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Monday, July 15, 2019

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by KJ Parker (mini-review by Lukasz Przywoski)




Order Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City over HERE



AUTHOR INFORMATION: K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt. 

According to the biographical notes in some of Parker's books, Parker has previously worked in law, journalism, and numismatics, and now writes and makes things out of wood and metal. It is also claimed that Parker is married to a solicitor and now lives in southern England. According to an autobiographical note, Parker was raised in rural Vermont, a lifestyle which influenced Parker's work.


OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: This is the story of Orhan, son of Siyyah Doctus Felix Praeclarissimus, and his history of the Great Siege, written down so that the deeds and sufferings of great men may never be forgotten.

A siege is approaching, and the city has little time to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all.

To save the city will take a miracle, but what it has is Orhan. A colonel of engineers, Orhan has far more experience with bridge-building than battles, is a cheat and a liar, and has a serious problem with authority. He is, in other words, perfect for the job.

CLASSIFICATION: Military fantasy.

FORMAT: Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City was published in April 2019 by Orbit. It's available in an e-book, paperback, and hardcover format. 

The book counts 384 pages

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: 
“According to the books (there’s an extensive literature on the subject) there are fifteen ways to defend a walled city. You can try one of them and, if that doesn’t work...What the books don’t tell you is, there’s a sixteenth way. You can use it when you’ve got nothing; no stuff, no men, and nobody to lead them. Apart from that it’s got nothing to recommend it whatsoever.”

I’ve discovered KJ Parker late in my life, through his excellent novellas. I became a believer. Brilliant minds impress me and Parker’s books shine with wit, humor, and clever ideas. He doesn’t delve into magic. Instead, he focuses on politics, finances, and logistics of war. 

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City narrated by Orhan, an engineer turned emperor, tells the story of the Great Siege. The Walled City has poor perspectives, what with thousands of enemies around it, plus lack of food and water. But little things like that won’t stop a Colonel of Engineers. 

Orhan colorizes the events and his role in them, but I couldn’t help but root for him. I have a soft spot for cynics, especially when they discover they can still act for a higher good (no matter how stupid and pointless in a longer run). Even when they lie and cheat along the way. Orhan’s actions stem mostly from logic, calculation, and luck. Somehow the fates favor him and allow him to wriggle out of the fix.  

The story doesn’t demand a lot of world-building, but what we get gives a sense of the current state of affairs at large. Apart from interesting military and personal conflict, Orhan presents also a racial and class differences that divide the society even in the face of almost inevitable doom. 

With a steady pacing, solid, lean writing and variety of twists, the novel keeps on surprising the reader, but it doesn’t prepare him for an abrupt ending. What can I say? I wanted more. heck, I still want more.

CONCLUSION: Highly recommended, especially for readers enjoying sarcastic, witty, irreverent, and unreliable narrators. 


Friday, July 12, 2019

The God King's Legacy by Richard Nell (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski and Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order The God King's Legacy over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of Paradise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of Ash
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Richard Nell

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to 'write full-time'. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes sure he eats.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: God-king Marsun, the 'Demon King', has ruled for centuries. But nothing lasts forever. Once just an illiterate tribal chief, Marsun trapped an ancient evil within his mighty soul, united scattered tribes, then retreated from the world. But his sacrifice is all but forgotten. Technology marches on; new ambitious powers rise; unhappy lords plot rebellion; and from every corner of civilization, savage enemies gather. The God King's legacy has just begun...

From the author of Kings of Paradise comes two tales in a world of knights and demons, muskets and cannon fire. Flintlock fantasy mixed with the grit of Game of Thrones.

1) Rebellion of the Black Militia - Johann Planck, bastard and scribe of the god-king's tower, is yanked from his peaceful life of academia, and ordered to capture an immortal creature of darkness. If the knight he's accompanying doesn't kill him, or the demon 'Sazeal', fresh rebellion just might.

