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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Dracul by Dacre Stoker, and J.D. Barker (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Dacre Stoker Website
Official J. D. Barker Website
Order the book over HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:It is believed that the strongest of them can assume any form, be it bat, wolf, swirling mist, even human. They can appear young, old, or any age between. Some can manipulate the elements, producing fog, storms, crashing thunder. Their motives remain unknown, but one thing is clear: they leave a trail of death in their wake, thinking no more of a human life than we would the life of a fly.”

Dacre Stoker knows a thing or two about vampires, Dracula in particular, given that his great-grand-uncle was none other than Bram Stoker. Dacre has had non-literary careers of his own, but for a while now has picked up the family business and been writing, not only about his illustrious ancestor, but (with some assistance from writing partners) fiction relating to you know who. He wrote a sequel to Dracula a few years back, incorporating Bram as a character. This time he has written a prequel.

We spend time with Bram Stoker at age seven, a sickly child since birth. (as was the real Bram), but with a particularly interesting nanny, one Ellen Crone. (the actual name of the Stoker nanny) She does not eat with the family, preferring to dine alone. But she is very caring toward the Stoker children, most particularly Bram. The family summons a medical relation when Bram seems to be getting worse. But the application of leeches is not what Bram needs. Ellen has a better idea, and takes care of him. Soon after, he begins a true recovery, bounding from sickly child to a very active one. Shame about that scabby itch on his arm though. Young Bram and his sister, Matilda, sink their teeth into this mystery and engage in a bit of field research.

Part of the fun of this book is seeing the usually pretty clear lines between the real Bram’s novel and Dacre’s prequel. Where did the notion of Dracula originate? How about Van Helsing? Damsels in distress? (or were they maybe enjoying themselves a bit too much for Victorian mores?) Dacre has a lot of original material from which to draw, Bram’s, at least what has not been lost to the sands of time (or maybe preserved in a coffin somewhere for safe keeping). Dacre has also written non-fiction books about his esteemed ancestor, and had a bit of a road-show, Stoker on Stoker, in which he lectured about Bram and his book.

Another fun element, for me anyway, was the opportunity looking into this book offered to dig up some dirt on the real Bram. The one piece of intel that I found most amazing was that when Bram first submitted his manuscript, it was as a work of non-fiction. Because of tender sensibilities at the time about a relatively recent bout of wide scale mortality, it was thought better to present it as fiction. In doing that, the first 101 pages of Bram’s manuscript vanished like a sated bloodsucker on a foggy night.

So, the story of Dracul, sick boy and sister try to find out what the real deal is with the beloved, if decidedly odd, nanny. (Fortune may have blown her into the Stoker family’s life, but no, she did not arrive on the East Wind) There are times when she looks quite young. Others when she seems rather aged. Dacre brings in an old Irish (Stoker was born and raised in Ireland) legend, about a failed love that turns gruesome. The tale of the Dearg-Due is used to wonderful, and meaningful effect.

There are two timelines. We open with adult Bram in a castle-like place trying to keep a monster of certain sort locked in a room. Problem is that the various substances he is using to keep the thing from escaping are running out, and there is a real question of whether the aid he is expecting will arrive in time. This contemporary (1868) piece includes the tale of Bram, his family, and others, (including a pre-Van Helsing) trying to track down people, follow clues, and do justice against dark foes. The other line is Bram and his sister, Matilda, as young siblings, with scant understanding of what they have seen, attempting to figure it out. Both lines were fun, although I am not sure there would be many children of the ages portrayed who would be quite so resourceful, even in the mid-19th century. Feel free to suspend your disbelief and let it hang by its toes from the ceiling, as it stares at you with red, hungry eyes.

In keeping with great-grand-uncle’s form, Dacre tells the story through several sources. The Journal of Bram Stoker, Letters from Matilda to Ellen Crone, and The Diary of Thornley Stoker are the primary views. There is also The Notes of Arminius Vambéry, a patient case record, and a few sections that are pure omniscient narrator. All of it made me bare my teeth, in a good way.

Dacre adds some nice interpretations of the rules of vampirism, what works, what doesn’t, what their limitations might be. They can change into what? And eye-color shifting, some telepathy, an interesting item on the separated parts of the undead. There are plenty of classic vampire tropes, and for the big guy himself, a reminder of his Carpathian rep for how he disposed of his enemies. Dacre tosses in a few refs to relevant lit of the era, a bit of E.A.Poe, The Woman in White, one or two more. The book closes with a lovely reference, a name that will be familiar. There were also some pretty nifty plot twists, that worked well.

