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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Forever Fantasy Online: The Once King by Rachel Aaron & Travis Bach (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Rachel Aaron Website
Order “The Once King HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Forever Fantasy Online"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "FFO: Last Bastion"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "One Good Dragon Deserves Another"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "A Dragon Of A Different Color"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Last Dragon Standing"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Minimum Wage Magic"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Part-Time Gods"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's joint interview with Rachel Aaron & Travis Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read "Why A Nice Dragon" by Rachel Aaron (Guest post)

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

ABOUT TRAVIS BACH: Travis is a nerd who loves gaming, reading, writing & hiking. He’s Rachel Aaron’s husband as well as one of her strongest pillars. He shares her fascination with gaming and reading fantasy. He lives in Colorado with his wonderful family.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Leylia’s secret could unite them all or lead them to an eternity of undeath.

After the loss of Bastion, everyone who’s not a zombie has holed up in FFO’s sole remaining safe haven: the lowbie town of Windy Lake. But the undead armies never rest, and it’s only a matter of time before the Once King’s forces come to crush what’s left of life in this world.

But Tina, James, and the rest of the players are facing a crisis of their own. After so long in this world, their human bodies are dying on the other side. If they don’t find a way home soon, they may have nothing to go back to.

With time running out in two worlds, Tina and James face a horrible choice: do they spend their final days looking for a way to get back to their old bodies, or join the NPCs to fight for their new ones. But just when things look impossible, James learns a secret that might change everything. Only one catch: to pull it off, they’re going to have to fight one raid boss no one, not even Tina, has ever beaten.

The Once King.

FORMAT/INFO: Forever Fantasy Online: The Once King is 443 pages long divided over sixteen numbered & titled chapters with a glossary of terms and a content warning note. Narration is in the third person via Tina Anderson aka Roxxy, James Anderson aka Heal-A-Hoop and a singular POV chapter. This is the third volume of the Forever Fantasy Online trilogy.

November 12, 2019 marks the e-book publication of The Once King and it was self-published by the authors. Cover art is provided by Daniel Schmelling and cover design is by Rachel Aaron.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Trilogy endings are hard, you got to tie all the loose ends and threads while giving a solid ending that will resonate with almost (if not all) the readers. The Forever Fantasy Online story has been a very intriguing LitRPG trilogy, which focuses on an estranged brother-sister duo. Over the past two books we have seen how much growth Tina and James have had to do.

When The Once King begins, we find both of them having left Bastion and are now in Windy Lake readying to take on the last final task of defeating the Once King (the final Boss of FFO). As has been the norm, we find that they both have different ideas about it. But after the events of the last two books, they are more simpatico than they ever were. For Tina, things have changed for the better. She has become a beacon to not only just the Roughnecks but to all the players and native population of the world of FFO. She has become a champion around whom everyone can rally and know that she will do whatever’s necessary to save all of them. Tina or Roxxy in RL hasn’t had the same responsibilities placed on her and it’s become quite apparent how capable she is.

James’ journey on the other hand has been a less physical one but no less exciting. Many readers including me have a preference among the siblings and this book will further cement readers’ choices. James’ actions in this book as well as the previous two volumes have led to a lot of revelations within the trilogy and within this book, James & Ar’bati take another journey to meet with the main titular character. Their journey is kind of a reverse “Mines of Moria” sequence but no less thrilling. They both after their actions in the preceding volume have brought much fanfare to the clan and themselves. However now they are alone and their actions might bring a lasting doom from which there’s no escape.

Both James & Tina get one final chance to shine and they bring their A-game as we find out what truly has happened. Haruto/SilentBladye also gets his moment and we understand what has been the reasons for his reticence. Lastly the other characters such as Anders, Nekobaby, Ar’Bati get their moments as well but for me, it was a solid amount of fun to watch king Gregory coming out of shell and showcasing why he’ considered such a dangerous boss. The characterization is something that has been a solid positive and we get a final reminder why we want to keep following all of these characters.

The book’s main plotline deals with what had been revealed in the climax of Last Bastion. We the readers got to know more about Leylia’s and why certain gamers faced that risk. There’s a lot more revelations in this book:

- What caused the Nightmare to occur?
- Who is the Once King and why is he hell bent on destroying all lifeforms?
- What happened to the world and how did it come to being?
- What is the origin of ghostfire?
- Who or what is Leylia?
-
All these questions and more are revealed in this final volume and this is where Travis and Rachel’s planning really comes to the fore. I loved how it all came together and how the ties were apparent from the first book.

