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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"Hunt for Hydra: Jupiter Pirates 1" by Jason Fry (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Jason Fry's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: In this swashbuckling new sci-fi adventure series from New York Times bestselling author Jason Fry, three siblings in a family of privateers must compete to decide who will be the next ship captain, all while battling space pirates, Earth diplomats, and even treachery from within the family.

The relationship between Tycho Hashoone, his twin sister, Yana, and their older brother, Carlo, isn't your average sibling rivalry. They might be crew members together aboard the Shadow Comet, but only one of them can be the next ship captain. So when the Hashoones find themselves in the midst of a dangerous conspiracy, each sibling is desperate to prove his or her worth. The only trouble is if they don't work together, none of them may make it out alive.

Perfect for fans of fantasy adventures like Ranger's Apprentice and such space-age epics as Star Wars, The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra is a wholly original saga about a galaxy on the brink of war and one unforgettable family caught in the cross fire.

FORMAT: Hunt for Hydra is the first book in the Jupiter Pirates series. It is a middle grade sci-fi/space opera novel that is filled with pirates, space adventures, and mystery. It stands at 256 pages and was published December 23, 2013 by HarperCollins.

ANALYSIS: In recent years, there has been a serious lack of space opera or science fiction novels that are written for children. There seems to be a heavy emphasis on magical wizards, fairy tale retellings, and of course dystopian tales. Those books that do make an attempt at a children's sci-fi novel, do so in a way that is almost watered down or gloss over the true aspect of the genre. That is why Jason Fry's novel is such a relief.

Jason Fry paves the way for the future by introducing the middle grade audience to the genre by producing an adventurous and engaging tale. Of course, it isn't just a story that appeals to younger children, but one that many adults will find themselves enjoying too.

Hunt for Hydra is the first book in a proposed series known as The Jupiter Pirates. It follows a family of privateers (the politically correct term for space pirates) as they venture throughout space in an effort to uphold peace amongst the planets, as well as fight off evil space pirates.

In this first novel, the Hashoones are hard at work intercepting and taking over other ships. That is until they intercept a ship with an individual on board who is claiming to have diplomatic immunity. Something doesn't seem right with the claim, which leads the Hashoones to take the ship, and the diplomat, back to Ceres to await an official ruling from the government. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg and unveils a huge conspiracy that could put The Jovian Union (made up of the three moons) and Earth's careful alliance in jeopardy.

What is truly amazing about Hunt for the Hydra is the relationships between all the characters. First, there are adults who are actively involved with their children's lives. The parents know what is going on, are sought for help with problems, and truly care about the well-being of their children. There is even a 'kooky' grandpa who is part robot, who seems a little out there, but can be counted on at times to tell it like it is and listen to the main character when he needs to talk about issues.

Parental figures tend to be downplayed in middle grade fiction in an effort to appeal to the target audience. It was nice to see active, involved parents who aren't hoovering over the main characters, but are there to support, guide, and nurture them.

Another amazing character aspect is the relationship between the siblings. All three of the siblings are competing in an effort to be named the next captain of the Shadow Comet. The problem is no one sibling is the clear choice for captain. Each of them is lacking in a certain skill area. Together they make a great team, but alone they have major weaknesses that could prove dangerous.

Instead of having all the siblings involved in a 'cut throat' competition, Fry shows how each of the characters learns from each other. And in times of trouble, they are able to put their differences aside and truly come up with a solution to help. It was refreshing to see such a close bond with the characters, yet at times the siblings did fight and squabble. It seemed very real.

An aspect of Hunt for Hydra that I really enjoyed was the mix of adventure and mystery. The novel had a very fast pace to it, but it didn't feel rushed. This may have been because of the mysterious element to it. I kept trying to figure out where the conspiracy was, what would happen, and how the characters would work through it. 

Another aspect I personally enjoyed was Tycho. The story is told from his POV, but I liked that he isn't perfect. He makes mistakes. He is picked on sometimes by his siblings. He doubts himself in tough situations. In some ways, he knows he will never be captain of the ship, yet he still wants to give it his all and learn what he can about being a captain. I liked that he was so real and I just had an instant bond with him. 

