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Monday, July 6, 2020

SPFBO: Semifinalist Interview with E.G. Radcliff


Official author website
Order The Hidden King over here (USA) or here (UK)

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. 


I’m E.G. Radcliff, an author from Chicago, Illinois, and I write Young Adult fantasy fiction. I do have a few hobbies. I play goalie in a water polo club. I sing, both independently and in a choir. I love motorcycles. I do a lot of drawing, and while most of my art is digital, I’m doing my best to learn new traditional techniques as well. I have a weakness for InuYasha and My Hero Academia. I follow a number of wonderful webcomics, in which I find a lot of artistic inspiration. I like hiking, camping, and locating cool birds.

When and why have you decided to become an author? 

I’m not sure it was actually a decision. That is to say, I always assumed I had enough control over my life to deliberately choose my path, but in hindsight, it was simply a convergence of many events I didn’t recognize even as they were happening. I just wanted to take my writing to the next level, one thing led to another, and then I realized I had become an author somewhere along the way.

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

I write daily for as long as it takes me to complete at least 1,000 words, though I do usually produce more than that. If I’ve written for ninety straight minutes, I make myself take a short break to avoid wearing out. Wearing out happens almost undetectably for me, and it doesn’t give me writer’s block during that session--it just makes me hate my work, which means I’ll struggle to build on it later. 

What made you decide to self-publish The Hidden King as opposed to traditional publishing? 



At the time in my life when I wanted to publish The Hidden King, I was going through a lot of large-scale changes. I was moving, learning new routines, and generally lacking a lot of order. That combined with my natural eagerness (read: impatience) made it very important that I be able to set my own timelines, follow my own schedules, and be in control of my own editing, design, and release choices. Quality was important to me, so I made sure I jumped through the same editing hoops as a traditionally published author would have to. Overall, independent publishing was intimidating, but I have a brilliant team who worked with me through every decision.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience?

I think I’ll always wish I had more readers, but as a new author I’ve done pretty well. My genius business partner has done immense amounts of research into book marketing, and my social media accounts, though relatively young, are growing. The more people I reach through targeting ads, using Amazon and social media algorithms in my favor, and attending in-person events (though not, of course, during the pandemic), the more readers I reach. It helps that I own the Mythic Prairie Books imprint; I’ve even had people query me in the hopes that I would act as their publisher. My business family is currently too small to support that, but attention, even in that form, is beneficial.

Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

I was very happy to discover the SPFBO6 contest via some book blogging contacts on Twitter. It sounded like a fun opportunity so I jumped into the fray. I usually avoid contests--between the fees and the time drain I’d rather focus on writing and marketing--but this one felt different. Since entering at #102, I’ve discovered a passionate group of fantasy book bloggers who love what they do and it feels like the best party on the block! I’m happy to be here. 

For those that haven’t read The Hidden King, can you tell us a bit about it?

The Hidden King is a fast-paced YA novel inspired by Irish fae folklore that blends magic, found family, love, loyalty, and a whirlwind of self-discovery. A young man must discover, through no easy means, who--and also what--he is.

What was your initial inspiration for The Hidden King? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

I had a huge number of stories in my head before I started writing The Hidden King, and one night, they all mixed together in a particularly wild dream. I woke up with the setting and the characters firmly in my head. I couldn’t not write--it was like the opposite of writer’s block, it was writer’s rush--and once I started, I couldn’t go back.

When I published it last year, I’d been working on The Hidden King for about two years, though effort was sporadic in that first year. The main idea hasn’t changed, but the first draft clocked in at about 150,000 words (compared to about 76,000 now). There was a lot of material there, since I’d pretty much written everything that crossed my mind. I had to try and whittle the plot out of those 150,000 words after the fact. Can’t say it’s a strategy I recommend, nor is it one I intend to repeat.

If you had to describe The Hidden King in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Gritty, character-driven, grounded

Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?

Áed is the main character of The Hidden King. He’s intensely loyal to and affectionate with the people he cares about most. That said, he has a breaking point; if he or his loved ones are threatened, it is extremely dangerous to be on the wrong side of his reaction. His most identifiable characteristics are his fire-red eyes and his hands, which are damaged from a traumatic event in his past. He’s extremely adept at reading the emotions of others.

Ninian is Áed’s partner. A bit more inherently chaotic than Áed, Ninian combines ancient noble heritage with the gritty life of a gang member. He resorts to sarcasm especially when he’s hurt, but his care for Áed and Ronan is profound. He cracks his knuckles too often to be healthy.

Ronan is the eight-year-old boy who Ninian found abandoned as a young child and who was subsequently taken in by Áed and Ninian as something between a son and younger brother. He’s inquisitive and clever, easily intimidated, and immensely attached to both Áed and Ninian.

Boudicca is the woman who accepted Áed and Ronan into her home in their hour of need. She’s headstrong, warmhearted, and willing to break the rules if she doesn’t think they’re fair. She’s a healer by trade, and even skillfully dabbles in a spot of magic. She wears lots of warm-colored long dresses, loves a good party, and has a bit of her own sad past.