Gripes? Well, I mentioned the age-vs-competence thing. No big whoop, really. I confess to occasionally getting an image in my tiny mind of Velma, Daphne, Fred, Shaggy, and a certain pooch, when the adult crew was deciding on a dime to dash to this or that place to pursue the latest clue. I am not saying that I minded this. In fact, it contributed to the fun aspect of the book. But some might not enjoy what seems a bit of lightness in what is supposed to be a horror story. A horror story is supposed to be scary, right? Measured in hours of sleep lost, perhaps, or alarming dreams that jolt one awake. But no, not for me. Take that with a grain of garlic salt, though. I tend to be a fair bit less sensitive to horror than many readers. So it is entirely possible that this is a fairly scary book and I just didn’t notice. But really, this is such an enjoyable read. And that is the bottom line here.

CONCLUSION: It was truly fun reading Dracul. I enjoyed as much the learning it sparked, about Bram in particular. Whether you are type O, A, B, or AB, whether you are positive, negative, or undecided, I strongly urge you to swoop in and see what you can dig up, as you flap along with this fast-paced, engaging and very entertaining book.

NOTE: This review was first posted by Will on his Goodreads pageBram Stoker image courtesy of Got Ireland. Bela Lugosi picture courtesy of the Smithsonian magazine.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website  
Pre-order “Minimum Wage MagicHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "One Good Dragon Deserves Another"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "A Dragon Of A Different Color"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Last Dragon Standing"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read "Why A Nice Dragon" by Rachel Aaron (Guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Aaron lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also posts regularly on her blog about publishing, books and several other intriguing things.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab.

That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.

FORMAT/INFO: Minimum Wage Magic is 286 pages long divided over fourteen numbered chapters. Narration is in the first person via Opal Yong-ae solely. This is the first volume of the DFZ series.

November 9, 2018 will mark the e-book & paperback publication of Minimum Wage Magic and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art is by Tia Rambaran.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Rachel Aaron is a special talent and it has been highly evident with all of the sixteen books she has written so far. With this book, she does something unique as she writes a sequel series for the very first time since she started writing professionally nearly a decade ago. While also making this new series more grounded within its genre and less of the eclectic genre mixes that she’s known to write.

The story opens up with Opal Yong-ae, a sub-contractor for the DFZ’s Habitation Management. The DFZ being the Detroit Free Zone which was created by Algonquin the spirit of the great lakes. She was brought back to life by the sudden reappearance of magic after a millennium in 2035. She razed the city of Detroit and in its place stand the DFZ, a city state that was ruled by Algonquin for the next sixty years. Things however have changed thanks to the events seen/read in the Heartstrikers books and now DFZ is its own beast wherein Peacekeeper aka the Dragon of Detroit also resides (readers of the Heartstrikers saga will know who this is). Set twenty years after the events of Last Dragon Standing, the readers are introduced a completely new DFZ wherein things are wilder and crazier than before.

Opal is one of its nine million residents, a cleaner who basically buys up delinquent properties in a city wide auction and then proceeds to sell of the possessions to make a profit. This being the DFZ, things are zanier than usual and one never knows what one might unearth. Opal’s most recent acquisition has a dead body of a mage rotting in the sub-subbasement that she bought in an auction. Unable to find anything of value and needing to pay ten thousand dollars as part of her debt (within a week’s time). Things look very dire for Opal but there might be a way and it might involve getting her hands dirtier than usual. However faced with resolving her debt or losing an important part of her life, Opal will try do the impossible, but soon she finds out how much of a big quagmire she has landed in.

This is a super fun entry in to the city of the DFZ and marks a return to the world of the Heartstrikers. While this is also the first time that Rachel Aaron has written a sequel.  This book is a complete standalone story that doesn't require any background knowledge of the events showcased within the Heartstrikers Saga. The author purposefully set out to craft a tale that would explore the craziness of the DFZ and she does this very strikingly.

Featuring a mystery of a murdered mage, and the main mystery of to whom Opal owes a debt? Minimum Wage Magic is a solid urban fantasy thriller that excited me and kept me turning the pages. The plot pace was smooth all the way as we along with Opal slowly get to know who the murdered mage was and what he was up to. I consider Rachel Aaron to be one of best storytellers alive and she doesn't disappoint with this low key (as compared to her previous works) thriller plot that is all about living in a hyper-capitalistic city wherein anything and everything is allowed. This book came with a very high set of personal expectations as it was set in the same world as the Heartstrikers and being one of Rachel Aaron's creations. Though the author wonderfully cuts these expectations by making this book a very different read than any of the Heartstriker titles and also more of a traditional urban fantasy read. The plot focus is very tightly kept on Opal and her misfortunes. Unlike all her previous books wherein the plot usually explodes to an end of the world scenario. This one stays on a personal level through out and the stakes while being raised aren't the world-shaking kind.