2) Devil of the 22nd - A crumbling empire. An abandoned army. Kurt Val Clause is an ordinary soldier trying to keep it all together because no one else has the balls. Now he has one chance to win a glorious future, die in agony, or lose his soul. He just might do all three.

FORMAT/INFO: The God King Legacy is 294 pages long divided over two novellas and further divided into nine and ten chapters. This is the prequel omnibus volume to the God King Chronicles.

The book was self-published by the author on June 10th, 2019 and it's available as an e-book and paperback. Cover art and design is provided by Shawn T. King.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): This is the first prequel novella in the God-King Chronicles by Richard Nell, the author who has written the magnificently twisted Kings Of Paradise. Not to lie down with just that acclaim, this Canadian bugger went ahead and created another story which in my estimates is more complex and cooler than the Ash & Sand one.

The first novella "Rebellion Of The Black Militia" focuses on Johann Planck, an apprentice-scribe who's devoted his young life to the study of demons, their lore and the history of their kingdom. Introverted, pious and judgmental to a fault, Johann is doing his best to prove himself to his Scribery masters. He gets tasked with going to the Humberland province wherein a demon is loose and needs to be re-tethered. Helping him along with task is the deadly warrior named Lamorak the stone knight and a dour persona at that.

Pretty soon the readers and Johann learn that the demon isn't the only problem plaguing the lord and lady of Humberland. There's also perhaps a rebellion brewing or is there something more? All of these events and more force Johann to reconsider what his role is and perhaps what he wants in his life.

Richard Nell does a lot in this novella, not only do we get a whole new world, we also get a flintlock fantasy that's mashed with demons in an epic way. As has been the case with his debut book, characterization is Richard's forte and he excels herein as well. Readers won't like Johann when they meet him but there's more to him as we realize, the same is case with Lamorak and many other characters that we meet. This tale is Richard's take on the knight & his apprentice trope but done from the POV of the apprentice who looks down on the knight and everything else. The effect is darkly humourous and possibly intentional. The story is spread out over nine chapters and we get to see quite a lot of things, there's action, sex, plot twists and a satisfying ending that really made this novella a standout one.

The second novella is “Devil of the 22nd” and focusses on Kurt Val Clause, a veteran sergeant of the red division of the Keevland Empire’s eastern army, and one mean, smart son of a bitch. The empire as well as the military higher ups have all but forgotten about the First division. Kurt and his fellow soldiers have become a renegade unit of sorts, doing their own thing while under the apparent aegis of the emperor. Things take a weird turn when the regiment gets orders for a rescue and recovery of a Ms. Clara Lehmann. Kurt however decides to take those orders and spin them to his own flavor. Things are soon afoot in the Helveti lands where new things will be discovered and legends will be made.

The second novella is a bit longer and more twisted than the first. Kurt Van Clause isn’t a likeable narrator but he is a charismatic sociopath. He twists opinions, perceptions & rumours to his purpose & he has had two decades worth of time to perfect his devilish charm. This story unlike the first doesn’t have any heroes in it. It has soldiers, killers and a demon. But what it also has is a very strong narrative that keeps you hooked with its twists as well as its pace.

Richard Nell certainly has a way with his plots, we can’t really be sure where the story is heading. Plus Kurt and the other soldiers introduced within are certainly a cast worth following. Neither heroes but not outright villains either, the author really makes them human enough to be mildly sympathetic.

Overall this novella is distinctly different than the first one and is more about the mental justifications characters utilize to do things that are morally reprehensible. The story also focuses on a demon similar to the first but the character's interactions are completely different. The ending though is really unpredictable and sets up an interesting twist for the main series.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): As a huge fan of Nell’s Ash and Sand trilogy, I had to check this novella. And I liked it a lot. Once again Nell impressed me with character-development, brisk pacing and engaging plot.

Our POV character Johann is an apprentice scribe, a decent, well-educated lad, but more of a thinker than a doer. When a famous knight yanks him from his quiet, peaceful life of academia, and tells him to capture a powerful demon, Johann’s far from thrilled. Especially when the Knight he used to admire behaves like a brute who smokes all the time and enjoys spitting his phlegm in sacred places.

