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Friday, July 10, 2020

The Crow Rider by Kalyn Josephson (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)


Official Author Website
Order The Crow Rider over HERE
Read Caitlin's review of The Storm Crow

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Kalyn Josephson currently works as a Technical Writer in the tech industry, which leaves room for too many bad puns about technically being a writer. Though she grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, she graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in Biology and a degree in English (Creative Writing). Currently, she lives in the Bay Area with four awesome friends (because it’s the Bay Area and she’d like to be able to retire one day) and two black cats (who are more like a tiny dragon and an ever tinier owl). The Storm Crow is her debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Thia, her allies, and her crow, Res, are planning a rebellion to defeat Queen Razel and Illucia once and for all. Thia must convince the neighboring kingdoms to come to her aid, and Res's show of strength is the only thing that can help her.

But so many obstacles stand in her way. Res excels at his training, until he loses control of his magic, harming Thia in the process. She is also pursued by Prince Ericen, heir to the Illucian throne and the one person she can't trust but can't seem to stay away from.

As the rebel group prepares for war, Res's magic grows more unstable. Thia has to decide if she can rely on herself and their bond enough to lead the rebellion and become the crow rider she was meant to be.

FORMAT/INFO: The Crow Rider was released on July 7th, 2020. It is 352 pages, split over 35 chapters and an epilogue. It is told in first person from the POV of Thia. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After weeks of living as a political hostage in the Illucian court, Thia has made her break for freedom, escaping with the last surviving magical crow in existence. Together with Caylus and Kiva, Thia must make her way to a nearby kingdom where a summit will be held in a few short weeks to determine how to handle the conquering Illucian armies. With so many kingdoms determined to remain neutral rather than risk Queen Razel's wrath, Thia must prove to them that the storm crow Res is powerful enough to lead a united front to victory. But when Razel reveals a formidable new ally, will even Res be enough to stop her?

The Crow Rider is one of those sequels that opens up its scope from the first book, and is all the better for it. The majority of The Storm Crow was a tale of intrigue and espionage, as Thia tried to survive in an enemy court, living as a hostage for her kingdom's good behavior. Now that she's escaped, it's time to assemble an army. Thia must now step up and be a leader, finding ways to convince the other kingdoms to form an alliance against Queen Razel and the Illucian army. You'll find epic-sized battles as cities come under siege and countries go to war, with magic being wielded on both sides. As the finale to a duology, the stakes are at their highest, and Thia must lead her people to victory or die trying.

The characters continue to be fleshed out in book two. One of the things that was noteworthy about Thia in The Storm Crow was that she wasn't a flawless heroine. Having witnessed a massacre that killed her mother and wiped out the crows that were an integral part of her culture, Thia struggled with depression. Since then, she's found ways to manage it and become a stronger person, but that doesn't mean she's healed completely. And Thia's not the only character who's a little bit broken. Caylus, the baker with a penchant for science, continues to have PTSD as he's confronted with a traumatic past he's trying to escape. These may seem like grim scenarios, but it makes it all the more uplifting when these characters come together and help each other past their dark times, learning to live with and overcome their emotional handicaps.

And of course, the standout element in this book is Thia's relationship with Res, the titular giant storm crow who is the key to any hope the alliance has of defeating Illucia. Those who came for the How to Train Your Dragon vibe won't be disappointed, as Thia learns to ride Res and help him understand his abilities. Although he can't talk, Res seems as intelligent as any human, and frequently makes his presence known on and off the battlefield. He and Thia work together for some truly spectacular battle sequences.

If I have one complaint about The Crow Rider, it's that a critical element of world-building having to do with Thia's family's connection with the crows felt a bit shoe-horned in and underdeveloped. It's a reveal that ups the stakes, but also left unanswered questions. It felt like something that might have been given more time in a trilogy, but with only two books, the decision instead was to simply introduce the complication and deal with the consequences.

