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Friday, January 17, 2020

SPFBO: Interview with Angela Boord (interviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)





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

Thanks for having me! I’m the mother of nine; my oldest is twenty-three and my youngest, who has Down Syndrome, is three. I’ve been writing for practically ever, and I even published some short stories in the early 00’s, but I took a long break from writing for publication while I was having most of my kids. I live in northwest Mississippi, and I like to travel, to garden, and of course, to read. Our house is basically one big library… if libraries also came with Legos and Nerf guns. 

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? 

Well, I don’t get paid for it in money, but… I homeschool my seven children who are between the ages of 16 and 3. I write at the kitchen table and on the living couch, kind of whenever I have a chance. 

How old were you when you first sat down to write a fantasy story or novel? And how old were you when you made your first professional sale? 

I think I wrote my first fantasy story at about age thirteen. As I recall, it was heavily inspired by Susan Dexter’s The Ring of Allaire, which was the first adult fantasy novel I’d ever read. I think my story was about a princess in disguise who ran through a lot of alleys, a socially awkward but handsome hero, and a magical cat, but I abandoned it in favor of writing a really long espionage novel about hockey players. (Yeah, don’t ask.) I didn’t really switch back to fantasy until I was in my early twenties, when I started on a portal fantasy series that’s sort of like if Robert Ludlum met Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry. And actually… I’m still working on that series. Hopefully, I’ll finally get it right some time in the near future. 

I was twenty-nine when I sold my story “Forget Me Not” to Strange Horizons. (Which, incidentally, is set in that portal fantasy world.) But I wrote it a few years earlier, when my first child was a baby. He was a terrible sleeper, so I’d put him down for a nap, then run to my computer to type as fast as I could until he got up about thirty minutes later. That story is only about 4000 words long, but it took me a while to finish it! 

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer? 

Mostly I’ve learned by writing millions of mediocre words and trying to make them better--and reading a lot. In 2017 when I decided to start writing seriously again, I read a couple of books by Donald Maass which helped me enormously—The Emotional Craft of Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel (which has been updated a few times under various different names). You have to be in the right state of mind to read the Maass books without being overwhelmed, I think, but the most important things I got out of them were 1) not to be afraid of writing larger than life and 2) not to be afraid of showing character emotions. 

Usually if I’m stuck in a plot, it’s because I haven’t pushed hard enough, or I’ve stopped the characters from doing something because I think it’s too much—too dumb, too intense, too big, too emotional. So, every now and then I have to remind myself to write big and have fun… “fun” being a relative term when you’re a fantasy writer, because sometimes when I think “you know what would be really cool here…” it isn’t objectively “fun” at all. 

What do you think characterizes your writing style? 

Length? Seriously, I try very hard to make my prose descriptive and immediate. I want readers to feel like they’re in the book, so I do think my style is detailed… but I hope it’s detailed without being dense. 

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 every day. If I don’t, I get grumpy and my writing muscles get rusty. I spent a lot of years not writing much for various reasons, and once I got into that cycle, it was really hard to get out of it. I was a lot more successful when I made tiny little goals for myself and worked my way up to bigger ones. So, I do have set times of day when I sit down to write, and I also have a daily word count goal—usually a thousand words. But I don’t worry so much if I have a day where I only write, say, two hundred words because my three-year-old has an ear infection, because a few days later I might write two thousand words. Since I do my best to write something every day, it usually averages out. 

What made you decide to self-publish Fortune’s Fool as opposed to traditional publishing? 

Length. Fortune’s Fool is almost 220,000 words long, and I kept hearing that agents didn’t really want manuscripts over 150,000 words. So, I thought, Well, that’s it then. Guess I’m going indie. I’d put off writing for most of a decade at that point, and I didn’t want to put off writing the books I really wanted to write on the chance that I might be able to sell something shorter. 

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is? 

I think it’s the ability to write what you want and publish it quickly. It doesn’t matter how long the story is, or if the subject matter matches current trends, or if agents or editors are looking for it or not. If you’re fast, you can even write it, get it edited, have a cover done, and publish it in the time it might have taken just to query. 

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on? 

Well, just because you can write what you want and publish it fast doesn’t mean anyone’s going to buy it. I think indie authors—especially first-time indie authors--miss out on the wider audience traditional publishers can marshal, and of course, there’s the money publishers put into things like covers and editing, both of which have to come out of an indie author’s pocket. Good covers and good editing are expensive. Common wisdom is that you’ll make more money if you write more books, but when you’re just starting out, where does the money to write those first books come from? It can be nerve-wracking watching your KDP dashboard and wondering if you’re ever going to break even. 

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

Well… yes and no. I mean, yes, because Fortune’s Fool is my first book, and I did not have a pool of ready-made readers waiting on its release. But on the other hand, for an indie debut, I am happy with how Fortune’s Fool has done so far. I got lucky in that the first reviewers whom I timidly contacted about ARCS really liked the book and spread the word about it. And the book has certainly found more readers through SPFBO. Honestly, I think the best thing I ever did was making a Twitter account back in the fall of 2017. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about SPFBO or the Twitter indie fantasy community. I haven’t just been able to find readers on Twitter, I’ve made a lot of very good friends. 

Why did you enter SPFBO? 

