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Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off Second Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Previously I had spoken as to how I planned to do mini-reviews of 4-5 books at a time. However changes on my family front have precipitated a change in my reviewing pattern. With time being a constraint. I'm going to take a page from Ria's (Bibliotropic) method and make a shortlist.

With that in mind, I read about 4-6 chapters from all the remaining 23 books and chose the following 6 titles. Within this list I have also added one book that I had previously discarded because it was better than the rest. So here are the six books that made the cut:

 1)  Blood and Masks by Alex Ziebart
 2)  Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone by Scott Warren
 3)  Shade City by Domino Finn
 4)  Century of Sand by Christopher Ruz
 5)  Under A Colder Sun by Greg James
 6)  The Kitsune Stratagem by David Tatum

 I'll be reviewing each book properly and the first book will be reviewed in the latter half of June. Hopefully by the end of August, I'll be able to pick one among these six and submit as my official selection. 
Friday, May 22, 2015

The Queen Of The Tearling by Erika Johansen (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman & Joshua Redlich)

Official Author Website
Order Queen Of The Tearling HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Erika Johansen grew up and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College, earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing. The Queen of the Tearling is her first novel.

OVERVIEW: Kelsea Raleigh has never known anything but for the cottage she was raised in and the kindly man and stern woman who raised her. That, and the fact that she is heir to the Tearling throne.

After her mother, Queen Elyssa Raleigh, died, Kelsea was sent into hiding to be protected and taught until her nineteenth birthday, when she would be returned to the castle and assume her role as queen. Now that day has finally come, and she is swept up into an unknown world, friendless and utterly ignorant of the current state of her kingdom, without the slightest notion of what she is supposed to do. Meanwhile, both her own uncle, the current Raleigh Regent, and the Red Queen of Mortmesne, a powerful witch queen, want to see her dead, and her only protection is a Queen’s Guard with a known traitor amongst its rank and the Tear sapphire, a mysterious amulet with unknown abilities.

With limited resources and such formidable enemies, can Kelsea hope to protect her kingdom from the Red Queen’s army, or will she be nothing but the cause of even more destruction?

FORMAT: The Queen of the Tearling is Erica Johansen’s debut novel and the first in her Queen of the Tearling series. It is a 448 page YA political fantasy written in the third person, and it comes complete with a map of the world and fourteen titled chapters split between thee parts. The book was published in North America by Harper on July 8, 2014. It is now available as a hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

ANALYSIS (Cindy):I will admit I wasn't exactly sure what I was walking into when I decided to read The Queen of the Tearling. Was I reading an epic adult fantasy? Was it YA novel? Add into the fact that this novel (by the time I read it) already had tons of 'haters' and bad reviews, and I was certain I was walking into a world of hurt. Surprisingly, that isn't what happened.

I'm just going to come out and say this. I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling. Sure, it didn't blow me away and I would hardly label it 'best fantasy novel ever', but I enjoyed it. The plot was engaging, the world building was alright, and there was enough action, adventure, political intrigue, and mystery to keep me reading. Of course, it isn't a perfect book either and it does have some problems.

Before I go any further, I do think the issue of it being compared to The Hunger Games needs to be addressed. I saw multiple references to The Hunger Games and even on the flap of the book it says it is 'like' The Hunger Games. There is nothing akin to Hunger Games about this book. If you are going in expecting to walk out with the same feeling you did with The Hunger Games or even read a book that is remotely similar, you're asking for trouble. There is a constant need to compare books to each other and try to find a similarity between them. The Hunger Games is still what is considered hot and popular, so every book tries to ride that excitement. Unfortunately, it sets a lot of people up for disappointment. This is just one of the many examples of 'Hunger Game' hype disappointment.

I do understand the need to compare books to each other to give readers some idea of what to expect, but in this situation The Hunger Games is so off from this book that it creates problems. My recommendation is to read it and give it a try before you make a decision. Just don't expect "you know which book".

Now, what did I like about The Queen of The Tearling? There was a lot that I enjoyed. I found the main character, once I got to know and understand her, intriguing and captivating. I found her supporting cast diverse. One of the elements that I really enjoyed was although the supporting cast was theoretically many, many years older than our main heroine of the story, they all gelled together nicely. It was like one big, oddly unique family.

Another element I really enjoyed was the library element. Seriously, any book that incorporates secret libraries or encouraging society to read, I love. I did find the way the author paid tribute to some of the modern day authors/books fun. It may have only been a sentence or two here or there, but I felt it was a nice touch and a great way to honor authors/books that inspired people's love of fantasy.

There were some flaws with this debut volume. One of the biggest issues I had was it appeared that the book at times was unnecessarily mean/evil/gritty. I've read gritty books and there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The grittier scenes just seemed forced and really unnecessary. For example, there were several references to rape and detailed sex/killing scenes that just seemed, there to be there.