The book’s pace is also of the kind that will make you turn pages as you will be wanting to see what happens next amidst the twists and turns of the book. The twin portions of the book have their own charms as on one end we are thrown along with James and the journey he takes. On the other we have Tina and all the troubles she faces. There’s the lingering tension with SilentBladye/ Haruto, the management of all the guilds who knowingly follow her orders as well the final battle that’s upcoming with the Once King. All of this weighs heavily and as things lay, it’s nigh impossible to defeat the Once King due to a certain move called the Million HP Blast. This and more troubles await all of the players as well as the NPCs who now along with King Gregory of Bastion are now the final host that seek to prevail against the progenitor of the ghostfire.

The action levels are seriously amped up in this volume and while it’s the final battle, I must say the preceding volume The Last Bastion had more of action than this one. The Once King has a concentrated sequence towards the end which really was a hoot to read. The major part of this book is figuring out how James & Tina will combine their talents to save the world. Lastly the ending is epic to say the least and is a solid combination of James’ empathy and Tina’s never say die attitude. I loved how the authors capped off the story and gave us a proper ending as well.

The only couple of complaints about this book was that there’s a big revelation in the start of the book and then we never hear more about it till the epilogue. Also the book has a very focused narrative and skips on many other action-packed events which occur elsewhere. I understand why this was the case as both the main protagonists are in the same place. However I thought it would have been cool to get a view into those events as well.

CONCLUSION: The Once King has an action-packed and multi-twisted plot that is sure to win the fans of this trilogy as it gives an emotionally resonant climax. The book’s pace and action heavy sequences give it the precise oomph that make it such a surefire success. The FFO trilogy has been a different genre beast and is another feather in Rachel Aaron’s already resplendent plumage. Travis Bach mightily impresses in his debut vehicle as well. I can’t wait to see when the both of them collaborate again.
Friday, November 8, 2019

Construct by Luke Matthews



Order Construct over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: An unabashed geek, Luke is a fervent reader, poker player, cinephile, board and video gamer, and comic book fan. A life filled with so many hobbies doesn’t lend itself to easy devotion to a craft, but when the beginnings of CONSTRUCT found the page, those words pulled him inexorably toward writing, now the primary passion in his life.

Luke lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, a lazy cat, and two rambunctious German wirehaired pointers. You can find more of his words on his blog at geekelite.geekerific.com, or check out his board game upgrade obsession at www.pixelartmeeple.com!

FORMAT/INFO: Construct is 374 pages long and is the first book of the Chronicler Saga. The book was self-published by the author in 2014. Cover art by Carmen Sinek.  

OVERVIEW: Better late than never. It took me almost two years to read Construct. Don’t repeat my mistake. If you already have this book in your library, start reading it. If you don’t, consider getting a copy.

Here’s why.

Samuel is a construct - an animated anthropomorphic being magically created from inanimate matter. He looks ancient, but it’s difficult to say for sure as Samuel’s memories were wiped out. He doesn’t know who he is, where he came from and what’s his history. One thing is sure, though. Samuel isn’t a regular construct. He experiences genuine emotions - the one thing that no construct is supposed to be capable of. Additionally, he’s tormented by flashbacks and visions of a gruesome murder and premonitions of his death.

Construct is, essentially, the story of self-discovery of a unique protagonist. While the plot is rather linear and straightforward, there’s a good deal of twists and surprises. Good guys are chased for unknown reasons. To stop the bad guys, they have to learn to trust each other, discover forgotten past, and survive. There’s also a murder mystery that needs to be solved to discover why a pair of cruel and relentless hunters pursue Samuel.

The writing is clear, well-edited and utilitarian. Also, it’s very directed and purposeful. There were very few places where I could have said that something in the book might not be essential to the story at large. There’s no filler here.

Samuel is a strong, memorable protagonist. Despite being a construct, he acts intelligently and feels how things really are. Intellectually, it’s fascinating that an artificial, non-biological system gives rise to conscious experience. Emotionally, it’s incredible that it’s so easy to relate to this strange, magically animated creature that looks for answers amidst people who treat constructs as a property. Samuel will need to decide if he can trust others and his relations with people are an essential part of the story.

Secondary characters feel distinct, but compared to Samuel, they remain slightly underdeveloped. On the other hand, his three main “side-kicks” have compelling backstories, and I want to learn more about them. Especially about Jacob - a thief with translocation powers (a sort of teleportation), and Eriane - a gunslinging teenage girl with anger management issues.

Both Villains are terrifying and nicely sketched. While their motivations aren’t too deep and they lack complexity, they’re effectively terrifying. Not only are they cruel, but they also have some dope magical powers. Some scenes involving villains, like the one in which protagonists and villains observe each other with hatred through a snowstorm, may feel a bit cliche, but trust me, they immerse the reader in a way good action movies do.

I rarely appreciate irredeemable villains because of their flatness. Here, though, both bad guys remain terrifying without being ridiculous. That said, I feel characterization could be better. When I think back at them, they’re portrayed as a sort of villains who drown puppies recreationally, and there’s not much more to them.

The ending is satisfying and doesn’t involve any nasty cliffhanger but it leaves many questions unanswered.

