand out and seem not so normal. For example, Ophelia is asthmatic. She takes 'squirts of her puffer' to calm herself down, when she's scared, when she's running – pretty much any time. Unfortunately, the phrase 'squirts her puffer' is used repetitively throughout the novel, to the point it lost its quirkiness and just became frustrating.

Another thing that really took away from the novel was the sections 'the marvelous boy' used to tell his story. When I first read his little story from his POV, it seemed fun, exciting and adventurous. After the second or third time, it seemed as if his stories became less a story and more information dumping sections so the reader could understand things.

The change in 'the marvelous boy's' story telling was a bit of a disappointment. I feel it was a missed opportunity to really change the story and make it shine and/or develop one of the main characters in the novel. Unfortunately, it did neither.

While there was a lot that didn't live up to expectations, there is one unique and 'fun' thing about Ophelia and The Marvelous Boy. It was the way it ended. I'm not really sure how I feel about the ending of the book, but it did make me really think – was what we read real or did we just take a trip through a young girl's imagination. It is this unique aspect of the book that I think will attract older readers to it.

Further exploring the ending of the book, it could be said on a deep philosophical level that the entire book was a metaphor for the grieving process that children go through. Sure, you can read this book as a fun, whimsical children's book, but there are certain elements that occur at the halfway point in this book that will turn it into a potential 'thought-provoking' novel.

Overall, I think Ophelia and The Marvelous Boy will appeal to its age range of 8 to 12. I don't think most readers in that age group will notice the major gaps in the storyline, the repetitive nature of some of the actions, or the lack of character development. To those readers, it will just be another novel to read. In fact, I don't think many of the readers in this age group will even get the whole metaphoric ending.

Adult readers on the other hand may struggle with some of the elements in this book. It may feel like just another children's novel filled with quirky characters and a fast-moving plot. I truly feel the ending is the best part of this book. I really liked the way it made me think – at least for a few minutes – about what I just read and I loved the exploration of the museum, but overall I don't think it is a book that will stay with me for years to come.  


Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Review: Half A King by Joe Abercrombie (Reviewed by A. E. Marling)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read the first seven chapters HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Blade Itself
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Before They Are Hanged
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Best Served Cold
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Heroes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Red Country
Read first Fantasy Book Critic interview with Joe Abercrombie
Read second Fantasy Book Critic interview with Joe Abercrombie

ORIGINAL BOOK BLURB:I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds that his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: If you’re looking for a gritty YA novel unburdened by romance, then you ought to read Half a King by Joe Abercrombie.

Prince Yarvi can’t wait to abdicate his right to the crown soon enough. His talents run more to making tea than impressing men. He will dodge the crown by joining a monkish order of advisors. Alas he would have, but for the murder of his father and brother that has hurled Yarvi onto the throne. 

He’d always been weak; but he never felt truly powerless until they made him king.”

His noble family treats him as if he’s not just a cripple but also deaf and dumb. His uncle says he would’ve made a fine jester. Yarvi’s mother tells him that between them both, “At least one of us must be a man.” And it’s her. A mastermind with eyes that spit icicles, she has plans to revolutionize coinage for her realm. If only her feeble son can stay in power. 

No one demeans Yarvi as much as himself. Like Tyrion in the books of A Song of Fire and Ice, Yarvi’s humor is self-deprecating. Every breath is embittered. He may be half a man, but he has a full man’s rage.

He swears an oath of vengeance against those who killed his father and brother. Then he sails to war on a boat rowed by slaves. The irony is not lost on him when he’s captured and becomes a galley slave himself. He escapes an assassination by scampering into enemy ranks. Pretending to be a nobody comes naturally to him, and the deception saves his life, which is sold for less than the price of a sheep.

I dislike having the protagonist in chains and powerless for so long. The most he can do with the iron collar around his neck is fraternize with his fellow bench mates. Rulf is a philosophical killer. “Life isn’t about deservings, so much as snatching what you can get.” Scar-lipped Sumael is a prized slave. A navigator, she reads the stars like a map and feels her way through the icy waters of the Shattered Sea.