Another issue I ran into was the author's rather obvious attempts at world building. I wouldn't go as far as to call them info-dumps, but they were pretty close to it. There were many times where there'd be a break in the action or adventure to tell lengthy history stories, explain the layout of the land, talk about the society's government, or other issues. It really disrupted the flow of the story.

When I first found myself reading The Queen of the Tearling, I wasn't sure I would enjoy it. I found as the rather fast-paced book moved on, I was really sucked into the book and just could not stop reading. By the end, I was a fan and honestly could not wait until the next installment. I'll be anxiously awaiting book two to see what happens and what is in store for us.

ANALYSIS (Joshua): There is definitely much to love about The Queen of the Tearling, from a protagonist with refreshingly plain features and a heavier build that helps prove how unimportant size and looks really are to a mysterious, magical talisman with incredible powers that readers can only begin to fathom by the end of the book. Yet one of the parts of the book that I found most fascinating was the legendary Crossing.

This historical episode, which marks the coming of Kelsea’s ancestors to the Tearling, is mentioned various times throughout the book, but it is never elaborated on. At first I didn’t mind, as I envisioned the crossing as just a voyage from one country to another, and I was only slightly curious about the former living situation. But then, about halfway through the book, Johansen provides slight details, such as a complete collection of Rowling (aka the Harry Potter books) that survived the Crossing, that make readers realize the book takes place not in an alternate world but in the future. What happened to initiate the Crossing, what the Crossing actually was, and how magic suddenly became something that exists all remain a mystery, but these questions alone are enough of an incentive to invest in book two of the series.

As a fantasy centered around a government infrastructure and inter-kingdom relations, I was expecting the book to be a slow read, but The Queen of the Tearling actually moves along quite nicely, both because there is a fair amount of action mixed in with the political scenes and because the politics is actually not all that complex. There is a corrupt church, a neighboring, ill-intentioned witch queen, a people that have practically given up hope in their monarchy, and that’s pretty much it. In some ways, this was actually a bit of a disappointment, particularly when the beginning chapters did so much to build up the power and evil of Kelsea’s uncle, the Raleigh Regent, only to have him prove to be nothing but a spoiled, ignorant man who is quickly disposed of. I would almost consider the book to be a Game of Thrones primer. Readers new to this sort of fantasy will enjoy it immensely, but others may be left wanting for more.

Another aspect of the book that I have mixed feelings about is the chapter openers, which are all excerpts from texts that exist in the world of the Tearling. Yet while most fantasies that incorporate excerpts such as these use them to reveal something from a book written long ago, these are all from books published after Kelsea’s rise as Queen of the Tearling. As such, it practically gives away the outcome of the war between her and the Red Queen from the get-go. While I cant say that the ending isn’t obvious anyway (I mean, people don’t write stories about characters who fail), these excerpts don’t really add much to the story.

CONCLUSION: Overall, The Queen of the Tearling, while not as complex as I expected it to be as a political novel, was beautifully written and paced perfectly, keeping me interested and invested throughout with just the right amount of action and suspense mixed in with the political intrigue and world building. The primary characters, particularly Kelsea, are all highly well-realized, and the world is one that is so incredibly interesting that if there weren’t already so many reasons to continue the series, that alone would compel me to do so. Anyone who enjoys character-driven narratives with mysterious, magical artifacts and a unique fantasy world to boot should be sure to add this to their reading list.
Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cover Reveal: MECH: AGE OF STEEL Plus An Interview With Co-Editor N.X. Sharps (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Ragnarok Publications has slowly and surely gaining fans since they launched their first anthology Kaiju Rising. It was a resounding success and since then they have only launched many more amazing books and further spectacular anthologies such as Blackguards & Genius Loci.

Just this weekend, they announced their newest anthology titled MECH: AGE OF STEEL This anthology will feature a diverse array of tales from some of the genre's finest talent (including some returning favorites from Kaiju Rising) and each story will be accompanied by a piece of interior art by either Frankie B. Washington or Oksana Dmitrienko.

The Mech: Age of Steel Kickstarter campaign will be launched in the latter half of 2015 and here's the lineup that has been announced with the addendum that there will be a couple more big names joining this list:
• Kevin J. Anderson & David Boop 
• Jody Lynn Nye 
• Graham McNeill 
• Peter Clines 
• Jeremy Robinson 
• Martha Wells 
• Jeffrey J. Mariotte & Marsheila Rockwell 
• Ramez Naam & Jason M. Hough 
• Gini Koch (writing as J.C. Koch) 
• Jeff Somers 
• Matt Forbeck 
• Anton Strout 
• Bill Fawcett 
• C.L. Werner 
• James Ray Tuck, Jr. 
• M.L. Brennan 
• Timothy W. Long 
• Jennifer Brozek 
• Kane Gilmour 
• Paul Genesse 
• Patrick M. Tracy 
• Andrew Liptak 
• Steve Diamond 

I’m particularly fascinated by the author lineup, which includes many of our FBC favorites such as Peter Clines, M.L. Brennan, Ramez Naam, Jason M. Hough, Martha Wells and many others. The superb cover art seen above is by Victor Adame and the cover design is by Ragnarok regular Shawn T. King.