The mission turns from dangerous to insanely dangerous when the pair discovers that a rebellion is brewing in the King’s Lands. Johann gets promoted to a sergeant, gets a musket. He needs to stop the rebellion, survive, and capture a demon. Easy.

The characters and their development are excellent (for a novella format), and Johann and Lamorak’s interactions regularly switch between hilarious (Johann’s naïve outrage at his companion’s uncouth behaviour) and unsettling (Lamorak kills his enemies without remorse and has no scruples to slay underage traitors). Their conflicting morals bring nice tension to the story.

Despite short-length, the world-building feels rich and ingenious. I loved the concept of binding a demon to use his powers and the flintlock elements. Action and battle-scenes thrilled me, and I loved the ending. An excellent novella and a good introduction to Nell’s writing. Highly recommended.

I’ve officially read everything Richard Nell had published. Now I need to hack his computer and read things he hasn’t published yet.

Kurt ‘the Devil’ Val Clause has served the empire of Keevland since he was twelve. Somehow he survived twenty years of war, most of it at the front, and now he schemes for power, plunder and glory. He’s cruel, cynical and rotten to the core. But in Nell’s world fouler things than he exist, and Kurt will have to face a challenge unlike any other.

As a huge fan of a novella format, I think Rich Nell does things right. His pacing, characters, plotting and twists are top-notch. Devil of the 22nd presents a cruel world in which power-hungry sociopaths shape reality. Don’t expect to find any redeeming qualities in Kurt and his people. They‘re murderers and scums.

Most of them would happily continue a pointless life of abuse, but Kurt has a vision, and he wants to secure a place for them to live and prosper. I didn‘t like Kurt. But I liked his story and an excellent twist near the end of the novella. He craved power, and he got it, just not the one he expected or desired :)

Once Nell wraps up Ash and Sand series, I would love him to revisit God-King chronicles universe. I need more demons in my life.

CONCLUSION (MIHIR): Richard Nell has created a very intriguing world and a magic system premise that's very sparsely mentioned here but is very, very imaginative. Think the demon lore of Peter V. Brett's the Warded Man saga mixed with Django Wexler's flintlock fantasy and you'll get an idea of where this series might be heading. As for me, I can’t wait for the author to write the first full length book in The God King Chronicles as I wanted more of this fascinating world.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire by G. M. Nair (reviewed by Justine Bergman)


Official Author Website
Order Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire over HERE (US) or HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: G.M. Nair is a crazy person who should never be taken seriously. Despite possessing both a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Aerospace Engineering and a job as an Aviation and Aerospace Consultant, he writes comedy for the stage and screen, and maintains the blog MakeMomMarvel.Com. Now he is making the leap into the highly un-lucrative field of independent book publishing.

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire is his first novel, and in a world with a fair and loving god, it would be his last. Alas, he tends to continue. G.M. Nair lives in New York City and in a constant state of delusion.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.

The only problem is: He and Stephanie don't have one of those.

Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray only to find that they are way out of their depth. They stumble upon a web of missing people that are curiously linked to a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time. And unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and fix the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, no longer exist.

FORMAT/INFO: Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire is 300 pages divided over 32 numbered and titled chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue, and is a standalone novel. The book is currently available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover format. It was self-published by the author on March 30, 2019. Cover art by Tareque Powaday.

CLASSIFICATION: Science Fiction/Humor

ANALYSIS:
"Because when nothing really matters...then everything matters."
Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire is a brilliant blend of science fiction and snarky comedy, just oozing with laugh-out-loud humor and sarcasm. Set in a bustling city very reminiscent of modern day Manhattan, we're dropped into a seemingly normal world of workplace cubicles, laundromats, and fifth floor walk-ups, but that all changes very quickly. Following a trail of lightning strikes and the stench of lingering ozone, we find ourselves tumbling through the multi-verse in hopes of solving a mystery; one that if left unsolved, could destroy all. Once you begin to peel away the layers of banter and wit, there's a truly touching tale of family and friendship hidden within. This is a story of righting wrongs, surviving alongside the consequences of your actions, and seeking the means to change the past, regardless of the painful journey of the finding the truth.