It looked like it was a good way to connect with readers, especially since Fortune’s Fool was my first book and I knew my advertising budget was going to be zero. But also, I was interested in the community aspect of the contest. I’d watched how the authors from previous contests interacted with each other, and I thought it looked like something I wanted to be a part of. 

What would you do if you won the SPFBO? 

I don’t really know! I think I’d be stunned, speechless, and very happy. I’d probably take my family out to dinner and pop open a bottle of champagne. I think my kids would celebrate a lot, though. They ask for updates on how I’m doing all the time. 

For those that haven’t read Fortune’s Fool, can you tell us a bit about it? 


Can I cheat and direct you to the blurb? This is always the hard part. Fortune’s Fool is a twisty Renaissance-inspired epic fantasy about a woman who’s searching for the man she loves, the man who made her magical metal right arm, and who was supposedly killed in a war she’s blamed for starting. Kyrra dresses as a man and works as a mercenary, and now that the war is over, she’s out to make the House who destroyed her family and her lover pay. It’s a revenge story, but it’s also a love story, and it has swords and guns and magic and a pantheon of troublesome Greco-Roman inspired gods. And it’s written as two narratives—a past narrative that reveals Kyrra’s history, and a present narrative in which she is continually mired ever deeper in intrigue. 

What was your initial inspiration for Fortune’s Fool? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea? 

Romeo and Juliet was my original inspiration, but not in the sense that the play usually inspires people. I’ve never been able to think of it as a romance. It’s just so incredibly tragic and fairly ridiculous at the same time. So, I started out with the tragedy—the ill-fated lovers from feuding Renaissance Italian families--and I asked, what would happen if the lovers didn’t die and had to deal with the consequences of their actions? And, because I was also really inspired by Guy Gavriel Kay around that time, I decided to write it as historical fantasy. 

I think I wrote the first version of the book, in novella form, over twenty years ago. The core of the way the story begins—with Kyrra being offered a job that will allow her to take revenge on those who’ve wronged her—is the same, but almost everything else is different. The biggest difference is Arsenault. He earned a brief mention in the novella, and it was that brief mention that sent me on a quest to figure him out. But the story even changed radically between the rough draft, which sat in my closet for over ten years, and the draft I eventually published. I was still adding new characters and events to the novel two weeks before I sent it to my copy editor. 

(If you’re curious, the most recent additions were Ires, the god of war, and Razi and Nibas, Kyrra’s mercenary friends. I liked Razi and Nibas so much I turned their backstory into Smuggler’s Fortune.) 

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? 

Kyrra is the first-person narrator of Fortune’s Fool, and I guess the most obvious thing about her is that she has a metal arm. It seems to be indestructible and it’s magically grafted onto her body, so it functions just like her real arm, except she uses it to block swords and bash open doors. She’s a complex character, and sometimes she was a challenge to write. She can be in turns mouthy, prickly, and irritating, but she’s also very vulnerable. She has a lot of past hurts she has to work to heal. But she also has a dry wit that was fun to write, even if it did blow up a lot of scenes for me because the other characters don’t really get her sense of humor sometimes. 

Arsenault is her old lover, whom she comes out of exile to search for. I began Fortune’s Fool with the idea of Romeo and Juliet as a tragedy, but I also wanted to explore what love really looks like… I mean, versus the sort of instalove you see in books sometimes. And since I get really annoyed at romances where women fall in love with jerks, Arsenault isn’t a jerk. He’s a mysterious, magic-using sell-sword who isn’t a jerk… but he does have a lot of secrets. 

What was your favorite part about writing Fortune’s Fool? 

I actually like writing the quiet scenes best. I mean, I do enjoy writing a good action scene, but I like writing the scenes where there are two characters, in a situation that’s peeled them away or when there’s nothing to prove and no one else to impress, and they can connect in some way. Moments like those may not move the plot, exactly, but they build relationships. And that’s really why I write. I like finding out who these characters are and watching them grow and develop histories with each other. 

You’ve created a rich world with unique magic system, and complicated economy. What challenges did you face not just in making it accessible, but in incorporating all the information that needed to be conveyed to make the story work? 

The biggest challenge in making a big, detailed world is trying to work in those details without infodumping. Because it’s very tempting for me to just go on about all the cool things I’ve turned up in my research. My beta readers helped me out a lot with that, pointing out places where I had lapsed into too much exposition and suggesting others where I could work in the same information. I try to make sure that whenever I include details about the world, that they’re integral to the scene and doled out in a natural way, through dialogue or because it makes sense for them to be explained at that moment. I’m not sure I succeed every time, but that’s the goal. 

How many books have you planned for the series? 

Probably four, with at least one short standalone novel (Smuggler’s Fortune, which is already written and available for free to my newsletter subscribers at the moment). I say “probably” because I’m not the kind of writer who plots an entire series out before I start writing it. My process is a lot messier. I know how the series will end, and I know a few stops on the way there, but how the characters will actually arrive at those points is something I don’t figure out until I start writing. There may also be another short, standalone novel about Kyrra’s years as a mercenary in Rojornick… but that depends on how much of that backstory I’ll need for Book 3. 

Would you say that Eterean Empire series follows tropes or kicks them? 