I wanted to explore a few more details behind the inception the anthology and was extremely glad when Nickolas X. Sharps obliged my call. Nickolas is the co-editor of MECH: AGE OF STEEL along with Tim Marquitz. He has been involved with Ragnarok Publications from the start and has masterminded their social media strategy. He was also the co-editor of Kaiju Rising and frequently reviews SFF titles over at Elitist Book Reviews.

So read ahead to find out how MECH: AGE OF STEEL came to be and what readers can look forwards to from it. So please join me in welcoming Nick:

1] Please tell us about the inception of MECH: Age of Steel and how you came to be involved with it? 

NXS: We started planning MECH shortly after we finished editing Kaiju Rising. I envisioned a trilogy of anthologies, each with a separate theme but with a degree of overlap. Like Kaiju Rising, MECH is the product of a childhood passion. As a kid the only thing I loved more than giant monsters were giant robots and it all started with watching Gundam Wing on Toonami after school.

Pacific Rim reminded me how awesome kaiju are but I never forgot the coolness of mecha. Kaiju Rising features several really great stories involving both monsters and robots but I felt like the robots deserved a big ol’ book all of their own and of course Joe and Tim backed me up.

2] This anthology is said to be a companion anthology to Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters. Please tell us more about this connection? 

NXS: You’ll no doubt notice several authors on the Kaiju Rising lineup returning for MECH. We’ve got Peter Clines, Gini Koch, C.L. Werner, Timothy W. Long, Kane Gilmour, Paul Genesse, and Patrick M. Tracy all returning to contribute. Several of these authors have sequels to their Kaiju Rising stories while others have decided to try something new. Giant monsters and giant robots go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or peanut butter and chocolate. Or peanut butter and bananas. Have you ever noticed that peanut butter goes well with most things? These anthologies are companions in that they both take an awesome theme and explore a multitude of ways in which to express said theme.

3] With Kaiju Rising, you compiled a fascinating line-up of authors, this time around as well you have compiled an intriguing one. Tell us more about the authors involved and why you approached them? 

NXS: Some of thes folks on the lineup were recommended to me. Then there are the Kaiju Rising authors who threatened me with blackmail and violence to secure invitations. Several of authors were even invited to contribute to Kaiju Rising but were unable to make such a commitment at the time. But simply put these are authors I read, enjoy, and have come to admire. I knew that each and every one of them would be able to bring something unique to the project and that was the one driving force behind assembling the lineup.

4] Which tale is your favorite in this compilation and which one surprised you the most? 

NXS: It’s difficult to pick a favorite, especially since we’ve only received half the submissions by this point. I know it’s a major cop-out to say this but I love them all. I will admit that as the first story I received, Graham McNeill’s “Ordo Talos” does hold a special place in my heart. I’ve been reading McNeill’s Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy novels for years and I geeked out hardcore when he accepted the invitation to MECH. Plus it’s hard to beat a story about Roman legionnaires fighting a barbarian wickerman-mech.

The most surprising story so far has likely been Jody Lynn Nye’s “Easy as Pie.” I was too busy laughing while reading it to stop for a breath – Nye is a comedic genius. That said all the stories are rather surprising in their own way. Readers will want to check their expectations at the door before delving into MECH.

(Artwork by Frankie B. Washington for Jeremy Robinson’s MECH story “Rogue 57")

5] I loved the movie poster mode of the cover art. Could you expound on how it came to be? 

NXS: Joe Martin wears many hats as co-publisher of Ragnarok but I think the role he most enjoys is Creative Director. We passed names of some different artists back and forth before he found Victor Adame. We were instantly taken with the piece that would become the MECH cover and Joe morphed into negotiating mode. Not only was Joe able to secure this cover but he also purchased a second piece that we’re considering the “Crimson Variant” that will be a Kickstarter exclusive.

Shawn King, Ragnarok’s design guru, wanted MECH to stand out and have an almost anime/high budget sci-fi action film feel to it. We’ve come to trust Shawn’s design sense implicitly so he took that direction and just went crazy with it. We’re all very pleased with how it turned out and I think even J.J. Abrams would approve! 

6] When will the kickstarter for MECH go online? What awesome goodies can the fans look forward to from it? 

NXS: We are looking at launching MECH in Q3/Q4 of 2015. Sorry if that’s a little unspecific but we want to make sure to meet our fulfillments for Genius Loci before we move forward. Plus there’s a super secret project that Ragnarok is participating in this summer that should be very, very cool.

As for awesome goodies? For starters we are looking at interior art for each story. We’ve recruited Frankie B. Washington and Oksana Dmitrienko to illustrate these stories. Then we’ve got a challenge coin designed by Ian Jobe that compliments the Kaiju Rising coin. We’re also planning posters, bookmarks, magnets, and of course Tuckerizations. 

