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Monday, October 5, 2015

SPFBO Round Two: A Soul For Trouble by Crista McHugh and mini-author interview (Review & interview by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order A Soul For Trouble HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Crista McHugh is a NYT bestselling author of fantasy and romance who currently lives in the Audi-filled suburbs of Seattle with her husband and two children, maintaining her alter ego of mild-mannered physician by day while she continues to pursue writing on nights and weekends. She is an active member of the Romance Writers of America and Romance Divas. She has also previously worked as a barista, bartender, sommelier, stagehand, actress, morgue attendant, and autopsy assistant and she’s also a recovering LARPer.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: When you’re a witch named Trouble, chaos follows.

Arden Lesstymine (known to everyone as Trouble) likes attention as much as the next girl, but this is getting ridiculous. When an insane stranger is murdered at the inn where she works, Trouble becomes the next Soulbearer for the disembodied god of chaos, Loku. Yes, it comes with the ability to channel the god’s limitless power, but at the cost of her sanity — literally.

Now she has a sexy but cynical knight claiming to be her protector, a prince trying to seduce her to his cause (and his bed), and a snarky chaos god who offers a play-by-play commentary on it all, whether she wants to hear it or not. To make matters worse, a necromancer wants to capture the soul of Loku for his own dark purposes, and the only way he can get it is by killing her first.

FORMAT/INFO: A Soul For Trouble is 342 pages long divided over thirty-seven chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person via Arden (Trouble) Lesstymine, Ser Devarius Tel’brien, Prince Kell and Sulaino the necromancer.

February 7 2012 marked the e-book and paperback publication of A Soul For Trouble and it was self-published by the author.

ANALYSIS: This book was one of the winners of round 1 of the SPFBO contest. I was intrigued about it, as Tyson M. had enjoyed it quite a lot. Tyson’s reading choices have worked for me in the past and I was excited to start my SPFBO round 2 with this book. Beginning with this book and all my other round 2 reviews, I’ll be also doing a mini-Q&A with the author so be sure to catch Crista’s answers at the end of this review.

The story is a wild mix of epic fantasy and romance, Crista McHugh really kept me entertained with her spin on the farm-boy fantasy trope. We meet Arden who is aptly named Trouble, who serves as a barmaid in her uncle's tavern in the land of Ranella. She's a stranger in a strange land because her father disgraced her mother as he left her pregnant. She finds herself visibly different than the local populace by virtue of being a blonde person in a land of brown-haired, brown-eyed folks. In the first chapter itself we find her getting into mortal trouble when the immortal soul of the chaos god Loku enters her body and marks her as his next soulbearer.

Thrown into the mix is Loku's soul protector knight, Ser Devarius Tel’brien of Gravaria who is also an elf and has held his position for many decades. Hunting for Loku's soul and his chaos magic is a necromancer called Sulanio. Faced with magic that's forbidden in Ranella, a mad god in her head and a knight-protector who confuses her, Arden (Trouble) does her best to face the struggles of her heart and her mind. Running away from Sulanio she will have to control Loku and his lascivious thoughts, get a grip on her new found magic and make the right choice between two men who torment her heart.

This story was a delight to read, as I knew in advance that this was a fantasy romance so certain elements of the story would be blown up. With that in mind, I didn't mind how the author portrayed Trouble and her hearty problems. There's a love triangle involved and while I'm not sure whom the author intends to have Arden end up with. The overall story enticed me enough to keep reading and look forward to grabbing the sequels too. The main thing I enjoyed about the story was the fantasy elements that were strewn throughout. The author also keeps the story fast-paced through two-thirds of the book and the book loses some steam in last one-third as the plot becomes entangled with certain courtly matters as well as the love triangle in question.

Overall this story was a fun read as Loku kept appearing at odd intervals and making the most inappropriate suggestions and commentary. I would have loved to see more of him. This book is built for a certain audience and for those who love some romance in their stories, this story will scratch your itch nicely. As a fantasy reader primarily I was able to enjoy the story and not mind the romance as it's ensconced within the story neatly. The story does make Trouble out to be person ruled partially by her emotions but then from time to time she shows her mettle by doing things that make it root for her. Both the male leads are quintessential romantic lead material that showcase different personas for Trouble to be attracted to. I thought the author could have written them better but I would be interested to know how Romance readers find them to be.

The story doesn’t have many action sequences and but the climax does its best to compensate for that. There’s an end twist which surely sets up the next book nicely and that was a solid plus from a storytelling perspective. Drawbacks for this story are that this story focuses on romance solidly and that for fantasy readers that might jar their reading experience. The story also doesn’t quite expand on the world history and magic system. I don’t think that the author wanted to go that route but for most fantasy fans that might be where the book lacks quite a bit.