I'll admit if you are a die-hard science fiction fan, there are probably things that could be picked apart about Hunt for Hydra. The ship structure and world building isn't overly detailed or overly complex, but it works for its target audience. Many times sci-fi books overwork the science aspect or the technical aspect, which intimidates some readers. I didn't see that happening here. Everything seemed age appropriate and not dumbed down at all.

If you are looking for a quick book that is filled with adventure, mystery, and a close-knit family filled with detailed characters, Hunt for Hydra is for you. It really is a great introduction to the genre and I hope this is just the start of many wonderful sci-fi books for the middle grade sector.
Monday, July 6, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

 Pre-Order Trollhunters from Amazon Here

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to partner with Disney-Hyperion to celebrate the release of the first YA novel from horror film legend Guillermo del Toro with Daniel Kraus. In celebration of the event, we will be hosting a giveaway as well as promoting the upcoming signing event with Guillermo del Toro & Daniel Kraus

Trollhunters will be available in stores July 14, 2015!

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion for providing all samplings and prizes. 

Book Synopsis for Trollhunters:

"You are food. Those muscles you flex to walk, lift, and talk? They're patties of meat topped with chewy tendon. That skin you've paid so much attention to in mirrors? It's delicious to the right tongues, a casserole of succulent tissue. And those bones that give you the strength to make your way in the world? They rattle between teeth as the marrow is sucked down slobbering throats. These facts are unpleasant but useful. There are things out there, you see, that don't cower in holes to be captured by us and cooked over our fires. These things have their own ways of trapping their kills, their own fires, their own appetites."

Jim Sturges is your typical teen in suburban San Bernardino— one with an embarrassingly overprotective dad, a best friend named "Tubby" who shares his hatred of all things torturous (like gym class), and a crush on a girl who doesn't know he exists. But everything changes for Jim when a 45-year old mystery resurfaces, threatening the lives of everyone in his seemingly sleepy town. Soon Jim has to team up with a band of unlikely (and some un-human) heroes to battle the monsters he never knew existed.

From the minds of horror geniuses Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus comes a new illustrated novel about the fears that move in unseen places.

Meet the Authors and Illustrator of Trollhunters


Guillermo del Toro is best known for his critically acclaimed feature films, such as Pan's Labyrinth, Helllboy, The Hobbit, and Pacific Rim, as well as his best-selling Strain Trilogy.
Daniel Kraus is the award-winning author of Scowler and Rotters, and is the director of six feature films. He lives with his wife in Chicago. 

From Pan's Labyrinth to Hellboy to his best-selling novel The Strain, del Toro has captured the imagination through his works. His co-author Daniel Kraus is another award-winning author and filmmaker with a penchant for horror The Monster Variations, was selected for New York Public Library's "100 Best Stuff for Teens." Fangoria called Rotters, his Bram Stoker-finalist and Odyssey Award-winning second novel, "a new horror classic." Kraus' 2013 title, Scowler, also won an Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults. 
stories. Kraus' debut novel,

Sean Murray is an illustrator, concept artist, author and teacher known for his work on video games such as Dungeons & Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online, as well as the creator of The World of Gateway, which includes his fantasy guidebook Gateway: The Book of Wizards and the upcoming card game Gateway Uprising.

Comic-Con Signing!

Will you be at San Diego Comic-Con? Stop by the Disney Publishing Booth on Friday afternoon for a TROLLHUNTERS signing with co-authors Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus. Limited to 100!

Guillermo del Toro & Daniel Kraus Signing
Friday, June 10th
2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Disney Publishing Worldwide Booth #1129

 Giveaway and Rules for Entry 


To celebrate the release of Trollhunters, we are ONE lucky winner the ultimate horror fan starter pack. It is a great way to introduce people to the genre or even sample some great authors!

The winner will receive a Disney-Hyperion collection of YA horror books that include:

  • Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus
  • The Enemy by Charlie Higson
  • Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
  • Branded Trollhunters pins!