Thank you for the questions! We can’t wait to share MECH: Age of Steel with the world.

NOTE: All pictures courtesy of Ragnarok Publications and Nick. X. Sharps.
Friday, May 15, 2015

Interview with Anton Strout (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, and thank you very much for your time. Could you kindly introduce yourself to our readers? 

AS: Hi. I’m Anton Strout, and I’m a writeaholic. (Hi, Anton!) It has been zero minutes since my last sentence… Actually, I am a man of many hats currently. I’m known for my two urban fantasy series, although I write and dabble in all scifi/fantasy realms. I also host The Once & Future Podcast, which is my passion project where I talk with my fellow authors, and I also have a day job at one of the Big Five New York publishers, Penguin Random House. When not writing, I spend my time gaming or keeping my two year old twins from deleting my writing.

Q] Please talk to us about your involvement with Blackguards, how did it all come to be? 

AS: Did you know that the Internet is a place where people whine/complain/hold court over things? IT’S TRUE! Several years ago I think I heard about Ragnarok as a publisher, specifically their Kaiju Rising anthology Kickstarter. A lot of great authors were in it, and it turned out to be a gorgeous looking book. More importantly, it was a Kickstarter done right, a rarity! Suddenly they were on my radar.

I believe I was jokingly whining about not being in it online and the people behind it at Ragnarok heard me. When they began planning out what was initially entitled Rogues, they asked me to submit, and the rest is history. In Kaiju Rising related news, I will be in its follow up companion anthology they’re putting out entitled Mech: VENGEANCE IS MINE!

Q] Within the Blackguards anthology, you’ve chosen to write about the formative years of Simon Canderous. What made you focus on him for this anthology? 

AS: I’m one of the few modern day tales in book. As a gamer, I always loved playing the sneaky thief, but I felt like the other heavy duty pure fantasy writers in our group would have that covered, so I turned to areas from my two series of books that I never got to articulate in the main books. Simon has always been a man who is trying to put his past behind him. The ability to touch an object and read its history has been a blessing and a curse for him, and I wanted to explore his earlier days when he had less control of it, a time when maybe he wasn’t using his powers for good. It’s always fun to explore your hero’s dark side, and Blackguards gave me a chance to do just that.

Q] Please tell us a bit about Simon’s short story "Scream". What readers expect to see in it? 

AS: Paranormal detective Simon Canderous has been through a lot of crazy in his four books (Dead To Me, Deader Still, Dead Matter, and Dead Waters). Part of that is his ne’er-do-well past before joining the Department of Extraordinary Affairs, in particular his life as an art thief. In "Deader Still" we met a psychotic redhead from those years, and Scream tells the tale of their first meeting, which sets the tone for their roller-coaster ride of a relationship.

Q] Do you think your readers will appreciate the direction you’ve chosen? 

AS: I hope so. When I write a book, there’s a lot that doesn’t make it into the book that gets released. You’re building histories about characters to help you tell the story you mean to tell about them. It’s a part of world building. And like good world building, there is much that the author knows that should never end up on the final page. It’s stuff that’s hinted at, alluded to, adding color, but is not a litany of the entire history of characters before the book. That would be painful to read, and moments like that that do end up in a first draft fall to the cutting room floor.

Short stories, however, offer up the opportunity to delve into those smaller moments that were left out of the big book so it doesn’t slow it down. Simon & Mina have a very checkered past, and it was fun to tell their first meeting went. With a title like Scream, it hints that it was at least an exciting, if not dangerous, meeting…

Q] You have two urban fantasy series out with Ace-Roc books, can you tell us about your books? 

AS: My first series—the above mentioned Simon Canderous books—is sort of a Ghostbusters as written by Joss Whedon sort of endeavor. They’re light, fun, and posit a world that asks what types of jobs would an adult Harry Potter get up to in the real world. It’s a world of the occult as well as red tape and paperwork, the motto of the Department of Extraordinary Affairs being “Fighting Evil, Under Budget.” I often describe The Spellmason Chronicles (Alchemystic, Stonecast, and Incarnate) as my Disney’s Gargoyles fan fic, and I’m only half joking when I say that. I loves me some gargoyles, and that cartoon always stuck in my head.

As a reader, though, I was always fascinated by makers in books. For instance, I’m more curious about those who forged the Rings of Power in Lord of the Rings than I am most other things in the series. Alchemystic starts off telling the tale of a maker’s kin discovering centuries later the gargoyle set to watch over her family, and book by book the camera sort of pulls back to reveal more and more about the arcane in a modern world setting. It’s a little more serious in tone than the Simonverse books, but still have a fair amount of humor and fun in them.

Q] I’ve recently been introduced to the Once & Future podcast, which you have hosted since 2011. Can you talk to us about its inception and what was your thought process behind it? 

