Blog Archive

View My Stats
Friday, November 10, 2017

Interview with Craig Schaefer [Part II] (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cold Spectrum

Continuing on from yesterday, here's part II of our grand interview with Craig. Herein he talks about the various intricacies of his series, author branding, Tarantino comparisons and more...

Q] All your series have complex female characters. Be they be a protagonist (Harmony, Jennifer) antagonist (Navarasi, Nessa) or even a conflicted character (Caitlin, Hedy, Livia), they are fascinating nonetheless? What’s your thought process in writing such wonderfully complex, yet lethal women?

CS: I would say that it’s the same process I undergo for creating male characters – give them motivation, desires, fears, an inner life – but there’s a little more to it than that.

Female representation is really important to me. I exert that worldview into my books by making sure female characters are the driving force they deserve to be, just like in the real world. They can be heroes, villains...sometimes just figuring out their place in life, like people do. They’ve gotta be real people. My bottom line is, until fleshed-out and complex female characters are considered the absolute baseline expectation for any writer – just like male characters are now – there’s still a lot of work to be done. It should be so common that nobody even notices.

Q] Even though your series embraces a number of urban fantasy tropes, you also have made a rather strong effort to twist reader expectations and keep them entertained. What are your thoughts on these tropes in general and how did you decide what tropes you wanted to utilize and which you didn’t?

CS: Here’s where I make people mad at me, if I haven’t already: I don’t actually like urban fantasy all that much, as a genre. There are some urban fantasy authors doing fantastic work out there and I’m proud to call several of them friends of mine, but the vast majority of the field leaves me cold. I haven’t even read most of the Dresden Files (though I have huge respect for Jim Butcher as an author, which is why I gave him that tiny shout-out in the fourth Faust novel. Couldn’t take my lead character to Chicago and not tip my hat…) What excites me as a writer is the potential that comes from mingling genres – and, well, when I mingle fantasy and anything in the modern world, that makes me an urban fantasy writer.

The early entries in the Faust series are the most traditionally-UF-ish of my books, because I was finding my voice and confidence (I still am, but I’m a little closer now) and I felt like I “had” to adhere to certain tropes for the books to sell; for instance, making Faust a detective-ish character – something I enjoyed poking fun at in The White Gold Score – rather than the occult gangster he was intended to be and has finally blossomed into. At the same time, because I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle, I set a ground rule that still exists today: no vampires, no werewolves, no fairies.

I largely wanted to avoid the classic “kitchen sink” urban-fantasy issue, where every monster and mythological beastie ever dreamed actually exists, and the gods of every pantheon are dropping by for tea. I feel that this is a case where more is a lot less; supernatural creatures should be rare, cool, special things that have a reason to exist and a defined place in the world. When it comes to deities, make that double. Triple, even.

Q] How much do you let readers’ feedback inform your writing? For instance, one conflicting point about the Harmony Black series was the relationship between Cody & Harmony. Is this something which you factor into your future writings?

CS: I do listen to my readers’ feedback, to an extent. I’m generally of the stance that if one person loves or hates a particular story element, that’s just their particular take. If a thousand readers love or hate a thing, that thing needs to be looked at and evaluated going forward.

Cody came about an inch away from literally getting stuffed in a refrigerator. (And believe me, I would have been smiling when I wrote it.)

That said, at the end of the day, I have to be true to the story I want to tell and there’s some feedback that I just have to decline. The biggest ongoing complaint I get about the Faust series is that people want:
 1) lots more spellcasting, like in every chapter,
2) Faust’s magic to be bumped up to superhero levels, and
3) elaborate exposition on the rules of how magic works.

None of that is ever going to happen. That’s not my setting, that’s not my story. And other writers do a great job with those concepts! There’s definitely a place in fantasy for, for instance, lovingly-defined magic systems with elaborately-structured rules straight out of a tabletop RPG, and some authors can have a ton of fun doing it. I’m just not one of ‘em.

Q] One of my favorite writers James Rollins had mentioned his “rule of five” about when to become a full time writer? You were working your day job when you first few books were released. When did you make the jump to full time writer and with regards to Jim, did you find something similar when you took that leap?

CS: Just about! I hadn’t heard of the “rule of five” at the time, but I did have about five books in the Faust series out when I made the leap to full-time writing. It’s good advice; I wouldn’t suggest anyone do the same (or go into any self-employed endeavor) without that plus a solid nest egg in case of emergencies.

That said, quitting the corporate job was a spur of the moment thing. I was in a job that was killing me (I literally had health complications from stress), and one Saturday I had a long talk with a friend of mine. She asked how much I was making from my books each month, and then she asked what the bare minimum of cash I needed to survive and pay my monthly bills was. Number A was bigger than Number B.

Then she said, “Craig, you’re quitting your job first thing on Monday morning. I’ll be calling at nine to make sure you did it.”

Sometimes we all need a little push from a good friend, to do what needs doing.

Q] Another aspect that’s unique about your book is how diverse it is genre-wise. I mean there are elements of noir, mystery, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, et cetera. Personally, I loved that variety, but for some readers it might be a turnoff. What are your feelings on books that fit firmly into a single classification as opposed to those that are hard to categorize?

CS: Oh, it’s definitely a turnoff for some readers, and it makes marketing a pain in the butt, but like I said earlier – as a writer, that’s where so much potential for excitement lies. Why color inside the lines when you can use the whole page? Cookie-cutter is easy, and easy is the enemy of art. Worse, it’s boring. My number-one job is to entertain my readers, and mixing things up is one of the best weapons in my arsenal.

For instance, the second Faust series arc runs from a jewelry heist, to a prison-break story, to a Vegas mob war. The Harmony series swings from hunting monsters in small-town America to uncovering government conspiracies. I never, ever want a reader to say, “Eh, this book was okay, but it was just like the two I just read.”

To me, characters are key. My objective is to get you into my characters. If I can convince you to love or hate them, all the better, so long as you want to know what happens next and spend some time hanging out with them. Once that’s established, we can have all kinds of fun by mixing up the adventures they inevitably find themselves in, willingly or otherwise. If I can’t hook you with my characters, it doesn’t matter what the plot is or what genre elements I employ, because I’ll lose you as a reader.

Q] For some authors it’s easier writing their second series, while for others it’s more difficult. How was it for you, and did you learn anything when writing the Faust books that helped you prepare for The Revanche Cycle & the Harmony Black books

CS: I made so many mistakes in my early books. So many. Most writers can say the same, I think; no matter how many practice runs you make before your debut novel drops, there’s no escaping the learning experiences in store for you. I’d love to get a giant “do-over” and start from scratch with all I’ve learned since I began, but since life doesn’t work that way, I have to hope readers bear with me.

A lot of that is just style and structure. Figuring out what works, what doesn’t, finding your narrative voice. You can only learn writing by writing (and reading), and you only get better with practice and hard work. I’m still improving, and I hope to keep improving until the day I die.

Beyond the all-important task of finding my voice, the Faust books gave me a precious insight that was vital for the Revanche series, and it’s something I hope every writer discovers: the awareness that I didn’t have to censor myself. Dark as the books are, I had so many “Oooh, I can’t write that” moments where I had to fight to get words down on the page, because I was afraid people would trash the books (or gosh, think bad things about me!)