This book also explores the DFZ and I mean really explores it. We get to see its subterranean grottoes, the newer formed religions and cultures it cultivates and also how traffic is bungled when several buildings and locations get moved magically. Plus dragons who now are welcome in the DFZ can cause several log jams and many more zany things. Previously the author had mentioned how she always wanted to give the readers a more on the ground look into the city and we get it in spades in this opening volume. Opal as a protagonist is an interesting person, in the start while we don’t know much about her except that she’s of Korean descent and in a huge debt. I really didn’t understand her motivations and was annoyed by her pertinacity as it seemed that she's just making things harder for herself unnecessarily. It’s only when the main reveal goes down, that’s when you realize her line of thinking and I for one, really enjoyed her character arc. Unlike Marci Novalli, who has a similar strange background, Opal’s persona is much different than Marci’s and maybe unconsciously I was comparing them both. Opal even while being reckless and foolishly stubborn, has reasons and once they are made clear. The readers will truly root for her as she strives to overcome Herculean odds.

The best side character was Opal's AI Sibyl as she/it frequently tries to provide help, comfort & even scold Opal for her silly mistakes. There are two other characters (Peter and Nik) who are introduced within the plot and are equally intriguing. I would love if the author further explores their background in the future sequels. Peter is a priest for the Empty Wind and Nik, who is also a mercenary/cleaner and a Luddite to boot. Their interactions with Opal add to the comedic tones and also introduce some interesting romantic set up. There are a few other characters introduced but we don’t get much about them. Now onto the big question, are there any cameos or appearances from the characters we love and have read about before? I’m not saying anything but you will be surprised when they are referenced or make their appearances. This book is quite on the smaller side and comes with a solid dose of comedy as is the precedent with Rachel Aaron's writing. This book was a much different read than what I was expecting but it was one that I enjoyed reading. I hope the author explores more of the DFZ geography and showcases its unique nature.

Things that didn't work for me were just a couple of things, primarily the protagonist is slightly unlikeable and does redeem herself by the end but many readers might find her a bit jarring from all the protagonists come before. Secondly this story structure and plot focus is very narrow and sometimes I wanted it to expand beyond its tight structure. Lastly I miss the characters who we have read in the Heartstrikers saga and here I was left bereft of their presence while only hearing or catching glimpses of them.

CONCLUSION: Minimum Wage Magic is a lively start to a brand new series in a world that’s very familiar to her fans. The story, the plot and setting are refreshing so that newer readers will find things get excited about Rachel Aaron and older readers will jump along for the ride because they know how awesome her books are. A  catchy title, a plucky protagonist and a maximum effort by the author, honestly readers can't ask for more in the urban fantasy  genre.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Interview with Davis Ashura & Andreas Zafiratos + Cover Reveal of The Castes & The Outcastes trilogy (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Castes And The Outcastes trilogy over HERE

Today I’m glad to welcome Davis Ashura and acclaimed artist Andreas Zafiratos as they introduce whole new cover art for Davis’ debut trilogy The Castes & The Outcastes. We talk about why Davis decided to partner with Andreas, why this series is so different and how they both collaborated on the new magnificent artwork. Checkout their answers as Davis and Andreas talk about the process and more:

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, and congratulations on the new spectacular cover for A Warrior’s Path. What lead you to get newer cover art for your debut trilogy?

DA: Thank you! Andreas really crushed it. I love the cover!

That said, I have always really liked the cover I have from Jeff Brown. I think it’s evocative and mysterious, but after a few years, trends change and the cover needs updating. Luckily, one of the current trends is something I love, which is a focus on the character. I’ve loved Rukh (the Asian Indian looking warrior on the cover) ever since he crept into my mind, and I’ve always wanted him displayed front and center because he’s just that cool and badass. Same with Jessira, who is on the cover for book 2, and who doesn’t like a minotaur-like creature wielding a chained whip on fire?

Q] How did you end up selecting Andreas Zafeiratos as the artist for the new covers? What drew you to his style?

DA: A couple of author friends of mine, Bryce O’Connor, author of the wonderful Child Of The Daystar and Phil Tucker, author of the fabulous Chronicles of the Black Gate, introduced me to Andreas after I mentioned how much I loved/drooled over their cover art.

Q] What were your main pointers for your cover artist/designer as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

DA: I’ll focus on book 1. We went through a lot of work for this cover. We started with the pose and the magic that Rukh wields. That was the most challenging part of the process because the magic itself and the green-tinged shield around Rukh forced us to focus a lot on lighting and color distortion. We eventually found the sweet spot, including the setting, but all told, it was about a two month process. The entire time, though, Andreas was awesome. It was a lot of fun working with him on it, and every time he sent me a revision, it felt like Christmas morning.