Alright, we need the details on the cover. Who's the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it? How does it tie to the book?

My cover artist is Micaela Alcaino, and she’s simply brilliant. We went through a few rounds of potential cover drafts before settling on the current version; I wanted something gritty but elegant, something that highlighted the themes of fire, Celtic influences, and kingship.

Would you say that Coming of Aed series follows tropes or kicks them?

The Hidden King definitely follows a few pretty familiar tropes. I’m a firm believer that tropes exist because, when executed well, they make good stories, and so I saw no need to avoid them at the cost of the story I wanted to tell. I attempted to use my character development and even the prose itself to make the common patterns fresh and keep them engaging. I did do my best to avoid condescending to the reader with cookie-cutter or cliche relations between main characters, and Áed, Ninian, and Ronan in particular interact in ways I haven’t often seen in YA literature. The next book in the series, The Last Prince, adheres to fewer tropes than The Hidden King, simply because the story led me to them less often.

Can you tell us about your editing process? Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or hire professionals?

I go through a few rounds of self-guided edits, starting with large-scale plot-level alterations for pacing consistency, loophole elimination, and arc engagement. When I’ve finished a couple passes myself, I send the manuscript to my developmental editor, the brilliant Kelsy Thompson. After reading through her analyses, having a bit of discussion, and implementing changes, it’s off to the line editor, then the copy & proof editor. I like to hire different editors even if one individual is capable of offering all the services I need, because the more perspectives I can get, the better. Between the line and copy editing stages, I send drafts to my wonderful beta readers, which, though not technically editors, still offer invaluable feedback.

Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer/in awe of the craft? 

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas, A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin, and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.

What are you working on at the moment?



I’m working on preparing The Last Prince, prequel to The Hidden King, for an August 6th release. When that’s out, I’ll immediately start working on the as yet-untitled Book Three, which will complete The Coming of Áed trilogy/series.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers? 

Thank you to all the book bloggers who love to read, and who welcome indie authors to SPFBO. You’ve created a wonderful community of readers and authors of which I am delighted to be a part. Once a SPFBO, always a SPFBO!

Interested readers can take a look at the series here: getbook.at/thecomingofaedseries. 

I have also posted some of my drawings on my Instagram page @egradcliff. I even decided to do my own illustration of the map for forthcoming The Last Prince, a snippet of which you can see on IG (a full-color map can be downloaded from The Last Prince front matter). I love maps!

You may already have these contact details, but just in case you don’t I can be found in the ether at:










Thursday, July 2, 2020

Unravel The Dusk by Elizabeth Lim (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)


Official Author Website
Pre-order the book HERE
Read Caitlin’s review of Spin The Dawn

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars. Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and she turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel -- for kicks, at first, then things became serious -- and she hasn't looked back since.

Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She grew up in Northern California, with a brief stint in Tokyo, Japan, but now lives in New York City with her husband and their daughter.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Maia Tamarin’s journey to sew the dresses of the sun, the moon and the stars has taken a grievous toll. She returns to a kingdom on the brink of war. The boy she loves is gone, and she is forced to don the dress of the sun and assume the place of the emperor’s bride-to-be to keep the peace.

But the war raging around Maia is nothing compared to the battle within. Ever since she was touched by the demon Bandur, she has been changing . . . glancing in the mirror to see her own eyes glowing red, losing control of her magic, her body, her mind. It’s only a matter of time before Maia loses herself completely, but she will stop at nothing to find Edan, protect her family, and bring lasting peace to her country.

FORMAT/INFO: Unravel The Dusk will be published on July 7th, 2020 by Knopf Books For Young Readers. It is 368 pages split over thirty-five chapters, written in three parts. It is told in first person from the POV of Maia. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Maia has done the impossible. She's won her place as the emperor's tailor, despite the fact that traditionally only men are allowed to hold the position. To do so, she had to travel the kingdom to collect three magical ingredients to make three magical dresses. Along the way, Maia discovered she had a magical gift of her own, an ability to wield a pair of magical scissors that had been in her family for generations. But most importantly, she discovered that Edan, a powerful magician aiding Maia in her quest - and the boy she had fallen in love with - had been magically bound for centuries to serve the throne. Maia found a way to break that bond, but the cost was accepting Edan's punishment for breaking his oath: Maia is becoming a demon. Now, Maia is struggling to resist the change and remain human just a few days longer to ensure that the royal wedding happens, thus bringing an end to the war that has already killed two of her brothers. But when events shatter all hopes of peace, Maia might have to turn to the darkness within her to protect the kingdom, sacrificing her humanity so that the ones she loves are spared.

