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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, or check out his board game upgrade obsession at!

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.”


“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'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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Cover Reveal: Spit And Song by Travis Riddle + Q&A with the author (by Justine Bergman)

Official Author Website
Order Spit and Song HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

Travis M. Riddle's Balam, Spring was a read so remarkably distinct and unlike anything I had read before, so I was beyond excited when he reached out to us to help him present the cover of his upcoming novel Spit and Song. Balam's in-depth character-centric plot, ability to convey such strong tones of both sorrow and hopefulness, and its impeccable worldbuilding were such standout traits that left me craving more. In fact, I pulled this directly from my review: "I'm really looking forward to exploring more of this world in the future." And guess what! We finally get to continue our journey through this weird and wonderful world Travis has created! He was also kind enough to stop by give and us a sneak peek along with some details on the content behind the cover, which we're thrilled to share with you all today.

Without further ado, may we present
Spit and Song

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Spit and Song by Travis M. Riddle
Thank you for joining us, Travis, and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! Tell us a little about yourself and how you began your writing career.
TMR: Thank you all for having me! As everyone has probably surmised by now, my name is Travis Riddle, and I’m a writer living in Austin, TX. I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid, ripping off all my favorite stuff and writing a novelization of Final Fantasy IX. I published my first book Wondrous in early 2017, then followed that up with Balam, Spring and The Narrows last year.

Give us an idea of how Spit and Song came to fruition? What was your inspiration for this story?
TMR: My original idea for the story came from a seed planted at the end of Balam, with one of its main characters Aava going off to see her brother Svend, who requests her help. There were some bones of this story that ended up staying the same, but in the initial version Svend was a POV character and Aava was supporting, with a few other characters that never came to be. Eventually as I kept writing I realized the story was going in a far different direction, and I ended up excising Aava and Svend completely and setting the story 30 years after Balam, in a totally different country. But there are certain (spoilery) elements from that version that carried over! In fact, Svend’s storyline was part of the original idea that became Balam, so…maybe someday I will finally get to divulge what’s going on with Svend.

Aside from that, I really wanted to write about a topic that’s been plaguing me for the past year or so, which is a struggle I’m sure a lot of artists deal with, especially those who are trying to break out independently. It’s always such an uphill battle, and I find myself flitting back and forth between feeling super driven, determined to do everything possible to accomplish my goals, and…just thinking it’s futile and wanting to chill at home playing video games or watching a movie or something. Have fun with my free time rather than continue grinding.

Spit and Song by Travis M. Riddle

Alright, we need the details on that gorgeous cover. Who's the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with that incredible scene? And that a giant armadillo?!
TMR: The artwork is done by the amazing Amir Zand (, who also did the artwork for Balam! Since up to this point all of my books were standalones taking place in different worlds, I felt it was important to work with different artists to give them each their own distinct aesthetic and style, so because I was returning to this world I wanted to keep that same art style, and thankfully Amir was able to slot me into his busy schedule.

I like to let the artist follow their own instincts as far as exact design and colors and all that, so all I told Amir was that it needed to be in the desert, with two people and a mount looking out at a crashed airship. I described what the characters and mount looked like, but let him do whatever else he wanted with the piece, including the airship’s design. I think it turned out fantastic, and it’s one of my favorite pieces Amir has ever done.

And that is indeed a giant armadillo! Basically, anyway; in Ustlia, that’s a creature called an ayote, the primary mount for desert travel.

Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
TMR: There’s a lot of weird stuff in this book. I was really going for weird, and I’m hoping I delivered on that front haha. Going into it, I knew I wanted to explore something that I feel like I don’t see terribly often in fantasy, oddly enough, which is totally non-humanoid races.

In this book I introduce three races that aren’t in Balam at all (I guess four if you count qarms, since they technically weren’t in that book but they were mentioned once or twice), and I wanted them all to be very un-humanlike to set the world of Ustlia apart from others you’ve read about before. That was also why I wanted both POV characters to be non-humans.

The first new race are faifs, the most humanoid of the three. They look like humans, but their skin is different shades of swirling pastels and they sustain on sunlight and sugary foods rather than normal food—essentially, they’re flower-people. One of the main characters, Kali, is a faif.

The second are centripts, who are essentially giant centipedes who speak a language called Carsuak. They’ve built up most of the cities and other architecture throughout the desert country of Herrilock and are currently suffering from a disease called the mold, which infects different segments of their bodies, eventually causing them to burst and knock their carapace pieces off, eventually ending with the same thing happening to their heads. The third are ujaths, and we only meet one of them in the novel, but I’ll not spoil that moment for you because it’s one of my favorites.

I understand Spit and Song is set in the same world as your novel Balam, Spring. When you were writing that did you know you'd be returning here again in the future?
TMR: When I set out to write Balam, I knew from the start that it would be a standalone novel, and that I wanted to design the world in such a way that I could jump back into it whenever and tell more standalone stories. I love the idea of just having this huge sandbox to play around in, hopping in at any point in the timeline and in any part of the world to tell whatever specific story I want to tell.