(And as a quick aside, while discussing weaknesses, the romance here felt like it was checking a box instead of being a genuinely earned relationship. It didn't harm my enjoyment of the book, but it wasn't something I was overly invested in.)

CONCLUSION: The Crow Rider is a fantastic epic finale, one that takes its time as it builds to the ultimate battles. You'll find equal time given to character development and battles, time spent training and time spent smashing the bad guys into the ground. If you're looking for a magical animal companion book to spend time with, The Storm Crow duology is an excellent place to start.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

SPFBO: The Second Diminution & Semifinalist Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)



Read Fantasy Book Critic's First Semifinalist Update

Last week we had posted our first cut and Lukasz picked the first semifinalist. Today we are having our second round of cuts. As explained in our introductory post, we have divided up the thirty titles among the four of us. These were the titles in my lot:

Feast of the Mother by Miranda Hornfleur & Nicolette Andrews

Lasera by Danielle M. Pederson

Pradyutita by Geetha Krishnan

The Assassin's Gift by Claire Boston

A Voice That Thunders by Cully Mack

Wings of Fate by Skye Horn

The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

To start with, I read through about 20-25% of each of them before deciding whether to continue or not. This time around, I wasn’t able to read all of them. Of the seven books in my lot, I stopped at around 50 % for most of them and eventually finished about half of them. However there were two titles that really hooked me in all the way.

Here are my brief thoughts on all of them:


Feast of the Mother by Miranda Hornfleur & Nicolette Andrews

This was the first title I chose to read because of its blurb matter and the Slavic settings. The story begins with Brygida, a witch who doubles a death’s reaper/detective. Brygida is called upon to investigate a murder of a village girl. She has only three days to complete her task.

Set over such a short time span, this story has a slow-burn effect with its main mystery and while there’s a bit of a romance as well. I enjoyed the main character and her interactions with both her mothers as well as the various villagers. The story is very well written and with this being a collaboration, it appeared seamless. The characterization mainly focuses on Brygida and the remaining characters don’t get that much of a spotlight. This book was a charming but a bit slow paced read. I enjoyed the mystery and magical aspect of the plot and it was definitely a different sort of a read.


Lasera by Danielle Matheson Pederson

Lasera was a bit of an odd read for me. It focuses on a teenager (Valerie) whose life gets saved by a Merman and she literally can’t believe it. This book was a bit of a mix of urban fantasy and SF and unfortunately didn’t quite strike a precise balance with me. The writing was clear and concise and the plot moved along pretty fast. However the romance aspect of the story really didn’t capture my attention as it was instantaneous and didn’t make much sense to me at least. Overall this book would work better for readers of PNR or YA urban fantasy, unfortunately I wasn’t the best audience for it.


Pradyutita by Geetha Krishnan

With Pradyutita, it was the exact opposite of my experience with Lasera. With this book, I felt I was the perfect (and perhaps the only) audience for it. It’s based on the Indian epic Mahabharata (which I consider to be the greatest story ever told) and it basically focuses on the socio-political angles and completely flips the personalities of the members involved. I raced through this book easily and was left stunned at the author’s ingenuity. She switched character personas and situations and made the start of this epic story even more exciting. I was constantly surprised at the plot twists and the way the story ends, I knew I wanted to read more.


The Assassin's Gift by Claire Boston

This was a title which really intrigued me because of the East Asian (Chinese & Mongolian influences) settings of the story. The story focuses on princess Lien who’s been trained to be an assassin for the glory of the empire and the emperor (her uncle). She however wakes up in the enemy camp and is forced to reconcile her beliefs and understanding of the world. This story was a straightforward one and a pretty fun one at that. The good guys are good and the evil ones are bad throughout. Claire’ Boston’s writing style makes the story very accessible and the main character while being naïve is still a likeable one. This is a clean fantasy story where the action and deeds are kept at a PG level. I enjoyed reading it and while it would appeal more to me 25 years ago, it was a definitely a 3 star read.