I think it follows tropes and kicks them. Like any reader, I have tropes I love and tropes I hate. As a writer, I use the ones I love and kick the ones I don’t. For instance, I’ve always loved the woman-disguising-herself-as-a-man trope, and I had fun with it in Fortune’s Fool… but I also wanted to explore it more deeply, too, as it impacts Kyrra’s identity. Because if you feel like you’re always in disguise, who are you really? Do you become your disguise in a way? Who are you when you’re not wearing it? Which you is the real you? How does it impact your identity to constantly pretend that you’re someone you’re not? 

And then again, I think I did kick that trope a little bit. So often in fantasy, when there’s a strong female protagonist with a sword, wearing male clothes, it’s often her sword that makes her strong. But Kyrra isn’t a strong female protagonist just because she can use a sword. In fact, for a good portion of the book she’s actually disabled. Her strength comes from more than her ability to use a weapon, and her identity is more complicated than “I am wearing trousers because I want to do the male things and people won’t let me”… which is another thread that tends to run through fantasy fiction. 

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Fortune’s Fool? I’m kinda in love with it. 

I was amazed when I first got a look at the art in my mailbox… especially at Kyrra, because somehow John Anthony di Giovanni figured out what she looks like in my head. I knew I wanted her on the cover, showing off her arm, but there’s one particular scene involving a card game that I thought would reinforce the title and also make it clear that the book was a Renaissance fantasy, because it has both guns and swords in it. John actually read the book—which also amazed me, because he got the long version before I fixed the structure—and basically turned that scene into a Renaissance painting. There are so many incredible details. Like, if you look hard, there’s even a fresco on the ceiling. My favorite part of the painting is the card, though. Originally, I wanted the Fool on the card to go with the title… but when I saw the General on the card instead, I knew it was perfect. If you’ve read the book, you’ll probably understand why. 

Which question about the series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

Q: Do giant silk moths really exist? 

A: No, I made them up. I was afraid all the silk stuff was just way too close to the real world (because it is), and at one point, I thought, What’s the point of having a fantasy world if you can’t have some fantasy in it? I was inspired by a video I watched about traditional silk production in Thailand. In order to make silk, they really do boil the cocoons and unravel them with their fingernails, although they aren’t long and notched like the combergirls’ nails in Fortune’s Fool. The cocoons turn yellow when they’re boiled, and so the raw silk they were making in the video had a yellowish color. So… why not moths the size of hummingbirds with burgundy cocoons? 

Ok, so it’s not an earth-shattering question, but sometimes I just like to have fun with the little details. 


What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

Well… Dragonmeat, which is an Eterean Empire novella set a long time before Fortune’s Fool, will be included in the Dark Ends anthology coming out at the end of February. Smuggler’s Fortune, my short standalone prequel to Fortune’s Fool, is currently free to newsletter subscribers, but I’ll be releasing that in both e-book and paperback this spring. I’m really hoping to get Fool’s Promise, the sequel to Fortune’s Fool, out in July 2020, but it’s a big, difficult book and I may have to release it later, depending on how much more revising I need to do. Book 3 should be released in 2021, and there could be another short, standalone novel in the series at the end of 2020/beginning of 2021 unless I just fold the material into Book 3. 

In addition, I’m going to resume work on that portal fantasy series I mentioned earlier. (Its working title is Storm Clouds, but it won’t be released under that title.) Right now, the first book exists as a 300,000 word draft, which is my third draft from scratch on this particular book. I will probably end up splitting it into two, and if I do, I’ll release them close together, as they form a reasonably complete arc. If everything goes exceedingly well, the first book could be released at the end of 2020… but it’s more likely that you’ll see these in 2021. 

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about? 

I’m always striving towards something, but my main goal is to be able to finish a series in a satisfying way! Fool’s Promise is the first sequel I’ve ever written. So, now I have to figure out how to write a Book 3 and a Book 4, without going backwards to revise Books 1 and 2. My books are too big to write an entire series at once, so I’m learning how to plot forwards in terms of writing the series. I usually plot my novels backwards, figuring out what happens in the rough draft, and then layering in the necessary foreshadowing and set-up in the revisions. 

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




Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series—all three books, but especially The Hod King. I love the lyricism of his writing and his characters, and I was in awe of the plotting, the pacing, and the stakes in the The Hod King. Sometimes reading as a writer can be a pain, in that you can’t turn your writer-brain off and you’re constantly dissecting things like plot and character arcs instead of just enjoying the story… but other times, it’s actually a good thing. Because when you find a book that’s really good, your writer brain is constantly asking why it’s so good… and figuring that out helps you improve your own writing. Josiah’s books are like that for me. But also, I just really like Senlin. And Edith. And Byron. 

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? 

It’s been my pleasure! I’d just like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read Fortune’s Fool. When I was writing it, I wasn’t sure more than five people would want to read it. Hearing people tell me how much they enjoyed it—people I don’t even know!—has been a really humbling and wonderful experience, and I’m honored by everyone who decides they want to spend time with these crazy characters that inhabit my brain. 







Thursday, January 16, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: Fortune's Fool by Angela Boord (reviewed by David Stewart, Justine Bergman, Lukasz Przywoski and Mihir Wanchoo)






Official Author Website
Order Fortune's Fool over HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Angela Boord published a handful of short stories in the early 00s, then had a bunch of kids who are now all sleeping at night, making it easier to write again. She lives in northwestern Mississippi with her husband and their nine kids, plus two dogs, one cat, and varying numbers of chickens. She is currently hard at work on more books in the Eterean Empire series and plans to release Book 1.5 in early 2020.