Giveaway rules:

  1. This giveaway is limited to US addresses only.
  2. Please only 1 submission per person. More than one submission will result in disqualification of the giveaway.
  3. To enter please send and email to with the subject line TROLLHUNTERS. In the email please include your name and address. 
  4. Giveaway will run from July 6, 2015 midnight EST til July 12, 2015 midnight EST.
  5.  One winner will be chosen at random. Upon completion of the giveaway all entries will be deleted.
May the odds be ever in your favor!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Guest Post: ‘We Will Make an Ending’ or ‘How I Wrote Queen of Fire’ By Anthony Ryan

Endings are always tricky. Most truly memorable stories feature a climax that, whilst not always happy, is entirely fitting and lifts the tale into the realm of the classic. So whilst I didn’t want Sydney Carlton to walk the steps to the guillotine or Ilsa to get on the plane with Victor at the end of Casablanca, I also knew in my storyteller’s heart that this was how it had to be. If Sydney doesn’t walk up the steps he doesn’t get to say ‘It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done.’ If Ilsa stays with Rick he doesn’t get to tell Louie This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship’, and the Nazis might win WWII but that’s beside the point. So when it came time to write Queen Of Fire I was determined that the ending would do justice to what had come before, it would be how it had to be, and not necessarily how I wanted it to be. No cop-outs, no fairy godmothers and none of the parachutes under the seat that so enraged Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery.

The tale of Vaelin Al Sorna and co. has been an often bloody, emotionally wrenching journey, leavened, I hope, with some humour along the way. It has also, over the course of more than half a million words, generated an increasingly complex plot and an ever-growing cast of characters. Although I plan my work, I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure who was going to make it by the time the last drop of blood had spattered onto the arena floor. There were some, of course, whose number had been up from day one and others I’d grown fond of over the years. However, I’ve long held the opinion that the fiction writer must be a murderous parent; when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Just ask poor old Scratch (about whom I still get the occasional heart-broken email).

Of course it wasn’t just a matter of listing the characters I needed to kill off. Each character, both major and minor, had an arc of their own that needed to be resolved. How would Reva deal with the responsibility of taking her uncle’s place as leader of Cumbrael, a burden made all the heavier by the fact that her people have come to regard her as a near messianic figure? What would happen when Frentis, the character I had perhaps put through the worst trials in Tower Lord, came face to face with Lyrna, newly resurrected Queen of the Unified Realm?

Lyrna herself proved an unexpected challenge. As her quest for revenge exacted an increasingly heavy toll on followers and foes alike I was faced with the question of how dark her destiny was going to be. Then there was Vaelin, who started all this when he popped into my head a decade or so ago. I’d done a lot to Vaelin over the years, most of it less than pleasant, and I must admit there was a certain reluctance in approaching the question of just how much more I was willing to take from him. In the end, I can only hope I got it right.

In addition to resolving the various character arcs, there was also the small matter of that complex plot which, by the advent of Queen Of Fire, had become intrinsically linked to the mechanics of the Dark. I had started Blood Song with the intention of being as vague and mysterious as possible when it came to magic. In fact, I think I began the book before the term ‘magic system’ had become so widely used. I wanted the Dark to be just that; dark, enigmatic, not fully understood or understandable, even for the people who use it. However, as the story progressed, and the events in Tower Lord revealed more about the Ally and his servants, it became apparent that many secrets would have to be revealed, including the origin of Vaelin’s arch-enemy.

This necessitated another round of world-building, a back-story beyond the existing back-story, for as Master Grealin says in Tower Lord: ‘Who he was might be a more pertinent question, for once he must have been a man.’ But what could have twisted a man into something so align and powerful? And could a being without physical form but still possessed of great power even be defeated? This need to craft an ending that made dramatic sense and conformed to the already established rules of magic was the primary reason why Queen Of Fire was more challenging to write than Tower Lord, and ended up twenty thousand words longer.

Although writing Queen Of Fire was more difficult than Tower Lord, once again the experience was ultimately a joyous one, if tinged with sadness. Saying goodbye to friends is hard, even if you know you’ll see them again someday. I’ll miss them, and I’m sorry to those lost along the way, but this is how it had to be.