Yeah, turns out that doesn’t matter. When I got a one-star review calling The Long Way Downdegenerate and vile filth,” sales jumped for two days straight. I gradually realized that an author’s job is honesty; even though the story is fiction, it still has to ring with truth, and that means telling it the way it needs to be told. And for every person who hates it, somebody’s going to love it for the exact same reason. You just have to find your crowd, the folks who dig what you’re laying down, and treasure them like gold.

As far as what people think of me, that also doesn’t matter. The thing is, a writer’s books are a reflection of their inner landscape, and people generally don’t separate art from artist. People are going make whatever assumptions they want about me based on my writing, and I’m cool with that. To quote Pirates of the Caribbean, “…but you have heard of me.”

Q] One of the quirky things I noticed is that you have things in your book which aren’t quite explained. For example I have always wondered what “NP” suffix means when it was mentioned on Faust’s bounty declaration?

CS: I actually cut a joke about that from the original draft.
It means ‘no problem.’”
No, but in your case, it probably should.”

Q] You have co-written this short story titled “Sweet, Blissful, Certainty” in  the Urban Allies anthology. Please tell how this collaboration with Steven Saville came to be? How did you guys write this story and will there be touchbacks to this story in the future books?

CS: I was invited to participate in the project by the anthology’s organizer, Joe Nassise. Each story in the anthology was a team-up; I’m not sure how he picked me to work with Steven Saville, but I’m glad he did – Steven is a really cool guy, and never having written a collaboration before, it was a great learning experience. The story was a crossover between the Faust series and his new book Glass Town, hindered slightly by the fact that he hadn’t read my books and Glass Town had been delayed by the publisher, so I hadn’t read his either. So we started with a long, long chat where we briefed each other, gave run-downs of our respective worlds, and brainstormed over a way to bring them together.

After that, we broke the story down into chunks, retreated to write our respective bits, then passed the manuscript back and forth as we worked to try and blend them into a cohesive short. I liked the final result, though I was a little irked that the publisher, wanting a more vague resolution, cut my original ending. As it stands, it’s a weird little piece I consider mostly out of official continuity – there’s a couple of references to heaven, for instance, which doesn’t exist in my setting – but I learned a lot from it and made some new friends.

Q] In some of your previous interviews you have talked about author branding and the experience each of your books provide for the readers and your fans. On your site you have the title “Dark fantasy author” besides your name. Can you talk more about this brand which you are building and why readers should pay attention to it?

CS: People respond to taglines. Mystery author, science-fiction author, etc.; it’s shorthand that lets you know what to expect right off the bat. I write fantasy with dark, non-family-friendly overtones, whether it’s set in modern times or another world altogether, so that seemed like the best way to sum myself up.

Building a brand is all about reader expectations. Stephen King is a great example: whether he’s writing straight-up horror, psychological thrillers or dipping into crime novels, you always know when you’re reading his work. Brand is a mix of recurring themes, a certain style and narrative voice, the elements of a book that transcend the plot. My job, essentially, is to make sure repeat readers know what they’re getting when they pick up a Craig Schaefer novel, and deliver a great, consistent experience every time.

Q] I must confess reading about Justine and Juliette for the first time, they felt a bit Tarantino-esque. Upon learning of their origin of their names, it seemed so spot on. Can you tell us how these two came to be within your imagination?

CS: I’m a huge Tarantino fan, so I consider that great praise indeed. And there’s definitely a link there: while I was working on The Long Way Down, I felt the series was going to need a little comic relief to offset the bleakness. And of course, the humor had to be pitch-black. Specifically, I was thinking of (can I spoil a 20-year-old movie?) the bit in Pulp Fiction when Marvin gets shot in the face. It’s out-of-nowhere, so brutal and so funny, and then you feel bad for laughing, then you keep laughing, and it’s so pitch-perfect with the rest of the movie.

That’s more or less what I aim for with Justine and Juliette. They’re ditzy, they’re snarky, they’re funny, and then you get something like the basement scene in The Living End and you have this realization of holy crap, they’re torturing this guy to death, and this is their idea of a good time. They’re a pair of twin pistols that could go off at any minute, and you can only hope they’re not casually pointed in your face when it happens.

Q] One of the crucial connecting pointers within all your worlds is the presence of the cutting knives in them? Due to one of the revelations in Double Or Nothing with the Woman In Red mentioning her nine daughters. So does this mean there are only nine knives in existence?

CS: There are nine true knives. Various worlds have developed lesser copies and imitations; for instance, most of the Owl’s coven used cutting knives for getting to and from the Dire Mother’s glade, but those weren’t originals (except possibly for the Owl’s, which was handed down from her mother). The true ones are capable of things we haven’t begun to see yet, though people who have read Double or Nothing have a pretty good inkling.

Q] Another of those funny things I’ve noticed two different series is that the Mourner of the red rocks & sisters of the noose both share a resemblance in their dressing and creepy factor? Are they related in any way or was that just a coincidence?

CS: Yep! Not a coincidence: the Mourner is a former Sister of the Noose. She’ll be appearing in the upcoming Wisdom’s Grave trilogy, which will dig a little more into that backstory by the final book (and the Sisters may be making a return, too…)

Q: You have currently two active series, one finished and a new trilogy that you’re working on and will be releasing soon. With so many different projects that you’re juggling, do you ever feel overwhelmed? What keeps you motivated?

CS: The only bit that overwhelms me is keeping all the balls juggling in the right order; I’m a hybrid author, some of my books being self-published while others come out through a publisher, and since they all share a common universe it can make timing seriously tricky. For instance, a Harmony book might get shuffled around on the publisher’s release schedule, and now there’s going to be references to something that didn’t happen yet in the Faust books or vice-versa unless I quickly turn in rewrites.

Motivation, though? That’s easy. This is who I am. Writing is hard work, if you’re doing it right, but it’s also my art. Is there anything better to live for? The process of creation is joy. Putting smiles on my readers’ faces – that’s joy, too. That’s where the real magic is.

Q: Do you have any parting thoughts or comments that you’d like to share with our readers?

CS: Two years ago I became a full-time writer, achieving my lifelong dream. If a jerk like me can do it, then whatever your dream is, you can do it too. Don’t give up.

(Unless your dream is, like, killing a lot of people. Don’t do that. Definitely don’t tell people I said you could do it.)


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Interview with Craig Schaefer [Part I] (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cold Spectrum

Craig Schaefer is an author whose books I’m besotted with entirely. It’s rare for me to enjoy somebody’s works to such an extent and it’s fair to say that Craig Schaefer has joined a select few authors in my mind whose books I will read without any hesitation. I’ve always wanted to ask Craig some very specific questions about his books and the characters within as well as his plans for the future.

He was very kind to answer all of them and since there were so many. I’ll be splitting them into two parts. So without any further ado, enjoy part I…

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Craig. In your previous interview you spoke about how and when you decided to turn yourself into a wordsmith. Can you talk to us about your childhood & early adult life? What were your some of your hobbies?