Why does Pare hate guns that much?

What’s the deal with him, anyway?

Despite some minor complaints, Construct is absolutely worth the read and the purchase. I’m surprised it doesn’t get more hype.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Kickstarter Q&A with Dyrk Ashton (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order Paternus: Rise Of Gods OVER HERE (US) & OVER HERE (UK)
Order Paternus: Wrath Of Gods OVER HERE (US) & OVER HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Paternus: Rise Of Gods

Dyrk Ashton has held a special place in our hearts since I first read his debut Paternus: Rise Of Gods back in the 2nd edition of SPFBO. The book won me over and since then I’ve only gotten to know him better. I consider him a special author and a good friend. His books hold a special place in my heart for a different reason altogether. His books are the only one in the entire UF genre that successfully manage to combine most world mythologies and make sense as well. His Paternus trilogy has also richly tapped into Hindu mythology and several characters have intriguing pan-mythological roots. >

Dyrk has also successfully run the kickstarter for the hardcover edition of the first Paternus book and after meeting the first two stretch goals, Dyrk was gracious enough with his time to answer a few questions of mine.

Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Dyrk & thank you for your presence. How does it feel to have a successful funded debut Kickstarter as well as acing the first stretch goal? 
DA: Thank you for having me! I am absolutely amazed, to be honest. This is my first Kickstarter, and I had no idea what to expect. It’s been a tremendous amount of work, which made it even scarier to think it might not fund. I’ve followed and back friends who have had, great success, but also some who failed to fund. It’s a scary thing! The relief and elation of having funded so quickly is truly a wonderful feeling. It launched on Oct. 29, funded in just over 24 hours, and we’re already on the second stretch goal. It still has weeks to go, too, since it doesn’t close until end of day on November 18. The response has blown any expectations I might have had right out of the water.


Talk to us about why you decided to go the KS route for the Hardcover publication of the first Paternus book?
DA: I’ve always wanted to have hardbacks done, but could never afford printing them myself. To get a good price, you have to do a lot of them. Unless you go the Ingram Spark POD route, that is. The quality of IS is very good, but there are no choices in the materials or foil stamping. They are sturdy and quite nice, but they have the look and feel of a library binding to me. I wanted something more special, for me and for my readers, and the only way I could really afford to do that was to go with a Kickstarter. Friends have been encouraging me to do it for awhile, so I figured it was about time.

How did you prepare for it? I think the prep for a KS is almost like an iceberg. The time & energy spent promoting it is about a third or less than the same factors which go in the background and the prep work?
DA: You are absolutely right. The amount of time it took to set it up was much more than I expected, and I expected quite a bit. The budgeting is the hardest part, trying to figure out what the breakeven might be, and determining the pledge levels. Then there’s all the graphics that have to be made for the story page, and the writing that goes into that. The great thing now, though, is that the next one will be SO much easier.

What do you credit your success to? Your love for sloths? Michael J. Sullivan’s archery lessons? Or Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO?
DA: All of the above! The Mike and Robin Sullivan have been a tremendouse help in so many ways, not the least being their advice on the Kickstarter. I can’t thank them enough. It all goes back to Mark’s SPFBO, though. I honestly believe wouldn’t know most of the people I know without it (including you wonderful folks at FBC), and that no one would have heard of my book today if it hadn’t been for my being a finalist and taking third place in SPFBO 2016.

Did Michael Fletcher and any of his doppels try to foil your attempts at it?
DA: YES! Michael kept stealing my pants and putting grill-cheese sandwiches in my shoes. The doppels aren’t so much of a problem since I kidnapped them a couple years ago and have them all in my basement.


What are some of the other stretch goals which you have in mind. Care to give us a hint?
DA: I honestly don’t know. We’ve already met the first two stretch goals of having art by Ed Binkley for the hardcover, and I am simply amazed about having the  art and book printed in color, but I hadn’t really thought beyond that. Those things are everything I would have hoped for to have with the hardback, making it a truly cool collectors item. Since I work a day job and have to keep up with my writing, I’m terrified of taking anything on anything else that will take more time to coordinate or produce.

Still, one thing I’m considering is writing another short story in the world of Paternus. I wouldn’t be able to write it until next summer after Book 3 releases, and it would have to be delivered in eBook format. I could include it in that back of the hardback of Book 2, Wrath of Gods, when I do that Kickstarter.

When can we look forward to Paternus: War Of Gods’ release?
DA: May 19, 2020!

Success begets success & so can we expect more Kickstarter from you for books 2 & 3?
DA: Absolutely! Now that this one has done so well, I’ll definitely be doing one for Book 2, Wrath of Gods, and probably late next summer, once the dust has settled from the release of Book 3 in May.