Official Author Website
Order Queen Of Fire HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Blood Song
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Tower Lord
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Queen Of Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Anthony Ryan
Read "The Influence Of History On Epic Fantasy" by Anthony Ryan (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anthony Ryan is a pseudonym used by the author as his previous day job prevented him from using his real identity. The author has an academic background in history, previously worked full-time as a researcher and currently lives in London. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Winners of The Indie Day V Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to Sandy Klocinski who was randomly selected to win a KINDLE FIRE HDX 8.9” Tablet (8.9" HDX Display, Wi-Fi, 16 GB) courtesy of M.R. Mathias!!! Congratulations also to Tatiana Lammers and Betty Curran who will each receive a KINDLE E-READER (New Touchscreen Display, Exclusive Kindle Software, Wi-Fi)! Each Kindle will be loaded with the following titles:

Dragoneer Saga by M. R. Mathias
The Darkslayer (Volumes I-VI)by Craig Halloran
…and various other goodies :)

Thanks to everyone who entered and Happy Independence Day!!!

Queen Of Fire by Anthony Ryan (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Blood Song
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Tower Lord
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Anthony Ryan
Read "The Influence Of History On Epic Fantasy" by Anthony Ryan (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anthony Ryan is a pseudonym used by the author as his previous day job prevented him from using his real identity. The author has an academic background in history, previously worked full-time as a researcher and currently lives in London. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB:The Ally is there, but only ever as a shadow, unexplained catastrophe or murder committed at the behest of a dark vengeful spirit. Sorting truth from myth is often a fruitless task.”

After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except, to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant—those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark—and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.

Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named Battle Lord of the Realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the Realm is to prevail—a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power which has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent…

FORMAT/INFO: Queen Of Fire is 656 pages long divided five sections, each of which open with a Verniers account and a total of forty-eight numbered chapters. This pattern is very similar to that of the first and second book. Narration is in the third-person, via Vaelin Al Sorna, Reva, Frentis, Queen Lyrna and Alucius Al-Hestian. The book also feature maps of the unified realm, the Alpiran and Volarian empire. There is an appendix for the Dramatis Personae and this is the concluding volume of The Raven’s Shadow trilogy.

July 7, 2015 marks the North American Hardcover and e-book publication of Queen Of Fire via Ace Books. The UK version (see below) was published on July 3, 2015 by Orbit Books UK

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’ve been waiting to read this book since I first finished Blood Song in 2012. There was a line in the book about a Queen Of Fire and of the Darkblade that was to serve her. When I learnt that the trilogy ending volume would be titled the same, I was extremely excited. As an Anthony Ryan fan, we have been waiting to what happens to Vaelin Al Sorna and the other characters from the unified realm and other areas. Be warned that since this is the concluding volume, my review will have spoilers for the preceding volumes as I will have to talk of certain events and characters.

When Tower Lord ended, we were shown that Queen Lyrna was attacked and “saved” by a special person. The Unified Realm is in a precarious situation as the Volarian invaders have ravaged it. However things aren’t lost as Tower Lord Vaelin Al Sorna managed to rescue the Cumbraelians and also saw the rise of Reva Mustor. She turned out to be as deadly a warrior as Vaelin. Lastly there’s Frentis who has been under the mental command of a Volarian assassin called Elverah and has been carrying out a savage murder spree. However her hold was weakened enough for him to regain his person and make his escape. Things however are dire as the unified realm is in shambles and no one knows what will happen next.

At the start of Queen Of Fire, we learn that Weaver has healed Queen Lyrna of her mental and physical scars. Vaelin has lost his song and finds himself much more human for the first time in his life. Reva is feted as a great warrior and championed by her people. Lyrna conscripts her in her campaign to attack Volaria. Frentis journeys back to join his brothers and what’s left of the order to help those afflicted by his actions. He however is very wary of the moment when he will have to explain his actions. Lastly there’s a new POV character in Alucius Al-Hestian who is forced to side with the traitorous Renfaelin lord Darnel. His father is also siding as his only son’s life hangs in the balance. That’s where all the plot threads in this concluding volume begin. What ends up happening is an insane action-packed volume wherein many secrets are revealed and many characters face deaths.