A Voice That Thunders by Cully Mack

A Voice That Thunders focuses on a pair of siblings Gabe and Mirah. The story opens with Mirah’s abduction of sorts while Gabe is a bit lost in the forest due to an attack on their village. From then on, Gabe disappears while Mirah learns about Shemyaza and his progeny (one of whom is Nate who has lead the abduction). The story progresses while we the readers are exposed to a variety of magic and gods. Gabe when he reappears after the first half is a changed person. The story was a very interesting one and while it had dark themes, it wasn’t a dark fantasy story. There are romantic elements which make it a bit of a light read.

I wanted to like this book but there were a lot of things that didn’t work. As the story focuses on Mirah solely showing her transformation while glossing over Gabe’s. It felt uneven as Gabe is supposed to be a co-protagonist. The story might work for readers who are looking for fantasy with a slight romantic bent as well as a few dark elements. Again this turned out to be a title for which perhaps I’m not the ideal reading audience.


Wings of Fate by Skye Horn

Wings Of Fate was another title with romantic elements (it seems this is my year for romantic fantasy titles). This book deals with a lost Faerie princess Thea who finds out about her past after the death of her adopted parents. The story is of the YA level and this was the one factor that perhaps didn’t lead me to enjoy it as much. There’s also a strong romantic element and that’s nicely offset with comedy and action which make the story a lively read.

Overall this story was a fun story. The author certainly knows how to write an engaging story and makes it quite fast paced. There was never a dull moment and even though it was  very predictable. I can very well see it score solidly among a YA crowd.


The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

This book was quite different from all of the rest of the titles in my batch and it started slowly and was full of tropes. However it had heart and focused on Cego a young lad who’s discovered by Murray Pearson whose job as a Greivar scout is to unearthen hidden warriors. From then on we get a rousing tale wherein many one-on-one battles are fought. Plus with likeable characters as well as a mystery about the protagonist’s past, this debut story really grabbed my attention and I was able to read without taking any breaks. This story was an action-packed one and the characters even though while sticking to a bit to tropes are written refreshingly well.

So that was my batch and as you can see while it was a varied batch (with quite a few featuring romantic elements). I was able to finish four titles that really held my attention with their story telling prowess:

Feast Of The Mother
Pradyutita
The Assassin’s Gift
The Combat Codes

Now begins the hard part of parsing through my recollections and trying to choose one semifinalist. This was more than a bit tricky as among these four, there were two titles that I felt rather strongly about because the authors were able to provide an immersive story, solid characterization and an end twist that left me wanting the sequel immediately.

Therein lies my dichotomy as one title hearkens to my cultural past and was written in such a way that even while knowing the original story, it left me stunned with the authorial plot twists and character turns. The second story is a quintessential action drama that plays on your emotions and gives some amazing action sequences. It very much reminded me of some of my favourite action movies.

So again I was back to square one and at this stage I didn’t want to lose either title but I did have to make my decision so here we go


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And so my semifinalists are:


The Combat Codes (Alexander Darwin) & Pradyutita (Geetha Krishnan)

Yes I’m selecting two semifinalists as I believe both titles are worthy stories and I wish for my blog mates to read and see if they can choose one over the other. So my hearty congratulations to Geetha and Alexander, you both are proceeding to the next part and joining E.G. Radcliff as Fantasy Book Critic's semifinalists.

I’ll be reviewing both titles in the next couple of weeks as well as doing interviews with both of the authors. So checkout both of these amazing stories and now onward with Adam who will also be announcing his semifinalist soon in the forthcoming weeks.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Insider by Craig Schaefer (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order The Insider over 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 Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Neon Boneyard
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Locust Job
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Sworn To The Night
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Detonation Boulevard
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 Cold Spectrum
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Right To The Kill
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Black Tie Required
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ghosts Of Gotham
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Loot

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 North Carolina and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Hard-bitten bodyguard Charlie McCabe is lucky to be alive after her recent foray into Boston’s criminal underworld. So she’s taking no chances with this next job: protecting Hayden Cobb, key witness in the trial against a trio of murderous cops known as the East Boston Three. If Cobb drops dead, the Three walk.

