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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

SPFBO 2019 (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) finalists and our approach

As avid fantasy readers, we love discovering new voices and hidden gems. SPFBO contest gives us such possibility and we’re thrilled to participate in it for the fifth time. The first stage of the contest has just ended.

After five months of a bloodbath, ten bloggers have chosen their champions. We’re excited to read all of them and would love to encourage you to do the same.

Our approach

Each of us (David, Justine, Łukasz, Mihir) will read all the books from cover to cover. If it sounds lame and obvious allow me to rephrase it by using numbers - each of us will read 4509 pages and, approximately, 1 239 975 words! Almost one million two hundred fourty thousand words. Not too shabby, right?


We plan to start posting reviews of SPFBO finalists in January. If you decide to read along with us, consider dropping your review on Goodreads, Amazon or Barnes & Noble. For an indie author trying to draw attention to their recently published book, reviews are hugely beneficial. Help us to spread the word about the books you love.

And now, let's take a look at SPFBO 2019 finalists listed in alphabetical order.

392 pages, published on March 29, 2019, Order it here

Secrets have a price.

After enduring weeks of torture and being convicted of witchery, Ris escapes, only to discover the Darkness and the Lady are hunting her. They need the magic that sings within her.

Creator of all, the imprisoned Lady needs Ris, her last vessel, to find the Heart of Creation. The Darkness seeks to corrupt the vessel and retain his hold on the Lady, and with it, the world.

Ris finds help from a pair of Paladins of Light who aid her in cleansing the evil taint from the lands. As her power grows, so do her questions. How can she restore balance to the world and free the Lady? Should the Lady be trusted or is she as much at fault for the evil in the world as the Darkness? With powerful demons War, Ruin, and Plague at her heels, Ris struggles to stay alive as she tries to unravel the secrets hidden within her before it's too late.

Secrets that may cost Ris her soul even if she does succeed.

502 pages, published on May 18th, 2019, Order it here

Can a broken warrior and a lost criminal find hope in a world of darkness?

Dumnorix princess and born warrior, Talyn Dynan was the finest fighter of her generation. With her Callanan partner at her side, she was invincible, reckless, a death-knell to their enemies. But after her partner is torn away from her, Talyn is left broken, wracked with guilt and unable to regain the confidence she once had. Could an unexpected mission to the mysterious country of Mithranar, home of the magical winged folk, be the thing that saves her? Or will the danger and secrets she finds there finally break her completely?

The Shadowhawk lives a life in the shadows. Constantly hunted for his criminal exploits, yet desperate to help the human folk of Mithranar who are oppressed by their winged folk rulers, he haunts the streets of Dock City. The arrival of a foreign warrior threatens to upset the carefully balanced life he leads, but when she begins to offer a hope for the humans he’s only ever dreamed of, can he risk trusting her?

And unbeknownst to both, a mysterious foe stalks the dark corners of Dock City. One that answers to a single purpose…


368 pages, published on February 17th, 2019, Order it here

The Councilate controls everything except the truth. I have nothing save my discovery—but with this shall I destroy an empire.

Tai Kulga lost the rebellion and his best friend on the same day, stripping him of his will to live even as a strange power flooded his bones. When the friend returns as a spirit guide, it feels like a second chance—but his friend is not who he was, and the Councilate is not done oppressing his people. When trouble with lawkeepers lands Tai’s surviving friends in a prison camp, he must go underground to find the last of the rebels and convince them to break his friends free.

Along the way he meets Ellumia Aygla, runaway Councilate daughter posing as an accountant to escape her family and the avarice of the capital. Curious about the link between spirit guides and magic, her insights earn her a place among the rebels, and along with Tai’s power help turn the tide against the colonialists.

But as the rebels begin to repeat the Councilate’s mistakes, Tai and Ellumia must confront their own pasts and prejudices, before the brewing war turns them into the monsters they fight.

BLADE'S EDGE by Virginia McClain
314 pages, Published on January 23rd, 2015, Order it here

Mishi and Taka live each day of their lives with the shadow of death lurking behind them. The struggle to hide the elemental powers that mark the two girls as Kisōshi separates them from the other orphans, yet forges a deep bond between them.