What do I say about this concluding volume, this is an action packed storyline very similar to Tower Lord. There’s a marked change in all of character who survived the events showcased in Tower Lord. Lyrna is far from the tempered character we met at the start of the second volume. Freshly healed, she’s back to her cold, calculating self that we first met in Blood Song and that’s a major plus point. Lyrna in many ways was the perfect foil to Vaelin, her brilliant acumen to his unsurpassed martial skills. Her faith in intelligence to that of his in people. In this volume, we finally get to see how dangerous she truly can be. Vaelin is Vaelin and with the loss of his Blood Song, he seems more conflicted with his choices and actions. Nevertheless he does whatever it takes to be the hero he’s meant to be. His journey is truly the best one in this as it’s via his chapters we get to know all the deep, dark secrets of the world.

Reva has another life-changing arc play out in this book. She’s thought of as a feared warrior equal only to Vaelin however with this book she faces the brunt of the expectations and faith that has been heaped upon her. Her skills get further refined with certain plot twists that happen in the second half of the story. For those who thought Reva had it rough, will be shocked to see what new tests she has to overcome. Then there’s Frentis and we finally get to see him unravel after the events of Tower Lord. Never one to shirk his duty, he does his best to aid his fellow warriors in the fight against the Volarians. However within his chapters we get to see his tenuous connection with the Volarian Empress and it’s via these sections that she is fleshed out to be more than just a caricature-ish villain.

Alucius was a surprise POV character and his arc plays out crucially not only for him but for his beloved. Lastly the surprise package in all of this is Verniers Alishe Someren. Again we only get his account in 5 mini-chapters at the start of each section but I believe his are the juiciest. Infact he even ends up getting one of his fervent wishes granted (for discerning readers, look up Blood Song, especially his conversations with Vaelin.) There’s also various other characters who make quick appearances and have to face various tribulations that see them either dead or refined. The character cast is at its widest in this volume and it will be good for readers to frequently check up the appendix to see who's who.

What are the best points of the story, firstly the author goes all out and lays out all the revelations that are related to the Ally and his machinations. And by everything I mean EVERY THING. We learn where exactly he came from, what did he do to gain his powers and what lead to the Volarians being the blood thirsty lot that they are shown to be. With this volume, Anthony Ryan leaves nothing behind with regards to the magic system, the hinted secrets of the world’s past and plot revelations such as who is Caenis truly and what does he know.

The truth about Caenis is something that had bugged a lot of readers (including me) in Tower Lord as he barely made an appearance and then disappeared from the storyline. In this book, I was expecting him to be a POV character and while that didn’t turn out to be the case. We do get to see his return and learn what he's kept secret for so long. There’s also another character that makes a return from Blood Song however it’s not the person you might think. Another plus point about this volume is the insane amount of action packed into the pages. Across each POV chapter we get to see either huge battles, or intrigue being played out. I was truly surprised that this book wasn’t broken in to two and kudos to the author for managing to combine everything but the kitchen sink into this story.

Now going to the points that didn’t quite make this an all-star read, firstly those readers unhappy with Tower Lord because of the loss of the tight focus found within Blood Song, will be unhappy similarly with this one. Secondly with the first book, there was a lot understated humor to the passages. There was a noticeable decline to that in the second book and it’s even less so in this one. Of course there’s a slightly logical reason, which is that all the characters are facing life-changing decisions and that doesn’t really come across through humor. I still wish that the author could have tried to bring some dark humor in the passages.

Another sticky point for me was the one that I mentioned earlier of Caenis not getting a POV. But the bigger issue is that his role in the book is wildly shorter than what I imagined it would be. Also Sherin surprisingly doesn’t have a role to play and that omission was out of the left field. Lastly the beginning of the book has a rather sedate pace and it’s only after the first hundred or so pages that the story truly gets going. This might hamper the read for many readers who are expecting for it to be fast-paced from the start like Blood Song.