The rest of the slaves are optimistic pink ducklings compared to the deck-scrubber. They call him Nothing. He shivers with hunger and rage. He’s forbidden to touch anything sharp. The last time he stole a knife, he killed more than one man and scarred the ship’s captain. 

The mistress of the merchant ship insists that the slaves are her family. How ungracious they would be to try to escape, how cruel to plot against her! With a sigh and a sweep of her plumed hat, the captain bemoans the weakness of her loving spirit. Generosity will be the death of her, she says, as she stomps over Nothing with her platform boots.

The captain reminds me of Joe Abercrombie’s previous character, the dreadful mercenary Nicomo Cosca. Perhaps it’s her drinking or that both have such infuriatingly believable pettiness and self-love. Joe Abercrombie crafts his characters not as black or white but various shades of blood-stained grey. We learn that one slave who betrays his fellows only does so to secure the wellbeing of his family. It’s not easy to point a finger at evil in Joe Abercrombie’s novels, in part because there’s so many who’ll cut off your hand.

I love the world building. Creepy messenger pigeons babble in human voices. A once-true-god was shattered into shards of divinity, each a minor being that can be worshipped. Even pillage-ready warriors stay away from the elf ruins. Their exhausted slaves gaze up to see constellations with evocative names: The Crooked Way, Stranger-Come-Knocking, and the Eater of Dreams.

Joe Abercrombie’s storytelling is more concise in Half A King and as sharp as ever with wit and deft prose. At one point, Yarvi has to wake up and “struggle on again with the splinters of his nightmares still niggling.”

To escape his imprisonment, Yarvi must also throw off his shackles of self-doubt. He grows as a character. He masterminds an ending so potent that I forgive his wallowing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sharpen my sword on the chains of lost kings, while eating a raw purple onion. Because I’m just that tough. I swear.


GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: A.E. Marling is a fantasy writer, dancer, law-abiding citizen, human being (in that order). Discover his fantasy-appreciation blog and follow him on Twitter, @AEMarling, or the kitty gets it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interview with Rachel Aaron (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website  
Order “Nice Dragons Finish LastHERE
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

Rachel Aaron is an author who since the past five years has become one of our favorite authors. She also is very kind enough to talk about her recently completed Paradox trilogy & reveals certain secrets about the books as well as her forthcoming self-published work The Heartstriker series. Be warned that the below interview has some major and minor spoilers for the Paradox trilogy so avoid it if you haven't read the trilogy. For those who have read and loved her previous works, read and enjoy Rachel's thoughts...

Q) Sup! Since you have (now) become our most interviewed author & thereby one of our supreme favorites. How does it feel to ascend to this pedestal? ;) 

RA: A little nerve wracking, honestly! I’ve been at this full time author gig for just a month shy of five years now, and I still feel like I should be looking for a real job, just in case. All I can say is thank you so so sooooo much for the continued support and I will endeavor to continue being as entertaining as possible!

Q) With Devi’s trilogy now complete, do you feel that you have managed to hit all the points (action, romance, space opera, fantastical aliens, etc.) that you set out to write with this trilogy? 

RA: For the most part, yet. There are a few things I just didn’t have the narrative space to get to—more info on Paradox itself, the history of human expansion into the universe, that sort of thing. But there’s only so much room in a book, and at the end of the day, you have to go with what’s most important to the story you’re trying to tell. Plus, this leaves me with lots of fodder for future Paradox novels! In hindsight, I do wish I’d handled the love story a little more smoothly, especially in book 1, but overall I’m very pleased.

Q) I want to talk to you about the romance aspect of the story. I very much enjoyed how you made it an important part of Devi’s story without it becoming over or under-whelming? How did you achieve this fine balance? 

RA:  A lot of rewrites :D

I knew right from the get go that this was going to be a Romance “capital R”, but I also had a much larger story I wanted to tell, and balancing the two quickly became the central challenge of the narrative. The key, I discovered, was always to think of the books not as action or Romance, but as Devi’s story. Just like the rest of us, her personal relationship drama occupies a big part of her life, but not all of it. Similarly, struggles with her job and all the craziness that comes after disasters are massively important, but they’re not her entire world. This is how I tried to balance the books: a personal struggle to keep up with everything that is happening. Devi’s just trying to survive and do the right thing on many levels, which means a lot of narrative juggling.