Unravel The Dusk is a satisfying conclusion to the adventure begun in Spin The Dawn, even if it didn't manage to charm me as much as the first book. Unravel The Dusk feels like it is broken into two completely different halves. There are some high stakes, intriguing elements at the beginning of the tale as Maia tries her best to ensure that the wedding between the emperor and Lady Sarnai, daughter of the shansen (warlord) engaged in conflict with the kingdom, goes off smoothly so that the war will finally come to an end. But the pacing moved at lightning speed, rushing through some critical moments that I thought deserved more time. Maia's struggle with her slow loss of humanity felt superficial, and to be fair, she is still mostly human at the beginning of the book. Nonetheless, I wasn't emotionally invested in Maia's plight right off the bat, which left me struggling to connect with the story.

The other factor that made the book initially difficult to get into was that Edan, the dashing Lord Enchanter who Maia risked everything to free, was largely absent for the first half of the book. The chemistry and romance between Edan and Maia was a large part of why Spin The Dawn worked, and the absence of that pairing was definitely felt. Once the two are reunited, however, the book takes a change for the better.

Eventually, however, the pace settles down as the story focuses on defeating the shansen and the magical forces he has called to his aid. Edan's in-person appearance well and truly marks a turning point for the book, and it becomes much stronger in the second half. We get to spend time with Maia and Edan as Maia reckons with the cost this war might have on her personally. Maia's struggle with her demon side becomes less abstract as she loses control of her mind and body. The way the author writes these moments from Maia's POV do a wonderful job of conveying her growing anger and confusion as human memories slip away, and Maia's internal war to cling to what humanity she has left becomes much more real.

I would also be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Lady Sarnai, who really gets to come into her own in Unravel The Dusk. In Spin The Dawn, Lady Sarnai was mostly relegated to the role of the cold-hearted bride-to-be who made unreasonable demands. But as events unfold, we get to know Lady Sarnai and her history better, and she proves to be a calculating and accomplished warrior, unconcerned with being "likable" and instead focusing on surviving and winning. Her large role in the second half of the book is yet another reason why I found myself enjoying the tale much more by that point.

CONCLUSION: Unravel The Dusk may rush its beginning, but it sticks the landing in the end. There are some truly beautiful scenes, and I'm glad for the time I spent with this duology. With demonic fights and battles for the fate of the kingdom, it's an epic conclusion to a story that began with a young girl's dream to be the emperor's tailor.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

SPFBO: The First Cull & Semi-finalist Update




You know the drill. And you know there'll be no quarter. Only one can survive.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Best of British Fantasy 2019 review



NewCon Press Official Website
Read our interview with anthology's editor - Jared Shurin
Pre-order TBoBF here (USA) or here (UK)
Friday, June 26, 2020

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots review


Pre-order Hench over HERE(USA) or HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Freelance writer, promiscuous wordsmith, relapsing academic, poet, journalist, editor, reviewer, music critic, geek, gamer, metal head, feminist, gastropornographer, sadomasochist, cheese pervert, rogue wizard, lady hobbit, shit disturber, groce count, fireplug. Supervillain. I have often been in the newspaper for swearing. 

FORMAT/INFO: Hench is out on September 22, 2020, in all formats. 


Hench expertly deconstructs superhero stories and offers a fresh perspective on the subgenre. Instead of following heroes, it focuses on Henches, expendable employees of supervillains. 



Anna Tromedlov works temp jobs for minor baddies. Her newest job ends in a disaster - Anna ends injured, out of work, and disillusioned with reckless superheroes who pay no attention to casualties of their superhuman feats. Her data-based research confirms superheroes, for all their good PR, are terrible for the world. They're a pest. Or worse.



When Leviathan, an A-List Supervillain, hires her as a Hench, she can use her anger, data analysis skills, and excel sheets to wreak havoc in heroes' lives. Trust me when I say data analysis proves more lethal than laser beams or psychic powers. 

Make them late; make things go wrong around them; ruin their dry cleaning and dinners and marriages. Fuck with their social media profiles and public perception. 



Anna's work has one goal - to publicly humiliate heroes and make their private and public lives as miserable as possible. Thanks to modern technology, rumors, social-engineering, social media, and viral videos, she controls how the public perceives them and how they interact with others.



While Hench doesn't have a lot to say about superheroes that hasn't been said before, it offers a unique perspective. I wouldn't call Anna relatable, but I appreciate her agency. Despite the success of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel many superhero stories lack strong female leads. It's good to finally see a competent female character with an understandable backstory, her own agenda, and loads of screen-time. Her doubts make her more believable and human. The way she ruins her private life shows everything comes at a cost.


Interestingly, Anna bores most superheroes no ill will. She destroys them to get to a Supercollider, her, and her employer's Nemesis. Walschots' take on emotional detachment impressed me. Thanks to snarky (and slightly cynical) humor, the story never gets depressing or too dark. Even when things do get dark and depressive.

The plot follows her jobs, and it's not linear. Instead, we witness the turning points of her professional life leading to a brutal climax and excellent ending that I find fitting, even if it's more bitter than sweet.

In all, a worthwhile read for fans of the subgenre.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Interview with Jon Auerbach (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Guild Of Tokens over HERE

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Jon. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and why you choose to go the self-published route?