There’s also an extra-ordinary amount of recall needed, as there are many minor characters and events that make an appearance and are referenced from the preceding volumes. I would sincerely recommend that readers at least read Tower Lord before beginning this volume so as to not get lost. I must reiterate how much story Anthony Ryan has crammed within these pages, I sincerely felt that this story could have been split into two and further fleshed out. Some reader might have grumbled but then many (like me) would have enjoyed the deep focus. However even with a single volume, the author brings to a spectacular conclusion the story that he began with his self-published bestseller Blood Song.

CONCLUSION: Queen Of Fire is an epic ending to one of the best debut epic fantasy trilogies that I’ve ever read. I was lucky that my quote graces the US cover and it’s a statement that I still heartily stand by: “Anthony Ryan is David Gemmell’s natural successor and epic fantasy’s best British talent”. Anthony Ryan ends his trilogy with a bang that doesn’t match his beginnings but is still a solid one that will resonate with all his fans.
Thursday, July 2, 2015

Guest Post: Betwixt & Between by Katherine Harbour

In Thorn Jack and Briar Queen, abandoned buildings are places where the past, the otherworld, and the present intermingle.

A tricky sort of magic lingers in border places; the woods, neglected buildings, the transitional times of dusk and dawn. In these liminal areas, benevolent or malevolent beings manifest; Sasquatches stalk forests, trolls lurk beneath brides, Bloody Marys haunt mirrors, and Djinn prowl cemeteries. Faeries ride with the Wild Hunt on All Hallows Eve. Divinities and devils guard crossroads where one might encounter tricksters such as the Greek Hermes and Hecate, or the West African Eshu.

Forests become a rite of passage for fairy-tale characters and a metaphor for life itself in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Wolves and witches, fauns and nymphs—all of life’s perils and temptations—exist in the woods. In Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, the titular forest is a place where beings called mythagos, who once roamed the world as various cultural archetypes, take whatever form enters the mind of anyone who finds their way in. 

Man-made structures can also turn dangerous when unoccupied, leaving them to become a border place. But it’s an occupied house in Charles de Lint’s Moonheart, Tamson House, a puzzle of rooms and corridors (like the Winchester House in California) taking up an entire block in contemporary Ottawa, that becomes the portal for a sinister force. In Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the house itself is an almost sentient thing that tricks the protagonist into a state of fear and madness.

Fear and madness seem to be an element of the creatures haunting rivers and lakes. Lakes, sometimes with drowned towns and monstrous serpents, are also the dominions of water horses, shapeshifters with the eating habits of crocodiles. Bridges that cross water and attract suicides thrive with hauntings, the Point Pleasant Mothman for instance. Demonic female entities such as the green ghoul Jenny Greenteeth and the child-killer La Lhorona are drawn to rivers. Yet water is less of a malevolent force in wells graced by goddesses (now the power places of saints), with the exception of one vengeful well spirit, Okiku, a murdered Japanese servant girl who became the inspiration for the Ringu (The Ring) films. And, in Elizabeth Marie Pope’s Elizabethan version of Tam Lin, The Perilous Gard, dark faeries haunt a sacred well where a child recently died.

Mirrors, so like water in appearance, have long been used as thresholds to the land of the dead—from the Aztec god of sorcerors, Lord Smoking Mirror, to the spiritualists in the turn-of-the-century using psychomanteum rooms. Mirrors are infamous sources of terror in horror films, magical devices in fiction: Alice’s looking glass adventures; the evil stepmother’s mirror in Snow White. Mirrors reflect a reverse world peopled with things that look like us, but are not.

And this otherworld, inhabited by such creatures, is often portrayed as a land people want to escape; as in this example from Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland:
“…meeting a comely young man who had been his comrade but was now an inhabitant of one of those hidden houses, he asked how he fared."

"And for all his fine clothing . . ."

"The young man gave the names of three drudges . . ."

I would rather be living their life than the life I am leading now.”

In Greek myth, Persephone, the stolen bride of Hades, begins to pine away in the land of the dead until he grants her half a year in the sunlit world. Escaping the otherworld is a theme in fantasy fiction (although in Terri Windling’s Bordertown series and Lili St. Crow’s YA fairy-tale retellings, the real world and Elfland have met and become an uncertain reality.) In ancient ballads, Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin, drawn into fairyland by the queen, only want to be free of it.