CS: Childhood? Shitty. I was a nerd in the 80s, before it was cool to be a nerd. It’s kind of amazing now, with so many “geek” pastimes blown up and gone mainstream; our biggest movies are based on comic books, Vin Diesel talks fondly about playing Dungeons and Dragons, video games are as popular as TV really is a different world. It’s hard to remember that there was a time when computer games were a weird and arcane hobby, comics were considered the domain of pimple-faced basement-dwellers, and D&D was a gateway to Satanism.

(This is also why I have zero patience for modern-day geeks who want to dangle from a cross and pretend to be social outcasts. No, you aren’t. No. You aren’t. All this stuff we love is cool now. Be happy about it, damnit.)

Like most writers, reading was an early and voracious hobby. I more or less lived in the local library; it was my safe harbor, and the gateway to a hundred worlds. When I discovered role-playing games, I latched onto those as well; they were an early creative outlet, and weeks spent lovingly detailing my campaign worlds were an early taste of the joys of writing.

Q] I had read that from the age of four was when you realized that you wanted to become a writer. What was the delay in you finally realizing your wish?

CS: Partially, getting my life together. My mental illness (obsessive-compulsive disorder and mild depression) went undiagnosed through my childhood and young-adult life. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own and grew a little that I was able to figure out that something was wrong with my head, and that I needed to do something about it.

It always feels awkward, talking about that. But that’s why I talk about it. Because I know – because some have told me so – that a number of my readers are grappling with mental illness as well. And despite the ongoing social stigma, there’s nothing to be ashamed about that, any more than one would be ashamed of diabetes or a broken leg. So I need to be open about it in the hopes that other people feel safe to be open about it, and that’s how we collectively make that stigma go into the trashbin of history where it belongs.

From there it was just…life. Working paycheck to paycheck, watching the weeks slip away and turn to months and turn to years. I needed the motivation to find the discipline and go at a writing career with everything inside of me. And eventually, the weight of the years and the hunger that never went away just peaked, and gave me the push I so desperately needed, and here I am.

Q] You have often spoken about how much planning goes into your books. I wanted to ask you how did the Daniel Faust series develop in your mind? What was the original spark? What were your inspirations for it?

CS: As I recall, I was in the middle of a reading binge, swinging between crime novels and horror (my two favorite genres). I had just read an Elmore Leonard novel and a Clive Barker novel back to back, and I found myself thinking, “Dang, I love both of these writers so much, wouldn’t it be amazing if they wrote a book together?”

I’m not going to claim I’m anywhere near Leonard and Barker’s level (someday, if I keep working at it, maybe), but that was the seed of the Daniel Faust series. It grew out of the desire to read a horror-crime series, and in the finest punk-rock tradition, since I couldn’t find one, I did it myself. (Also in the punk rock tradition, my first attempts were seriously rough and unpolished, but I hope I’ve improved my skills since then.)

Q] One of the funny things I’ve noticed is that you have never quite described Daniel Faust’s appearance entirely. You have described Harmony quite a bit but not Faust why is that?

CS: Part of it is the difficulty of working a physical description into a first-person narrative. You can always have the character look in a mirror, but, ugh. Really? I mean, I’ve done it – I think every writer’s done it at some point – but I hate falling back on that technique. Beyond that, I think (I can’t prove it) that a more vaguely-defined appearance works better for a first-person story. You’re already asking your reader to put their mind in this character’s brain-space, and you want to do anything possible to make that identification easier.

Also, Daniel is the kind of guy who blends into a crowd (all the better to slip up behind you and snatch your wallet, or stick a gun in your back). When he appears in the upcoming book Sworn to the Night, his physical description largely boils down to “a wave of chestnut hair and a cruel slash of a smile,” which is all people usually remember five minutes after meeting him.

Q] So far we have had only snippets about Daniel’s past (abusive father, younger brother, been possessed about 30 times, etc.) In about seven books, one novella and three short stories, only one was a prequel-ish look into his recent past. Why have you been so coy in revealing more about his past, his family & his younger formative years?

CS: Partially because Daniel thinks about those days as little as possible. Largely, though, it’s in service to the overarching series plot. Daniel’s little brother Teddy is going to play a big, important role in the series, but I couldn’t bring him “on stage” until the time was just right and I’d laid the narrative elements I’m going to need later. (That said, the time is just about right now. Teddy’s making his first non-flashback appearance either in 2018’s The Neon Boneyard or the book right after that one.)

Q] One of the most consistent facts that is mentioned in the DF books and especially to Faust is that he’s got one messed up moral compass. Now while it’s easy to say that it’s entirely his choice. I wanted to see what you thought of Bentley & Corman’s influences on him. Sure they saved his life and made him what he is today but are they without blame in all of Daniel’s train wrecks?

CS: Oh, they definitely played a part. As semi-retired grifters, they took Daniel’s raw talent – both as a magician and as a criminal – and refined it into real ability. When con games, social engineering, and cracking security are part of your day-to-day curriculum, not to mention the arts of dark magic, you’re not gonna turn out as a model citizen or enjoy a particularly stable life.

Q] One solid feature of all your series is that all of them feature excellent worldbuilding. What is it about worldbuilding that you love, and what are the keys to successfully crafting such a believable, yet fantastical world like that in the Revanche cycle or even the one shared by Faust or Harmony?

CS: I think you’ve always got to know more than you show. One mistake some fantasy authors make is doing a ton of worldbuilding, and making sure every damn bit of it is on the page. The history of Castle Zyzagoria and the war that shook its foundations 450 years ago might have nothing to do with the plot at hand, but here’s a two-page infodump all about it. As a writer, that history might be important to you, and it might even inform little background details or descriptions, but that doesn’t mean it has to be shared with the readers.

In my opinion, the purpose of worldbuilding isn’t to create giant festoons of detail and lore; it’s to create a credible, consistent setting that will make readers say “Sure, that makes sense, and I could imagine living there.” It’s spice, and just like spices in cooking, the correct ingredient in a tiny amount can go a long way toward flavoring a dish just right. Dump in fistfuls of everything on your spice rack just because you can, and what you’ll get is an inedible mess.

But going back to my first point, you do need to know this stuff for yourself. I had mapped out the cosmology of my shared world long before any of it hit the page, because I needed to know where I was headed narratively and what the boundaries and rules of my universe looked like. Little details can be made up on the fly, but the big questions and mysteries of your story’s setting should be hashed out before you type “Chapter One.”

Q] Talking about our world, one of the things that are mentioned in the background is the “Cold Peace” and the infernal courts? How do the courts work? How many courts are there in total spread throughout the world? Will we get a world infernal courts map (something like this)?

CS: How do they work? Badly, with severe structural dysfunction! Imagine the worst office you’ve ever worked in, filled with back-stabbing coworkers who are out to steal credit for your efforts, stall your career advancement, and possibly murder you. And despite that, you still give 110% to the team, because you know that if your court shows any sign of outward weakness then all of your rivals will swoop in and carve up your territory (and you) in a heartbeat.

I’d love to do a full map of infernal territory at some point. Actually, I’d love to do a ton of supplemental material. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing up a tabletop RPG, which would also act as an unofficial companion of sorts to my books; it’s something I’ll think more about later next year when my schedule has a little breathing-room, but there’s a ton of logistics involved in that kind of project (playtesters, artists, printing, etc.) Maybe I’ll do a Kickstarter or something. We’ll see!