In terms of focus beyond the pose and color, the next step was Rukh’s appearance. He started out looking like a white dude, which wouldn’t work because Rukh is supposed to look Indian. Andreas darkened Rukh’s skin. Darkened it some more. And again, and then his skin tone was right. He looked like a tanned white man, which was close but still not quite right. Andreas recognized this on his own and adjusted Rukh’s features so he now looks like someone from the subcontinent.

Like I said, it was a long but fun process.

Q] What’s the status for covers for book 2 & 3? Will the short story collection “Stories From Arisa” be getting a new cover as well?

DA: The cover for book 3 is done. I had it turned into a poster, and it’s hanging in my youngest son’s room. We’re working on the cover for book 2 and it's nearly done. A good friend did the cover for Stories From Arisa, and I’ve always loved its stained glass appearance, so I’ll probably leave that one alone.

Q] Could you tell us about the inception of The Castes and the OutCastes trilogy and what was/were your main inspiration(s) for this project?

DA: The kernel of The Castes And the OutCastes first bubbled to life in about 1999. I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic story, but I wanted a different story. I wanted people who were tough yet compassionate, a world that was dark and yet full of cities breathing with life and beauty. I’ve got this notion that when things are at their worst, people rise up to help those in need. Maybe it’s naïve, but that’s how I want the world to be, and that’s the kind of story I wanted to write. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good love story, so that had to be included.

I couldn’t get any traction, though, because I couldn’t understand the motivation for the antagonist(s) or even what the main characters were supposed to do. The answer came when I was driving through India and talking to my sister, who’s a psychiatrist. Thus was born my Dark Lord (Lady in this case) who has a type of delusional paranoid schizophrenia.

Q] So what can readers expect from your debut trilogy and what should they be looking forward to according to you?

DA: At its heart, The Castes And The OutCastes is built upon aspects of India’s cultural bones with a story that’s familiar: a world in peril, a Dark Goddess hungry to see Humanity end, and a young warrior tasked with stopping Her. But he isn’t the chosen one. Instead, he has to choose greatness, and that’s where the story has its greater focus.

I’ve also released a YA fantasy series, The Chronicles of William Wilde. All William Wilde wants is to survive his senior year of high school, defeat the bullies, and figure out why the beautiful, new girl seems so interested in him. Oh, yeah. Magic flows in his veins and a zombie-like Terminator wants to kill him. It’s basically Percy Jackson meets Stranger Things and a continuation of sorts of The Castes And The OutCastes (which is set on an entirely different world).

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

DA: Thank you for having me here to answer these questions and happy reading to everyone!


Official Artist Website & FB page

Q] What were your initial thoughts when Davis approached you for the new cover art for his books?

AZ: I always feel excited and nervous when someone entrusts a book cover to me. One's book can be as personal as a painting and that immediately creates expectation and a sense of responsibility.

I was not familiar with Davis' work, but I quickly realized his solid fan base and how much his work was valued. That, combined with the fact that my art would be replacing solid existing covers was definitely an extra pressure factor.

Q] Can you describe your process in the cover art creation? Do you read the book and then select a scene or do you take direct notes from the author? How does this process work for you?

AZ: Creating an illustration that captures a piece of a writer's vision is a main objective for me and probably the reason I love doing covers. I would say that the largest portion of the puzzle solving satisfaction that covers offer is ending up with a piece that the writer feels greatly responsible for in terms of direction. Sadly and ironically in a sense, I do not have the time to follow the literature, but I usually ask for two or three scenes that are crucial for the plot and descriptions of the main characters. This is my starting point.

If it is not overwhelming for the writer, I try to achieve a creative back and forth during the process to try and nail a design and mood that captures something of that specific world. This unfortunately removes the potential stunning effect of the art on the writer (as slow progression has a very different impact from a sudden reveal), but it's a small price to pay on the way to end up with something that expresses the book's content and the author's intention.

Q] Once you have decided, what to focus upon. Could you give us a rundown of the process behind designing a book cover from start to finish?

AZ: In terms of artistic method, I change my tools a lot and try to explore new workflows. These days I experiment mainly with combinations of digital sculpting, photo element implementation and plain ol' brush work at varying ratios.

For the first cover of "The Castes And The Outcastes", I started with a 3D sculpture of the hero to explore the composition and lighting scheme. Once this was set and with Davis' input, I tried to capture the hero's character and come up with an interesting outfit design. Things must look believable of course, but a much more important aspect of the composition is good shape balance and a natural movement of the eyes on the canvas. The specific character was a real challenge for me, due to his Asian Indian features that were totally out of my comfort zone. Davis was very patient with my consecutive failed rendering experiments and I think we eventually got a look for Rukh we both enjoy! The warm skin tones over the cool blues of the landscape and a sense of motion is what makes this image in my eyes.