FORMAT/INFO: Fortune's Fool is 737 pages divided over six parts and a total of 37 numbered chapters, and is the first installment in the Eterean Empire series. The book is currently available in e-book and paperback format, as well as on Kindle Unlimited. It was self-published by the author on June 25, 2019. Cover art by John Anthony Di Giovianni and cover design by Shawn T. King.

CLASSIFICATION: Epic fantasy, Romantic fantasy

JUSTINE

A girl and an illusion of love.
A girl betrayed.
A girl punished and maimed and scorned.
A woman and a reckoning.

Kyrra d’Aliente, sole heir of the Aliente House, falls victim to the charms of Cassis di Prinze. Now a pariah within her household, she's cast into the dirt to appease the mighty Prinze. Mutilated and cursed to a life of serfdom, she lives her days under the mocking ridicule of the Household, but one day is lifted from the dirt by a mysterious gavaro. Kyrra No-Name of House Aliente uncovers a plot that will expose the man she loves, stripping her of the only thing she desires. Taking matters into her own hands, she becomes the sacrificial lamb to appease the mighty Prinze. He cannot bear the thought of life without her, and against the judging verdict, they flee into the unknown. Kyrra No-Name of Nothing is the last of a dead House destroyed by war and the machinations of the mighty Prinze. Bestowed with an arm of metal and magic, posing as a man and mercenary, submitting to the darkness, she has one goal: tear down the mighty PrinzeEveryone has a name.

Fortune's Fool is an immaculate character-driven epic fantasy, governed by vengeance and the need to protect that of which you love by any means necessary. At its core, this novel is the tale of a romance that eclipses the injustices of the past, and paves the path to the future of a righted world. Kyrra No-Name, continuously used as a means to an end, broken and shunned, and finally freed by a man with gray eyes and cloaked origins, she must find her place in the world, and her purpose. Her mind aching for retribution battles her heart yearning for acceptance, and she is soon thrusted into a life defined by inverses: loyalty and deceit, love and betrayal, sacrifice and survival. With twists and turns, scheming, and the ever-daunting unknown, Boord drops us onto the board of a grand and deadly game of chess completely shadowed by uncertainty. All we can hope for is justice where justice is due.
"I suppose you have a right to be wary of wolves, but just because you're fallen, do you think it means you have to stay down in the dirt?"
Boord has created something incredibly beautiful with her debut, and I'm finding it difficult to put into words my praise for the splendor she has penned onto page. The writing is exquisite; meticulously immersing you in a world that is extraordinarily rich and vibrant. Descriptions of textiles you can feel beneath your fingertips, exotic foods you can smell on the warm breeze, pain and torment that twist your heart - it's easy to lose yourself in Eterea. Her ability to alternate timelines and tense is impeccable, highlighting Kyrra's past and budding relationship with Arsenault, then her present path of vengeance, done so with smooth, subtle transitions and a continuous flow. The prose is striking and polished, the pacing perfectly builds tension, the foreshadowing haunting. Of all the things done exceedingly well, her ability to tell a story is peerless. Boord is a master when it comes to plotting, as this story is layer upon layer upon layer of cohesive history and unrevealed intrigue. Peeling back the layers and diving deeper into this complex story is one gratifying and worthwhile adventure.

As mentioned, the characters take center stage in this novel, with major focus on both Kyrra and Arsenault. All conflict stems from their choices and actions, and they each inevitably suffer the consequences. Following Kyrra's disgrace and subsequent ruin, Arsenault enters her life, and changes it forever in many, and oftentimes initially reluctant, ways. Despite the half-truths and veiled secrets, their growth is based solely on the other, bringing them together, rather than tearing them apart as expected. He gifts her with a piece of herself that's missing, and a confidence once shattered, while she aids him in mending his fractured memories, and allowing him a closeness he thought lost forever - they each make the other whole. Their relationship is raw, fiercely profound, and something truly special to behold.

Further, we witness the development and transformation of a well-rounded cast of characters. Geoffre di Prinze is the epitome of a deceptive villain, his true intentions unclear until it's too late. He's the puppet master behind the curtain, pulling the strings of all the powerful families to achieve his goals with no regard for collateral damage. Lobardin and Jon are seemingly duplicitous and abusive players in the grand game, but the masks they wear are only to deliver them the endgame. Mikelo is a young man with no direction, but he possesses an intense power within himself that others can only envy. Much like her plotting, her characters are intricate, each distinct with cryptic pasts that become untangled as we continue to journey alongside them. I'm excited to see more of these characters and their progression in the future of this series.
"Hunter," he said. "And Sacrifice. In you, the two are combined. You choose which road you follow, with which vision you will see. Your heart will always be your own."
A novel of this size allows for a gradual enrichment of the world being built around you, and Boord does just that by carefully placing one building block at a time without overwhelming the reader. She has infused an Italian-inspired province with spiteful gods, mysterious magics, and wonderfully realized settings. We're transported from quaint countryside villas, to airy mountainside hunting lodges, to bustling and bloated city marketplaces, to secretive underground hovels, each brimming with their own populace, and trades, and secrets. I would speak more of this, but her world is one best discovering yourself.

CONCLUSION: I can't praise this story enough, as it's honestly one of the best things I've read in a long while. Let me be clear, this is a romance imbued with the fantastical, and what a beautiful and magical romance it is. Fortune's Fool is an amazing foundation for Boord’s Eterean Empire series, and while it closes nicely, I cannot wait to see where we're taken next. I highly recommend.