JA: Thanks for having me! I have been writing in one form or another since middle school, but most of it was for newspapers (I covered a dozen or so of my college’s sports teams and wrote a bi-weekly column). What really kickstarted my fiction writing was coming across a flash fiction challenge about seven years ago. The challenge was writing a 1000-word story based on a random trope on TVTropes.org. I got “battle couple” and wrote a story about a husband-wife assassin team who met and fell in love at assassin school. Over the next several months, I wrote more flash stories about that couple, along with some other one-off premises (a time-traveling steward of Avalon, a pair of brothers searching for their father and the city of Atlantis, boy-girl twins who accidentally travel to an alternate earth populated by elves, dwarves, and the descendants of a lost British colony). My plan was to build each of these stories out into their own books, but I never got very far.

Then one night I was walking home after seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past and came up with an idea for a sci-fi short story. This was in the wake of Hugh Howey uploading the first section of Wool to Amazon and having it go gangbusters. I didn’t think that something similar would happen to my story, but I thought it would be a good way to learn about self-publishing, so I revised the story several times, created a cover, and then sent it out into the world. It felt good to finish a project and immediately get it in the hands of readers, so I continued learning more about self-publishing while I worked on what eventually became Guild of Tokens.

Q] Your debut book has a very interesting premise Jon which combines urban fantasy as well as urban scavenger hunts. What lead to the inception of this story?

JA: It was a bit of happenstance. I was at work one morning and a premise just popped into my head:

"What if, buried somewhere in the too-numerous-to-count categories of Craigslist, there was a section called Quests?"

What followed was one of those rare writer moments where the words just started flowing out of my brain, and in the span of an hour, I had a 1000-word short in which our as-yet unnamed protagonist traverses New York City completing odd Quests in exchange for wooden tokens. I kept coming back to this idea over the next several months, writing out random scenes, but it took a while before it all gelled together into a cohesive story anchored by an actual character.

Q] Your book has a darker and grittier take on urban fantasy, plus there are no vampires. What would made you write this story in such a fashion & why no vampires?

JA: My exposure to urban fantasy is mostly through Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (one of the first fantasy books I read as an adult) and American Gods. I really connected with the “hidden world just out of sight” aspect of those books and wanted to write a story where there was this lurking magic out there that maybe you could find in real life if you looked hard enough. I’m drawn more to the myths and legends-subgenre of urban fantasy, hence the absence of vampires and other paranormal fixtures from the series.


Q] What can readers expect from this book and series?

JA: As you said, it’s a different take on urban fantasy. You’re not going to have super-powerful wizards just blasting spells at each other in alleyways. That’s not to say there aren’t interesting magical items or weapons. There are things like a sword which fits in any bag, or gum that when chewed sobers a drunk person instantaneously, or an ink that compels the reader to follow the written instructions. But there’s a rational explanation for all this. Magic is a natural resource. Like oil and gas and minerals. It’s found in nature and the earth. And like those things, it needs to be extracted and refined. And also like robber barons or industrialists with other natural resources, the people who discovered magic are the ones who kept it a secret and monopolized it and gotten rich off it by using it for their own profit. And they spawned these families who have passed down the secret and who still control it (maybe as part of a secret Guild of some sort). But, there’s a problem. Just like every other natural resource, magic is being depleted.

This is the present state of affairs that Jen, the main character, finds herself caught up in. The first book is an introduction to the world and the Quests, and the eponymous Guild is lurking off-page for most of the book. But in book two, Guild of Magic, it becomes front and center. Whereas in Guild of Tokens, the main conflicts are mostly personal, in Guild of Magic, the conflict spreads to the Guild itself, and then as the series progresses, that will spiral out into great conflicts with the other magical forces in this world.

Q] How many volumes do you think you would require to complete the Guild series?

JA: So I have a grand plan that involves writing several different series (some using the premises from my original flash stories I mentioned earlier), each revolving around a different mythos/magic and the characters from each series will all team up Avengers-style in a crossover series with a world-spanning conflict. Obviously, I’m still at the beginning stages, as I’m only on book two of my first series. But I’m hoping to wrap up a big arc in book three of the Guild of Tokens series and then either start the next series or do a spin-off series with one of the characters from Guild.

Q] David Gemmell had a certain take on his beloved characters. He labeled them as “Rick’s Bar characters” and described them in the following way:

When authors talk of great characters, what they really mean is easy. Some characters are tough to write. The author has to constantly stop and work out what they will say or do. With the great characters, this problem disappears. Their dialogue flows instantly, their actions likewise. A friend of mine calls them ‘Rick’s Bar characters,’ from the film Casablanca. Some characters you have to build, like a sculptor carving them from rock. Others just walk out of Rick's bar fully formed and needing no work at all.

What is your opinion about it & was this the case for you with any of your character/s?