A more singularly focused character would have been much easier to write, but that’s not how real people are. We’re messy, we worry about multiple problems at the same time, our personal lives impact our professional work. It was this balance—or rather, this struggle for balance—that I think made Devi’s story feel so real to so many people, and it was an absolute bear to get right. I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote the end of HONOR’S KNIGHT trying to make everything tick over at the right time. In the end, though, it was definitely worth all the work, and I’m very pleased with how the series turned out in that regard!


Q) Now like your previous interview after the completion of the Eli Monpress series, I want to talk about the deeper mysteries of Devi’s universe. Namely one area that was never clarified was the Terran-Paradox split in humanity’s history (or future). Could you talk us through what caused it? 

RA: This was one of those details I always meant to work in but just could never find the right place. Basically, when humanity first left Earth (about 1000 years before the start of Devi’s story), we did it on the very first version of the hyperdive. Unfortunately, we didn’t yet know enough about the drive to use gates, which meant a lot of ships suffered from massive time distortions, while others went much further than they’d originally planned. One of these far jumping colony ships crashed into an Eden-like planet that would become known as Paradox.

The original human settlements on Paradox were tiny. Only a few hundred people survived the crash, and those who did fought amongst themselves for the few remaining shreds of still-working technology. Many held out for help from Earth, but thanks to the incredible distance of their jump, there was no way the rest of humanity could possibly find them any time soon. Generations without contact later, Paradox had devolved back to a primitive agrarian society with little to no memory of the cultures they’d left other than stories and legends. Then, in a miraculous turn, a minor warlord named Stephen rediscovered the lost technology. Using it, he conquered all of his rivals in a matter of days, uniting Paradox under a single king for the first time.

This power, which he claimed was god-given, led to him becoming the first Sainted King. (It should be noted here that modern historians don't believe he rediscovered the crashed colony ship since the ship he used for his initial conquest was far above Earth technology of the time. Even saying that much is heresy on Paradox, however, and the mystery of King Stephen I's rise to power is not one the Royal Office permits investigation into.) All of this happened 700 years ago in Devi’s time. Stephen’s line has maintained their absolute rule of Paradox ever since.

It should also be noted that Paradox did not rediscover the rest of humanity, who’d been off forming what is now the Terran Republic, until barely a hundred years before Devi’s story. Before this time, Paradox was developing in virtual isolation, which explains why their culture is so radically different. Of course, after an initial period of excitement at finding other humans, the two powers began fighting almost immediately. These wars continued on and off until a final peace treaty was signed fifteen years before Devi joined the crew of the Glorious Fool. As can be expected from a century of war, there’s still a lot of bad blood between the two major human civilizations. There’s a lot more history here, of course, but that’s the basic gist.


Q) Thank you for the background reveal about Paradox’s past, moving on to the Sainted King? When he makes an appearance, we only get a glimpse of his powers. What makes him so powerful? Is it faith or something more at work? 

RA: As I hinted above in the history, there’s a LOT more going on with the Sainted King than we see on the surface. I’m actually planning a second trilogy set in the Paradox universe focusing on the Sainted King himself and the darker side of Paradoxian culture that Devi never had to deal with as a simple, loyal merc who happily drank the Sainted King Kool-Aid. So I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the answer to these questions, but I promise you, they are EPIC.

Q) In an interview you mentioned that you rewrote Fortune’s Pawn seven times and also the sequel books also had a lot of changes. Can you tell us as to what some of the changes were or what were the previous iterations to the story? 

RA: As I mentioned earlier, this was the series of rewrites. I have never re-done my books as many times as I rewrote these. Funny enough, the plot itself never changed. Pretty much every event currently in the novels was always there, with one notable exception being that Anthony originally showed up again in the beginning of book two rather than book three. Other than that, though, there were no major plot changes. All the extensive rewrites I did were to address issues with information reveals and relationship progression.