When Mishi is dragged from the orphanage at the age of eight, the girls are unsure if or when they will find each other again. While their powers grow with each season-cycle, the girls must come to terms with their true selves--Mishi as a warrior, Taka as a healer--as they forge separate paths which lead to the same horrifying discovery.

The Rōjū council’s dark secret is one that it has spent centuries killing to keep, and Mishi and Taka know too much. The two young women have overcome desperate odds in a society where their very existence is a crime, but now that they know the Rōjū’s secret they find themselves fighting for much more than their own survival.

BLOOD OF HEIRS by Alicia Wanstall-Burke 
323 pages, published on October 23rd, 2018, Order it here

Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?

FORTUNE'S FOOL by Angela Boord
737 pages, published on May 18th, 2019, Order it here

A secret affair. A disfiguring punishment. A burning need for revenge.

Kyrra d’Aliente has a bad reputation and an arm made of metal.

Cast out of the safe and luxurious world of silk to which she was born, played as a pawn in a game of feuding Houses, Kyrra navigates a dangerous world of mercenaries, spies, and smugglers while disguising herself as a man.

War destroyed her family and the man she loved.

Vengeance is within her grasp.

But is she willing to pay its price?

KALANON'S RISING by Darian Smith
424 pages, published on October 15th, 2016, Order it here

Solve the murder. Stop the war. Save the world.

Sir Brannon Kesh spent years building a new life as a physician, leaving the name Bloodhawk and the war that spawned it behind. But when the King's cousin is murdered, duty calls him back. The crime scene suggests dark magic and the evidence points to the ambassador of Nilar, an alluring woman with secrets of her own, who sees Bloodhawk as little more than a war criminal.

As bodies pile up and political ramifications escalate, Brannon must join forces with a vain mage, a socially awkward priest, and a corpse animating shaman to solve the murders and prevent another war. But who can he trust when the phases of a bigger plan take shape?

The Risen are the greatest danger Brannon has ever faced. If he and his team cannot stop the killer then all of Kalanon - and the world - will descend into darkness.

NEVER DIE by Rob J. Hayes
274 pages, published on January 29th, 2019, Order it here

Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.

Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can't do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.

Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper's war.

SPARK CITY by Robert J. Power
421 pages, published on March 1st, 2018Order it here

Erroh has a plan. A simple plan. It’ll never work.

Despite his family's warrior pedigree, he'd rather gamble and drink while living from one tavern to the next. But when his wanderings bring him upon a gruesome slaughter of innocents he is torn from carefree ways.

Spark City is on the horizon and with it the mysterious trials of The Cull. After a life spent rejecting his birth right, the time has come to pick up his sword and accept his destiny.

With an army marching forward, and unlikely companions buy his side, does Erroh have what it takes to stop the coming war?

Spark City is the gripping first novel in Robert J Power’s new epic fantasy series. If you like spectacular combat, unlikely heroes, and slow burn romance, you’ll love this thrilling tale.
651 pages, published on February 17th, 2019, Order it here

A mother struggling to repress her violent past, a son struggling to grasp his violent future, a father blind to the danger that threatens them all.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Moon Fall Series Spotlight Q&A with James Rollins (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read A Paean To Myrillia (The Godslayer Chronicles World And Series Analysis article)

Just over a fortnight ago, Entertainment Weekly broke the news about James Rollins returning to the fantasy fold in a big way. The article and some digging spoke about how Devi Pillai & Tor Books were able to procure this new series amidst some tough competition from other publishers. I’ve been following Jim’s career since the turn of the millennium when I was first introduced to his Rollins’ writing side. Soon afterwards I became acquainted with his Clemens books which quickly became my favorites.

However in 2006, the Clemens books took a hiatus and now after 15 years, in 2021 we the fans will get a brand new saga from the brilliant mind that has given us such gems in the SIGMA series, Godslayer Chronicles & the Banned & Banished saga. We are glad to have Jim over today to chat about the Moon Fall saga and how he came back to the field where he can truly let his imagination reign. So read ahead to find our more about the Moon Fall saga and what readers can expect from it.

Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic James. Thank you for your time. It’s been over a decade since we had you over for some questions. Since then you have racked up many an accomplishment. What would you say has been your most fun thing in this past decade?
JR: Thanks, Mihir. It has been a busy decade—both writing-wise and personally. During the first decade or so of my career, I was writing a fantasy novel (under “James Clemens”) and a thriller (under “James Rollins) every year. Then these past ten years, I’ve still been doing two books per year, but it’s been a thriller and some “other” project: stand-alone novels, middle-school fantasy adventures, co-written projects. So, I’m exciting as I start my 21st year as a published author to return to my roots, to writing a fantasy novel and thriller every year. As to what has been the most fun over the past decade, personally it’s been getting to know many of my readers over a longer breadth of time that can only come from writing for so many years. I’ve made many enduring friendships, some that started as email exchanges and have evolved to staying at each other’s houses.

Just a few weeks ago, the fantasy landscape was rocked by the EW announcement about your triumphant return to the realms of fantasy. Can you walk your fans about how this return was initiated?
JR: I’ve never fully strayed away from fantasy. Many of my “other” projects have had a distinctly fantastical edge: from the middle-school adventures of Jake Ransom to a co-written trilogy of novels that dealt with vampires. But there’s been a unique story that’s been building for 7-8 years. It started as an idea that got imbedded in my head, and once that happened, I had a hard time dislodging it. The only way to address it was to begin building that world, populating it, layering its history, even consulting a few scientists. Eventually it became too large to ignore and I knew it had to be written.

All your fantasy fans (yes we Clemens fans are outnumbered by your Rollins ones) have been patiently awaiting you to return to your fantasy roots since 2006. However, you are writing your new series under your Rollins pseudonym, what lead to this shift?
JR: Mostly for the sake of transparency. It’s been a poorly kept secret that James Rollins and James Clemens are indeed the same person. Its mentioned at every book-signing and comes up often during discussions online. So, it seemed disingenuous after so long to pretend this new series was not being written by me and publishing it under the Clemens penname. Also from the sake of practicality, it’s easier to keep everything under one name versus schizophrenically splitting my writing into two artificially constructed camps.

From what has been revealed so far, it’s pretty obvious that this book is an amalgam of many genres. It has many aspects that make your titles so alluring: 
- A vast character cast of both antagonistic and sympathetic folks, 
- An environment that plays a central factor within the story, 
- A magic system that’s unique and yet complex as well 
What would you say is compelling about this story and why you choose to write this for your comeback?
JR: The storyline drew me for many reasons. The setting is unlike any seen in fantasy before, so the challenge of breathing life into this world was undeniably compelling. But it’s also the characters that always draw me in. I was living with Elena (from the “Banned and Banished” series) for years before setting her story to paper. Same with Tylar from the “Godslayer Chronicles”  It’s when you know those characters so well that they go from whispering in your ear to demanding to be heard that I can’t help but write them and share them with the world. For this new series, it wasn’t just one character clamoring in my ear, but a whole diverse and unique cast. How could I not write them into existence?

Was the writing process any different for this new book and did you face any challenges with this genre shift especially after having written the SIGMA thrillers as well the horror tinged Sanguine books over the last decade?
JR: Not really. There are unique challenges in every genre, and one of my joys of writing is to mix and merge genres. My Sigma thrillers are part historical mystery, part scientific speculation, and part adventure fiction. Even for my fantasy novels under James Clemens, I drew upon my veterinary background to make the “creatures” in my books as realistic as possible. And for this new series, I take a similar approach—but in a much more extreme and challenging way.

You know I’m probably one of the (if not the biggest fan) of your Godslayer Chronicles. So I have to ask this question on behalf of all of those who are waiting for the next book(s) in the saga? What can you reveal about the future of Myrillia literally & figuratively? When can we expect to read God Sword?
JR: Like I mentioned, I can’t ignore those characters demanding for their stories to be told. In the background, I’ve been continuing the story of Tylar ser Noche. The rough draft for the third book in the “Godslayer” series (tentatively titled God Sword) is finished, as is about half of the fourth book. My longterm plan is to finish all five books before putting them out in the world.

I’d like to see the entire remainder of the Godslayer Chronicles all published en-masse, or at least spaced close together, like 4-5 months apart. As big and complex as this series becomes, I think it would be best to be consumed more quickly than spaced a year apart. That’s why I’d like to get the entire five books written before starting the publication conveyor belt. What year will we see that happen? It’s hard to say until I get a better feel on balancing a thriller and fantasy per year and see how much extra time I have to work.