JA: That definitely resonates with me and how I wrote Guild of Tokens. The main character, Jen, I would describe as being tough to write; the book is first-person, so in early drafts it felt like there was too much of my personality creeping in. So I made a conscious effort to reign that back and to let her own voice come through, but it’s much harder. Especially because there’s stuff that Jen is only learning about herself and her own history as the books progress and so she can’t draw on that yet because she doesn’t know it! Contrast that with Beatrice, who becomes Jen’s morally gray mentor about a third of the way through the first book. Originally, she was a one-note shrieking villain, but then I decided to have her be a foil to Jen and wrote a short story prequel to flesh out some of her backstory. Maybe it was writing in third-person point of view, but for whatever reason, that story and the two that followed were more in the “easy” vein as Gemmell calls it, and I find it smoother writing Beatrice.

Q] Let’s talk about what triggered your love for fantasy. You happen to mention in the acknowledgements section that it was the 1977 Hobbit film which blew your mind. Can you talk a bit more about how and why it blew your mind?

JA: I’d say it was the music. When Gandalf first appears at the crest of the hill overlooking Bilbo’s hole, and then the dwarves appear behind him and start singing, it immediately drew me in. And John Huston as the voice of Gandalf was spot-on casting.


It was the perfect self-contained adventure story, and only later did I learn that it was actually part of a larger story! I remember I came home from college one winter break to find out that my parents had thrown out the original video cassette, but fortunately I reacquired the film on DVD and digital and plan on showing it to my kids.

Q] Conversely with regards to younger self, how did you as an adult find the Peter Jackson LOTR trilogy?

JA: I loved that trilogy as well! I was furious when The Two Towers lost Best Picture at the Oscars to Chicago. Those movies also had amazing music, so much so that I went to back-to-back-to-back performances of the trilogy accompanied by a live symphony orchestra a few years back. S0meday I hope I’m able to write a scene that would be well-paired with Forth Eorlingas.

Q] Thank you very much for your time and for answering all the questions. What would like to pass on to your fans both old and new?

JA: Thank you for having me! For those of you waiting on book two, I’m hoping for a productive writing summer that will allow for an early fall release. And for those of you who are new to the series, I’ve got a number of different entry points, especially if you are an audiobook listener. I’ve been releasing the short story prequels as podcast episodes over the past 2.5 months. The last part just went live last week and this week I’m releasing the prologue and the first chapter of the main book. You can find out more at www.guildoftokens.com.


This was part of the Guild Of Tokens blog tour organized by Storytellers On Tour. My thanks to Justine and Timy for letting Fantasy Book Critic be a part of it. You can check out the rest of the stops over here.


Official Book Blurb: All Jen Jacobs has achieved in life is loneliness. So when she stumbles across a real-life game of epic quests on the streets of New York, she jumps at the chance for some excitement and gold tokens. Little does she know that the items she strives to collect hold a darker purpose…

After a particularly harrowing quest pairs her up with Beatrice Taylor, a no-nonsense and ambitious mentor, Jen hopes she’s on the path to becoming a big-time player. But as she dives deeper into the game’s hidden agenda, she realizes Beatrice has her sights set on the Guild, the centuries-old organization that runs the Questing game. And the quests Jen loves are about to put both of them in grave danger.

Will Jen survive the game before powerful forces cut her real life short?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Play Of Shadows Cover Reveal Q&A with Sebastien De Castell (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE

Today we are glad to welcome back Sebastien De Castell as he reveals and chats about his latest gorgeous cover, his new series & what lies ahead in 2021. So read ahead to find out how Sebastien and his publishers came up with the gorgeous cover for Play Of Shadows...

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Sebastien, how have you been amidst these troubled times?

SDC: It’s lovely to be back! I’ve been fine – thanks for asking. My own experience of the pandemic has been one of privilege in so many ways: I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, where we’ve had the benefit of a tremendously well-run provincial response that has resulted in a low infection rate and low numbers of deaths. My wife and I own our house and have quiet, friendly neighbors, so spending long periods of time at home isn’t as stressful for us as it is for so many others who are faced with monumental economic, emotional, and psychological challenges during a pandemic. And then, of course, the ultimate privilege of making a living as a novelist means that I still get to spend my days doing what I love: writing new books.

Q] Firstly I would like to congratulate you on the stunningly gorgeous cover for Play Of Shadows. Can you tell us who the designer/illustrator for it is and if you had any input towards it?

SDC: I need to preface all this by saying that the situation by which the cover for PLAY OF SHADOWS came about is incredibly rare in traditional publishing. My esteemed editor, Jo Fletcher, and I discussed how much we wanted to do something different with this next series in the Greatcoats world – that we wanted to focus on typographical treatments rather than stock imagery and evoke a feeling of mystery, intrigue, and the swashbuckling spirit. I have a background in working with designers, so I commissioned a cover design firm called Miblart and wrote a cover brief for them detailing both the experience we wanted someone looking at the cover to have as well as the core elements.