This book is packed to the brim with sensational and strange happenings, including the elusive and enigmatic Sticky Note Specter, multi-verse hopping via exploding persons and tears in the space-time continuum, and people mysteriously disappearing without rhyme or reason - and this is just in the "real" universe. Once we make our way to alternate universes, we're met with knights riding atop their trusty giant rabbits, territorial man-eating hamburgers (you read that correctly), cubist cowboys, and eyeball-laden minotaurs. This book gets more curious and glorious with each chapter, and it's such a treat to read. Clever writing and a plot that twists and turns left me guessing until the final moments. My only criticism is that the ending felt a bit rushed to me, and it may have been more conducive to experience events through the eyes of a different character.

Speaking of characters, Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer are two of the most relatable and, for lack of a better word, familiar characters I've read in a long while. Duckett, a strait-laced slave of the corporate world, suffering from social anxiety, and struggling to make ends meet. Dyer, a charismatic, yet nihilistic couch potato, who coasts through life on the coattails of others. They're polar opposites, but balance each other beautifully, and have been the best of friends since childhood. Their relationship is one that feels so genuine, one of loyalty, each always willing to protect the other, despite the disapproval and hurt simmering beneath the surface - a relationship that transcends friendship, and into the realm of family. The quips, the anger and resulting guilt, the heart-to-hearts, all of these things make these characters feel so real, and I love them to pieces.

In addition to our faux P.I.s, the other point of view we're introduced to is that of Detective Rex Calhoun, a very Roger Murtaugh-esque "hard-boiled" detective, who's just too old for this shit. Always finding himself in the most inopportune circumstances, at the most inopportune times, he's the lawful stabilization to the chaotic mess known as Duckett & Dyer, and such a wonderful addition to the story.

Nair has infused this story with such a magnificently organic, (relatively) clean, and oftentimes nostalgic humor that I rarely come across in any genre. The deadpan buddy comedy, unexpected and amusing one-liners, and back-and-forth bickering had me cackling like a fool throughout. Let me set up a scene for you: Duckett & Dyer are being arrested for falsely identifying themselves as licensed private investigators. Dyer exclaims, "I want a lawyer! Is Dick Wolf an attorney? I want Executive Producer Dick Wolf! Am I being detained?" I immediately made the Law & Order 'dun dun' sound, laughed myself to tears, then Googled how to spell the sound in preparation for this review (opinions differ greatly). I can't tell you how many of these I came across, forcing me to put the book down just to regain my composure. Discovering these amazing trinkets sits towards the top of the list of the most satisfying aspects of this book.

I initially went into this book expecting weird and snark, and I happily got that and then some. Nair has created something superbly unique, filled with a refreshing level of creativity rarely seen, making this story tons of fun from the first page of the prologue through the last page of the epilogue. Beautiful character dynamics and unrivaled humor dominate this sci-fi/comedy/mystery mash-up, and the only way to truly appreciate this endeavor is to give it a read yourself. Although this is a standalone, I definitely wouldn't mind spending more time with Michael and Stephanie in the future. If you're looking for a whole lot of laughs, and are willing to roam through strange worlds filled with fantastical blood-thirsty creatures, then Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire is just what you need.

Note: A huge thank you to the author, G.M. Nair, for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order Theory of Bastards over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born a long time ago, in another country, Schulman has traveled enough to have vomited on four continents, including once onto a Masai tribesman’s feet.  He, unfortunately, was barefoot.

Her books aren't boring.  For a short time, one was even optioned for a movie with Wes Craven (the director of Nightmare on Elm Street).

She now lives near Boston with her family and runs an energy-efficiency nonprofit called HEET.