This is a series with a lot of secrets and conflicting moral gauges. The reveals for who-knows-what-when were the most insanely intricate clockwork of secrets I’ve ever tried to write. Getting that right took a lot of tries, as did Rupert and Devi’s relationship. Progress too quickly and it looks like Devi caves or worse, insta-love. Go too slowly, and the relationship won’t be where it needs to be for the final sacrifices to be believable.

These are the primary issues I rewrote for, often writing the same scene from multiple different narrative angles until I found the right one. I’m not actually sure how many times I redid certain parts, but let’s just say it’s a damn good thing I’m a fast writer, or I’d still be working on these books!

Q) Devi as a narrator is unreliable to say the least as her view is prejudiced because of her upbringing. Throughout the story, this partially limits the readers from the minutiae & mystery that are unfolding via the plotline. How did you counteract this issue or was that something (the confusion) you specifically intended with this story? 

RA: Devi’s prejudice was actually a vital narrative tool for me. One of the big conceits of this series is that there is no real villain. With a few minor exceptions, everyone in the books is a decent person trying their best to make something good out of a terrible, terrible situation. But an action space adventure without someone to fight just don’t fly, so I used Devi’s prejudices and tendency to snap judge situations (a life saving habit in combat, but not so good with people) to artificially create perceived villains which I would then make understandable and sympathetic by showing their part of the story. But then, just when they’re starting to look sympathetic, I hammer in again that what they did was still really freaking bad even if they did it with the best of intentions, and so the morals quandaries of the novels get stickier and stickier.

This sort of good guy/bad guy bait and switch was only possible through Devi's first person narration. Since the reader only knows what Devi knows, I was able to put them through the same series of discoveries and realizations Devi herself went through. But Devi isn't a perfect lens. Sometimes, she gets stuff wrong, and that's where the story gets really interesting.

Fortunately for us, Devi has zero tolerance for bullshit. When faced with the aforementioned moral quandaries, she can always be counted on to cut right to the heart of the matter, which nicely keeps the narrative from getting bogged down in its own weighty questions. This is yet again why these books are truly Devi’s story. She’s the main show around here! And though her prejudices do get her in a lot of trouble, her ability to admit she was wrong and stubborn determination to do the actual right thing make her the only hero who can fix such a horrible and sad situation.

Q) As the trilogy ends, we see that there’s more to this universe & so when you return to this milieu & what other facets and personas will you be exploring? 

RA: Yes! As I mentioned above, my next target is the Sainted King himself, and the books will again be narrated by a female powered armor mercenary who is very different from Devi, though hopefully just as fun to read. I’ve already got the major plot points sketched out, and I think the new series will be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my plate is very full at the moment, but I promise more Paradox will be coming soon, hopefully with the announcements in 2015. Then all your questions will be answered! (And then replaced with new ones!)

Q) You also are self-releasing an urban fantasy series next month. Please talk to us about the Heartstriker series & what readers can expect from it? 

RA: The Hearstriker novels are a major gearshift from my Devi books (though I have every faith readers of one would still enjoy the other). They’re much closer in tone to my Eli books, also published as Rachel Aaron, though they’re not as openly farcical or as simple as The Spirit Thief began. Of everything I’ve written, I’d say Nice Dragons Finish Last is closest to The Spirit War. It’s full of fun, funny, slightly outrageous characters dealing with serious, complex, and dangerous problems that have no easy solution.

The books are Urban Fantasy, meaning they’re set in more or less the real world, only I’ve moved things a century into the future and added a cataclysmic event brought magic rushing back into our world, creating mages and awaking sleeping powers. The story centers on Julius Heartstriker, the youngest and smallest dragon of an extremely large and ambitious clan looking to seize power now that magic has returned to Earth and dragons rule over a cowering human population is a real possibility again. Julius, however, is completely unsuited for his family’s agenda owing to his extremely un-draconic niceness, pacifism, and fondness for humans. This is unendingly embarrassing for his powerful and ruthless mother, who’s threatened to eat him if he doesn’t shape up and start acting like a dragon should.

There’s far more to it, of course! This is me, after all, and I can't write a sentence without burying world secrets. Suffice it to say, things get epic. So if you liked my previous books and want more, but different, Nice Dragons Finish Last will probably make you very happy. But don't take my word for it, read the first few chapters free on my site and see for yourself!