Thank you for your time Dyrk. I can’t wait to get my hands on the finale knowing how much epicness you are going to combine in it. Any parting words for your fans who await its release?
DA: Thank YOU. And I really can’t thank my readers, the backers of the Kickstarter, and all the wonderful people who have shared about and supported the books enough. I have the best friends and readers ever!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Djinn-son Duology by Sami Shah (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)


Order Djinn-son duology over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Pakistani Comedian and writer Sami Shah has been profiled in the New York Times and ABC's The Australian Story. His autobiography, "I, MIGRANT" has been nominated for the NSW Premier's Literary Award WA Premier's Literary Award, and the Russell Prize for Humour Writing.

Sami is currently based in Melbourne, Australia.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Ordshaw Vignettes Blog Tour: The Homeless by Phil Williams


To celebrate the release of The Violent Fae, the closing chapter of the Ordshaw seriesThe Sunken City Trilogy, Phil Williams is sharing twelve short stories from the city of Ordshaw. The Ordshaw Vignettes are tiny insights into life in the UK’s worst-behaved city, each presenting a self-contained mystery. .

We at FBC are proud to be a part of Phil William’s Ordshaw Vignettes blog tour. You can read today’s story THE HOMELESS below. For the full dozen, visit all the previous wonderful blogs in the tour which are hyperlinked at the end.....

(Noir City art courtesy of Eddie Mendoza)

The Homeless 

Horace came round the concrete column under the ring road and gave the foreigner a no-nonsense stare. The gypsy was smiling stupidly at the crumpled beer can in his hand, sitting amongst weeds in the overpass shadows.

“She was laughing, don’t tell me you weren’t sharing some joke,” Horace said. The guy looked up with bright eyes behind long straggly hair, grin just visible within his birds’ nest beard.

“What’s that?”

“I heard her bloody laughing, I ain’t crazy.”

“So you heard her, I never said you were crazy.”

“What – don’t play smart – Big Clive heard it too, tell him.” Big Clive grunted at Horace’s shoulder, warning the foreigner to stop pissing about. He was great mass of filth, Clive, wrapped in blanket scraps because it was hard scavenging clothes that fit. That’s why Horace did the talking, in his dinner jacket, never mind the holes – better than the gypsy’s shaggy leathers. Horace said, “You got a girl over here, when we’re sharing this space – only polite for you to share and all.”

“Didn’t realise this was yours to share.” The gypsy stood, a kind of cheer-filled madness in his eyes. High on something. He was bigger than Horace but not up to Clive’s shoulder. Thick around the middle, too, well fed. The girl wasn’t all he was keeping to himself.

“Got a lot to learn, you do,” Horace said. He tried to spot the girl’s hiding place. Lot of dark shadows here, but not much space, unless she dug off under the fence. He eyeballed the foreigner. “No god-damned manners, you know that?”

“Friend, I’ve only sat here enjoying my own company.”

“And a girl’s,” Big Clive said.

“And a girl,” Horace agreed.

“Gentlemen, please.” The gypsy turned on the spot, almost like a dance move, one hand swinging about the grotty lair. “Say there was talking, and that your eyes don’t trick you, then this woman must be quite hard to see. That don’t worry you?”

“The hell is he talking about?” Horace demanded. Clive looked like he’d lost this train three stops ago.

“This city!” the gypsy said brightly, a finger suddenly pointing Horace’s way. “I’ve seen such strange, almost beautiful, ever-terrifying things. Do you want to see them? Are you sure?”

“Bloody mad.” Horace shook his head. Brains fried on whatever powder was putting people in the gutter this month. “You gonna tell us we imagined the boy, too? Where’s he at, now? Maybe we share him, instead.” The stranger’s smile finally failed. Yeah, carefree till you’re not. Horace showed his remaining teeth in a mocking grin. “Girl, boy, don’t matter none to us.”

“Don’t talk about my son,” the gypsy spat.

“Your son?” Horace laughed. “Hey, Clive, he has a son. One he’s not even looking after, now, what’s that say? Left him digging through trash while you’re with the lady?”

The guy’s fists were clenched. Tough looking hands, must’ve scrapped some, same as all of them. But he was a joker. An out-of-towner. What the hell did he know? Horace took out the blade. Not something you could call a knife, broken off an old toaster, but sharp enough to damage. It surprised the gypsy – too fool to expect a tool. Horace assured, “Welcome to Ordshaw, moron. Not gonna give us the lady? We’ll have the boots. And the jacket.”

But the gypsy relaxed. Hands loose. “Ah. You’ve done it now.”

“Huh?”

“She would’ve allowed a fight, but won’t stand for weapons.”

“What the bleeding hell are you –”

There was a firecracker bang, making Clive leap a foot off the ground, and a clang as the blade hit the dirt. Horace rotated his empty hand, stunned. A little bead of blood swelled to the surface. On both sides. Something had gone right through. It took a second for the pain to register.