After painting, there is always a search for an elegant font and proper placement. Clarity and good contrast are crucial, so that we get readability in large and thumbnail sizes. I always end up going back to the painting and reworking it to support the lettering. For me, treating the final cover (art and lettering combined) as a painting composition, makes things instinctively work. Detail distribution and rest areas for the eye should take lettering placement into account. I find that this way, each element supports the other and there is no real compromise: The painting is not being randomly hit by typography and the lettering naturally stands out and balances.

Finally, I would like to thank you for this interview and Davis for his patience and the crucial creative input throughout the process.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

SPFBO: The Fourth Jettisoning & Semifinalist Update (by D. C. Stewart & Lukasz Przywoski)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's First Semifinalist Update
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Semifinalist Update
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Third Semifinalist Update

This is it! This is FBC’s last round of books, with eight cuts and one more book advancing into our blog’s list of semi-final hopefuls. We wish to reiterate that cutting anyone out of this contest is not an easy decision. It is one made with the knowledge that we are potentially putting someone’s career a step back, while advancing that of another. That is not a decision made lightly, and we hope those authors that did not advance understand that and can feel bolstered by the simple fact that every book in FBC’s batch has potential. There has not been an author that any of our bloggers have looked at that couldn’t, with a little more polish, shine out and find the eyes of many, many readers. With that said, here are the final choices that we have made.

Lukasz’s thoughts

A Spell in the Country by Heide Goody & Iain Grant

Genre: Humorous Urban Fantasy

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Dee is a Good Witch but she wonders if she could be a better witch. Caroline isn’t just a Good Witch, she’s a fricking awesome witch. Jenny is a Wicked Witch. She just wishes she wasn’t.

For very different reasons, they end up on the same training course and land in a lot of trouble when they discover that there’s a reason why their free country break sounds too good to be true. The story represents various cast of hilarious characters including foul-mouthed imps, wererats, naked gardeners, tree monsters, ghosts and stampeding donkeys.

ASINC is well plotted, nicely paced, and witty. It’s saturated with a gentle humour that leans toward the slap-stick and absurd. Even when it explores body-related jokes, it never does it in an offensive or gross way. The plot unfolds gradually, slowly revealing clever twists. Criticism? Well, I feel in some parts the book is bloated and gives way too much space to meaningless (but funny) banter that doesn’t move the plot in any significant way. I definitely recommend this book to those of you who look for lighter, uplifting book with a proper sense of humour. Just don’t pay attention to this atrocious cover–the book is much better than it would suggest.

Godmaker by Ingrid Seymour

Genre: YA Fantasy based on Greco-Roman myths

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the series.

Who among us hasn’t dreamed about picking up a sword and going full Berserk (or Amazon) on the world?

The Godmaker is a short (160 pages), action-packed novel. Bia is a Skillbarren Goddess - her godly powers remain dormant, and no one knows if they’ll ever activate. Unfortunately, the time of trial has come and all young God aspirants will face each other on the arena and only one will ascend. Others will die or become mortals - a fate considered worse than death by most godlings. Once you become a supreme being, losing it is not a viable option.

There’s a lot to like about Godmaker - it focuses on storytelling rather than world-building. The story’s structure is clear and easy to follow. While the plot is rather straightforward, it remains exciting - the trials Bia faces are dangerous, fights are nicely choreographed and violent, and the tension never drops. The setting and plot are strongly influenced by Hunger Games, Roman Gladiators and Wonder Woman. The trials faced by Bia, her friends and foes kept me glued to pages, but they’re not inventive. We’ve seen all of it done in books and movies (gladiator-style games where kids fight to the death facing each other on the arena, pits filled with snakes and acid, facing inner fears and illusions).

Overall, it’s a solid page-turner with a strong final twist. A good pick for readers looking for a kick-ass warrior who’s ready to change her world.

Chaos Wolf by Sheryl R. Hayes

Genre: Paranormal & Urban Fantasy

Standalone/Series: I assume it’s book 1 of the series

Bitten by a stray werewolf and rescued by a vampire, a literature major Jordan Abbey lands in a lot of trouble. She has to master shape-shifting fast or else she and her patron may end dead. To make matters worse, Chaos Wolf looks for her and wants to make her his mate.

Chaos Wolf offers both action and steamy romance. The book didn’t surprise me plot wise - it follows tropes, but does it intelligently trying to give a broader scope of vampire/werewolf conflict and local packs’ customs. Contrary to more conservative books in the genre that focus on a budding romance between the two lovers, Jordan doesn’t limit herself to one sexy vampire. She does two (in a long and explicit scene).