AS: Sure. I love going to conventions and touching base with my fellow authors. Writing is a lonely profession. There are long stretches of time where it’s you alone with the page and nothing else. Conventions—and more importantly the bars there—are always a great place to touch base, share miseries, solve problems, and feel less like a bookworm-ish loner. O&F came out of a deep love of these talks I was having, and it seemed a natural progression to share those conversations. Inspired a bit by the Nerdist Podcast, I set about creating my precious little show and never looked back.

Q] On the podcast, you do a remarkable job of keeping it light and yet exploring each guest’s books and writing in depth. What’s your secret? 

AS: If there’s one thing I’ve discovered in our 80+ episodes, it’s that as authors we are all remarkably the same. Sure, there are differences in how we write, what we write, etc, but in the end the results are the same: we get to do the awesome job of writing kick-ass fantasy and science fiction! It’s a job—and a hard one at that—but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun, and that’s what I try to get out of my guests. To that end, I tend to mix up all the things we love conversationally: process, lifestyles, hobbies, crafts… you name it. Geekery abounds… it springs forth from every pore from our guests and I simply allow them to let their geek flag fly on the show.

Q] What have been some of your memorable experiences while hosting and what can listeners look forward to? 

AS: Honestly, every conversation is like Christmas. I don’t know our guests all that well, so learning more about them is a gift every time we sit down to talk writing and rampant nerdery. The most exciting thing I’ve learned is that all misery is relative. My struggles as a mid-list writer would only be traded up to new ones, as they have for those of our guests who are consistent New York Times bestsellers. I find a great comfort in that. The things they worry about are the same as what I worry about, only on a grander scale.

As far as upcoming events… We’re planning on bringing you coverage from Book Expo of America at the end of May, so you can hear about what geekery industry people are excited for this year. And we’ll be doing a live podcast from Gen Con in late July where there will be many authors, surprise guests and giveaways. I’m terribly excited for this one. It’s the best four days of gaming, has an amazing writer’s track, and is my home away from home.

Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers? 

AS: Two things: First, I’d love you to try my series—either one, really. I’ve had a lot of fun creating them, and I think you’ll have a lot of fun reading them.

Second, head on over to The Once & Future Podcast page. Look through the episode guide for some of your favorite names, give a listen and get hooked! If you like the show, tell your friends and consider supporting its production over at Thanks for having me, FBC!

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Urban fantasy author Anton Strout has given readers equal shares of chills and laughter since the first book of his Simon Canderous paranormal detective series, Dead To Me, came out from Penguin/Ace Books in 2008, giving Jim Butcher fans some entertainment between Dresden Files books. He continued his tales of mayhem in Manhattan with his second series, the Spellmason Chronicles, as he treated readers to the story of a girl and her gargoyle, and explored themes of friendship, loyalty, and love with his trademark snarky twist.

INFORMATION ABOUT SCREAM: Now, in the groundbreaking new anthology Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues from Ragnarok Publications, he returns to his fan-favorite character, Simon Canderous with "Scream," a prequel story of Simon before his days at the Department of Extraordinary Affairs.

One of the best performing anthologies on Kickstarter to date with over 1200 backers giving almost $40k to the project, Blackguards also features stories by Michael J. Sullivan, Mark Lawrence, Carol Berg, and other notable people from the genre.</div>

You can learn more about Anton at his website, and by listening to the Once and Future Podcast, where he chats with some of speculative fiction's finest authors, artists, and other creative types. Plus checkout this fantastic giveaway and enter to win some cool prizes a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTE: Author picture with Elfin courtesy of Eaglerider57. All other pictures courtesy of the author.
Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Furious Jones and the Assassin's Secret" by Tim Kehoe (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: When his dad's book turns out to contain deadly secrets, twelve-year-old Furious Jones is thrust into a web of mystery and danger in this gripping page-turner.

Furious Jones, the twelve-year-old son of a famous thriller writer, lives with his grandfather after his mother was mysteriously gunned down right in front of him a year ago. Curious to know more about his estranged dad, he goes to see him speak about his upcoming novel to a packed audience - and to his shock and horror, he witnesses his father get shot as well.

When Furious discovers that his dad's upcoming novel contains dangerous and fiercely protected secrets, he sets out to discover who killed his father, and what exactly they were trying to cover up.

Ideal for fans of Alex Rider and Theodore Boone, the action-packed exploits of Furious Jones are as thrilling as they are intriguing. Can Furious unravel this literary mystery before the death toll rises?

FORMAT: Furious Jones and the Assassin's Secret is a children's/YA murder mystery, spy espionage, adventure novel. It stands at 336 pages and was published on April 8, 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: When it comes to mysteries and thrillers, there doesn't seem to be a huge transitional series of books available for that older middle school student. There are the cutesy mysteries that involve the haunted houses and lost pets, which are geared to the younger audiences, and then there are the adult thrillers with blood, guts and gore. There isn't really something out there for that older middle school reader who is tired of looking for lost cats but isn't totally ready to read details about murders, sexual assaults, and other non-age appropriate matters. Now enters Furious Jones.