How will your writing schedule be for the next few years? Can fans expect a fantasy & thriller release every year similar to what you did from 1999 to 2006?
JR: That is the plan—both for this new series and beyond.

Can you share something about the book that’s not mentioned in the blurb and why fans of your previous works should be excited for this new story?
JR: Hmm, I’m somewhat under some restraint on what I can and can’t reveal. But I will offer one bit of extra information. I mentioned above that I love to create fully realized creatures in my books. For this new series, I’m working with a brilliant graphic artist to create biological sketches for the bestiary of this series. Those sketches will be part of each novel as one of the characters in the new series is a naturalist who will be journaling the quest, revealing in stunning detail the beauty and horrors of this new world.

What are your currently writing? What will be next for you under your Rollins name?
JR: My next Sigma thriller, The Last Odyssey, comes out next March, which marks a major turning point in the series. And I’m currently writing the follow-up, tentatively titled The Savage Zone.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us, Jim. 2021 can’t come soon enough for The Starless Crown’s release? Anything else you have going on right now that you'd like the world to know about?
JR: Not that I’m at liberty to speak about right now. But stay tuned (and yes, that’s a hint)!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Order Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mercedes M. Yardley is a whimsical dark fantasist who wears stilettos, red lipstick, and poisonous flowers in her hair. She recently won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for her story Little Dead Red. Mercedes lives and creates in Las Vegas with her family and menagerie of battle-scarred, rescued animal familiars.

FORMAT/INFO: Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu is 175 pages long. The book was originally published in 2016 by Crystal Lake Publishing. Cover design by George Cotronis.

OVERVIEW: I won’t lie. I’ve read the book because of the title. It showed on the Goodreads Readers also enjoyed feed of Seth Skorkowsky's Hounacier and once I saw it, I just had to try it just to see what kind of story is hidden behind such an amazing title.

It turns out it’s a love story.

But instead of chocolate and roses, our lovers share eviscerating others. It’s a short story of a blossoming romance between an Asian-American serial killer and a stripper he kidnapped. Nuclear Lulu and Apocalyptic Montessa do horrible things together but they also love in a very real and fierce way. Their romance is self-consuming and baptized in tears and blood. As melodramatic as it may sound, it’s a very well written book that’s not afraid to go to very dark places.

Both characters are deeply damaged and went through childhood trauma. Montessa’s relationships were empty and hurtful. She admits that

it was easier to be with a man who wanted to murder her, and would appreciate it than be with a man who would only beat her to death.

Lu is a serial killer who loves to make people suffer. It’s his true calling. It’s something he does well. Their relationship evolves quickly and they end up meaning the world to one another. Despite their flaws and craziness Lu and Montessa are endearing.

Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu doesn't idealize love. Neither does it try to sell it to you. Love is presented as a violent thing rooted in imperfection. There’s a little world outside a pair. Other people appear but they’re barely sketched. The focus of the story lies elsewhere: in picturing impossible and yet relatable romance with words and sentences.

While Mercedes M. Yardley prose is economic, it’s poetic in places, melodramatic in others:
He held out his hand. She walked over and took it. Sparks flew. Magic happened. Nuclear reactors melted in joy. The world combusted.

Not everyone will like this style. I loved it. It’s strong. It delivers feelings pretty well and, in places, sets a bit surreal ambiance.

Overall, it was something else. The book is very short and strong. It’s dark and twisted take on the topic of soulmates. Obviously, some moral questions may arise as we start to cheer for a pair of psychotic killers and it’s good to think them through.
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Ashes Of Onyx by Seth Skorkowsky

Official Author Website
Pre-order Ashes Of Onyx over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Dämoren
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Hounacier
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ibenus 

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemptor Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Read Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky (guest post)

Seth Skorkowsky is an author who has wowed us since his debut. Since the release of Dämoren, his Valducan series has gone from strength to strength.

Today we are proud to exclusively reveal the cover for his newest book Ashes Of Onyx. With design provided by Mibl Art, Ashes Of Onyx is a deep, dark dive into many genres. So checkout the striking cover below and be sure to pre-order it when it releases on 28th January 2020.

Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Seth. Thank you for your time. Can you tell us what you have been up to in the past year?
SS: The past year has been really busy for me. Apart from writing, I have a regular YouTube channel that mostly covers Tabletop Roleplaying Games. It won the Gold ENnie Award from Best Online Content this past GenCon, and takes a lot of my time. But it’s been a whole lot of fun to do.

Since you signed with City Owl Press for Ashes Of Onyx, can you tell us about this title and how this story came to be?
SS: Like any novel, it didn’t really come from a single idea, but a combination of lots of different ones. I’ve always been a fan of Clive Barker and enjoyed the way he regularly blended Horror and Portal Fantasy in many of his novels, and I’ve always wanted to try that. I also wanted to pull in certain elements of the occult as well as my own spin on the Carcosa mythology.

From the blurb, it’s pretty obvious that this book is an amalgam of many genres. You have also called it “new weird”. What would you say is unique about this story and its genre?
SS: New Weird is a term used to describe works that break genre molds. Back in the early 20th Century, Fantasy was called Weird Fiction. They didn’t have the sub-genre limits that we have today, and authors mixed contemporary fantasy, horror, and science fiction freely. It was like the Wild West of speculative fiction. Only later did the massive number of sub-genre categories emerge, which are nice for identifying which stories are similar to each other, however, they also created constraints and rules. New Weird is a return to that style.

Ashes Of Onyx begins as Urban Fantasy but then shifts to more and more High, Portal, and Epic Fantasy, with Horror and even a dash of Sci-Fi for flavor. I hadn’t planned on it being New Weird story, as much as I wrote the story I wanted, and once it was done, I realized it didn’t really fit in the normal sub-genres. That made selling it a bit difficult. One rejecting editor even explained that he just didn’t know what genre to put it in.

Was the writing process any different for this new book and did you face any challenges with this subgenre shift?
SS: The biggest shift for me was Kate. She’s very different than my normal protagonists in that she’s tough, but comes with a lot of baggage. I wanted to show her addiction problem in a realistic way, in how she constantly justifies her behavior in a way that makes sense, but is also clearly a mask for her real desire to use the drugs she’s addicted to.

The biggest challenge in the genre shift was showcasing new and interesting worlds that follow some of the rules as our own, but clearly don’t in others. It was a bit of a dance to make them as strange as I could without making them too alien and not losing attention to the story itself.

Let’s talk about that striking cover. How did it all come together? What were your instructions/suggestions for it? How did you and the designer collaborate to create the cover?
SS: For the cover, I said I wanted Kate as well as the Viatoric glyph in her hand. I mentioned elements I’d also like to see, such as the ruins of Carcosa and swirls of misty, black aether. When they showed me the original draft, I loved it. My only suggestion was to add one or more moons behind her to show that the world the story takes place in isn’t Earth. They did, and I’m very happy with the final result.

Can you share something about the book that’s not mentioned in the blrb and why fans of your previous works should be excited for this new story?
SS: The blurb nails a lot of the big points, but one that it doesn’t is the monsters. Like with my Valducan stories, I have some gruesome monsters, many of which are based off of creatures from folklore, but from older interpretations than are normally seen in popular fiction. My fans should be happy to not just see the monsters, but the fight scenes. As they might expect, characters will die.

Is this story a standalone or part of a new saga?
SS: It’s a stand-alone, but I’ve got ideas for a sequel. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.

What are you currently writing? What will be next for you after this release?
SS: Currently, I’m working on some Tabletop RPG scenarios. Due to contracts, I’m not at liberty to say much about the project, but I’m very excited to be working in the industry that’s brought so much entertainment to my life. As far as my normal writing, I’ve been tooling around with a story about Fantasy-era spies. Sort of a James Bond Flintlock Fantasy.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us, Seth. When can we get our hands on Ashes Of Onyx? Anything else you have going on right now that you'd like the world to know about?
SS: Thank you very much for having me. The book is set to release January 28, 2020. Physical, e-book, and audiobook. Pre-orders have already opened for the Kindle edition.

Anyone who enjoys TTRPGs should swing by my YouTube channel. I try to make it both informative and entertaining (meaning I wear a lot of silly costumes). It’s fun.