Q) You have mentioned to me in our correspondence as to why you went with the self-publishing track. Could you kindly elaborate on this decision for our readers? 

RA: There were a lot of reasons I made the decision to go it alone, none of which have to do with my publisher, Orbit, whom I adore and who has done a very stand up job with my titles. That said, I think my decision to go it alone could best be summed up as one of control. I'm the sort of person who likes to do things herself, but the very nature of a publishing house means an author has very little say over what happens to her book after she turns in the final draft. Cover choice, how my books are branded, sale price, even who gets to review my work early—these were all things I had next to zero control over, which is very frustrating for a control freak like myself.

Self-publishing is the exact opposite. I had total control over everything, which is a different sort of frustration but also extremely fulfilling. It was deeply gratifying to finally get to do everything just as I wanted it, and even if the whole enterprise flops, I'm happy I tried self-pub for that alone. Plus, the money in self-pub isn't bad either. Assuming I don't fail utterly, of course ;D

Q) Talking about the world you have created in this series. Why did you choose to focus the series around the Great lakes region? 

RA: I've always had a fascination with the urban decay of Detroit. Here we have this giant city just rotting away from neglect in the middle of America. Likewise, I've always been intrigued by the Great Lakes, which are larger than some seas when you put them all together. Also, I wanted an American city that hadn't already been done to death in modern UF, which ruled out LA, New York, and Chicago. Once you factored all that in, Detroit just felt like a perfect fit. Also, the weather there is very dramatic—cold winters, hot summers. Add in some crumbling infrastructure and magical environmental problems and you've got one hell of a dramatic setting!

Q) Also Dragons, I loved that you have chosen to go this way. As a reader I haven’t read about dragons in an urban fantasy series as main characters (if you discount PNR) or otherwise they feature as diabolical villains usually. How do you imagine your dragons to be and why would you say they are different from the usual fanfare? 

RA: The initial inspiration for my dragons actually came from the role playing game Shadowrun (third edition, for those who were wondering). In the game, there's an aspect you can take on your character sheet called “Pirate Family.” This means your character is related to a giant family network of hoodlum relatives that will either help you or make your life miserable depending on if you take Pirate Family as a positive or negative aspect. One day, years ago, my husband took this aspect on his character who happened to be a dragon (what? It's table top role playing! You can be a dragon if you want). We immediately realized this meant he had a Dragon Pirate Family, which is just about the best idea ever. Once I had that, everything else fell into place.

Personally, I think the best part about my dragons is their diversity. These aren't your D&D color coded dragons, or even Shadowrun dragons, which numbered in the dozens. My world has thousands of dragons of all shapes and sizes, all arranged into different clans that vary enormously by region.


For example, Julius's dragon clan, the Heartstrikers, are actually descended from the Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of Meso-American lore, and they look like beautiful feathered serpents (and, for Bethesda especially, native Central Americans in their human forms). I tried to draw from dragons of all folk lore traditions, especially in appearance. I also tried to make them diverse as individuals. Dragons in my world have their own culture that prizes the typical draconic traits of ruthlessness, cunning, and lust for power, but the individual dragons who make it up are as different as you'd expect from smart, strong willed creatures. My main character Julius, for example, doesn't fit in at all with what's expected of him, and he's not alone (though, like any misfit, he certainly feels that way). 

The most fun part of the books for me was showing how few of my dragons are actually “typical” dragons. Oh sure, they all put on a show of being ruthless and cold and everything that's expected of them in an incredibly competitive dragon hierarchy, but under the facade, they're all just weirdos just like the rest of us. Once you get past the high stakes and the twisty plots, the whole series is basically one big dragon drama, and wow, was it fun to write.

Q) Talking about the story and the world it’s set in. I enjoyed the collaboration you showcased between magic & capitalism in the DFZ. Can you walk us through why you chose to combine these completely unrelated subjects? 

RA: It just felt natural. If magic suddenly returned today and people starting being born mages with the ability to control reality-altering power, you know corporations would be all over that. Corporate mages would start appearing on pay rolls and performing paid-by-the-hour miracles before the government could even convene to start arguing over magical legislation. In the books, we're sixty years out from the original return of magic, so the craziness has mostly worked itself out, but there was definitely a gold rush (and all the unscrupulous things that go with that) in the early days of magic, and the echoes of that linger still.