Furious Jones is a combination of spy espionage, murder mystery, and adventure all rolled into one extremely quick read. It has all the elements the older middle school student population is looking for in a book without watering it down or going overboard with things. It is fast paced, the conversations are realistic, and the characters believable.
There was a bit of a predictable, easy to solve element to the plot, but I think only people who read multiple murder mysteries would have been able to pick this element out. The fast paced nature of the book makes up for it because before you know you know what might be happening, the book is almost over.

Another element that really sticks out is the main character Furious does a lot of things that a normal teen probably wouldn't be able to do. He runs around a bit reckless and just randomly joins a high school, which is a tad bit unbelievable. It is brushed off as him being tall or him being older looking, but I just found some of these elements so unbelievable. However, I think the book's target age wouldn't really think twice about it.

There are a few moments throughout the book that the gore level is amped up a little. For example, there is a death that involves a body being chopped up and put in hale bales where all you see is the eyes. It is this factor that makes me reluctant to recommend it to the younger audience (which it is marketed to), as it does have some semi-graphic content. However, I do think boys in particular will enjoy it.

It should be noted that Furious Jones was supposed to be a series, but due to the unfortunate passing of the author the series will not be completed. But that shouldn't keep you from reading the book. The entire plot is wrapped up nicely. There were no major cliffhangers involved, which makes it a fairly good standalone novel.

I would love to see more novels of this sort enter the market. There is such a huge focus on either supernatural elements or dystopian that a whole potential market is left untouched. Furious Jones paves the way for that market and I look forward to seeing other authors take the plunge and challenge themselves. Obviously, Kehoe was not afraid of taking that challenge and it paid off.  
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Price Of Faith by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Price Of Faith here (US) and here (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: Separated and miserable, Thanquil Darkheart and Jezzet Vel’urn both have their reasons for wanting to leave the Dragon Empire. Jezzet flees from the wrathful fury of an Empress scorned while accompanied by the ever insidious Drake Morrass, and Thanquil sets out to find and judge his one heretical loose end.

THE PRICE OF FAITH concludes the acclaimed The Ties That Bind trilogy by Rob J. Hayes.

FORMAT/INFO: The Price Of Faith is divided into five sections with forty-six POV chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person via Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart, Jezzet, Betrim Thorn aka The Black Thorn, Jacob Lee, Pern Suzku the Haarin, and Anders. This is the final volume of the Ties That Bind trilogy

May 4, 2015 marked the North American e-book & trade paperback publication of The Price Of Faith via Ragnarok Publications. Cover art and illustration is done by Alex Raspad.

CLASSIFICATION: The Ties that Bind is a dark fantasy trilogy with terrific characterization and a twisted plot that is very reminiscent of the works by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch.

ANALYSIS: I’ve been a big fan of Rob J. Hayes since I first got my hands on his debut book The Heresy Within. However it was The Color Of Vengeance, which simply blew my mind and convinced me of the awesomeness of this trilogy and the author. With this book, I was waiting to see how the author would end his trilogy. This volume also featured the return of Jezzet and Thanquil who were conspicuously missing from the second volume.

The Price Of Faith begins once again with Thanquil who now finds him being hunted. His prey now has turned predator and the witch stalks Thanquil in his dreams as well as the awakened stage. Thanquil is still bitter about his parting with Jezzet who now finds herself as the court of the Dragon Empire and a friend to the Dragon Empress. A stranger in a strange land, Jezzet finds herself drawn to the weird customs and a certain dark and dangerous pirate who also happens to be the paramour of the Dragon Empress. Drake Morass is feared by everyone and for good reason. His antics in Chade haven’t gone unnoticed however he has a bigger game in mind.

Lastly there’s BetrimBlack Thorn” Thorne who now finds himself as the head of a new crew of deadly misfits and a drunken sot named Anders. Betrim still hungers for revenge for the events that befell him at the end of the first book and just maybe he might find the person who bested him. However can the Black Thorn best those far deadlier than him and his crew. These are the many questions posed in this final volume. However this story is about our three leads introduced in the first book, they all have changed. Jezzet was a killer however by the end of the first book became a true blademaster. Betrim was a scoundrel and murderer however he became a deadlier leader and now leads the motley crew of Henry, Pern, Ben Six Cities, Anders and Riley. This third volume is about the change that befalls Thanquil. We get to learn how he acquired the sobriquet of Darkheart that has followed him around since his initiations an arbiter. We get to see what really happened in his childhood and how he was “saved” by Arbiter Prin.