DAVID


The longer I sit with Fortune's Fool, the more I appreciate it. There is a maturity to its craft that is not that common - an obvious commitment to the act of writing as opposed to writing whatever might catch on and be popular. This is not to say that Fortune's Fool wouldn't catch on in the mainstream fantasy community, the Renaissance background and rakish nature of its characters, as well as its romance, have wide appeal, but Fortune's Fool strikes me as something that will burn steadily in the mind of its reader, like Robin Hobb's novels. These aren't books to be rushed, but savored and appreciated and thought of long after the final page has been turned. 

What I most enjoyed with Fortune's Fool were its details and its structure. Boord has a way of calling back, time and again, to certain pieces of imagery. The presence of silk is consistently returned to, both for imagery purposes and because silk is so important to the family of the book's lead character, Kyrra. Boord's ability to use the vital components of a character's life as metaphor and background is impressive. I also enjoyed the way in which the novel was structured, with chapters almost always bouncing from past to present, pushing a current story forward while giving the impetus for its movement in that backstory. This is not an uncommon method, but Boord's use of it is flawless and purposeful. We know from the start that Kyrra loses an arm and gains a new one - full metal - and the entire time we are reading her backstory we know that the moment is coming where she gains that new prosthetic. But Boord manages to create a tense suspense in the delaying of that moment that is a difficult feat to perform. 


On the whole, I really liked Fortune's Fool and like it more as distance grows between the book and I. My only complaints with it were that it was a tad long, and this is an odd complaint because I don't feel as though the book was padded, and I frankly couldn't find spots that would have needed any kind of editing (the entire thing is technically flawless). It just felt like it was all taking quite a while to progress. I also had some issues with the ending and Boord's use of the supernatural in a story that was so beautifully human. I'll be curious how she deals with her deities in the next book, but I almost wish she would have left them largely out of this one. I liked them well enough until they were too present. Regardless, Fortune's Fool is a book that belongs in these finals, and I can easily see it winning the whole thing. 

ŁUKASZ

I admit, and there’s no shame to it, that once I got the book, I found its page count daunting. At 737 pages, Fortune’s Fool is terrifying. I love novellas and short fiction. I consider 350 pages enough to tell an engaging story. When I hear people raving about over 500 pages of roaring fun, I turn and run in the opposite direction.

Because I had to read it, I took a deep breath, explained my dog there wouldn’t be any walks for a week, and started reading. And couldn’t put the thing down.

Fortune’ Fool is a great book, don’t let its length intimidate you!

Plot & Structure

Fortune’s Fool is a Renaissance-inspired epic fantasy about a woman who’s lost almost everything–her family, the man she loves, even her right arm. People blame her for starting a war. When we meet her, she has a magical metal arm forged for her by her lover, who disappeared without a trace. Kyrra d’Aliente wants revenge and nothing will stop her from serving it.

The book is told in 1st person using two narratives–one in the past and one in the present. It influences the pacing - when you really want to know what happens next, the narrative skips to the past to explain how and why things happen. A bit frustrating, yes. But also very immersive as the chapters describing the past pack plenty of twists and emotions.

After finishing the book, I appreciate the structure - it made the story layered and emotionally engaging.

Characters

We get the whole story filtered through Kyrra's point of view. I loved her as a lead character - despite her tragic past she’s maintained a dry sense of humor and the willingness to live. She makes a lot of mistakes, but she’s also more than capable. Secondary characters, especially Arsenault, shine as well. They feel distinct, well-rounded, and human. Because we learn about secondary characters through Kyrra’s eyes, they remain mysterious. A good thing, I guess.

Point of view

As a huge fan of the first-person POV, I enjoyed Kyrra’s narration. Brood has a knack for delivering a nuanced and intimate portrayal of emotions and thoughts and communicates them effectively. She delivers Kyrra’s anger, love, hopes, fears, and despair with maximum impact.

Setting

Fortune’s Fool is a historical fantasy, set in a made-up world inspired by Renaissance Italy. The world has a strong Mediterranean feel that distinguishes it from typical Western-European settings. Even though the author describes her world in detail, she communicates all the relevant information without infodumps. Everything feels natural, even the intricacies of silk production.

That said, the beginning can feel unclear as Boord throws the reader into the deep end with all the different Houses and how they relate to each other/the world. It gets easier to grasp the farther you get into it. The magic remains mysterious and unexplained and that makes it even more intriguing.

Voice/tone 

The tone is grim. Thanks to Kyrra’s dry sense of humor, things never turn nihilistic, but don’t let it fool you - it’s not a joyous world.

Timing/pacing

Here’s the thing. Fortune’s Fool tells an ambitious and complex story in a secondary world. Things take time before they start making sense. As a result, the pacing may feel off in the beginning. It blends moments of introspection and despair with action-packed sequences and succeeds at creating an immersive story

That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing it lose some weight. The problem? I’m not sure which parts I would cut.

In closing

Fortune’s Fool is an excellent book. Well-written, smart, complex, it finds a good balance between the plotline, world-building, and character development. It demands a level of trust from a busy reader hesitant to start such a big book, but I feel it rewards the time-investment.