After an attempt on Cobb’s life, Charlie suspects the Three have somehow put a hit on him from behind bars, and the assassin’s still at large. And when notorious loan shark Jimmy Lassiter is dragged into the mix, he retaliates the only way he knows how—by striking at the heart of her family.

Now it’s personal. With her father held hostage and her client in profound danger, Charlie must act fast. Far too many lives are at stake, and though she knows she can’t protect everyone, she’s gonna try.

FORMAT/INFO: The Insider is 329 pages long divided over forty three numbered chapters, and is the second volume of The Charlie McCabe series. Narration is in third person via Charlie McCabe primarily and by a few other secondary characters. The book was published in e-book and paperback format, as well as on Kindle Unlimited on July 7, 2020. Cover design is by Kaitlin Kall.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Insider marks a return to Craig Schaefer’s reading roots and we return to the gritty, blue collar areas of New England. Set a few weeks after the events of The Loot, Charlie finds herself fitting in really well with Boston Asset Protection Ltd. Company. Things start out on a mild note as Charlie, Dom and Beckett are takes with the protection of Lincoln Gable, a provocateur in the making. Lincoln however wants the publicity so Charlie and company just have to bear the brunt of the protestors.

To add to that, based on their exploits (as detailed in the previous book), the local DA has approached them with the security for their most valuable witness for the East Boston Three case. In it, a gang of police officers were systematically looting gangs and now three members have been caught. The fourth (possibly a cop) is unknown and still at large. The DA wants to convict the rogue officers and needs Boston Asset Protection to keep their star witness safe until the trial. Things are never simple as Charlie finds out as there’s more than one entity who wants to kill their witness. Plus there’s also the matter with Lincoln Gable and Charlie’s father, these subplots are what power The Insider and make it a thrilling read.

Right off the bat with this sophomore volume, things are off to a rushing start and this is really prominent as the characters and setting have already been established. The characters are Craig Schaefer’s bread and butter and here again with Charlie, we are treated to a complex but heroic character whom we can easily root for. Charlie is trying to fit in within the civilian world and she’s definitely doing a better job than most military folks however her PTSD is still there. She has faced the realities of her father’s situation and is also comfortable with the grey complexities of her job. There’s also the other professionals such as Dom and Beckett who have equally complex pasts and are able to provide Charlie with foresight to do what’s necessary.

The main plot of the story deals with subterfuge and its present on all sides. Clients not necessarily telling the truth, the local law enforcement having leaks and the potential of one of BAP’s member’s past coming back in a deadly way. Craig Schaefer nimbly handles all the threads and keeps the tension even throughout the story. I enjoyed this second outing a lot more than its predecessor as the author nimbly keeps escalating the stakes and there’s quite a few plot misdirections aimed at the reader which were fun to negotiate. The pace of the story is also very streamlined and the characters are constantly kept on the backfoot as they along with the readers try to figure what is truly happening.

One of the key features of this book is how someone’s past comes back to haunt the whole team and this was definitely a solid plus. One of the book’s antagonists is a very curious person and it brought to my mind this line from Craig’s website which he uses to describe this series:
The Charlie McCabe series from Thomas & Mercer Publishing (starting with The Loot, in August 2019) is a pure crime/thriller series with no fantasy elements. As such, technically it doesn’t fit into either of the above continuities.
Technically.
I think this book deals with a curious feature that perhaps knocks on that “technicality” and I’ll be curious to ask Craig about it when we interview him. There’s something here and I think this mirrors what Craig did in the first four Harmony Black books wherein each title would reveal the past of a certain team member. Another aspect which I think the author is handling really well is that he’s not shoehorning a romance subplot into the story for Charlie. I feel this is crucial from the story’s perspective as Charlie as a character is very focused on her job and her father. There’s very little space for anyone else and the author smartly provides a story that keeps these factors in mind. I’m not saying that a romance is never on the cards but so far the author hasn’t provided much details and hopefully will do so when it makes sense for the character and the world settings.