Despite simple premise, the plot is engaging and interactions between characters never fail to entertain. Editors have done a stellar job, the prose feels polished, and you won’t find any spelling or grammar errors.

Chaos Wolf is a bit predictable, but I would definitely recommend it to paranormal romance readers. It won’t rock your world, but it should entertain you.

Under Everest by D.H.Dunn

Genre: High Fantasy

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the Fractured Everest series

The story follows adventures of Sherpa girl Nima and American ex-sailor Drew. They fall through a mystical portal and find themselves caught in a magical war raging beneath Mount Everest.

Despite interesting premise, I struggled with this book. I tried to finish it, but finally DNF-ed it at around 53% of the ebook version. I feel that the plot relies heavily on a coincidence. The secondary characters remain underdeveloped and, truth be told, neither Nima nor Drew felt particularly interesting or convincing. The writing felt a bit rough and unclear in places. I had to force myself to read past first few chapters and it hasn’t changed along the way. I think Under Everest has interesting premise and potential for a good story. Having said that, it didn’t click between us.

David’s thoughts

Kingdom of Thieves, by Mitchell Edward Bell

Genre: High Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the Kingdoms of Ol’World series

The beautiful, evocative cover art and solid premise put Kingdom Of Thieves in good shape for potential readers to dive headlong into the fantasy equivalent of The Mod Squad. Patticus Mysticus is a thief trying to take back his nation from a tyrannical king, and his chance meeting with magician Tage and her barbarian bodyguard Iceskgard set the stage for what could have been an epic saga, reminiscent of the sword and sorcery classics of Leiber and Salvatore but with a dash of high fantasy.

Unfortunately, Bell’s writing lacks the kind of polish that would set him apart in this contest. The interactions of the book’s characters feel unnatural, forced even, as does the dialogue. The main characters feel shallow, lacking the depth so necessary to any novel in today’s literary climate, while side characters are so black and white as to seem satirical. It became apparent within the first few chapters that Kingdom Of Thieves would not beat out some of the fierce competition set against it.

Secret Realms of the Hidden Elves, by Jonathan J. Bowerman

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Standalone/Series: Presumably a series, this being “The Beginning”

Secret Realms of the Hidden Elves draws inspiration from some of the greatest fantasy novels of all time - The Chronicles of Narnia first among them. It is clear from the start that Bowerman is writing to a young audience that he holds dear. His main character is a 12-year old girl named Jasper, who, as in so many fantasy stories, moves into a new house and discovers that it houses a doorway to another world.

Perhaps if this contest were called Self-Published Children’s Fantasy Blog-Off, Secret Realms might have stood more of a chance. As it stands, the writing style, in a contest where in our batch this showed as the only children’s novel, is simplistic and overly familiar. There is tense switching that jars the adult eye, and a crossing of the fourth wall that is even more damaging. In short, Secret Realms could not advance when pit against the ruthless authors of the SPFBO.

The King’s Voice, by Karen Peradon

Genre: Fairy Tale

Standalone/Series: Standalone

The premise and style of The King’s Voice are unique in FBC’s batch of books. Fairy tales can be tricky to novelize, despite the glut of movies renditions we’ve been forced to endure in the past decade. These types of books require more suspension of disbelief than the ordinary fantasy novel. Peradon’s fairy tale takes place in Goaero. The king’s voice has been literally lost, and his evil brother seeks to find it and thus claim the land’s throne for himself. He sends Mallory, an Indiana Jones-like adventurer, out into the wild to find it.

Despite a fun and promising premise, The King’s Voice is troubled by its very format. Fairy tales, in general, are stories told, which works in a short-form format like that found in their genre. When entire chapters become told, it becomes problematic from a storytelling standpoint. Fantasy, and literature, greatly benefits from being shown action, and from a careful doling out of exposition. The King’s Voice, regrettably, could not stand up to the finely-crafted entries in our batch.

And now for our, perhaps predictable, final semi-finalist.

Death March, by Phil Tucker

Genre: LitRPG

Standalone/Series: Book 1 in the Euphoria series

Before beginning this contest, I had never read a LitRPG. I have now read two of them, and while I was curious after reading through the first, Death March has made me a convert to the sub-genre. It’s that good. It’s a damned genre-missionary.

To preface, I came to Death March, and to the LitRPG scene, having spent countless hours face-deep in half a dozen MMORPGs. I cut my teeth on Dark Age of Camelot in the early 2000s, and was there on day one of World of Warcraft’s thunderous debut. I still dive back into online darlings like Lord of the Rings Online and Final Fantasy XIV. That it never occurred to me to write books about these types of immersive experiences makes me a little angry.