We get to see his connection with the Templar Jacob as well learn why the Emperor chose him for the furtive mission. All of this and more is laid bare, in this ending volume. As is the case with the preceding two volumes, characterization once again is the author’s forte. We get all our main POV characters back however once again it’s the side character cast who make the read that much more rewarding. Last time around we got to know Henry, Pern and Anders and while they are back, it’s pirate Drake Morass who steals the show every time he graces the pages. Oozing menace and charm in equal measure; Drake Morass is a charmer who is poison to those he opposes.

He however also steals scenes whenever he appears and confounds our POV characters as much as he does the readers. I believe the author is setting him up for something pivotal in the future and he will be playing a major role in the books to come. Not that he doesn’t play any less of a significant one in this one as well. The action sequences are no less exciting than the preceding volume, however this time around; there are pirates, dragons and demons involved. All the threads introduced so far come to an exciting, action-filled climax which answers some pretty fundamental questions about the nature of reality of the world, the aspect of calling upon a god’s power and also concept of avatarhood.

All the characters from the previous two volumes make an appearance (at least the ones left alive) and there are a few new ones to hook the reader’s interest. There’s also the character arc, with this book it’s Thanquil who gets the treatment and we get a peek into his madness. This book makes even more sympathetic and a little crazy. He’s been pushed to the end of his wits due to the fact that Jezzet is somewhere and needs his help. Thanquil’s background and powers are laid bare and as a reader it was good to read what makes such a complex character tick.

Going on to the drawbacks of the book, one factor going against is that not all threads are completely closed. In fact the epilogue alone puts a whole new spin on the entire story that has happened within the space of three books. Also there’s the aspect of character deaths and particularly a couple of characters meet untimely ends. This on a whole kept the story exciting however on a personal note, I was just saddened by it. Lastly the only other thing that might cause heartache for readers is the fact there’s a resolution provided but that might not be what they expect. To some it might be underwhelming in a way. I think that was the author’s intent to undercut expectations and it will be up to each reader to gauge how successful the author was.

CONCLUSION: The Price Of Faith brings to an explosive end to a trilogy that while being self-published can be safely considered as a fantastic dark fantasy gem. It will have its detractors but the fans outnumber them sharply. The Price Of Faith is indeed about the faith that the characters have invested and the price it extracts when their conventions are challenged. Simply put this is a fantastic end to a great trilogy and a terrific beginning to Rob J. Hayes’ career.
Monday, May 4, 2015

GUEST REVIEW: Sword Of The North by Luke Scull (Reviewed by Steff "Mogsy" Sheung)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Grim Company
Read Mogsy's review of The Grim Company
Order Sword Of The North HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Luke Scull
Read "From Zero To Hero: A Tale Of True Grit (Or how I got a book deal)" by Luke Scull

INTRODUCTION: One of the blogs I follow regularly is The Bibliosanctum and Steff (Mogsy) is one of the main reviewers over there. Her review style and choice in books is something that I’ve really enjoyed. So recently she and I came up with this terrific idea to do a review swap for one of the most anticipated titles of 2015. My thanks to Steff for agreeing to participate in this fun experiment and you can read ahead to find out her thoughts on Luke Scull’s Sword Of The North and then tomorrow head over to The Bibliosanctum to read mine.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Luke Scull was born in Bristol and has lived most of his life in the British Isles. Luke also designs computer roleplaying games and has worked on several acclaimed titles for Ossian Studios and Bioware. Luke began his career, as a hobbyist game designer, who was selected by Bioware as one of his modifications to Neverwinter Nights, became a hit. Since then he has worked as designer on the Neverwinter expansion, Mysteries of Westgate, and an unreleased expansion for The Witcher role-playing game. He currently lives in Warminster with his wife.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: It is the Age of Ruin, a time in desperate need of heroes. But heroes are in short supply. The only candidates - a motley company at best - are scattered to the four winds.

Former rebel Sasha has now become an unwilling envoy between the powerful. Eremul the Halfmage languishes in disgrace, his warnings of approaching war falling on deaf ears. Yllandris, sorceress of the High Fangs, servant to a demon lord, has become that which she most despises. Davarus Cole, assassin of the immortal, lies on the brink of death. The legendary champion Brodar Kayne carves a bloody path towards his enemy of old in search of the woman he thought dead...

In this, the second blistering installment of Luke Scull's critically acclaimed trilogy THE GRIM COMPANY, past and present collide, plunging the Age of Ruin further into darkness...

FORMAT/INFO: Sword Of The North is 448 pages long, divided over forty-eight titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person primarily via Davarus Cole, Brodar Kayne, Yllandris, Sasha, Eremul and Sir Meredith. This book is the second volume of the The Grim Company Trilogy.

December 10, 2014 marked the publication of the UK e-book edition of Sword Of The North by Head Of Zeus and the hardback was previously released on March 12, 2015. The book will be published in the US on May 5, 2015 by Ace-Roc books.

CLASSIFICATION: The Grim Company series is a dark epic fantasy series that can be best summed up as Joe Abercrombie's grim wit & gritty characterization meets James Clemens' Godslayer Chronicles!