Drawbacks there are a couple. Firstly the story draws on a lot of tropes for the side characters, fiery Italian female sidekick, cool black character who has a mysterious past, and I hope that there’s more details provided rather than for those characters to remain as they are. Secondly I would have liked to see Charlie’s inner emotions at work. She’s such a buttoned down person and I would like to see more of that into play or at least learn specifically what made her this way.

CONCLUSION: The Insider is a twisted story that plays the readers on every front. With a multitude of misdirections, plot twists and grey characters, this second offering in the Charlie McCabe series is a refreshing take and makes me very excited for what’s to come next.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The King's Ranger Spotlight Interview with A.C. Cobble (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Pre-order The King's Ranger over HERE (USA)HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Quill
Read the Cartographer Series Cover Reveal Q&A with AC Cobble

Today we have the pleasure of hosting AC Cobble.  AC is launching a new series and we are honoured to reveal the covers for books 1 & 2 of the King's Ranger series. AC talks about what inspired him to write this new series and why the eponymous character on the cover resembles a certain author...

Q] Hi AC, welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. how have you been amidst these troubled times?

ACC: Hi Mihir, thanks for having me! It’s a crazy world out there, but luckily the COVID impact on my family has been minimal. I already work from home, people still read books during a pandemic, and my wife stays home with our three young kids (boys, 2-7). We have an easier situation than many others are facing. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to concentrate with the kids around All Of The Time, but we’re so fortunate overall that I cannot complain (j/k, I do).

With the protests, I’m a white male who grew up in a well-off household, so more than anything it’s a time for me to listen and reflect. There are been so many powerful, educational — and disturbing — stories that have come out. And while it’s best for those like me to listen and understand, one thing that has stuck with me is that it’s not all about good guys and bad guys. Most of us are not the bad guys, but how many of us are the good guys? For me, I’ve always felt I wasn’t the problem, it was the bad guys who are the problem, but I’m beginning to understand that mindset, the inertia it causes among so many people, IS part of the problem. We’re discussing within our family how we can actively be some of the good guys.


Q] You have an exciting new series coming up. Can you tell us what it’s about?

ACC: Yes, I do have a new series coming on September 1st called The King’s Ranger. It’s a traditional fantasy that’s going to have the same flavor as my Benjamin Ashwood series (though not coming of age), but it will have new characters, a new magic system, and be set in an entirely new world. Think clean fantasy with plenty of mystery, journeys, magic, and sword fights. This is a classic small party embarks on an adventure that spirals into a kingdom-spanning epic conflict sort of story. I’m still working on writing a decent blurb…

Q] Let’s talk about your inspirations for The King’s Ranger series. You had mentioned that it’s similar to the action-adventure feel of your Benjamin Ashwood while also being different (not coming-of-age). Can you tell us more about these influences?

ACC: Both Benjamin Ashwood and The King’s Ranger owe a lot of their roots to the 90’s era fantasy I grew up reading. Robert Jordan, Raymond E Feist, Tad Williams, and all of the Terry’s. The King’s Ranger in particular also draws from the feel of a good D&D campaign. We’ve got a bestiary full of monsters, a party of adventurers with a span of talents, and a looming threat that sooner or later, we know they’re going to have to face. I had a lot of fun creating a unique magic system from scratch, but some of the other standard archetypes like the titular ranger, a fighter, and a thief will feel familiar.

Q] Let’s talk about the gorgeous cover for The King’s Ranger, this is another ace from the team of Felix Ortiz and Shawn King. What was your input for them and what was your initial reaction when you saw the finished version?