Q] Another funny aspect I’ve noticed in the Faust & Harmony books is that none of the main cast of characters are truly religious besides Halima. I was wondering in such a complex world/universe as yours how do your characters square with their faith with the knowledge of the demon courts/magic/etc.?

CS: Well, it’s not a happy universe. Hell is a concrete, real place. Heaven, as far as anyone knows, is not. The few angelic beings anyone recalls seeing are violently insane, and if there’s any kind of higher power out there, it’s utterly silent. Faced with that kind of worldview, it’s little wonder that most people who are clued-in don’t spend much time in church.

There have been creatures claiming to be gods at various points in history; the Enemy has admitted to using that trick on other worlds, for instance, and there’s the “faded gods” Circe warns about, but that raises the interesting (to me, anyway) question of who and what kind of entity is qualified to be called a god. It’s a loaded word that’s meant so many things to so many faiths and cultures throughout history.

And then, of course, there’s the Lady in Red

Q] Now with the last couple of books in the Harmony Black & Daniel Faust series, there have been revelations that all your books were connected. Supposedly thirteen characters are involved in the “cosmic story”. In the Revanche Cycle, two characters (the Witch & Knight) were present on that world. Were there any other characters from the cosmic story who were marooned on the same world?

CS: None that appeared in the story by name. Very early in my outlining, I thought about making beleaguered nobleman Felix Rossini one of the characters in the First Story, but jettisoned that because it clashed with the underlying theme. Without spoiling anything, Felix’s final ending is meant to be both cyclical and very definite at the same time; the idea that he’d someday reincarnate and repeat felt wrong, and a disservice to the character. Felix’s story ends when the final book says it does, exactly how the book says it does.

(Also, there are a lot of parallel worlds, and the Enemy getting imprisoned utterly screwed up the mechanics of the universe. The twelve other characters have been scattered all over the place…until recently.)

Q] Following on a similar line of thought, were there any other characters present on Earth previously when all the characters were scattered throughout the cosmos? And Now are all the characters on earth now that the Enemy is centered here.

CS: Well, Carolyn Saunders (the Scribe) is present and accounted for, as is the Prophet (who appeared in The Killing Floor Blues) and the Thief (the title currently and unwillingly held by Daniel Faust). The others have either arrived or are slowly filtering in across the wheel of worlds, in various stages of “waking up.” With the Enemy freed and loose on our planet, the cycle is reasserting itself for the first time since he was imprisoned – which means we’re on the road to the apocalypse, just like a hundred worlds before us, if he can’t be stopped once more.

Q] In The Castle Doctrine, it was revealed that there are supposedly 13 characters of the cosmic story, of which ten were named. Is that the entire number? and besides the Thief, Paladin, Scribe, Witch, Knight, Enemy, Prophet, Killer, Drifter & Salesman) who are the remaining three?

CS: Yep, there are thirteen in all. As far as who the last ones are, I’m keeping silent on that for now. Largely because there are six possibilities in my outline, for those three slots, and it’s going to come down to where they’re needed in the plot.

Q] I recall in one of your blog posts talking about character depth, you had mentioned that one of your characters was Transgender but you never revealed it because it didn’t matter to the story. You have always known about it and would you care to reveal who that character is?

CS: I’m still working out how to handle that. It’s a minor character, and bringing it up feels like box-checking or tokenism if I can’t seamlessly make it part of the story. So it’ll keep until I can do it right and with respect. (By way of comparison, a character was revealed to be asexual in Double or Nothing; I knew she was from the time of her first appearance back in Redemption Song, but there was never a reason for her to talk about it until then so it just didn’t come up.)

MW: The second part of this in-depth interview will be posted tomorrow so you can watch out for that :)

NOTE: Woman In Red digital artwork courtesy of Florian Mecl.
Monday, November 6, 2017

The Fifth SPFBO Semifinalist Update (By Mihir Wanchoo)

So far we have had four semifinalists and each book has been of a different kind. It seems that this time around, we at Fantasy Book Critic have an abundance of richness in the variety of titles, genres and quality. As we are getting through our lot, we are down to the last fifteen titles and it’s becoming tougher & tougher to sort through the titles.

As with our previous lots I’ve tried to read at least five chapters or 20% of the book (whichever was longer). However with this lot, all of the books were so much fun that I read through all of them. So here are my concise thoughts on each of them:

Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick – This is the second standalone volume in the Yarnsworld series and it is a wonderfully heartwarming story. The plot has a very folksy charm to it and the main character was one of the most engaging ones I’ve read about recently. All in all, this volume made me a big fan of Benedict Patrick and the unique world he has weaved.

The Arbiter by M.M. PerryThe Arbiter was an interestingly dark story and the way the author streamlined that darkness was fun to read. I got a strong Terry Brooks vibe in the way the author set up the story and the characters as well. This story touches upon racism & slavery in a very quick way and while this seems to be a standalone story, I wish the author writes more in this milieu.

The Half-Killed by Quenby OlsonThe Half-Killed is and interesting historical story with strong supernatural undertones. This story was an excellent surprise and I have to point out how much I enjoyed Quenby Olson's  characterization and plot. This book was one of those books that I didn't want to complete because of how much I was enjoying the story.

The Waterfall Traveler by S.J. LemThe Waterfall Traveler is an interesting title that combined YA fantasy and engaging characters. I liked this title because of it's main character Ri and in spite of its YA nature (as I'm not a big YA fan). However the plot pace was a bit slow in places and the ending thankfully made up for it (while it was predictable, it was still a lot of fun to read).

Windsworn by Derek A. SiddowayWindsworn was an intriguing book that focuses on Gryphons and I liked that aspect. This book reminded me a lot of Eragon  (but better written) with regards to the training & bonding aspects between the main character & her gryphon. The gryphons in the story aren't at the same level as those featured in The Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey but since this is the first volume of the trilogy, I could overlook that. This book was so enjoyable that I wanted to read more in this trilogy because of how the author utilized the tropes and how enjoyable the story was. 

In this lot, four books really struck my eye and it was a tough call between The Arbiter, The Half-Killed, Windsworn & WTWTB and ultimately I had to go with the book which was the most unique in this lot because of its unusual world setting and charming characters. So without any further adieu our fifth semifinalist is Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick.

My commiserations to all the other four authors. This was a tough call and I want to give a special shoutout to Quenby Olson & Derek Siddoway. Their books deserve a wider readership and I would love to review their future books on our blog.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

COVER REVEAL: Black Cross by J. P. Ashman

I'm much obliged to J. P Ashman for giving us this opportunity to host the cover reveal for the revised edition of his debut BLACK CROSS. Here's what Jon had to say about how this book cover came to be:

"The new cover for Black Cross came about due to the unfortunate cessation of contact between my previous artist and I. The original cover did what I wanted it to and it'll always hold a special place in my writing career. However, after a seriously tough year for me personally, a good friend of mine (Taya Latham) encouraged me - persistently for six weeks - to let her run a crowd funding campaign to snag a new cover artist. I'd fallen away from my writing and my muse was dead. I needed an injection of confidence and enthusiasm and she was sure this would work. i was skeptical, but agreed."