Pre-order Ashes Of Onyx over HERE

Official Book Blurb: They stole her magic.

They killed her friends.

Nothing in the multiverse will stop her quest for revenge.

Kate Rossdale once held all the promise of becoming Baltimore’s greatest sorceress. But promise is a hard thing to hold when your coven is murdered, your magic is stripped away, and the only solace left to you comes one powdered line at a time.

When she’s offered the restoration of her power by a man she doesn’t know or trust, Kate sets in motion the retribution of her enemies.

Soon she finds herself racing across the globe, and across worlds, venturing into exotic realms of forbidden dreams, to the spires of Lost Carcosa, hunting for the magic-thief who robbed her of everything she held dear, including the most dangerous magic any sorceress can possess—hope.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Official Author Website
Order Permafrost over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alastair Reynolds was born in Wales in 1966. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy. From 1991 until 2007, he lived in The Netherlands, where he was employed by The European Space Agency as an astrophysicist. He is now a full-time writer

FORMAT/INFO: Permafrost is 192 pages long. It was published by Tor on March 19th, 2019. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Borne by Jeff Vandermeer (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Official Author Website
Order Borne over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: VanderMeer was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, but spent much of his childhood in the Fiji Islands, where his parents worked for the Peace Corps. This experience, and the resulting trip back to the United States through Asia, Africa, and Europe, deeply influenced him.

Jeff is married to Ann VanderMeer, who is currently an acquiring editor at and has won the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award for her editing of magazines and anthologies. They live in Tallahassee, Florida, with two cats and thousands of books.

FORMAT/INFO: Borne is 336 pages long. It was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on April 25, 2017. 

OVERVIEW: Imagine a wasteland seething with the weirdest kind of flora, fauna, and biotech. Imagine the unimaginable and you’ll get close. Borne, set in a ruined, nameless city at some point in the not-too-distant future, paints a world in which civilization has collapsed as a result of environmental degradation.

Survivors are terrorized by Mord, a massive flying bear more than five stories high. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Apart from being an insane monster, he provides also sustenance as sometimes some food or biotech can be found on him. When he’s asleep, scavengers try to “feed” on him. One of them, a woman named Rachel, finds a mysterious creature entangled in the fur of Mord. At first Borne looks like a green lump, but later on, he’s described as:

a hybrid of sea anemone and squid: a sleek vase with rippling colors that strayed from purple toward deep blues and greens. Four vertical ridges slid up the sides of its warm and pulsating skin. The texture was as smooth as waterworn stone, if a bit rubbery. It smelled of beach reeds on lazy summer afternoons and, beneath the sea salt, of passionflowers.

Rachel brings Borne home – to a decaying apartment complex she shares with her lover Wick, who used to work for the Company. Wick produces biotech drugs – mainly beetles that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and then release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide an escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.

Soon, Rachel discovers that small green lump transforms into sentient, rapidly growing and utterly inhuman life-form. Borne grows fast, it starts not only to think and read about the world but also "sample" living things, absorbing people and their experiences whole.

At its core, Borne is a novel about human relationships and limits of cognition – Rachel who has five senses try to communicate with the creature that perceives the world through nine senses. Playing with the concepts of dark and light, good and evil in its backdrop, the book focuses on Rachel and Wick as they try to survive in the savage world and figure out what’s between them. Rachel seeks some kind of sense in all of this. Not an easy task in a decaying world. For some time raising Borne gives a sense of direction. But it won’t last. Children grow and turn into teenagers, teenagers tend to rebel and leave their houses.

Borne is alien and he doesn’t have a knack for assimilating the rules of what is right and what is wrong. By nature, he’s a supernatural predator, by his upbringing wannabe pacifist. It won’t work.

The prose is smart and poetic in places. Especially when describing decaying wasteland or shapes Borne takes at a given moment. It’s not particularly flowery, it’s just very visual. On the other hand, it’s not very dynamic and, given that the pacing is a bit slow in places, the narrative lacks a certain punch that would make it stronger. Additionally, a lot of things are simply told and not shown (when Rachel speaks about Wick’s anger, sadness, etc). I guess the focus of the book lies elsewhere, it’s more about intellectual adventure than tight plotting.