They came back with an initial concept that was already on the right track, and from there it was a process of refinement back and forth until we got to the gorgeous cover you see now. I presented this to my editor who took it to the Quercus art director who also agreed it was the right direction. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how rare this type of situation is for an author to get to actually commission the cover, but Quercus was kind enough to give me a crack at it. The response from readers online was been overwhelming and tremendously gratifying!


Q] I loved the juxtaposition of the swordsman, the mask and colours within this cover. It’s not only beautiful but also hearkens to the book’s blurb. As far book covers go, this is simply spectacular. What were your first thoughts when you were presented with it?

SDC: I went back to count the number of iterations of the cover and I think we went through sixteen rounds to get to that final cover. A lot of the essence was right there on the designer’s first pass, but then came all the other refinements to every element from the borders to the shadow figure to the sword in his hand to the symbols and motifs laden throughout . . . a lot of tiny things you wouldn’t even notice on their own but put together they completely alter the feeling one has looking at the cover.

My favourite moment actually had to do with the mask: the designer had put the mask in the border, and we had the shadow figure below it. We’d never planned for the two things to connect. But I was staring at the picture on my iPad and realized how close they were, so I opened up an image editor and sat there for an hour moving things around and doing rough drawings over it to show that you could align the two elements together. I sent that back to the designers and they then made it work much better than I could do.

All those revisions can have the effect of making it so you can no longer see the forest for the trees, so I was still going back and forth on tiny details (gold border or red? Red raven design or silver? Should we change that orchid over the letter “Y” again?). That’s why it’s been so exciting to see how readers online react to the finished cover.

Q] Play Of Shadows also marks a return to the world of Greatcoats. What can you reveal about this sequel series with regards to its chronological place vis-à-vis your debut books?

SDC: Everything in The Court of Shadows (the series of which PLAY OF SHADOWS is the first book) takes place a few months after the end of TYRANT’S THRONE. The country is at peace, yet no one really knows what the future holds. The threats of civil war seem to have died down, yet new threats are emerging whose roots go deep into Tristia’s past, connecting them to an enemy no one can yet see. This will be a series that features Greatcoats and Bardatti, Dashini and Rangieri, and new, previously unknown orders whose origins we have yet to discover.


Q] Play Of Shadows is also about the stage and theater as much as it is about hidden secrets. What was the main inception/driving force for this story?

SDC: I’m fascinated by that strange intersection of things that people don’t entirely believe in but kind of believe in. For example, few of us believe in predicting the future, but when someone pulls out a tarot card for us or says they had a dream about us we can’t help but think that maybe something they reveal will come true. Hopefully none of us believe in wishing wells, but when you toss that coin into the well, there’s a part of you that clings to the possibility it may work. These semi-beliefs are compelling to me as a writer, and I’m always looking to find that ambiguity in the cultures I create for my books. So I spend a lot of time concocting cultural practices that don't exist but could exist. For example:

- what if a culture believed that you needed to put a frame made out of rowan wood around a painting that has devils in it to keep them trapped inside?

- What about a city with a rich theatrical tradition that believed that some actors become so ingrained in a part that they – perhaps, just a little – channel the actual spirit of the character they’re playing when they take the stage?

Of course, most people would assume it was just an old superstition, yet I’d bet they’d still pay extra to see a performance by such an actor just so they could tell their friends about it. With PLAY OF SHADOWS, I took that one step further: what if you were an actor on stage playing the role of a historical villain only to suddenly find yourself witnessing the events of the story unfolding through their eyes, witnessing a truth that had long been buried to keep a ruling dynasty in power? What would you do then?

That was the origin of Damelas Shademantaigne, the grandson of two legendary Greatcoats who never wanted to be anything but a passable actor, thrust into the middle of century-old conspiracies, duels of honour, and the hunt for a shadowy court that seems to be secretly running his city.

Q] How many books are planned for the Court Of Shadows series?

SDC: The Court of Shadows will have four main novels, each of which introduces us to its own characters, followed by an “event” book in which they all come together. Readers will be able to read those first four books in any order, or even, theoretically, read the big climactic book and then go back to read the origins of the characters.

Q] Will we get to see/meet any characters from the original Greatcoats books?

SDC: Yes, though my focus is on new characters and new stories. PLAY OF SHADOWS brings back a certain mischievous Bardatti who I happen to adore who will help Damelas understand the mysterious abilities plaguing him, and there may even be an appearance by a certain roguish Greatcoat as well.

Q] Readers often have expectations of their own from their beloved authors (irrespective of the author’s own). How are you mentally preparing for your readers/fans’ eventual comparison of this new book/series to your beloved debut?

SDC: I think it helps that I went off to write the six Spellslinger books after finishing the Greatcoats because it allowed readers to feel like the Greatcoats Quartet was truly finished and that enabled them to unleash their own imaginations as to what happens next rather than feeling as if they had to wait for me to tell them.