CONCLUSION: A Soul For Trouble was a fun read for me and I'll be interested to read the sequels to see where to the author takes the story. It focuses strongly on the romance but not entirely at the expense of the fantasy elements. Crista McHugh writes smoothly and injects enough energy into her story to keep the readers entertained. This was a solid 7.5 star read for me and I will be looking to read the sequels as well.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*


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

CMH: Thank you for having me! I’m Crista McHugh, an NYT bestselling author of fantasy and romance. I started writing when I was in high school, inspired by all the books I read and how I would add my own twists to them, but I really didn’t start writing for publication until I after I was done with med school and residency. I sold my first story in 2009 to a small press romance publisher, and I’ve been steadily publishing since then, both through publishers and self-publishing.

Q] Please talk to us about the inception of A Soul For Trouble? How did this story come to be? What was your inspiration for it?

CMH: A Soul For Trouble was born from a series of discussions in the fantasy forums of Absolute Write. I’d met some fabulous writers there, and one day, we were talking about souls residing in other bodies, and I got the idea of disembodied soul trapped in another person. But not just any soul—the soul of a chaos god.

Q] In A Soul For Trouble, you have elements of fantasy and romance mixing easily. What was your intent with the amalgamation of these genre elements?

CMH: I’d originally started out writing fantasy, but I wasn’t getting any nibbles on my book at that time. Meanwhile, I’d started writing (and selling) paranormal romance books to different publishers, so I started to incorporate more romantic elements into my fantasy stories. At the time I wrote A Soul For Trouble (2009), love triangles were huge, so I veered into that territory.

Q] Please tell us how you heard about the SPFBO contest and what motivated you to enter it.

CMH: Someone had posted at link to the contest, and I decided to see how ASFT would fare in fantasy contests. Its sequel, A Soul For Chaos, had already won multiple awards in romance contests, but there were so few fantasy contests that took self-published books.

Q] What were your expectations going into it and now that your title has been chosen for round 2, what are your thoughts?

CMH: I’m excited, especially when I see the other titles that have made it to this round. I worried that most hard core fantasy readers would be turned off by the romance, but I’m also glad that they gave it a chance and that it’s made it this far.

Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for the Soulbearer Series?

CMH: For the Soulbearer Series, I’d pitch it as insane god trapped in a mortal witch’s body. Or, as I put it in the logline, “When you’re a witch named Trouble, Chaos follows.”

Q] So when and how did the idea for the Soulbearer series first come about, how long have you been working on it, and how much has it evolved from its original conception (if any)?

CMH: I started writing A Soul For Trouble in 2009, and since then, I’ve added three more titles to the series. I knew how the romance would end. I knew what would happen to Dev and Kell. However, when I sat down to write the 4th book (which is the first in a new trilogy of stories I’ll be working on over the next few years), I decided to pick on a minor character from the third book and make his life a little more chaotic. I’m still working out the kinks as to what happens next, but expect more trouble from Nelos, the god of law.


Q] A Soul For Trouble is book 1 in the Soulbearer Series. What can readers expect from books 2, 3 & 4? Is the series complete?

CMH: As I mentioned before, I’d only set out to write three books in the series, but readers asked for more, so I decided to add on three more volumes, starting with A Soul For Atonement. Because there was no way Loku would let his dear little Soulbearer have her happy ending, after all. The title for the next book is A Soul For Fear, and I hope to get to it by the end of 2016.

Q] In the Soulbearer books, your protagonist shares her body with that of a troublemaker god called Loku. How much of him is based on a certain famous Norse trickster?

CMH: Quite a bit, actually. There’s a reason why sort of named him after Loki, the Norse Trickster. He’s mad. He’s power hungry. And he never lets people forget that he is still a god. But I also drew from other chaos and trickster mythologies. For example, I borrowed some of the attributes of the Coyote from Native American lore, and I modeled the plane of chaos loosely after Tartarus from Greek mythology

Q] You have an extensive bibliography with a strong romance focus. With this series how did you delineate the fantasy elements from the romance ones? What was your compass as to how to mix them up?

CMH: If you look at many fantasy books, there are many romantic couples. Westley and Buttercup. Aragorn and Arwen. Eowyn and Faramir. Rhapsody and Ashe. Janelle and Daemon. Richard and Kahlan. I just happen to like a little more of a happy ending in my stories than say… George R. R. Martin.


I’m actually in the process of splitting up my fantasy from my romance. I have two fantasy series with romance (The Soulbearer series and The Deizian Empire series) under Crista McHugh, but my fantasy books with far less romance (and more fighting and gore) will be under C. A. McHugh. That way, when readers will know if they are getting a kissing book or not. I’m planning on releasing a few more books under my fantasy pseudonym in 2016, starting with a free short story to my newsletter subscribers later this year.

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

CMH: Thank you for inviting me and for reading this far. I’m excited to see the outcome of the next round, and I hope readers will give Arden and Loku a try (especially since the first book is FREE).

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