MIHIR

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Fortune’s Fool is a grand venture make no mistake of it. Even though it’s Angela Boord’ debut story, it’s a tale that marks out the grand ambitions of the author, the characters & the story itself.  I started the story with almost no expectations and then I understood why Justine and Lukasz were so gung-ho about it.

Let’s start with the obvious, this debut has three glorious things going for it:

-        Characterization

-        Worldbuilding

-        Plot/story structure

Beginning with the characterization, this story is primarily about Kyrra (Kyris) & Arsenault and we are shown everything about them. But the author slowly unveils all there is to them and goes the “show don’t tell” route. Even though it’s Kyrra who’s the main character, Arsenault is the key linchpin to her character’s growth. Throughout both the timelines presented, Kyrra is presented and we get to see how she became Kyris and got her metal arm. It’s through these two characters that we get to see the evolution of the entire story.

Next up is the world and this I believe is the strongest feature of this book. The world settings are more in line with Southern Italy and the Mediterranean coastline and the author does her best to give the readers a slice into everything from the food, the landscape, the geography and every other thing possible. The immersion is so intense that you instantly get transported into the world and as a worldbuilding junkie, I love it when this happens.

Lastly, with the story structure, we get dual timelines and I love it when the author can give us a story that’s rousing on both fronts (past and the present). The story begins with the present but the key lies in the past and the author gives us the story on both the timelines. I love how the author unfolded the story and even though we know the main reason why Kyrra has a silver arm in the first 20% of the story. But that’s not everything, The story has mysteries in both timelines and they unfold slowly. The past affects the present and the present explains the past. Both timelines are crucial to the main plot and kudos to the author for making them both so intriguing.

If I were to criticize this book, the only fault I can think of is the languid pace. The story takes a really long time to get going and eventually to its terrific climax. With this book being over 550 pages, the pace is really the key issue and that being said, I can see many readers being turned off. One reason for this could be that because the author manages to give us such a beautiful world and spectacular characterization, that perhaps is a reason for the pace being what it is. Overall this book is an amazing debut and one that will be one to watch in the SPFBO finals.


CONCLUSION: Fortune's Fool is a grand epic fantasy debut that showcases all that Angela Boord has to offer. It's one hell of a story with all the trappings that make it a spectacular one in my mind. Be sure to check it out and see why all of us at Fantasy Book Critic think of it so glowingly.


SPFBO Final Score




Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cover Reveal: The Headlock Of Destiny (Titan Wars #1) by Samuel Gately

(Artwork courtesy of Rumbleslam kickstarter)

The watching crowd held its breath as the Savage circled Troll-Blooded Thom, waiting to pounce. Cold mountain air wove between the two titans. The mat below them creaked and whispered with their heavy steps. The long fight was nearly done. The mighty titans stared at each other, moving in slow circles, until one showed the slightest downturn of the eyes, a glimmer of fear. The Savage smiled. Troll-Blooded Thom was his.”

Cover reveal time! I love cover reveals. I think one of the things that keeps me coming back to fantasy as my favorite genre again and again is the visual art that accompanies the medium. And one of my favorite parts of being a indie author is the opportunity to work with killer artists myself. To paint them a picture of what I want, realize I have no idea what I’m talking about, and then watch them deliver something totally unexpected yet still exactly what I wanted.

The Headlock of Destiny starts with those few lines above, and that theme of being alone in the midst of a crowd, lost in the lights, runs throughout the book. I had no idea how to capture that sentiment while taking care of the core business of the illustration – showing that this is about giant monsters/men beating the hell out of each other. I’ve worked with Dominik Mayer before, though, and I knew if any artist could nail it he could. I’m thrilled with what he’s done in his illustration. Note the flags hanging over the titan’s shoulder, a nod to the weight of nations watching the struggle. The way the yellow streaks crossing the titans hint at spotlights and elevate the sense of danger.

And I need to give a final thanks to HumbleNations for the custom typology. This book is an epic fantasy/pro wrestling mash-up (I know, yet another one of those) and I really liked the idea of locking that down with a championship belt theme for the title. Very happy with the results.

So with no further ado, here is the cover for The Headlock of Destiny, followed by the book’s blurb. I hope you are intriguedenough to check it out...



Pre-order The Headlock Of Destiny over HERE

Official Book Blurb: Some say titans are descended from giants. Others say they are risen from men. But there’s never any debate about where to find them. They will be in the center of a roaring crowd, beating the hell out of each other. From contenders like the Savage and Scott Flawless to pretenders like Richard the Living Portrait and Troll-Blooded Thom, a titan’s lot in life is the same: To wrestle for dominion and glory in the squared circle.

Van, a quiet titan from the brewery town of Headwaters, wants no part in this. He’d prefer to be left alone with a beer. But destiny has him in a headlock, and it is prepared to drag him into battles that will shake the land and change his world forever.

Step into the ring with this one-of-a-kind novel, brewed special for fans of epic fantasy, fans of professional wrestling from the Golden Era and beyond, or simply fans of a good tale.

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Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Night Of The Chalk
Pre-order The Headlock Of Destiny over HERE
Read "How Guitar Magazines Prepared Me for the Traditional vs. Self-Publishing Debate" by Samuel Gately (Guest Post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Samuel Gately is a fantasy writer. His Spies of Dragon and Chalk series imagines a world where James Bond carries a sword and works for a dragon army.