Death March stars a regular Joe named Chris who receives an invitation to play in Euphoria Online, the world’s premier virtual reality getaway. This is not a cheap ticket, and most of the world’s gamers have to be satisfied with lesser experiences. Chris lucks out and finds himself amidst something far grander and more engrossing than he could have ever imagined. And because playing, and succeeding, in Euphoria can potentially grant Chris a wish from the overlord AI governing the game, Chris is lured into playing on the highest difficulty – Death March. It is what it sounds like, and much like in the Matrix, dying in the game means dying for real.

Phil Tucker’s experience in both table-top and video-gaming shine through in his potentially block-buster series. There is an intimacy with rule-sets and world-structures here that could only be learned with a mouse in one hand and a set of dice in another. Death March feels authentic, and the story told is one of high-adventure and risk, but also features human voices and a surprising amount of emotional depth for a genre that could be accused of superficiality. The only caveat to our choice of promoting Death March as our last semi-finalist is that it does not tell a complete story, but instead relies on its draw as a series to lure readers into the subsequent books. Thankfully, it’s good enough to do just that.

So there you have it, Fantasy Book Critic has selected the following seven semifinalists  over the past three and half months. Best of luck to all seven titles, we will be announcing our SPFBO finalist in a month:

- Death March by Phil Tucker
- The Blood Tartan by Raymond St. Elmo
- The Firebird by Nerine Dorman
- The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson
- Here Be Dragons by David Macpherson
- By Raven's Call by J. A. Devenport
- Hell Comes To Hogtown by C. D. Gallant-King

Monday, October 29, 2018

GUEST POST: Dangerous Truths By Gail Z. Martin

The truth can set you free...but it can also get you killed.

What can you do when you know about a dangerous conspiracy, and powerful people want to make sure you don’t tell? That’s the key question in two of our new book series that are light years apart, but in other ways, strikingly similar.

My husband and often co-author Larry N. Martin has his first solo book out, Salvage Rat. It’s a space adventure—more space opera than hard sci-fi—and the non-stop action never ends. I describe it as “Bonnie and Clyde meet V for Vendetta in a Firefly-esque universe.”

Here’s the blurb: Star Force pilot and hero Wyatt McCoy left his medals and career behind after the Rim Wars, disillusioned and bitter when he learns the truths behind the conflict. He takes his converted gunship, the Nellie B, and heads to the Near Fringe, salvaging derelict ships and abandoned stations and mining colonies. Dr. Beth Parker is a space archeologist, documenting the history of planetary expansion and colonization for Kalok Enterprises and the Interplanetary Mining Group. 

A piece of alien technology embeds itself in Beth’s arm, giving her the ability to see the energy impressions of long ago people and events. When Beth uncovers proof of genocide that could bring down the big mining companies, she’s the target of assassins. Wyatt makes a split-second decision to intervene, launching them both into a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with some of the most powerful organizations in the system. They can prove Kalok and Interplan killed millions—but can they live long enough to tell their story.

Salvage Rat plays with our distrust of big corporations and the sordid all-too-true history of resource exploitation and colonization. But at the heart of the story are two people whose lives are upended because they stumble onto a dangerous truth, and while they never meant to be heroes, all bets are off when the bad guys come after them to shut them up.

My newest epic fantasy, Assassin’s Honor (the first in the new Assassins of Landria series), takes a medieval spin on the idea of knowing something you aren’t supposed to know. This is epic fantasy without the epic length, just under 300 pages long, with a buddy flick vibe I tell people is ‘Butch and Sundance as medieval assassins.”

Here’s the blurb: Joel Breckenridge and Garrett Kennard are King's Shadows, elite assassins serving the crown of Landria. When a shadowy itinerant holy man starts captivates the nobility with treasonous whispers, Ridge and Rett go rogue to stop the threat, save the kingdom and protect the king--while landing on the 'Most Wanted' list themselves.

In Assassin’s Honor, Ridge and Rett are sure that the wandering mystic is a threat to the crown, but the king doesn’t think it’s important. So the two assassins risk everything to prove the danger and save the crown. The underlying question of how do you know which threats to take seriously is certainly still relevant in the modern world.

Whether you like your adventures in space or on horseback, check out the new books we’ve got for your Fall reading!

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat!

Get all the details about my Days of the Dead blog tour at my website. Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! All of my guest blog posts have links to free excerpts—follow the tour and grab them all! Enjoy this excerpt for Salvage Rat over here and this one for Assassin’s Honor over here.

Enter my Rafflecopter giveaway to win a Kindle Prize Package with a free copy EACH of — Tangled Web, Assassin’s Honor, Salvage Rat, The Dark Road and Sons of Darkness!