"She was right, I was wrong."

"It worked a charm! A feckin' powerful charm!"

"Taya, along with many friends from the awesome online fantasy community - you all know who you are and I love you all - banded together and financially and emotionally supported me in my search for a new series artist. I had three in mind... and one of those contacted me before I could contact her! Win!"

"Pen Astridge, artist to authors such as Mark Lawrence and Graham Austin-King, enthusiastically approached me and offered her services. I snapped her hand off. Not her drawing hand that would be stupid."

"With an incredible level of energy and interest, Pen dived into the new cover of Black Cross, knowing through discussions with me that I desired a character based cover like so many beautiful pieces out there at the moment. She worked and showed me, altered bits and bobs and impressed me. She came up with stunning ideas and projected her and my imagination onto the new cover of my debut novel. Sergeant Falchion came alive!"

"Pen also came up with a gorgeous Black Powder Wars series logo, with crossed cannons and gnomish grenados. Her fonts are stunning and the colours make the cover pop. She's over the moon and threw her all into it. I'm equally as happy, if not more so. We hope you are too!"

"Now comes the cover for Black Guild, the second book in the tales of the Black Powder Wars, which releases soon - ARCs are already out and about!"

"I look forward to seeing this cover in print - the hardback dust cover is incredible - and I look forward to seeing reader photos in the future, both of Black Cross and the books and covers to come! Thanks to Mihir and Fantasy Book Critic for this cover revelation, and to the awesomeness that is Pen Astride, Taya Latham and the rest of you beautiful lot!"

 As you can see how gorgeous a cover, Pen has created for Jon and I can't wait to see how it looks in physical form. I'll be hoping to review it when Jon releases the revised edition and will love to see how he has progressed as a writer. Checkout the blurb for the book below...

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Arcane magic can be a ruinous power, despite admirable intentions.

A mysterious scroll finds its way into Lord Severun’s hands, enabling him to release a dangerous experiment upon Wesson. With Sergeant Falchion unable to forgive himself for aiding the wizard, and desperate factions taking advantage of the devastating aftermath, Falchion embarks on an arduous quest alongside friends and strangers alike. However, even if their attempt to seek aid is successful and the city is saved, they risk revealing a secret that threatens much more than Wesson alone.

From a fantasy world not too dissimilar to our own dark and bloody histories, the beginning of an epic tale is told. Incredible magic is unleashed, allies become enemies; unlikely friendships are forged, and a foul plot is discovered that will shatter the long lasting peace of Altoln and her allies, plunging them into a gritty, brutal conflict that falls far from the fluffy fairytales of old.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cold Spectrum by Craig Schaefer (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Cold Spectrum HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in Joliet, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Criminologist Harmony Black is a witch with a loaded Glock. Her partner, Jessie Temple, is packing fierce lupine heat. Together, they’re part of Vigilant Lock, an elite FBI black ops group dedicated to defeating criminals with supernatural connections. But when they uncover a demonic conspiracy in the highest ranks of the government, it appears that everything Harmony and her friends have worked for, fought for, and risked their lives for might be a lie.

Framed for a casino massacre, Harmony and Jessie are on the run—in the real world and in their own. From the seedy casinos of Atlantic City to the steamy bayous of Louisiana and the imposing facades of Washington, DC, there’s not a soul on earth they can trust.

The only way they can clear their names is to take down the conspiracy from within and uncover the truth behind a secret that both the government and the powers of hell want to keep buried. .

FORMAT/INFO: Cold Spectrum is 333 pages long divided over forty-six chapters with a prologue, an epilogue and an afterword. Narration is in the first-person, via Harmony Black solely for the chapters and via third person for the prologue and epilogue via Nadine, Linder, & Bobby Diehl. This is the fourth volume of the Harmony Black series which is a spin-off to the Daniel Faust series.

October 31, 2017 marks the North American paperback and e-book publication of Cold Spectrum and it was published by 47 North (Amazon Publishing). Cover design is by David Drummond. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Cold Spectrum is the hotly awaited fourth volume of the Harmony Black series. This volume follow right on the heels of Glass Predator literally and figuratively as the main plot is set in under two days of the events of Glass Predator.

As the story opens, we see our Circus team huddling together and trying to figure out how to best survive and how to expose Linder. Things however are not going their way as someone higher up in their shadowy department is orchestrating events and forcing them on the run. Soon they realize their only way out is to connect with the sole remnants of Douglas Bradford’s team who have been hidden from Glass Predator’s virtual eye. This search will take them to Atlantic City via a detour to Portland (on the west coast) and finally a trip to the Louisiana bayous. Harmony, Jessie & team really are on tenterhooks as their own agency is now hunting them and the one of their own squads (Panic cell) is on to them as well.

This book is potentially dealing with the fallout from Glass Predator in more ways than one. Beginning with Harmony, after facing down Nadine and her vile powers, Harmony is facing a personal blowback to her powers. In the last outing she was barely able to control her inner self and find the requisite strength to do the needful. She however finds out that dealing with a succubus and the after-effects are a whole different ballgame. Unlike Harmony, Jessie is exuberant at her recent fortune of finding out more about her inner wolf and is ready to do what’s necessary to survive. April Cassidy and Kevin bring up the rest of the team and they bring their own skills as all of it will be needed for them to survive the nationwide manhunt.

This story is a crackerjack one and Craig had mentioned many times over that this book is a game changer and it is in more ways than one. Primarily the whole reveal about what Cold Spectrum is and what Douglas Bradford unearthed is fully laid bare in this story. Its mind boggling to say the very least and deftly showcases how much of a master planner Craig Schaefer is. There have been clues spread throughout the series so far and in this volume. Plus there’s the big reveal about everything so far and the answers we get are beguiling to say the least. I loved how the reveal ties into the grand mythology of the this series and it even clarifies a few things from the Daniel Faust series since both of them are so heavily entwined together. Lastly I believe this mythology will further enriched by further volumes in both series. I can’t wait to read the next volumes in both series however both of them are at least a year out.

The action sequences following on from Glass Predator are amped up as well, in this regard Cold Spectrum has more to share with Red Knight Falling. The atmosphere and locales change frequently and the action never seems to let up. In the last book there was a fascinating sub-plot introduced which dealt with the Hounds from two infernal courts. In this volume, we get a full resolution to that sub-plot with a wonderful cameo from one of the main characters from the Daniel Faust series. Plus Cold Spectrum also features a surprise appearance from a Hound of an infernal court who has never been featured before. So far each of the hounds we have met in this world have been very different from each other and this new hound is perhaps the most vicious of them all.

Another positive of the book is its pace which never lets up and we constantly are taken from location to location with wonderful action sequences in between. This book while seemingly darker than its predecessors (possibly scoring a tie with the first book for being the grimmest of the series) has a lot more comedy to it as well. Particularly with the scenes focusing on Jessie & Harmony, and I believe this (Jessie’s & Harmony’s relationship) has been one of the series cornerstones. Focusing on the chronological front, I believe this book is set just a couple of days after the events of Glass Predator and potentially runs parallel to some of the earlier events in Double Or Nothing.