“Next one’s in your fucking head,” a small woman’s voice said.

Horace screamed.

Clive was away, thumping off in useless fear. Horace clamped his good hand over the injured one with pained gasps. He looked desperately to the gypsy. “What was that – what you do – shit –”

The man shrugged. “I apologise. They mostly stay out of the way, but they are a violent people. It’s best I go – I am very sorry.”

Rooted to the spot, unable to comprehend the wound that gripped him, Horace whimpered at the stranger’s back. The gypsy strolled away, slipping back into conversation with his unseen companion: “You didn’t have to shoot him.”

“A bit of Fae wisdom, beardo: when we can, we do.”

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

Previous Blog Tour Spots:

Lynn’s Books - 22-Oct -The Banker

Space and Sorcery - 23-Oct - The Troubled Child

Bookshine & Readbows - 24-Oct - The Concierge

Brainfluff - 25-Oct - The Crane Driver

The BiblioSanctum - 28-Oct - The Chemist

Paper Plane Reviews - 29-Oct - The Neighbours

Out of this World SFF Reviews - 30-Oct - The Artist

RockStarlit Book Asylum - 31-Oct - The Family

Jon Auerbach - 01-Nov - The Composer

Fantasy Book Review - 02-Nov - The Gang

Whispers & Wonder - 03-Nov - The Fixer

Fantasy Book Critic 04-Nov The Homeless

About Ordshaw and The Violent Fae:  The Ordshaw series are urban fantasy thrillers set in a modern UK city with more than a few terrible secrets. The Violent Fae completes a story that began with Under Ordshaw and its sequel Blue Angel – following poker player Pax Kuranes’ journey into the Ordshaw underworld. Over the space of one week, Pax unravels mysteries that warp reality and threaten the entire city.

The Violent Fae will be available from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback from November 5th 2019.



Order The Violent Fae over HERE (US) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: They hid among us, until she exposed them.

They'll destroy everything to be hidden again.

Pax is discovering that the smallest mistakes can have the deadliest impact. To protect her city, she's uncovered monstrous truths and involved terrible people. The consequences are coming for her.

The Sunken City is unstable. The Fae are armed for war.

Can Pax stop the coming disaster?

In this closing chapter of the Sunken City trilogy, Williams weaves the complex strands of Pax's misadventure into a truly thrilling conclusion.



Official Author Website

Official Author Information: Phil Williams is an author of contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction, including the Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers and the post-apocalyptic Estalia series. He also writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English, two of which are regular best-sellers on Kindle.
Thursday, October 31, 2019

Solace Lost by Michael Sliter (Reviewed by Justine Bergman)




AUTHOR INFORMATION: Michael Sliter was born in the deep wilds of Cleveland, Ohio, where he fought off at least two siblings for scraps of pizza. His bedroom, growing up, was a monument to fantasy, containing a stack of worn and well-read books, a medieval Lego civilization spanning half the room, and a very real sword circa World War II.

Though always fascinated with the written word, Michael ended up with only a minor in writing, instead majoring in Psychology (Hiram College, OH). He later went on to complete his M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (Bowling Green State University, OH)—overall spending a larger portion of his life than strictly necessary in school. Following, Michael was a psych professor for a time, and then moved into the real world to help organizations hire the right people.

He attempted to write some childish fantasy novels in the past, all abandoned as derivative refuse. It wasn’t until his daughter was born that he decided to begin writing in earnest. The outcome is the Pandemonium Rising series, currently 50% complete with Solace Lost and Wisdom Lost having been published. It explores complex psychological themes of isolation, coping with trauma, faith, warfare, prejudice, magic, explosions, and fantastical violence. Also more magic, plus a couple more explosions.

Today, you can find Michael back in the Cleveland area, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and chiweenie. They are quite tolerant of his writing, reading, video game, and racquetball habits.

FORMAT/INFO: Solace Lost is 559 pages long, divided over 39 chapters and an epilogue. It is the first entry in the Pandemonium Rising series. The book is currently available in ebook and paperback formats, as well as on Kindle Unlimited. It was self-published by the author on April 10, 2018. Cover art by René Aigner. Cover design and maps done by David O'Meara.

CLASSIFICATION: Epic Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy

ANALYSIS: Ardia is on the brink of war. A tyrant, a mystery, and an enigma seek to bring the populace to its knees in submission, while horrors driven by hunger and rage are to be unleashed to drench the land in blood. The lives of four individuals are entwined, their sole purpose is to stop the vileness from prevailing, but the world is set on trying them every step of the way. Where magic and savagery prevails, will they be able to hold back the tide of destruction, or will their country be ultimately consumed by darkness?