FORMAT/INFO: Theory of Bastards is 416 pages long divided over twenty-nine chapters. The book won 2019 Philip K. Dick Award for BEST Science Fiction and was a FINALIST of 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Speculative Fiction.

Theory of Bastards was published on April 24, 2018, by Europa Editions and is available in following formats: ebook, paperback, and audiobook. Cover art and design are provided by Emanuel Ragnisco.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Theory of Bastards is a weird book. But also a brilliant one. It focuses on Francine Burke, a superstar of the biological research, fascinated by whimsical mating habits of different species (finches, humans, primates). She accepts a position in a facility studying primates, including pansexual Bonobos. Frankie finds their promiscuous mating behavior fascinating from the evolutionary point of view. When everyone has sex with everyone how can females be sure if their offspring gets the best genes?

The narrative, divided between Frankie’s current research at the Foundation and glimpses from her past, focuses on the science behind our choices of sexual partners. Don’t worry, it never turns into a boring collection of data. Schulman weaves the research seamlessly into the narrative making the novel unputdownable.

Frankie is cold and distanced, focused on collecting data and proving her new theory that women cheat on men because titular bastards have evolutionary advantages. She tries to approach Bonobos as subjects, not as living and feeling creatures. Not an easy task when you work with such a colorful group of characters. As we get glimpses of Frankie's past, her struggles with the debilitating pain caused by endometriosis, and her strained and unhealthy relationships it gets easier to relate to her and understand her caustic demeanor. It's rare to see this particular ailment pictured in speculative fiction and even rarer to see it done so well.

Theory of Bastards starts and develops slowly until it reaches an unexpected post-apocalyptic turn. When the technology fails, Frankie, her assistant and a group of Bonobos will have to fight for survival. Following scenes show, rather realistically, struggles of people suddenly disconnected from technological advancements they had been using all their lives. I like small scale narratives and Schulman's choice to follow a small group of primates (two people and Bonobos) resulted in an intimate and engaging story about instincts, reason, and emotions appearing in the face of the unknown.

CONCLUSION: I loved Theory of Bastards. It's almost perfect. I'm not sure if it will appeal to fans of edge-of-your-seat-style narratives, but it should engage readers who enjoy a literary blend of academic research, evolutional psychology, and philosophy. It offers a brilliant mix of ecological and speculative fiction and proves that a skilled writer can turn the scientific study of human and bonobo sexual preferences into exciting fiction.






































Monday, July 8, 2019

Interview with SL Huang


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Zero Sum Game
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Null Set


Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is SL Huang? And why should everyone be reading your books?

Because they’re awesome! And math is awesome! Ha.

I’m an MIT graduate, Hollywood stuntwoman, and firearms expert who decided to write some books about math and guns. Billed by Tor as “the geek’s Jack Reacher,” they’re nonstop action-packed thrillers, and the main character’s superpowers are being able to do math really, really fast. Which she uses to kill people. As one does with math.

As a nonwhite woman, it was also important to me to make them very diverse books, filled with people who look like me and the friends around me in Los Angeles. And I do thrill in writing Cas, my main character, as something of an antihero who is also a woman—I think we have far too little female representation in the dark, snarky, and hypercompetent category.

When and why have you decided to become an author? 

I don’t think I ever really decided so much as I was always writing, since before I can remember. I’ve always, always made up stories and I’ve always, always been writing them down.

The clearer decision was when to start publishing. Aside from early childhood dreams of being an author and publishing Real Books—I did have those, though I also had dreams of being an astronaut and President—I didn’t have a strong desire to publish my fiction until I wrote Zero Sum Game, which is actually my fourth novel. Writing had for so long been the thing I did “just for me” that it was a big change to decide I was at the point where I wanted to share!

Before we get any further there’s this one thing I need to ask you about. On your website you mention that you were lit on fire four times, three times on purpose. Can you elaborate? 




Sure! As a stuntwoman, I’ve been lit on fire several times on purpose—it’s a stunt I love doing, and the fire teams I’ve worked with have been phenomenal and super skilled. I love doing big burns; it’s one of my favorite things.