2019 Review/2020 Preview — Ben Galley


Favourites of 2019

This year has been a whirlwind of work and words for me, what with two book releases and writing a multitude of short stories. So, I will stamp a ginormous, neon disclaimer on this recap that my favourites come from a smaller pool than I would have liked. However, even though I’m firmly behind the curve, I have been treated to some excellent delights in 2019. 

First, let us talk books. 2019 was a stellar year for fantasy. The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft hit added another brilliant instalment to Senlin’s journey. It’s been soul-warming to watch Josiah climb his own tower of success. Neil Gaiman’s entertaining and informative Norse Mythology was devoured in chunks throughout the year. I also had the pleasure of finally meeting the Kings of the Wyld, and Bloody Rose, too. A Little Hatred bathed me in darkness and classic Joe Abercrombie wit. And what a fantastic year for my fellow indie authors as well. I’ve recently (and finally!) managed to dive into Seraphina’s Lament by Sarah Chorn and Never Die by Rob J. Hayes, and found their voices fresh, original and effortless in the way they transported me to other worlds.

As a ravenous cinephile, this year has been a treat for film. Avengers: Endgame and Joker I must  have seen a dozen times at the cinema. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood was also a firm favourite of 2019 and well worth investigating. As for TV, all I’m going to say is The Golden Compass and The Mandalorian. Perfect.

Look ahead to 2020


Is it me, or does 2020 sound far too futuristic? In any case, aside from looking forward to my first hoverboard, there’s a torrent of media I’m looking forward to in 2020. I have a mountainous TBR pile to conquer, and there are a lot of amazing books I need to catch up before adding more. Notably, Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke, ML Wang’s Sword of Kaigen, and Wrath of Gods, Dyrk Ashton’s fantastic sequel to Paternus: Rise of Gods.




As for upcoming releases that have caught my eye, Scott Lynch is back with the Thorn of Emberlain, which I will most likely inhale, Age of Death by Michael J. Sullivan is out in January, and Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan is also calling to me with its gilded cover art. Another book that’s beguiled me, and one I’ll be watching closely, is the House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, which sounds delightfully whimsical.

On the horizon for Ben Galley

With a good chunk of this year spent redefining my brand and my business, 2020 will be all about building on that new foundation, and ascending to the next level of my career as a fantasy author. 10 years and 13 titles have passed since I first published, so 2020 marks not only a milestone but a new era for me.

I’m currently working on a sequel series to my debut Emaneska Series. The Scalussen Chronicles will consist of The Forever King, Heavy Lies The Crown, and To Kill A God. I made substantial progress this year and am hoping for a 2020 release. Next year will also see the reveal of Dread Rising, an entirely new, interactive project that I’ve worked on for three years now, and the launch of a cooperative deck-building tabletop game I’ve been writing for this year, entitled Veil of Ruin.

About the author

Ben Galley is an author of dark and epic fantasy books who currently hails from Victoria, Canada. Since publishing his debut Emaneska Series, Ben has released a range of epic and dark fantasy novels, including the award-winning weird western Bloodrush and standalone novel The Heart of Stone. He is also the author of the critically-acclaimed Chasing Graves Trilogy.

Ben enjoys exploring the Canadian wilds and sipping Scotch single malts, and will forever and always play a dark elf in The Elder Scrolls. One day he hopes to live in an epic treehouse in the mountains.

Ben can be found on Twitter or vlogging on YouTube @BenGalley, or loitering on Facebook and Instagram @BenGalleyAuthor. You can also get a free ebook copy of his epic fantasy The Written at www.bengalley.com.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Mihir's Top Reads Of The Decade (2010 - 2019)


I’ve been an active blogger since 2009 so getting to compile this list was one of my top-to-do things. Unfortunately it got delayed as I’ve been dealing with some house stuff in the last 6 months. However the first part is finally complete and let me say compiling this list wasn’t an easy thing to do. Looking back at all the lists I’ve compiled over the last decade, this one was even tougher than all of them combined! Because this list got so gargantuan, I’m breaking it down into two parts. Firstly the top 50 titles and in a couple of days, the top 50 debuts.

So here are my top 50 choices from the past decade. This list is entirely based of the titles that I've enjoyed and were five stars reads even upon re-reading. It is more fantasy (epic, urban and grimdark) heavy than SF, which is entirely due to my preferences. Some series I've included all the books as each book has been special and with others, I've included singular titles or a couple depending on my enjoyment. There's a mix of self-published and traditionally published works and so onward with the top 5o beginning from the bottom up:



50) Fourteen by Peter Clines

49) Corvus by Paul Kearney

48) Heaven’s Needle by Liane Merciel

47) The Chaos Crystal by Jennifer Fallon

46) American Elsewhere by Rob J. Bennett

45) Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

44) The Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden

43) The Winter Of The Witch by Katherine Arden

42) The Bear And The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

41) We Ride The Storm by Devin Madson




40) Jade War by Fonda Lee

39) Priest Of Lies by Peter McLean

38) The Red-Stained Wings by Elizabeth Bear

37) Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene

36) The Colour Of Vengeance by Rob J. Hayes

35) The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft

34) Jade City by Fonda Lee

33) A Time Of Dread by John Gwynne

32) Miserere by Teresa Frohock

31) Saint’s Blood by Sebastien de Castell




30) The Labyrinth Of Flame by Courtney Schafer

29) Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell

28) No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron

27) The Killing Floor Blues by Craig Schaefer

26) River Of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

25) Arm Of The Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft

24) The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

23) Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

22) Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

21) Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence




20) The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

19) Gunmetal Magic + Magic Gifts by Ilona Andrews

18) Those Brave Foolish Souls From The City Of Swords by Benedict Patrick

17) Paternus: Wrath Of The Gods by Dyrk Ashton

16) Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence

15) King Of Assassins by R. J. Barker

14) Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

13) Bring The Fire by Craig Schaefer

12) Detonation Boulevard by Craig Schaefer

11) Sworn To The Night by Craig Schaefer


10) City Of Stairs by Rob J. BennettCity Of Stairs was a revelation for me. Focusing on a historian tasked with solving a murder in a land wherein Gods died and now their bodies can be used as WMDs & more. This is a powerfully written story with several layers to it and featuring incredible world building. City Of Stairs is an absolute delight and should be mandatory reading for almost all fantasy fans.


9) The Fifth Empire Of Man by Rob J. Hayes – It’s pretty evident how much fun Rob J. Hayes was having with his pirate focused duology and it’s in this book that he fully showcases his amazing skills. We get a ton of naval battles, literal & figurative backstabbing, solid plot twists and one hell of a climax. All in all a sequel that definitely cemented my opinion about his work & this is possibly his best work yet. A must read for all naval fantasy aficionados.


8) Children Of Earth And Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay – Guy Gavriel Kay is a master at merging historical fiction & fantasy. Plus almost all of his recent work have been standalones , which makes it easy to dive into. With COEAS, he really gives us a rousing story of political & social intrigue as well as action that will swell the heart of any fantasy fan. The characters, the world setting, everything is pure bliss and I believe this title to be one of his best works easily.


7) The Sword Of Kaigen by M. L. Wang The Sword Of Kaigen is one of those gems that came through via the SPFBO and is a book that literally gut punches not once but twice. Told via POVs of the Matsuda family and heavily steeped in Japanese culture. This book is an absolute gem of a story and I hope that the author continues to write more stories set in this world. For those who still haven't heard about it, mark my words, this is a future classic.



6) Skullsworn by Brian Staveley – It’s hard to write prequels and even more so when it’s about characters who are cutthroat killers. Brian Staveley decided to do both and succeeded colossally on either front. Pyrre Lakatur is a fierce and intense person and her story is no less so. Part love story, part thriller and entirely unpredictable, this standalone story is told with a breakneck pace that will not let up. Skullsworn is a superb indicator of Brian Staveley’s genius and has me longing for his future works intensely.


5) The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker – It’s an absolute shame that Helene Wecker has just released just one title in the past 7 years. But simply based on her debut I can tell you that I’m a fan of hers for the rest of my life. Bringing turn of the century NYC to life brilliantly while making the readers invested in a Syrian Jinni,  a Jewish golem and their love story. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, HW gives us a gorgeous story about human & inhuman lives and I can’t wait for the sequel whenever it releases. The Golem And The Jinni is one of those rare miraculous books that some writers write as their debut and captivate fans forever.


4) Blood Song by Anthony Ryan – Most of the folks who know me, know my love for Anthony Ryan’s  self-published debut. Blood Song is an absolute perfect book with just the right amount of mystery, action, magic as well as deadly characters. This debut book featuring a singular narrative voice (Vaelin Al Sorna) puts most multi-pov doorstoppers to shame with its compact mix of ingenuity and incrediblenes. Blood Song is a book that I will cherish to my death no matter how many time I re-read it.


3) The Folding Knife by K J Parker – What do I say about K. J. Parker, him being the writer of scoundrels and charmers who one might not want to befriend but would love to get acquainted with. The Folding Knife is a brilliant story about the life of one Basso (Bassianus Severus Arcadius) of the Vasani republic and while it’s a political fantasy (with almost no magic). It’s a profound book about human nature, foibles & will. Plus it will have you hooked onto the antics of Basso and root for him throughout all the way till the glorious fall. Possibly my favorite standalone story of all time and one which I can never shut up about.


2) Kings Of Ash by Richard Nell – Richard Nell is a name that most fantasy fans are unaware and herein lies the real tragedy. The Ash & Sand trilogy is one of the most unique works out there and to add to it, it’s been entirely self-published by the author. Featuring perhaps the only fantasy character to rival Hannibal Lecter and The Bloody Nine, this book is a brilliant deconstruction of fantasy tropes and a savage journey of one man’s struggle to save his people from environmental doom. Featuring utterly brilliant writing, and combined with a savage dose of gallows humour, mark out Richard Nell as the most underrated find of the last decade.


1) Circe by Madeline Miller – Here we are, the best book of the entire decade and this was an entirely easy decision. Madeline Miller’s sophomore effort about one of Greek mythology’s most ill-understood characters, was the book that stood out in my mind. Featuring Circe and her life story amid the gods, humans and other creatures, Madeline Miller’s standalone epic would be the magnum opus that most authors strive for their entire lives. Featuring exquisite prose and with a fantastic imagination, Circe is the book that every book lovers SHOULD own on their shelves.

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There were go folks, that's my top reads of the last decade and in just a couple of days, I'll be super happy to reveal the top 50 debuts. Until then I'll be excited to hear your thoughts about my choices as well as what would have been yours...

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