Yet the otherworld, the betwixt and between, is where dreams are possible and human psyches create what they desire . . . and that will always be its lure. 


Official Author Website
Order Briar Queen HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Thorn Jack

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Katherine Harbour was born and brought up in upstate New York and since then has also lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She began writing Thorn Jack since she was seventeen years old. After multiple revisions, it lead to her publication. She currently live in Florida.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Shadow Study: Soulfinders Series 1" by Maria V. Snyder (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Maria V. Snyder's Official Website Here

Once, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.
As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.

FORMAT: Shadow Study is the first book in the Soulfinder Series. It takes place approximately six years after the last Study Series book. It could be read on its own, but it is best if it is read after you have read the Study Series and then the Glass Series (spoilers to these series will be inside the book).

Shadow Study is a YA fantasy romance. It stands at 384 pages and was published by Mira on February 24, 2015.

ANALYSIS: The minute I read Maria V. Snyder's first series of books – The Study Series – I was obsessed. I loved not only the characters, but the world building. The series was quick, satisfying, and fun to read. After finishing that series, I quickly read all of her other books and enjoyed them just as much.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Snyder was taking readers back to the characters that started it all – Yelena and Valek. I was thrilled. Unfortunately, that thrill did not carry over to the series.

Reviewing Shadow Study, for me, is going to be difficult. I wanted to love it. All of Snyder's other books – The Study Series, The Glass Series, and The Healer Series – I loved. Sadly, I do not feel that the first book in the Soulfinders Series is Snyder's strongest book. I didn't dislike the series and I feel it is great for fans of the series, but I am left with mixed emotions.

Fans of Snyder's original series will certain enjoy reading Shadow Study. Everyone's favorite characters are back and facing situations that seem all too similar. It was this part of the book that I did enjoy. I liked revisiting some of my favorite characters, seeing what they are up to, and how they have grown and changed. There were even a few new characters that helped keep things slightly new.

Now comes the part that has caused me mixed emotions. Snyder is trying something new with this book. She allows readers to follow three different characters – Yelena, Valek, and Janco. This is where I think the momentum from previous series was lost. Two of the POVs – Janco and Valek – are written in third person, while Yelena's is written in first person.

This constant jump between writing styles caused the book to have a fractured feeling to its flow. A reader just gets used to a certain POV and they are quickly jumped to another POV with a new style of writing. There was also something that felt off with Janco's sections. He felt sort of thrown in there just to be thrown in there. His sections were pretty short, but every time I came to them, I dreaded reading them which was sad, because he had some pretty good conversations and one-liners in the past (and even occasionally in Shadow Study).

It wasn't just the style of writing either that made things feel fractured. There was the jump in times. Valek's sections take readers back in time to his training as an assassin. While this story was interesting and something I have personally wondered about, it felt misplaced. It came across like another book was being shoved into this one.

I think, if each of these sections had been published separately, it would have made for a better experience. Instead, it felt like three separate books shoved into one edition. If it was needed to put them all into one book, I think it would have helped to maybe have two POVs and keep them in the same tense. It would have been less disruptive to the flow.

Now, on to the other aspect that was a bit disappointing. Shadow Study leads readers on Yelena's journey to discover why her magic is blocked. She is left defenseless and unable to access her magic. Sound familiar? Yes. This is so similar to the last book in the Glass Series, that it was distracting. I am sure the reason for her blocked magic will be revealed and it will be different than the Glass Series, but the similarities between the two books came across as 'same story, different characters' vibe.

Overall, I don't want to say Shadow Study was a bad book. It wasn't bad. It just didn't come across as Snyder's best work. Fans of her previous series will certainly love it and in the end, that is all that matters. In regards to my feelings, I was disappointed and hoped to see the momentum carry over from the other series. It isn't enough to make me stop reading the series, but I do hope to see the rest of the Soulfinders Series improve. Consider it more of a rocky start. Snyder can – and probably will – recover from it.


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