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Of the many fantasy sequels coming out this year, Luke Scull’s Sword of the North is high on my anticipated list. The follow-up to the hit that was The Grim Company, this second book continues with a story teeming with fantastic characters, a strong plot, and plenty of action.

In the first book we met Brodar Kayne, a hero from the cold reaches whose battle prowess and skill with a blade earned him the title Sword of the North. Together with a band of ragtag outcasts, he and his companion Jerek the Wolf were able to survive the chaos that reigned after the White Lady declared victory and succeeded the tyrant Salazar. However, their new ruler has proven not to be as benevolent as she claimed. Something feels rotten at the heart of the city as dissidents are captured or disappeared, but if the White Lady cannot be convinced of the new danger threatening Dorminia, the state of things are sure to go from bad to worse.

Our grim company is broken now, the characters scattered across the land to pursue their own personal quests. Amidst dark tidings about the Shaman and demon hordes in the High Fangs, Brodar and Jerek begin their journey back to their homeland in light of new revelations about Brodar’s family. Weakened and injured from the ordeal at the end of book one, Davarus Cole wakes up in a labor camp and immediately finds himself put to work, but deep inside he is a changed man, no longer the puffed-up blowhard he once was. Sasha grieves, believing Cole lost to her, and falls back into her drug addiction even as she travels with her slightly unhinged sister Ambryl to bring news to the White Lady. And last but certainly not least, there is Eremul the Halfmage who continues his investigation into the race of immortals known as the Fade. Who are these mysterious creatures? And what do they want?

Make no mistake, the characters are the highlight of this series. It’s difficult for me to single out any favorites, because they are all so well written, deeply developed and memorable in their own way. I don’t know how Luke Scull does it, but even when his characters are dastardly and unlikeable, they’re great. Take for example, the chapters featuring Sir Meredith and his misguided notions of honor. I found them a pleasure to read, if for no other reason because you know it’ll feel so good when the cruel “knight” finally gets what he deserves.

I also believe much of the characters’ strength comes from their all-too-human flaws, which are nonetheless balanced by admirable virtues…well, in most cases anyway. Even Jerek who is as crass as ever can be lovable in his own way, because one would think nothing can shake the old Wolf’s loyalty to his friends. It’s what makes one significant plot development late in the novel so heart-wrenching. When it comes to plot elements that cut deeply, there’s also Sasha and her hopeless cycle of abstaining from the moon dust only to fall off the wagon again and again.

Scull has this way of getting you right into the heads of his characters, and Sasha’s struggle with the drug is one instance where the storytelling really closes in at a more intimate level. It’s all about personal stories, and nothing can be more personal than the flashbacks to Brodar Kayne’s past. These chapters were excellent, giving insight into our rough and tough protagonist, especially with the way they were interspersed with his present perspective. The company may be no more, most of its members separated, but in the process we’ve actually been given some great opportunities to further explore each character.

I was also surprised that for a heavy book containing such abundant themes and trappings of grimdark, Sword of the North was a relatively smooth, breezy read. It’s helped by the strong thread of wry humor woven through the story as well as the straight forward prose and dialogue, which at times featured language that bordered on modern-sounding. It’s not all gloom and doom despite the action and brutal violence, and actually managed to pull quite a few laughs out of me too.

As for flaws, I can’t think of many at all. Sword of the North is the middle book of a planned trilogy, and there are a lot of plot threads to follow so you can expect a slight slowdown in some of them while we gear up for the finale. On the whole, I found this to be the case with Davarus Cole as well as Eremul’s chapters. That’s not to say they were boring; on the contrary, there’s a lot of development happening there. But in terms of pacing, they were no match for Brodar Kayne’s action-filled chapters. Practically every other scene featured Brodar and his companions sticking a sword in something’s face, whether they be bandits, the risen undead, or poop-flinging barbarians. There were a couple new plot elements inserted into that storyline that felt a bit awkward though, such as a certain character from the Jade Isles who joins Brodar and his party late in the book. I think Scull may be setting up some game changers for book three, but the introduction of this character still seemed quite sudden and random. I guess we’ll see if it pays off in the next installment, but something tells me the author knows what he’s doing.

CONCLUSION: All told, this book was very enjoyable. Speaking of the next installment, I absolutely cannot wait for the third and final volume of this trilogy. If the first and second books are any indication, the finale is going to be well worth it. In Sword of the North, Luke Scull delivered a truly stellar sequel.


GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Also known by her handle "Mogsy" on her blogs and on Twitter, Stephenie Sheung is a contributor at The BiblioSanctum, a book review site for speculative fiction and graphic novels. A freelance artist by trade, you can often find her at work with an audiobook in her ears or sneaking in breaks with her nose in a fantasy novel.

When she's not lost in fictional worlds, she likes to play video games, try out new recipes, crochet stuffed animals, and spend time with her husband and their two little daughters. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she now lives in the US with her family and a couple of hyperactive Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.


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