Q) How many books will you be writing in this series and what can you tell us about the second book? Also what will be the release schedule considering that you control all aspects of it? 

RA: Right now I'm planning on five, though it could be six depending on how long it takes me to cover some of the trickier aspects of the Meta plot. I'm hoping to put out one book every four months with the second volume, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, due out this fall. Probably November, barring disaster.

Honestly, I'd hoped to have the second book ready for release in August, but due to an onslaught of family emergencies (my grandfather's death, a medical emergency and lengthy hospitalization for my son, and then the sudden death of my father-in-law... 2014 hasn't been a good year for the Aaron/Bach family -_-) I've had to push the schedule back. But this is another place where doing it yourself works out. At last I didn't have to worry about deadlines!

If everything goes well, the whole Heartstriker series should be done by 2016. That isn't as fast as I'd hoped, honestly, but I'm determined to take my time, hire the right people, and do everything in my power to make sure these books are every bit as high quality as any of my New York books. Just because I'm doing it myself doesn't mean standards go down. My readers deserve nothing less than my absolute best.

Q) Talking about the Heartstriker and other dragon clans in your world? Are their physical characteristics corresponding to their geographical affinities? If so what location are the Hearstrikers from? 

RA: Yes! The Heartstrikers are originally from the former Aztec Empire in what is now Mexico, and though many of them look a bit odd now from Bethesda the Heartstriker's interesting choice in mates, they all have a Meso-American heritage. That said, they are dragons first and foremost, and that is the primary source of their culture and values. Their human forms are really nothing more than a form of magical camouflage, which is why they look like whatever humans were around the dragon's claimed territory at the time they were born plus any traits they inherit from their parents, such as Julius Heartstriker 's green eyes.

Q) Will you be exploring other corners of the world? If so can you give us a hint or two as to what readers can look forward to? 

RA: The majority of the story takes place in the Detroit Free Zone because that's where Algonquin, the Lady of the Great Lakes, resides (and I don't think it's a spoiler to say she's going to be very important). But I do have a major arc planned for China and at least a few big scenes in magical Las Vegas (because how cool is magical Las Vegas?), so we'll definitely be seeing more of the changed world. 

Q) First epic fantasy, then SF action-romance & now urban fantasy, you truly are covering a lot of varied genres. Talk us about this wanderlust and what genre are you looking to conquer next? 

RA: Wanderlust is a good way to put it. I'm an agent's worst nightmare, always hopping from one genre to the next. That's another reason I wanted to try self-publishing. If I had to change my name every time I switched genres (which my publisher required when I signed for Fortune's Pawn), I'd never be the same person twice!

To answer your question, I've got a bunch of stuff in the pipe, including the previously mentioned new Paradox books and a gas light Alt-History adventure staring an artist who creates custom alternate dimensions and the spell breaker detective who has to help prove her innocence when people start turning up dead in her custom worlds. I'm also going to be trying my hand at a fantasy YA at some point, but this is where my ideas get ahead of my ability to write. There's just too much I want to do! For now, though, you can definitely expect new Paradox books and the rest of the Heartstriker series in the near future.

Q) Thank you very much for undertaking this long list. As a fan, I am glad that you are releasing new books. Any last thoughts or comments to share until your next visit with us? 

RA: Only to ask that people please consider following me on Twitter or Facebook or visit my site for my blog. I'm always doing something new with my books, and this is also where I put up information about sales, give aways, and other fun stuff. Or, if you don't want to bother with any of that and just want to know when I'm releasing a new title, I also have a new release mailing list that does just that—no spam, no bother, just lets you know when and where I have a new book available.

Thank you so so much again for having me and for asking such amazing questions! I hope you all liked my answers, and if you haven't read my stuff, I hope you'll give it a try. Thank you a million times over for reading. It's because of you lovely people that I can make a living writing, and I never forget that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Yours sincerely,
Rachel

NOTE: Quetzalcoatl picture courtesy of Genzoman. Shadow picture courtesy of Shadowthief.

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