Balam, Spring is an incredible example of slice-of-life fantasy; what made you decide to write a more adventurous story infused with comedy?
TMR: Thank you, I really appreciate that! Truthfully, I didn’t really write Balam intending for it to be slice-of-life and in fact I never thought of it in that genre until reviewers and readers started to call it that, so now I’m rolling with it. I just wanted a large focus on the characterization and interpersonal relationships, and that’s what ended up coming out.

Spit and Song was the same way. I just started writing what felt natural for the story—again, a focus on characterization and the relationship between these two characters, so that combined with some of the pacing might lead some to call this semi-slice-of-life as well—and so a lot of the comedy ended up coming from this character Puk, who just ended up being a much more absurd, stupid, strange individual than I thought he’d be, and writing comedy around him just felt right.

As for why it’s more adventurous, since Balam was very deliberately set in one single location, I knew that when I revisited this world I didn’t want to just repeat myself. One approach could have been to craft a new story taking place in one setting, and that could be the “gimmick” for all the books set in this world, but I wanted each book to feel distinct and fresh, so I wanted to check out a lot of different locales and meet lots of varied people. I think all four of my books now are pretty hugely different from each other, aside from my focus on character, and I’m striving not to write the same book twice.

Was the writing process different and did you face any challenges with this subgenre shift?
TMR: The overall process wasn’t too different, but it did take a lot longer. Ironically (or maybe not?) I found myself struggling a lot with the same issues as Puk as far as lack of inspiration, and so there were a few long stretches of time when I just didn’t write.

What I struggled with a lot, and was kind of inspiration for the story’s themes, was the self-imposed pressure of the indie publishing community and this sentiment out there that you have to be writing, writing, writing constantly in order to find any sort of success, which I wrote about a bit in a blog post ( when it was really weighing me down. I had to tell myself that it was alright to take a little time off and just enjoy myself, and eventually the story got out!

Can Spit and Song be read as a standalone, or would it benefit readers to be familiar with the events of Balam, Spring?
TMR: Yeah, Spit and Song is written to be 100% standalone. There are some minor connections to an event during Balam and some other subtle references, but it’s a case of the reader getting a slightly deeper experience or understanding if they’ve read that book already—you’ll still get every piece of info necessary to enjoy this book within its own pages. No prior knowledge necessary!

How did you come up with the title Spit and Song?
TMR: The title was actually one of the hardest parts of this thing, hahah. Honestly I did not fully decide on a title until the day before I fired off the first ARC to a reviewer. For the entire writing process it was called Shipwreck in the Sandswept Sea, which I thought had a neat sort of adventure-y alliteration to it and also conjured a weird image, but I was always unsure of it and it got mixed reactions from beta readers.

While revising, I was trying to come up with new titles. I came up with a few that were okay, but I settled on Spit and Song because it sounds weird and gross, which is what I want and fits the world these characters explore, and it also illustrates the dichotomy of the book’s themes pretty well, that feeling of being torn between your passion—song—and just wanting to ignore it all and enjoy yourself—spit, which is a reference to a drug in the book called fire-spit.

What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
TMR: I hope they walk away feeling the same love for Kali and Puk as I have, and had a fun, weird, unique experience along the way in a world that’s hopefully unlike any they’ve ever seen before. And if they’re an artist, I hope they can—well, maybe it’s rude to say I hope they relate hahah, but I at least hope they can empathize and see themselves in these characters and be inspired and amused by their story.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us, Travis. When can we get our hands on Spit and Song? Anything else you have going on right now that you'd like the world to know about?
TMR: Thank you, Justine! Spit and Song will be available on November 19, and you can preorder the e-book now for 99 cents for a limited time. For more updates you can sign up for my newsletter on my website ( and follow me on Twitter/Instagram, both @traviswanteat.

Order Spit and Song HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

Official Blurb
Kali is a merchant who yearns to leave the harsh deserts of Herrilock and travel across the sea, trading goods and soaking in the sights and cultures. With a new potion on the market undercutting her profits, though, her seabound dreams are put on hold indefinitely.

Failed musician Puk hits rock bottom after yet another catastrophic performance. Wandering the city streets in search of any sip of booze or whiff of fire-spit he can get his hands on, he resigns to the fact that he’s stuck in the desert with no way back home to Atlua.

Until one day, their paths cross with an illicit job opportunity. With its hefty payday, Kali and Puk could afford to finally escape the desert heat and set sail across the gulf.

The black market job would see them travel endless dunes on a road made from a massive dead beast’s ribs and out to a mythical city in the sea, scuffling with monsters and thugs in search of a long-lost book that might be the most dangerous object in the world.

How hard could it really be?

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