Solace Lost is the the first installment in Michael Sliter’s Pandemonium Rising series, and is a merciless and devastating character-centric grimdark novel defined by its brutality and tone of utter desperation. At its heart, beneath the blood and gore, it's a tale of strength and holding onto faith when all hope is lost. It's about finding your rightful place, despite the hostilities of the world, or the all-powerful urges to conform. While this is a story of war, it’s also a true examination into one angle of the age-old psychological debate of nature versus nurture; everyone is born with the predisposition to good and the propensity to evil, and they are a product of their environment. I’ll be completely honest with you, there surely is no rest for the wicked in Sliter’s debut, as heinous atrocities gloriously seep from almost every single page, and the world we're delivered to aptly reflects this.

This is a story that focuses most on its characters and their development in response to the bleak environment they’re subjected to. Presented with four points of view of highly diverse backgrounds – namely those of Fenrir Coldbreaker, Emma Dran, Hafgan Iwan, and Merigold Hinter – each chapter follows one certain character, and also expresses a subtly distinct tone. It isn’t difficult to decipher whose eyes we’re peering through due to this well-executed mechanism. As the story progresses, and they’re each exposed to the savagery mankind is capable of, we begin to see the evolution of the characters’ mindsets as tones begin to shift. Once proud, now apathetic. Once broken, now steadfast. Once callous, now righteous. Once innocent, now corrupted. I thought this gradual deviation was a brilliant way to showcase advancement without forcing us to make judgements based on their actions alone.

In addition to carefully crafted characters, the worldbuilding is where Sliter truly shines. Ardia is a land rich in deep, complex history, and full of many different walks of sentient life, all struggling to coexist. The detailed lore and religious foundations, both explained in short insights peppered throughout, also serve as driving forces for events in this story. We’re initially introduced to slight instances of magic, one that continues to grow and become more interesting and destructive as the chapters progress. Vividly described environments and systematic social structures strongly draw you into this fleshed out world dominated by violence and bloodshed. I will admit that at times I felt like I was being presented with too much information that seemingly had no effect on the story at hand, but as this is the first book in an epic fantasy series, an ample amount of details is expected to set up the rest of the slated tetralogy.

Sliter tells this tale with simple, straightforward prose, overflowing with cringe-worthy, lucid details that managed to make even me uncomfortable at times (this is a feat in itself). His ability to evoke emotional feedback is outstanding, touching upon some genuinely shocking topics, taking those grimdark tropes we all know and love, and cranking up the volume to max. As with many stories in this particular genre, mostly everyone and everything falls into a morally gray area, concrete heroes are nowhere to be found, but villains are immensely villainous. My only bits of criticism for the entirety of the book would be pointed towards several parts of the narrative suffering from slow pacing, and I also found myself looking forward to chapters pertaining to certain characters rather than the others.

Solace Lost is a solid debut and treat for fans of (extremely) dark and grimdark fantasy. Regardless of its slow pacing, the underlying plot is highly intriguing, keeping the pages turning just to discover what happens next. Fair warning, this book contains several events that may be difficult to read, including rape and torture, but I thought they were successfully used as vehicles for both plot and character development as the story continued. We're left at a point where the fate of all hangs in the balance with lots of 'what-if's and 'WHAT?!'s – that epilogue blew my mind...it's imperative I continue with Wisdom Lost, book two of Pandemonium Rising, to see the consequences of that little morsel of deviousness! If you're on the hunt for a read involving the bloody politics of war, some beautifully constructed characters, and a highly detailed world, then I recommend giving this one a shot.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hunters & Collectors by Matt Suddain (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)


Order Hunters & Collectors over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: M. Suddain was born on a farm in New Zealand. When he was eight, he wrote a novella called Between & Beyond, about an explorer who travels between universes. He later earned a bachelorâe(tm)s degree in film and worked as a graphic artist before becoming a successful journalist and satirist.


FORMAT/INFO: Hunters & Collectors is 512 pages long and is standalone. The book was published by Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Vintage Digital in June 2016.  


OVERVIEW: Suddain’s Hunters & Collectors is one of my favorite books ever. It pains me to see it doesn’t get more hype and recognition. It deserves both. 

The book defies easy categorizations but if you like them think about interstellar thriller mixed with horror and grotesque. Add strong prose (deliberately switching from eloquent and lyrical to gutter-talk) and vivid imagination to the mix and prepare for a wild ride across the galaxy’s best cuisines. The main character, a food critic who prefers to call himself a forensic gastronomer, Jonathan Tamberlain leads an adventurous life dedicated to finding the perfect meal.  


Nicknamed Tomahawk,  he is self-absorbed, opinionated and finicky. Restaurateurs and chefs fear him or hate him. And for a reason - when it comes to food, Tamberlain has no mercy, especially for those who kill it twice. He holds tightly to his passion and never let go. It infuses his life with meaning and purpose and becomes the motivator for everything he does. As a result, he rarely pays attention to other people and their feelings. He throws misogynistic and homophobic remarks around and behaves badly but somehow remains likable and relatable. 