The Court of Shadows goes deeper into the lore of the various orders of Greatcoats, Bardatti, Dashini and others, and the future of the beleaguered nation of Tristia. While there are new characters and stories, my focus as a fantasy writer still leans to swashbuckling, the redemptive power of friendship, and the desperately hard pursuit of trying to find the right thing to do in troubled times. So the underlying feeling or vibe that readers enjoyed about the Greatcoats will always be there, but the stories themselves are entirely new and go in different directions from the original quartet.


Q] How goes your writing for Way Of The Argosi? Do you have a possible release date for it?

SDC: WAY OF THE ARGOSI is finished and off to the wonderful line and copyeditor, Talya Baker at Hot Key Books! I’ve also finished the first draft of FALL OF THE ARGOSI, though that will need another pass before it’s ready. I’m not sure on the exact date of publication; the first book was originally meant to come out in April 2021, but since we’re so much farther ahead than we planned to be, I suspect it will come out sooner.

Q] Many thanks for your time Sebastien, I can’t wait to read Play Of Shadows and get to dive back into the lands of Tristia. Any parting thoughts for your fans?

SDC: Just that I’m always delighted to read your letters – getting a real, physical letter in the mail is truly a thrill for an author! But e-mails, tweets, and Instagram posts are all lovely to see and I reply to every letter or e-mail I receive (I don’t check Facebook or Twitter all that often, so I’m likely to miss those ones). Next year is going to be a rather big one for me, with three (and possibly four!) new books coming out, so I’m really looking forward to getting them into your hands.

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


Pre-order the book over HERE (US)HERE (UK)
Read the first chapter over here

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Damelas Shademantaigne picked a poor night to flee a judicial duel.

He has precious little hope of escaping the wrath of the Vixen, the most feared duellist in the entire city, until he stumbles through the stage doors of the magnificent Operato Belleza and tricks his way into the company of actors. An archaic law provides a temporary respite from his troubles - until one night a ghostly voice in his head causes Damelas to fumble his lines, inadvertently blurting out a dreadful truth: the city's most legendary hero may actually be a traitor and a brutal murderer.

With only the help of his boisterous and lusty friend Bereto, a beautiful assassin whose target may well be Damelas himself, and a company of misfit actors who'd just as soon see him dead, this failed son of two Greatcoats must somehow find within himself the courage to dig up long-buried truths before a ruthless band of bravos known as the Iron Orchids come for his head.

Oh, and there's still that matter of the Vixen waiting to duel him . . .

NOTE: The Greatcoats series picture courtesy of TheComicVault. All other pictures courtesy of the author himself.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Order Of The Pure Moon Reflected In Water by Zen Cho (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve & Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the novella HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Zen Cho is the author of the Sorcerer Royal novels and a novella, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, as well as the short story collection Spirits Abroad. She is a Hugo, Crawford and British Fantasy Award winner, and a finalist for the Locus and Astounding Awards. She was born and raised in Malaysia, resides in the UK, and lives in a notional space between the two.

OFFICIAL BLURB:A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

FORMAT/INFO:  The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water will published on June 23rd, 2020. It is 160 pages split over 8 chapters and told in the third person. It is available in ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats via Tordotcom publishing. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (CAITLIN): All Lau Fung Cheung and Tet Sang wanted was a cup of coffee.  But when they intervene on behalf of a waitress accused of witchcraft by an irate customer, they find themselves saddled with a new traveling companion. Guet Imm is a nun of the Order of the Pure Moon, forced into hiding after her temple was destroyed in the on-going war plaguing the countryside. She believes her encounter with the bandits is a sign from the deity that she should travel with them.  Which is unfortunate for Fung Cheung and Tet Sang since they're traveling with contraband the nun DEFINITELY won't approve of.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a diverting story of people just trying to get by in a world falling apart.  In broad strokes, we are introduced to a world that is engaged in what one character refers to as a "silent war" between occupying Protectorate forces and "bandits" (rebels who are trying to retake the homeland).  There's violence between the two factions, but nobody in the towns openly discusses it, for fear of being accused of supporting the wrong side.  This is a novella that captures the tension of never knowing if armed forces are there to help you or to destroy your livelihood, where the answer to that question could change depending on the day. In the middle of all this mess is our family of bandits, misfits and outcasts, working as "contractors" to make money to survive.

By far the standout character here is Guet Imm, the witty, insightful nun who nonetheless is somewhat naive about the world, having spent the last decade in monastic seclusion.  The occasions when you get to watch her run mental circles around the bandits, causing them to agree to things while they're still realizing they're being asked, are the best parts of the book. The rest of the cast is unfortunately somewhat one dimensional, aside from Tet Sang, whose own past is revealed to have indirect ties to Guet Imm's.  Tet Sang usually is the one trying to corral Guet Imm, and it's through the conversations between the two that we get the most insight about the themes of war and identity. 

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a good light-fantasy novella to curl up on the couch with for an afternoon, a pleasant story, if not a particularly memorable one.  I enjoyed the time I spent reading it, but it never was deep enough, nor the stakes high enough, for there to be a "Wow" moment.  Still, if you love unlikely pairings, this is a good book to pick up.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): Zen Cho has written a wuxia story that enthralls and makes you want more. As far as novellas go, this was right up my alley with its mix of action, understated humour and Chinese culture/mythos.