ACC: I’d worked with Shawn King before on my Cartographer series, and we’d developed a great relationship through that project. I knew I could send him my ideas, and he’d work with them and kick me back something better than I ever conceived. I knew on this project I’d also want more custom illustration, so adding Felix Ortiz to the team was an easy decision. He and Shawn work together often, and for years now I’ve seen covers by Felix that blew my mind. Both of them were my first choices when it came to illustration and design!

For TKR, I sent Felix a really terrible, hilarious stickman sketch of what I was thinking, and he faithfully turned that into the cover for Book 1. It’s very much as I envisioned, and I was blown away when I saw it. Shawn’s design perfectly captured the classic fantasy feel I wanted. Any accusation that the ranger looks as if Felix and I had a baby is totally baseless! On Book 2, I handed in my sketch, Felix made some mockups that I think he was a little uncertain on, and then Shawn shot them down as soon as he saw it ;)

The cover for Book 2 was primarily driven by Shawn and Felix, and has nothing to do with my original idea. I couldn’t be happier about that. That’s the value of working with pros, they’re unafraid of voicing their opinions, and I trust they’ll steer me toward a better product in the end.


Q] Let’s talk about the world that you are creating for this saga. It seems to be medieval in origin but that would be too simplistic. Can you talk to us about the world that the King’s Ranger is set in? What are curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

ACC: The King’s Ranger is set in a fairly typical medieval fantasy setting, and it will span the breadth of a single kingdom by the end of the series. We start on the eastern fringe, in a small village where our titular ranger lives. He’s responsible for the safety of the village and monitoring the wilderness beyond. As is always the case, he’s drawn into a broader conflict by the arrival of the youths in the village. As he investigates their origin, and is eventually pressured to assist them, we move out into the wider world.

The kingdom is ruled by a tyrannical, necromancer king, whose line rose to power two-hundred years prior during a great war. The king cares for little except ensuring the succession of his line, which has always been determined by pitting three sons against each other every 25 or so years. It’s a last man standing competition, and to the victor go the spoils. The princes spend their lives plotting against each other, building power, hiring assassins, raising armies, and making alliances. When they feel the tug, and the Investiture begins.

There is intrigue and surprises to be revealed, but I hope it’s not too large a spoiler to say our ranger and his party are soon drawn toward the conflict.

Q] Tell us more of the eponymous ranger? Who is he? Which king does he serve? Whom did you model him on?

ACC: The ranger serves the king reluctantly. He has a bit of a mysterious past, as all rangers must, but I will share that he was previously in the king’s service in another capacity. He took the position as ranger at the fringe of the realm to be as far from the king as he could get.

Of all rangers in pop culture, he’s closest to Aragorn, but there’s a lot of me in him as well! The ranger, Rew, shares some of my name, my age, and many of my characteristics. He’s an introvert who just wants to handle his business and be left alone. He’s also very good with a sword and sneaking through the woods at night, uh, just like me…

Q] Who are some of the series’ other major characters? In your post on FB, you had mentioned that there would be a quest & a found family feel to the story. Tell us more about this facet of the story?

ACC: The main party through the first book is led by our ranger, Rew, and an apprentice ranger, Jon. Rew is pressured into this adventure by a kindly innkeeper and empath, Anne. They’re shepherding two young nobles, Raif, a fighter, and Cinda, a budding spellcaster, to their father and safety. They’re joined by a young thief named Zaine, who helped the younglings escape from their father’s rival prior to the beginning of our story.


The family dynamic comes into play because as I mentioned, the ranger shares a lot of characteristics with me, and the empath Anne shares much with my wife. They’re saddled with three youths, and we have three children. See where this is going? Early on, Anne pressures Rew to help the youths, and as the series continues, he feels more and more responsibility to protect them, train them, and get them through this epic conflict that is brewing. This is far from an autobiography, but I drew inspiration from my own family dynamic. Unfortunately for our ranger, he’s got a lot more adventure ahead of him than sitting at home and writing books.