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight 2018, back for more with new authors and fantastic new posts! 150+ genre authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at

About the Authors:

Gail Z. Martin writes urban fantasy, epic fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books, Orbit Books, Falstaff Books, SOL Publishing and Darkwind Press. Urban fantasy series include Deadly Curiosities and the Night Vigil (Sons of Darkness). Epic fantasy series include Darkhurst, the Chronicles Of The Necromancer, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, and the Assassins of Landria. Newest titles include Tangled Web, Vengeance, The Dark Road, and Assassin’s Honor. As Morgan Brice, she writes urban fantasy MM paranormal romance. Books include Witchbane, Burn, Dark Rivers, Badlands and the upcoming Lucky Town.

Larry N. Martin is the author of the new sci-fi adventure novel Salvage Rat. He is the co-author (with Gail Z. Martin) of the Spells, Salt, and Steel/New Templars series; the Steampunk series Iron & Blood; and a collection of short stories and novellas: The Storm & Fury Adventures set in the Iron & Blood universe. He is also the co-author of the upcoming Wasteland Marshals series and the Cauldron/Secret Council series.

Find them at their website, on Twitter @GailZMartin and @LNMartinAuthor, on Facebook, at their blog, on Pinterest and on Goodreads. She is also the organizer of the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign  Never miss out on the news and new releases—sign up over here.
Sunday, October 28, 2018

GIVEAWAY: Win a The Witchlands Series by Susan Dennard Prize Pack

 Visit the Official Website for the Witchlands Series Here
Visit the Official Website for Susan Dennard Here
Follow Susan Dennard on Instagram and Twitter
Follow Tor Teen on  Instagram and Twitter

Fantasy Book Critic has an amazing giveaway to offer thanks to partnering with Tor Teen! Enter this giveaway and you could win a “catch up” prize pack of the Witchlands Series. The prize pack will include everything you need to catch up on the series so you are ready for the release of book 3 in February 2019!

We have 1 prize pack to give away to one very lucky reader. The prize pack will include Truthwitch, Windwitch, and Sightwitch all by Susan Dennard. 

Learn more about this series by reading  below and find out how you can enter for a chance to win this prize pack!


About the Series
A favorite of booksellers, reviewers, and readers alike, Susan Dennard has become widely known for her young adult epic fantasy saga set in the imaginative world of her New York Times bestselling series published by Tor Teen, The Witchlands, told through Truthwitch, Windwitch, the special illustrated novella Sightwitch, and the forthcoming Bloodwitch (February 2019). The Witchlands is set on a distant continent, in which some are born with a "witchery," a magical skill that sets them apart from others. The series follows best friends Safi (a Truthwitch) and Iseult (a Threadwitch), as well as the cunning ship captain Prince Merik (a Windwitch), and the mysterious and powerful Aeduan (a Bloodwitch) as they must navigate warring empires, political machinations, and mercenaries who seek to use their magic for selfish gain. 

Any fan of a gripping and fast-paced fantasy saga will be captivated by the wonderful world of The Witchlands, where Dennard focuses on the true power of magic, bravery, and most importantly, friendship.

About Truthwitch
On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

About Windwitch
The second novel in the New York Times bestselling The Witchlands series, now available in trade paperback, an epic fantasy adventure hailed by Alexandra Bracken as “a world you will want to inhabit forever.”

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

About Sightwitch

Set a year before TruthwitchSightwitch follows Ryber Fortiza, the last Sightwitch Sister as she treks deep underground to rescue her missing best friend. While there, she encounters a young Nubrevnan named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he wound up inside the mountain. As the two journey every deeper in search of answers, and as they brave one close call after another, a tentative friendship forms between them—one that might one day grow into something more.

Sightwitch is told through Ryber’s journal entries and her sketches, as well as through supplementary materials (such as other journals, pieces of songs, clippings from history books, flashbacks, etc.). Though meant as a companion novella, this story serves as a set up to Bloodwitch as well as an expansion of the world.

About the Author

SUSAN DENNARD is the author of the New York Times bestselling The Witchlands series as well as the Something Strange and Deadly series. She has come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, she got to travel the world—six out of seven continents (she’ll get to Asia one of these days!)—before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor. When not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, slaying darkspawn on her Xbox, or earning bruises at the dojo.


1. This contest is open to US Addresses ONLY. 

2. Only one entry per person. 

3. This contest starts October 28, 2018 and will run until November 5, 2018. 

4. To enter send an email with the subject WITCHLANDS SERIES to Please include your name, physical address and email address. 

5. All entries will be deleted after a winner has been picked and verified. 

Good Luck! 

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