This volume being the fourth of the series, we also get a look into Dr. April Cassidy’s life and this I believe is the weakest portion of the book. April Cassidy has been built up as this enigma and a brilliant strategist but we never quite get a focused look into her past. There are comments and insinuations but no dice with the actual history. I was thoroughly disappointed with this aspect. I get why the author might have done so for sake of brevity and keeping the plot on point but I felt that being the last Circus team member and having such a crucial hand in the formation of the Circus team and Jessie’s rehabilitation. It would have been glorious if we had gotten a deeper look into her history and backstory.

This was the biggest drawback of this book in my opinion as otherwise this book is pretty much a runaway thriller. It also sets up things nicely with Harmony and this is where my inclinations about her role in the cosmic story are becoming stronger and stronger. I believe we might get more insight about this in the Wisdom’s Grave trilogy and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on it.

CONCLUSION: Cold Spectrum is a spectacular conclusion to the first arc of the Harmony Black series and I for one am absolutely gung-ho about where this series is headed. Cold Spectrum is an absolute cracker of a story and I can’t recommend it enough. This series is a must read for those who love X-Files, Hellraiser, & a solid dose of dark humor to even out the grim edge of urban fantasy presented within.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

SPFBO Semifinalist: The Songweaver's Vow by Laura VanArendonk Baugh (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website

Order The Songweaver’s Vow HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Laura was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame her childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth and unable to walk, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized and award-winning animal trainer, a costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and of course a writer.

Laura writes historical and fantasy works as well as non-fiction in the art and science of behavior and training. She live in the state of Indiana and is often traipsing in the Midwest as an active cosplayer.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: She tells Greek legends to entertain Norse gods -- until one of her stories leads to murder.

When Euthalia’s father trades her to Viking raiders, her best hope is to be made a wife instead of a slave. She gets her wish – sort of – when she is sacrificed as a bride to a god.

Her inhuman husband seems kind, but he visits only in the dark of night and will not allow her to look upon him. By day Euthalia becomes known as a storyteller, spinning ancient Greek tales to entertain Asgard’s gods and monsters.

When one of her stories precipitates a god’s murder and horrific retribution, Euthalia discovers there is a monster in her bed as well. Alone in a hostile Asgard, Euthalia must ally with a spiteful goddess to sway Odin himself before bloody tragedy opens Ragnarok, the prophesied end of the world.

FORMAT/INFO: The Songweaver’s Vow is 304 pages long divided over thirty-nine chapters and an author’s notes section. Narration is in the third person via Euthalia solely. This is a standalone story.

February 21, 2017 marked the e-book & paperback publication of The Songweaver’s Vow and it was self-published by the author. Cover design is provided by Damonza.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Songweaver’s Vow was a book whose blurb details were a hook that I simply couldn’t resist. The story had an intriguing mix of historical fiction (to a minor degree) and Norse mythology (majorly) and also one of the most original SPFBO entries (in terms of plot) that I’ve read so far in the past three years.

The plot begins with Euthalia who’s travelling along with her Greek father and whose ship gets accosted by men whom we later find to be Vikings. She’s been selected as a slave or a dragon bride who is to be given to the dragon. Not knowing what that means, Euthalia is terrified and faces an uncertain future. Things however take a turn for the strange when she faces a kind persona who doesn’t reveal himself but tells her that she is his bride. Soon she’s transported to a different land wherein she finds one of the villager woman named Birna waiting to meet her. Soon she finds that she is in Asgard of yore and that she’s wedded to one of the sons of Odin but she never sees him (as he only comes in the pitch black of night & forbids her from visiting in the daylight).

Thereafter she meets the various personae of the Asgardian court such as Thor, Odin, Loki, Freya, and more. But she still doesn’t know who her husband is and soon her curiosity leads her down a path wherein all the horrible Norse legends come in to play. Soon Euthalia realizes how twisted the fates can be and how capricious the gods truly can be.

What I loved and enjoyed about this book was the way the author had presented this story. To the average reader (due to the advent of the Thor Marvel movies) there’s some background knowledge of the whole Asgardian entities. For readers with a definitive knowledge of Norse mythology, they will certainly enjoy how the author portrays Asgard and all of its inhabitants. From Euthalia’s point of view, it’s an interesting thing to see as she’s a person from an age wherein knowledge wasn’t easily available and we the readers having knowledge of the events & personae will certainly enjoy the thrill that the story offers.

The biggest plus points of the story are the story settings and characterization. Beginning with the story settings, the way the author frames the story, we get a very “Alice In Wonderland” feel however the author quickly shows the reader and Euthalia how dangerous these new lands and people are. I loved how the author intermingled the various Norse myths about people and events and streamlined the story to reach an effective climax. Personally I’m a big fan of mythology and when used effectively it can be a huge plus. This story does that in spades and I’ve to hand it to the author for her superb use of Norse myths and quirky facts.

Going on to the characters, this is where it gets tricky as we have Euthalia a human and almost everyone else is a Norse persona (gods, demons, etc.) The author wonderfully keeps the story grounded from Euthalia’s human perspective as she undergoes, awe, shock, wonderment, jealousy & a bunch of other feelings. The author wonderfully keeps the story focused within Euthalia and her husband’s love and manages to make it epic but focused tightly. I enjoyed this narrative aspect of the story which made it personal but not claustrophonic.

At the same time, the author also provides a startling look in to the Asgardian persona and this is where she excels. As while we get to see all the gods from Euthalia’s perspective only, she does wonderfully well to differentiate all the gods. We get to see them with all their grandeur, cruelty, capriciousness & otherworldliness to say the least. I loved reading about them and their encounters with Euthalia. It was fun trying to decipher who Euthalia’s husband was from the legends that I knew. The author’s reveal was certainly a big surprise to me and to Euthalia as well.

It’s for these two solid reasons that I couldn’t stop reading this story and I finished it within two-three days of reading at night. The story builds up slowly but surely and then the plot pace picks up nicely and then races along to a Ragnarok of a finale. The finale is definitely a stunner and ties into perfectly with Norse mythos. I enjoyed how neatly the author ties up the story in the end. There’s also a love story which is nicely tied into the main plot, in fact I would say it’s what powers the whole story. The love story is kind of subdued and for those who look for more sparks and intimacy, might be disappointed. Lastly for those looking for a lot of action and adventure might not find it to their heart’s content.

What I mean is that while there’s are a few specific action sequences (particularly highlighted by Norse legends), there’s no overt action sequences like in the Marvel movies. There’s some interesting aspects of Greek mythology and story which Euthalia introduces to the Asgardians and it was interesting to note the parallels between both these mythos and how the Asgardians reacted to the various Greek tragedies and the characters within. This was an interesting contrast provided by the author and I would loved to see more of this explored within.

I enjoyed how the story played out but there were certain portions in the book when the pace slackened and it made the read a bit uneven. The love story like I mentioned previously is what fuels this plot but it didn't quite have that touch of otherworldliness which I thought was otherwise wonderfully shown with the other Asgardian characters. These were the only drawbacks which I experienced within this book. I’m sure others might find other things to nitpick about it but honestly it would be very subjective.