Q] I love that you have highlighted the action oriented feel of 90s fantasy for this new series. How are you trying to avoid the pitfalls & outdated tropes for that era?

ACC: Haha, maybe I’m confessing to a crime here, but for me it’s not so much “avoid the tropes” as “modernize and make my own”. My books do include some familiar concepts, but I like to think in a way that will be fresh and exciting for readers. The best example from the 90’s is the farm boy who gets swept up by mysterious strangers on a journey. He follows along until he finds out he’s the son of the king, is the chosen one, or whatever. We’ve all read that trope plenty of times because the idea of going out into the big world on an adventure is real — even fantasy fans move out of mom’s basement! But very few of us are secretly the son of a king or the heir to a powerful strain of magic.

When I take my influences from those books, I try to twist the tropes in a way that fits my current perception of the world and puts a new spin on a universal experience. In my Benjamin Ashwood series, Ben is a Regular Joe who gets pulled into the adventure, and he represents all of us. In The King’s Ranger, our hero Rew is dragged onto the journey by the naïve young guns, which is all I can say without spoilers. The trope was/is popular because it is an experience we all go through, but I hope I can write it from a different angle in a way that feels fresh and exciting to modern readers.

Q] How tricky is it to find the right balance between action (magical & personal battles) and horror (with monsters, etc.) aspects of the story?

ACC: Balance is a really difficult part of writing a book, and for me at least, it’s the aspect I’m least confident about. When I outline, I try to alternate the pacing, include internal and external conflict, and make sure there’s variety. Once I have a draft, I go through end to end several times trying to feel out that balance. I compare it to spinning a pottery wheel. I’m going over and over again on the clay, smoothing out the bumps. A lot of authors at this point use Beta Readers to give a temperature check on balance and pace, but I tend to avoid other human input. I’ve only had one beta reader who’s done about half my books, and on this current series I have no one! Maybe that’s silly, and maybe that’s why I do more revision rounds than other authors, but it’s the only way I can get confident enough to publish.

On The King’s Ranger, I’m also trying out technology, and so far I’m pleased with the results. Authors AI has an interesting report that can help address a few of these difficulties (Full disclosure, I have a very tiny financial interest in this company.) At the end of the day though, balance is all about the feel I get when I read the story over several times. I know it has too much action if I’m worn out reading it, or worse, if I get bored or need a nap! Until I get a better way, it’s several rounds of re-reading: blood, sweat, and tears.

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Pre-order The King's Ranger over HERE (USA)HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A ranger’s duty. The rotten heart of a king. Rebellion spilled from the blood of family.

Rew, the king’s ranger, accepted a role on the far edge of the realm to avoid the morass of intrigue and betrayal that bleeds from the heart of the kingdom. His only desire is to shoulder the burden he’s taken, to protect the village of Eastwatch, and to monitor the wilderness beyond.

When three youths are arrested for petty theft in the village and beg for his help, Rew’s oldest friend insists he take responsibility for them. By ties stronger than steel, Rew is forced onto a path he knows leads to chaos and death. Through a resurgence of monsters summoned in ages prior, war between the royal line, and back-stabbing treachery, the king’s ranger will battle to grant the youths a life he never had a chance of.

But as they venture farther from the wilderness he calls home, Rew can feel the magical pull at the center of the kingdom, demanding he return to face his past and his family’s terrible legacy. Only he knows the secret of the king, and the risk it poses to the entire realm.

Monday, July 6, 2020

SPFBO: Semifinalist Interview with E.G. Radcliff


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

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


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

When and why have you decided to become an author? 

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gritty, character-driven, grounded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on at the moment?



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

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

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

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

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

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










Thursday, July 2, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

SPFBO: The First Cull & Semi-finalist Update




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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Best of British Fantasy 2019 review



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

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots review


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

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

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


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



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



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

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



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



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


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

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

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


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Interview with Jon Auerbach (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Guild Of Tokens over HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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