While I usually don’t particularly like descriptions, it’s not the case this time. The world described by the author is easy to visualize and disturbing at the same time. My imagination was challenged in good way.

Having said that, the plot itself lacks tension and drama. The book lacks some cohesive mystery that would make a reader turn pages. I turned them because I was hooked by the world. The plot, though, wasn’t as interesting as the descriptions of the city and relationship dynamics between characters.

Overall, I’m rather impressed. The detailed and strange post-apocalyptic landscape presented in Borne is fascinating and unsettling. The city is a weird, artificial ecosystem in which bioengineered organisms live alongside buildings, people, and pollution, finding their place in this strange new hierarchy. Borne contains bleak moments, but it also shows light-hearted moments reminiscent of E.T. It’s creepy but entertaining.

I think it won’t appeal to people who enjoy fast pacing and tight plotting. On the other hand, I’m such a person and yet I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

I think it’s a book worth trying, especially if you want to taste New Weird subgenre (although VanderMeer work is also called Bio-Punk or Ecological Uncanny).

If, however, you happen to be a bear – don’t read this book. It may misrepresent your formidable species.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Quest of the Five Clans by Raymond St. Elmo (reviewed by Lukasz Przywóski)

Official Author Website
Buy the books HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Author information: Raymond St. Elmo is a computer programmer living in Texas. A degree in Spanish Literature gave him a love of magic realism. A fascination with artificial intelligence gave him a job. His books tend to be first-person fantastical accounts with frequent references to William Blake, Borges and PKD.

Format: The series was self-published by the author and is available through Kindle Unlimited and in ebook and paperback formats. Cover art by Mark Summers.

Overview: Raymond St. Elmo writes peculiar books. They're very much his own, inimitable, style. Always filled with plenty of literary and philosophical references that play out as the stories unfold. He writes with wit, wisdom, and eloquence. At times, he seems more focused on the language, ideas,  and internal monologues of well-educated and well-read characters than explosive action or linear plot. As a result, his books, Quest of the Five Clans included, won't appeal to everyone. 

Quest of the Five Clans is an engaging series that will appeal to some, and bore others. I have an impression it's kind of a story that's more language, than character or plot-driven. It plays with poetry and makes philosophical excursions that don't move the plot forward.  Moments of sheer brilliance mix with moments of utter confusion. 

That said, readers looking for something different, clever and full of quotable lines should take a look at the series. Especially that the final book will be published in a few months making it bingeable.

While slightly mind-bending, the series contains enough exciting and humorous moments to engage readers and satisfy their need for action and witty dialogue. It introduces a lot of magical beings, including a were-fox and a were-bull or a clockwork kid. They all belong to different clans linked in one way or another to Rayne Gray's (hero of the series) spouse. They have little in common. Except for their weakness for kilts. What's the deal with them anyway?

I'll do my best to introduce the series for you, but the first few chapters of The Blood Tartan will tell you if it's your cup of tea better and faster than me, so why won't you try them?

The Blood Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #1) by Raymond St. Elmo
300 pages, published on  July 13th 2017

The first book in the series introduces Rayne Gray, the hero, and turns his world upside down. Rayne is a madman. When he's not killing, he's cheerful, charitable, and philosophical about his life of violence. He soon finds himself in a lot of troubles - three steps from madness, two steps from arrest, one step from death

To make matters worse (and interesting), he engages with a vampiric creature with entire clans of strange cousins. As a result, he has to deal not only with power-hungry maniacs obsessed with expanding their industrial empire but also with vampires. You'll see him fighting for his life, fleeing hunters, edging past madmen, brooding on poetry and whiskey and vengeance. And quoting Blake.

It's a surprisingly dark book that doesn't always feel this way because the voice of the narrator is humorous. Rayne's first-person narrative remains engaging, fun and light-hearted against all odds.  His observations are hilarious:

There is no more powerful reply to doubts of self-existence than to have booted idiots tread your toes. Ouch, ergo sum.

The Blood Tartan serves as an excellent introduction to St. Elmo's books, as it has a clear and well-pronounced plotline and intrigue. It doesn't shy away from philosophical ramblings and questions or literary references but is easy to read and follow. Witty references in the book (William Blake poetry, Occam's razor) won't be accessible to everyone. Once you get them, though, they add another layer of fun/meaning to the story. 