CONCLUSION: The Songweaver’s Vow is an interesting story and kudos to the author for exploring this unique angle. The Songweaver’s Vow is an imaginative cross between “Alice In Wonderland” and Norse mythology and I can’t recommend it enough. Laura Vanarendock Baugh showcases her imagination & writing skills deftly with it and I for one will be on the lookout for her next book intently.
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Faithless by Graham Austin-King (Reviewed by Michael E. Everest)

Official Author Website
Order Faithless HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Graham Austin-King was born in England. From a young age, his interests ran from fantasy novels to computers and tabletop gaming. Having previously worked in the fields of journalism, international relations, and law, he found himself returning to his love of fantasy and creating rich worlds. He has finished his debut fantasy trilogy focusing on the Fae and decided to do something different with his next work. He currently lives in the south of England with his family after living in the northern part of the country and Canada.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the nine lands are no more. Priests huddle in the great temple, clinging to the echoes of their lost religion. But the Father has fallen silent. There are none who still hear his voice.

The mines of Aspiration lie far below the temple's marble halls. Slaves toil in the blackness, striving to earn their way into the church and the light. Wynn has been sold into this fate, traded for a handful of silver. In the depths of the mines, where none dare carry flame, he must meet his tally or die. But there are things that lurk in that darkness, and still darker things within the hearts of men.

When the souls bound to the great forge are released in a failed ritual, one novice flees down into the darkness of the mines. The soulwraiths know only hunger, the risen know only hate. In the blackest depths Kharios must seek a light to combat the darkness which descends

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Faithless is Graham Austin King’s second major outing, following on from his debut trilogy Fae: The Riven Wyrd Saga. Faithless, a standalone self-published novel, is a grimdark low-fantasy for fans of Mark Lawrence, Anna Stephens and Peter V Brett.

Told through two point of view characters, Wynn a newcomer-come-newbie-miner to the subterranean realm of Aspiration, and Khareos a priest of the Forgefather, Faithless embodies the suffocating atmosphere of the mines its (mostly) set in, whilst somehow retaining a ‘breath of fresh air’ quality for readers looking for something a little different than the usual grimdark fair.

The Good: Next-level’ world building, second-to-none level to detail and attention, sympathetic and believable characters, a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout, and a kicker of a twist.

The Bad: There’s a balance to be struck with world-building, exposition, detail and descriptions, and at times this weighed too far to the heavy side for me, which in turn made the pace of the story suffer for it.

The Ugly Truth: Faithless is one of those rare books where it achieved exactly what it set out to do. It’s an uncomfortable read – but that’s a good thing. A sense of claustrophobia that pervades throughout, corrupt priests, a faith seemingly built on falsities, lies and hard labour, slavery, punishment, perversion and purity for the sake of progress. As I eluded to above, the story does suffer from some pacing issues, but it’s well worth persevering for the reward at the end. As the saying goes, ‘a diamond in the rough’, well this is a ‘diamond in the deepest and darkest of roughs’ there is – human nature.

Full Review: People often ask ‘what is grimdark?’, and I feel that I could hand them ‘Faithless’ as an answer. It’s grim (an exploration of intimacy vs invasiveness, hope vs hardship, faith vs – well, it’s in the title, – faithlessness) and it’s dark (the exploration does lead down some pretty dark paths, oh, and it’s set in a mine…a mine!).

Faithless is told through the experience of Wynn, who is sold into slavery, and Khareos, a priest who arguably seeks to buy freedom through faith. Wynn is the author’s tool, in this case a miner’s pick, used to chip away at the world and explain its surface to the reader. Khareos is the hammer, And in this analogy, Khareos would be a hammer, a blunt edge swung with all his faith at the world, only to realize just how cracked it is. As with the two point of view characters, we also have two major settings: the mines and the temple. The plot is character driven, there’s no world-spanning adventure or big bad dark lord to defeat here, but the path it does tread is all the more intimate and invasive than an ‘action epic’.

Faithless takes the ‘quest-journey’ plotline found in most fantasy and inverts it. As the reader, this means that the book takes you on an inward journey, rather than out into the unknown. But sometimes, in the case of the unknown, knowing is worse than not knowing. The story dares to go deeper than the pits of the mines that it is set in, to the darkest parts of human nature. And in the darkest of places, where the light doesn’t shine, we do know what humanity is capable of...

On that note, and I think the ‘cool kids’ use the term ‘trigger’ for something like this, but if sexual abuse is a no-go for you, then consider yourself warned. Whilst it’s not graphic, it is present, but for a purpose, and not just ‘because of’. Considering these themes, and the setting, Faithless is not a comfortable read, but it is a good one!

Because of the level of attention and detail put into the worldbuilding, and maybe partly because the story is more personal than it is ‘big picture plot’, ‘Faithless’ does have some pacing issues, and I can empathise with other reviewers who ‘did not finish’ this book. However, that being said, the reward is well worth the reading.

CONCLUSION: Faithless is something a little different, a little darker, and a whole lot deeper than you’d expect. It’s not ‘just another grimdark’ novel, as it’s something a whole lot more than that. I enjoyed reading it, and whilst it’s not one of my personal favourites, I really do recommend that fans of grimdark and fantasy alike pick this up and try it.

Dare to be different.

Dare to have faith. Or in this case…

Dare to be Faithless.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The 2017 BookNest Fantasy Awards (by Mihir Wanchoo)

The second Booknest awards shortlist was posted this previous Saturday (14th October) and I had the privilege to be one of the six bloggers who helped in creation of the long list. A huge thank you to Petros T. for enabling me to be a part of these awards.

The awards for each of these three categories are beyond eye-catching to say the least and here are the nominees in each category:

Best Traditionally Published Novel

- A Plague of Swords by Miles Cameron
- Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
- Assassin's Fate by Robin Hobb
- Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
- Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
- Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
- Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan
- Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
- The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
- Wrath by John Gwynne

There’s some great books in the traditionally published category and I believe it will a tough fight between Mark Lawrence, John Gwynne, Robin Hobb, Michael Sullivan & Brian Stavely as all of them have written amazing books and have a very passionate fan base. Among all the titles in this category, in my mind, the two strongest titles are Red Sister & Skullsworn and I’m having the hardest time in deciding who to vote for.

Best Self Published Novel 

 - A Keeper's Tale by J.A. Andrews
- Darklands by M.L. Spencer
- Faithless by Graham Austin King
- On the Wheel by Timandra Whitecastle
- Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan
- Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe
- The Fifth Empire of Man by Rob J. Hayes
- The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley
- The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher
- A Dragon of A Different Color by Rachel Aaron

This is another tough category as there are so many amazing titles and quite a few are in the running for the SPFBO title this year. I have read quire a few of them such as ADOADC (Rachel Aaron), SAM (Andrew Rowe), TFEOM (Rob J. Hayes), Darklands (M. L. Spencer), THOS (Ben Galley), TMT (Michael R. Fletcher). I’ve read all of these aforementioned titles and can vouch for their amazing nature. In this category my vote was divided between TFEOM and ADOADC and right now I’m leaning a tad towards TFEOM for its insane finale, mind-blowing characters and an ending twist that would have made GRRM proud.