The story blurb has been covered by Caitlin so I won’t repeat it but one thing to remember is that this book isn’t what you typically expect. It’s not full of action and magic without any character growth. On the one hand, it’s magical in its own sombre way. The magic is in how the author writes the story and the characters, she steeples in it the culture she knows but also adds a modern sensibility and hence the result is something that is very Zen Cho but at the same time, completely different from her longer work.

The characterization is very, very sincere and solid for the length of the story. I loved how each character was refreshingly written and made distinct. The author also makes gender identity a normal part of the story and it wasn’t used as a gimmick. Besides the three main characters, the other characters don’t get much space to shine. This I feel is more due to the space constraints due to the novella rather than the authorial decision.

The last thing I want to highlight is the humor that’s strewn throughout the novella. It’s isn’t the loud, boisterous kind but more of a cerebral nature. Dependent on each character’s nature, it feels proper. Lastly the cover is something spectacular and being a tordotcom production, this is very much in line & to be expected.

CONCLUSION: The story ends on a poignant note and it left me wanting more stories featuring these characters and world setting. Zen Cho has written a short and superb story that will leave you stunned with its simplicity and charm. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water might have a long name but it doesn’t have any shortcomings in any of the other important areas. Give it a read and enjoy a very pleasantly nuanced story that will have you wanting more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Angel Of The Crows by Katherine Addison (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Goblin Emperor

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Katherine Addison is a pseudonym for acclaimed writer Sarah Monette who has previously written ten novels including a trilogy co-written with Elizabeth Bear. Her short fiction has been selected by The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year's Best Science Fiction. She lives near Madison, Wisconsin. She previously wrote The Goblin Emperor.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

OFFICIAL FORMAT INFO: The Angel Of The Crows will be published on June 23rd, 2020 by Tor books. It is 448 pages divided over thirty two chapters and an epilogue. It is told in the first person from the point of view of Dr. Doyle. It is available in ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: In Victorian London, every public building is watched over by an angel, a supernatural being that protects and assists the people inside its dominion. When Dr. Doyle arrives in London after sustaining an injury in the Afghanistan War, he could never have predicted he would have ended up with an angel as a roommate. But Crow is not like the other angels. He doesn't guard a single building. Crow is the Angel of London, and as such, offers his services as a consulting detective to any being, supernatural or otherwise, with a mystery to solve. But after a string of successful cases, Crow and Dr. Doyle find themselves with their toughest case yet. Prostitutes are being brutally killed in the East End by an unknown assailant - one the newspapers will eventually call Jack the Ripper.

Have you ever wanted to read the original Sherlock Holmes adventures, but with supernatural creatures and elements mixed in? If so, have I got a book for you! The Angel Of The Crows is a faithful (sometimes too faithful) retelling of many of the original short stories. While the lead characters have been renamed, they still live at 221 Baker Street in the late nineteenth century, they frequently work with Inspector Lestrade, and yes, they will absolutely take a trip to the countryside to investigate the Hound of the Baskervilles. But this is a world where the Hound might realistically have demonic origin, and if someone claims they've seen a ghost, that isn't a notion to scoff at. Werewolves and vampires openly walk in the streets, and a young woman can receive a respectable certification in clairvoyance.

As someone who has avidly consumed several iterations of Sherlock Holmes over the years, from the original short stories to the Jeremy Brett TV series to Elementary, I had mixed feelings about this latest outing with the famed detective. On the one hand, these are well-written adventures written much in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original tales, and are certainly a cozy way to pass the time. On the other hand, I found myself most enjoying the book when it offered a new angle or element to the material, and that was something it didn't do enough.

The Angel Of The Crows has one broad mystery - that of tracking Jack the Ripper - but the majority of the plot follows Crow and Doyle over a series of several mysteries of varying length. Some take place over several chapters, while a few are only a chapter or two long and serve as an interstitial that allows a deeper dive into Crow and Doyle as characters and serve up some secrets about Doyle's background in particular. Sherlock enthusiasts will recognize several cases, from The Sign of the Four to The Speckled Band, many of which have been given a supernatural twist. The more I saw of this London with its angels and hellhounds and vampires, the more I craved to see, to the point where I found myself wishing that the author had created original adventures for Crow and Doyle set in this world, rather than being largely guided by the source material.

That, at the end of the day, is what defined my takeaway from The Angel Of The Crows: the desire for more. I had a perfectly lovely time with Crow and Doyle, but I wanted to know more about them, especially Doyle, who has a surprising backstory that merited more exploration than what we are given. A little more explanation about some of the author's original elements, like the angels, or the difference between a vampire and a hemophage, would have also shored up the book. Nevertheless, The Angel Of The Crows is a book I enjoyed, and can certainly be recommended to those looking for a comfort read with a splash of new supernatural elements.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Best of British Fantasy - Q&A with Jared Shurin




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