If, after finishing The Blood Tartan, you'll want more, you're in for a treat - you can immediately jump to the sequel. 

Overall, it's a great start to the series that will show you if St. Elmo's voice resonates with you. Even if it's not your cup of tea, chances are you'll remember at least a few great lines anyway.

The Moon Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #2) by Raymond St. Elmo
279 pages, published on  January 1st, 2018

Rayne's honeymoon in a haunted castle in Scotland ends rather abruptly. He has to deal with old enemies. To do so, he needs to return to Londonish to "kill a man, affirm social justice, place flowers upon a grave, and recover a fortune stolen". To his big surprise, there's another Rayne Gray in the city. A tricky business.

If you liked The Blood Tartan, you will be delighted in this sequel. If you finished The Blood Tartan unsure of your feelings, I would encourage you to pick up The Moon Tartan - we get more of Gray, more of the family, some development of our characters and some introductions of new ones.

The Moon Tartan is an intriguing novel. It contains a lot of good things: Vampires, minotaurs, death, mayhem, poetry, beheading with a scythe, philosophical ramblings, and stuff. Plus, the ending. Things will get interesting for Rayne.

The Harlequin Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #3) by Raymond St. Elmo
209 pages, published on  June 29th, 2018

Rayne Gray has lived a violent life that earned him a deep enmity of numerous beings (living and dead). He slew countless individuals, both friends, and foes. He's no stranger to a bloodbath, but he's also appreciative of finer things in life: love, poetry, art. He's a kind of protagonist who'll behead a friend while quoting Shakespeare.

Rayne considers himself firmly grounded in reality; fairy tales, magic, or vampires may inspire poets, but it doesn't make them real. A sound approach to life. Albeit a bit tricky when your wife is a vampire.

The events presented in The Moon Tartan resulted in Harlequin clan members stealing Mr. and Ms. Gray's memories of each other. The question remains what will happen after his reunion with his wife - will he slay her as a monster, or will she devour him as an evening meal?

The Harlequin Tartan is more difficult than previous entries, parts of the book presenting Rayne's visions and dream landscapes were challenging to follow. In the end, though, things come together nicely in a happy disco dance on a cemetery. Vampires, undead, bankers join hands and dance, and... Nah, I'm just joking. There's no dance. But there is a final, surprisingly brutal (dismemberment, beheading and stuff) and passionate sequence taking place in the middle of the night on a cemetery where Rayne plans to kill those he had already killed.

Quality stuff.

The Clockwork Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #4) by Raymond St. Elmo
218 pages, published on  July 29th, 2019

I stand in the doorway, my obituary in pocket. A torn scrap of tomorrow’s newsprint declaring this dull place, this sunny day, for my death. But what hour? Doesn’t say. Perhaps the press won’t think it matters. Annoying. It matters to me. Who knows the hour of their death? Not I, only the date and address. Might not come till evening.

Rayne leads an interesting life, as any self-respecting Spadassin should. He's no stranger to violence, fencing, fighting or poisoning. But nothing prepared him for being a husband and to deal with more of the clans nonsense. This time he faces the Clockmakers, his in-laws dabbling in automata and time travel. After a relatively normal beginning, things get complicated.

Rayne enters Halls of Time where different doorways lead to different pasts and futures. Some, he visits alone. Some with his unexpected companions.

It's the fourth book in the series. If you've read previous ones I won't have to convince you to try this one. If the adventure is still ahead of you, know this. The Quest of the Five Clans series blends classic adventure fantasy with magical realism elements, philosophy and profound love for the language. You'll observe characters fencing not only with sabers but also with quotes from famous poems. Moments of pure delight and deep reflection, all caught in elegant phrases. Strange visions and things that happen between dream and reality.

The Clockwork Tartan is, probably, my favorite entry in the series. I can't help but wonder what insanities await Rayne in the final tome of the series.

In conclusion, if you love weird and unique fiction that includes literary references, elements of magical realism, a cast of intriguing and mad characters and some rather nuanced humor then give Quest a try.

Personally, I can't wait to read the ultimate book in the series called The Scaled Tartan. Rayne but will deal with the final clan, a folk who can change form to dragons, raise the dead, and are fond of tea and chess.

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