Remember when you were young? When you had few cares and infinite potential? When you owned the world and almost nothing in it? Remember when you weren’t just a ghost who changes faces to suit the weather, or a strange device used by others to manufacture their happiness, but a true being with lungs filled with stories, eyes bruised with happiness?

At one point early in the story, he becomes obsessed with tasting a perfect meal at a fabled Hotel Grand Skies, "a secretive and exclusive haven where the rich and famous retreat to bask in perfect seclusion. A Place where the waiters know their fish knife from their butter knife, their carotid from their subclavian artery, and are trained to enforce the house rules with brutal efficiency". 

Helped by his agent David Woodbine, also known as The Beast, and his body-guard Gladys, with whom he shares a difficult history, Tomahawk sets on a quest. The constant back and forth between them made me laugh numerous times and I consider it one of the book’s many highlights. When they reach their destination, an already weird story goes bonkers. 
There are principles higher than mere survival. It’s not enough to live this life; there must be a quality to living. There are minimum standards. If a man can’t get an upgrade when almost every other guest in the entire hotel has been brutally murdered, then something is wrong.
The parts of the story that take place in the hotel will creep you out. Things take a strange and dark twist, but even grotesque atrocities are bathed in a deliciously dark and absurd sense of humor. Things get surreal, and the narrative form is quite unique as we follow the story via notes and letters written by unreliable Tomahawk whose imagination runs wild. Some of his notes tell the story, some share his philosophical ramblings, fears, and deepest thoughts.
God, how I hate the future. It’s a cult. A tyranny of progress. And anyone who speaks against it is shunned. But all tyrannies must efficiently erase the past if they’re to work. I like the past. The past was solid, simple, and real. The rooms were large, the food was good, and we knew who our enemies were. I feel misty for old tyrannies. The ones which beat you, enslaved you, tried to break your spirit, and in doing so gave your life the only enhancement it really needs: a sense of purpose. The tyranny of the future doesn’t take away our choices; it swamps us in them. It doesn’t curb our freedoms; it tube-feeds us with them until we rupture like neglected factory geese.
I’ve never read anything quite like Hunters&Collectors and I bet you haven’t either. It won't appeal to everyone. Readers enjoying linear plots will probably loathe it. Readers looking for a certain level of weirdness and unpredictability will enjoy it. While I'm not partial to comparing books I'll risk saying that fans of Scott Hawkins' Library at Mount Char will find a similar tone in Hunters & Collectors. 

My opinion? I love this book. I absolutely love it. It's hilarious, unnerving, addicting and thought-provoking.


Monday, October 28, 2019

SPFBO: FBC Finalist Announcemement (by David Stewart, Justine Bergman, Łukasz Przywóski, & Mihir Wanchoo)



Today is the day! We have chosen our champion, and we’re excited to announce
the winner and runners-up.

First, we want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to participate in the contest. We sincerely appreciate it, and we had a great time reading all of your entries. After getting through the batch of thirty books, we’ve picked six semi-finalists, each for a different reason. We’ve enjoyed all of them, and the prospect of sawing off another five entries held no appeal to us. Unfortunately, SPFBO rules require us to make tough decisions. Such is the harsh reality of this bloodbath contest.


Friday, October 25, 2019

SPFBO: Semifinalist Interview with Allison Pang (Interviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)



Order Magpie's Song over HERE (USA) or HERE (UK)
FBC's Review of Magpie's Song is right HERE
Allison's webcomic Fox & Willow can be found on Tapas and Webtoons as well as here 


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Exclusive Cover Reveal: The Arkhel Conundrum by Sarah Ash + Q&A with the author (by Justine Bergman & Mihir Wanchoo)




Sarah Ash is an author whom I got introduced to thanks to her Tears Of Artamon trilogy It was right around the time that I was discovering the wonders of the fantasy genre. Amid the titans of the fantasy genre, I found her world inspired by east European/Russian legends as well as Dracula to be refreshingly unique. Sarah's world was filled with characters of all stripes, magic that was ancient and terrifying, plus a plot that slowly turned towards an apocalypse. All in all her books hold a special place in my heart and I've over the years begged her to continue the story. Previously I've blogged about them and the fascinating world that she had created.

A few days ago she unfurled a big surprise by requesting us to hold a cover reveal for the sequel book to the Tears Of Artamon trilogy. I was able to convince her amid my giddiness to answer a few questions about the spectacular cover & what readers can expect from this fourth volume

Without further ado, may we present
The Arkhel Conundrum



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The Arkhel Conundrum by Sarah Ash                                        (Cover art by Les Edwards/Edward Miller)
Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Sarah, it’s truly a pleasure for allowing us this opportunity to host this cover reveal. How have you been?
SA: It’s truly a pleasure to be invited back, Mihir – thank you so much!