Best Debut Novel

- Blackwing by Ed McDonald
- Gilded Cage by Vic James
- Godblind by Anna Stephens
- Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
- River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
- The Bear And The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
- The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
- The Dragon's Legacy by Deborah A. Wolf
- The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
- Age of Assassins by RJ Barker

The best debut category, I believe is the true group of death. This year has been a phenomenal year for debuts and it shows with Ed McDonald, RJ Barker, Nicholas Eames, Katherine Arden, Anna Stephens, etc. This category is anybody’s guess and honestly I’m sad that Alec Hutson didn’t make the cut. He would be another contender for sure. In this category, I’m having the hardest time selecting my choice as it changes with every hour. I’ll be waiting to see who wins eventually.

So dear readers please go ahead and vote for your choices in the aforementioned categories. The voting ends on 31st October so make your votes count 

Monday, October 16, 2017

GUEST POST: The Unreliability of Magical Surveillance. by Tom Doyle

In my American Craftsmen trilogy, psychic spies (farseers) can view intel across the distances of time and space (farsight). Their visions guide the missions of magical and mundane soldiers, and they play against the farseers of hostile powers.

I want to look briefly at some of the popular stories of magical surveillance. The use of magical or psychic means to view across space and time is an old idea. Yet few of the stories that come immediately to mind view such power as an unambiguous good for the wielder. In the story of Snow White, the evil queen uses a magic mirror for scrying. Like many such devices, the mirror is a two-edged weapon. On the one hand, the mirror demonstrates what powerful surveillance can accomplish; for example, the attempt of Snow White and the huntsman to fake her death fails because of it. On the other hand, the mirror seems to be driving the queen to her eventual destruction by doling out only as much information as she requests and no more.

In The Lord of the Rings, we have the Mirror of Galadriel, the palantíri, and the Ring itself. All of these are in their own way unreliable. The Mirror of Galadriel shows Sam a vision of an industrializing Shire that momentarily discourages him from his mission, when his mission is the one hope of Middle Earth. Denethor’s palantir gives him true intel, but only what Sauron wants him to see, and so he goes mad with despair. In turn, Aragorn is able to use Saruman’s palantir to nudge Sauron into rushing his attack. The Ring seems to serve as a sort of tracking device, but only when Frodo puts it on does it work well enough to zero in on him.

(By the way, Palantir Technologies is the name of a big data analysis, counterterrorism company, as anyone who’s taken the DC metro over the last few years knows from its ads.)

In the original Oz book, the Wicked Witch of the West only had one eye, “yet this eye was as strong and powerful as a telescope, and could see everywhere in the Winkie Country.” (In the film, this was changed to a crystal ball.) Yet this eye, which clearly helped her enslave the Winkies, also led to her doom, because it’s explicitly stated that Dorothy would not have been able to find the Witch, but the Witch was able to find Dorothy.

In the Dune books, Paul Atreides has an incredible power of precognition, but he has difficulty seeing the actions of opponents scheming under the protective umbrella of a Spacing Guild Navigator because the Navigator is also a precog. In the end, Paul’s foresight only leaves him with one tragic choice.

The most famous oracle of Classical Greece was at Delphi. Scholars think that it may have in part functioned as an intelligence gathering and exchange point, and it was particularly effective for guiding the Greeks in their founding of colonies. But the oracle could also be notoriously ambiguous and potentially disastrous to the unwary and hubristic. According to Herodotus, one such oracular prediction was that if Croesus made war on the Persians, he would destroy a mighty empire. That empire turned out to be Croesus’s own.

Finally, related to the ambiguous oracle is the unheeded prophecy. Cassandra is the archetypical example; her ability is precise and accurate, but no one believes her anyway. Many stories of biblical prophecies are similar--the prophet clearly warns that if bad behavior continues, disaster will surely follow, yet we have fewer stories of the prophecy being avoided than fulfilled.

I’m uncertain as to why the limitations of farsight are such a consistent theme in our stories about it. However, the Dune series points out a particular problem of perfect prescience--under the God Emperor of Dune, history as we understand it comes to a halt. Perfect prescience may not eliminate free will, but it may negate its force in the universe.

Or perhaps any power without a limit or flaw just makes for bad storytelling.

So, what are the limits of farsight in my secret history of our world?

1. Farsight is probabilistic. In the fashion of scientists, my psychic spies report their predictions in the form of probabilities, with absolute certainty never fully achieved, only very closely approached.

So, my first book, American Craftsmen, has passages like “High probability of end of American democracy,” and another where one spy counts down the seconds and another gives the survival odds. The third book, War and Craft, mentions a probability of greater than five sigma of a certain character’s destruction. War and Craft also introduces the insane, drug-addled precogs of the Left Hand, who under apocalyptic stresses made such absurd predictions as “probability the sun turns into a giant clown-faced wolf at ten to the minus tenth percent.” In its more sober form, this use of probabilities allows those who use the psychic intel to weigh it, but it also underlines the limitations of such intel perhaps more honestly and directly than other more mundane reports and considerations.

2. My farseers are limited by other precogs and the Dune rule. No one nation, ideology, or moral stance has a monopoly on precog, and sufficiently skilled psychic competitors of all stripes can see the oncoming probabilities of certain events. Beyonds a ubiquitous passive observer effect, this means that rivals can attempt to take action to avoid certain outcomes. Also, associates of a farseer (or in one case, friends of the child of a very powerful precog) are largely screened from such predictions.

3. Farseers have a variety of skill levels and trustworthiness. It’s proverbial that military intelligence is only as good as the people delivering it and using it. Some of the best farseers have become unstable because of the tragic choices they are forced to repeatedly make. Sometimes those responsible for giving the orders based on the intel fail to do so because they don’t trust the particular farseer or prediction. In my books, the unbalanced yet powerful oracle codenamed Sphinx issued predictions that were so distant in time and extreme in counteraction that the tragedies occurred anyway: “Evacuate the embassy in Tehran. Close all the airports in September.”

4. From their experience, my characters (particularly morally dubious ones) know that if they lean on precog intel too much, the prediction may spring some karmic trap upon them. As one evil character reflects, “responding too directly to oracles was a quick trip to poetic justice,” especially when the ambiguities are almost screaming in the choice of words.

However, even my characters who aren’t precog specialists pick up bits of oracular statements everywhere. Combat heightens the sense of irony and of the perversity of fate. Anything that sounds like “famous last words” triggers their psychic warning bells, and certain characters are gifted or cursed with strong forebodings of their own deaths.

Thank you to Fantasy Book Critic for hosting this post. I hope you’ll check out my psychic spies for yourselves.

Official Author Website
Order War And Craft HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of American Craftsmen
Read "Mixing Magic With The Mundane World" by Tom Doyle (guest post)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Tom Doyle is the author of a contemporary fantasy trilogy from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician-soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil--and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America's past. In the third book, War and Craft (Sept. 2017), it's Armageddon in Shangri-La, and the end of the world as we know it.

Some of Tom’s award-winning short fiction is collected in The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories. He writes in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.

Follow by Email


Click Here To Order “Taerak's Void” by M. R. Mathias!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Infernal Machines” by John H. Jacobs!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Skullsworn” by Brian Staveley!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “A Game Of Ghosts” by John Connolly!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Queen Of Swords” by R. S. Belcher!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “A Dragon Of A Different Color” by Rachel Aaron!!!
Order HERE