What made you decide to come back to world of Artamon after a decade?
SA: In truth, I’ve never been away. (Although I enjoyed myself very much writing Tide Dragons, the two-volume fantasy series set in Heian Japan which I brought out in 2014 and 2018.) But I was also writing about how Kaspar Linnaius first became a magus in Drakomancer (a novel I’d still like to bring out if I get the chance) and that led me to return to Gavril and Kiukiu.

You have had some wonderful cover art with the Artamon books (US, French & UK covers)? Please tell us about your artist Les Edwards/Edward Miller and why you decided to go with him?
SA: Les Edwards/Edward Miller and I go way back as Les was the cover artist for The Lost Child (Orion/Gollancz 1998) and created a very atmospheric cover image that was just right for a story set in an alternate medieval French kingdom. I then fell in love with Edward’s work when I saw his art for the Subterranean Press editions of Scott Lynch (those luminous colours!). So he was my Number One artist to go to – and I was really thrilled when he accepted the commission. Les/Edward has created a remarkable range of inspiring art for Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy and his site is well worth a visit.

Let’s talk about that gorgeous vista cover. How did it all come together? What were your instructions/suggestions for it? How did you and the artist collaborate to create the fascinating cover?
SA: I was so pleased when I saw the cover art that I confess I shed a few tears (of happiness!); it was just what I was hoping for. Here’s the brief that I sent to the artist (as well as the synopsis and first chapters):
"Much of the book is set in wintertime in Azhkendir, ‘the land of snow and shadows’ in Gavril Nagarian’s kastel which is set between the forest of Kerjhenez and the mountains."

My French editor, Stephane Marsan (Bragelonne) once said to me that he preferred covers with landscapes. (Something that Les Edwards and Edward Miller are very good at doing!) One of your paintings on the website that I keep returning to is the wonderfully vertiginous ‘The Gorge’, which I love. The other artwork I keep returning to is ‘Footprints in the Snow’ because of the snowscape which feels ‘right’ for a snow scene.’

The Arkhel Conundrum by Sarah Ash

Let’s talk about The Arkhel Conundrum’s chronological place in the Artamon saga, how far along is the book set after the events of Children Of The Serpent Gate & Flight Into Darkness?
SA: Even though I was tempted to do a Twenty Years After (or Artamon TNG) and even began to outline what would happen to the grown-up children of the main protagonists, I knew instinctively (and from readers’ requests) that I just had to explore what happened immediately after Children of the Serpent Gate. So it starts roughly nine months after the fall of the Serpent Gate. I wanted to find out how Gavril would fare without his daemon Drakhaoul, Khezef. Has he returned unscathed from the Serpent Gate after Khezef’s final departure – or is he damaged in some way? And then there’s the matter of the promise made by Kiukiu to the Guardian of the Jade Springs in return for the restoration of her youth. Embarking on married life with so many secrets that can’t be mutually shared is probably not the best start for the young couple. Is their love for each other strong enough to survive?

Can you share something about the book that’s not mentioned in the blurb and why fans of the Artamon saga should be excited for this new addition?
SA:The hint is in the title: The Arkhel Conundrum! And here is a little extract from a conversation between Emperor Eugene and Baron Sylvius, the imperial spymaster:

But all the Arkhels perished in the Clan Wars; all, except Jaromir.”

Apparently not. My agents were following up on a quite different lead in Tourmalise when they stumbled upon some unexpected information.”

If I mention that adventuress Lilias Arbelian is also in Tourmalise, fans of the earlier Artamon stories will realize that she’s probably up to no good...

Thank you for your time Sarah and for giving fans like me a return into the lives of Kiukiu, Gavril, Eugene, etc. According to you, what will be thing that makes this fourth volume a special one?
SA: Thank you so much for inviting me to talk about the new book, Mihir – it’s because of your encouragement and the much appreciated comments from other fans that I’ve been able to return to the world of Artamon and spend more time with the characters! But what also makes this fourth volume special for me is the appearance of new characters (that I hope readers will enjoy meeting) and the chance to investigate some of the darker mysteries that lie behind the origins of the Drakhaouls.
The Arkham Conundrum by Sarah Ash

Order The Arhkel Conundrum HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL BLURB: Azhkendir, land of snow and shadows, harbours many secrets – and a powerful ancient winter deity is awakened when a foreign mining company begins to strip out the rare mineral resources beneath the mountains. Old clan hatreds are stirred up. The High Steward of Azhkendir, Lord Gavril, and his wife, Spirit Singer Kiukiu, hope to seek help from the Emperor Eugene. But their onetime enemy turned ally is distracted by his competition to build a flying machine. Is someone from their past trying to destabilize the fragile peace of the empire? Or are there supernatural forces involved? The Magus, Kaspar Linnaius, may have the answers...but he has disappeared and no one knows where he is or how to contact him.

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