The one time that wasn’t on purpose . . . well . . .

I have this very good friend. We’ve been friends since college, and every time one of us has a bad idea, the other one very much does not say, “no, maybe let’s not” but instead says, “THAT’S BRILLIANT WE SHOULD TOTALLY DO THAT.” So one year, when I decided to have a birthday party, and one of us said, “oh my god, there should be flaming shots!” the other of us said “YES THAT’S BRILLIANT WE SHOULD TOTALLY DO THAT.”

We looked up how to make flaming shots on the Internet. You can find anything on there, did you know?

Fast forward to midnight, when I was . . . no longer sober . . . and my friend made me another flaming shot. Which I promptly spilled on myself. Being, you know, no longer sober, I looked down at my hands—which were very definitely, very obviously covered in merry flames—giggled, and said, “I’m on fire!”

My friend, fortunately, took me to the sink and put me out before all the alcohol burned off and the fire got started on my skin.

What draws you to writing in the genre? And how would you classify your books? A science fiction thriller? A thriller with supernatural elements? 

Any or all of the above!

It’s quite hard for me to classify my books. They’re science fiction and thriller, they’re contemporary but supernatural, a little bit of an urban fantasy vibe but definitely not fantasy, and superhero but with a noir feel. I usually say scifi thriller, as that seems to fit them the best and conveys the “speculative genre” and “fast-paced excitement” parts.

I confess I didn’t set out to write in a particular subgenre—I wrote the books I wanted to read, and unfortunately they’re a little hard to slot into existing categories!

As for what drew me to writing genre . . . I’m not sure. Growing up, I read voraciously across all genre lines, and I don’t even really know when I started gravitating more and more toward speculative fiction. I think by the time I was reading mostly SFF and defining myself as a SFF fan, I couldn’t have looked back and said when that happened.

Because it’s what I read, it was never really a decision as to what I would write; I think I was writing SFF before I was even clear on what the genre lines might be. But I truly love speculative fiction as a lens for talking about the real world—I think it’s one of the most effective places to explore both deep thematic parallels to reality and also offer some raw escapism.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. What do you start from? Do you start with a character, an image, or an idea? Talk a little bit about how a novel “grows” for you.

I definitely start with character. If I don’t have character, I don’t have a book. The characters’ motivations and choices are what drive the writing forward for me.

As this might indicate, I fall more on the side of “pantser”—someone who discovers the book as I go rather than writing to an outline. I do find it helpful to have a general idea of what the structure will be in my head, and I try to figure out large turning points like the midpoint and the climax I’m heading for when I’m still early on. But the characters can always overturn that if, when I get there, I realize that based on my setup they absolutely 100% would not do what I had planned for them!

What’s the hardest thing for you during the whole “writing experience”?

I think the same as a lot of other authors—when I get stuck, and whatever I’m writing just isn’t working. It’s an awful place to be, and I hate it! I also hate the self-doubt that inevitably follows, that I don’t know how to write a novel despite having written half a dozen, and this one I will fail at and never be able to get to work.

Fortunately, I’ve learned better and better techniques to deal with this when I fall into it, but it’s still the most awful part of the process for me.

What made you decide to initially self-publish as opposed to traditional publishing?

A variety of reasons. I’d heard horror stories about characters being whitewashed or book covers showing female leads in ridiculously sexist poses, and that made me gun shy, since the diversity of my cast is so important to me. I also really wanted to publish under Creative Commons, and I was intrigued about going through the whole publishing process myself, which is an experience I still feel was very valuable. I also wasn’t terribly attached to what I saw as the “cachet” of being published—I was happy with my job in Hollywood, and I just wanted to start putting the books out there at the highest production value I could give them so that other people could read them, too.

It’s also certainly true that I didn’t actually know how much I didn’t know about publishing at that point. I thought I had done all my research, but it turns out I was still very ignorant about a lot of things in the industry. And, more saliently, I had yet to learn which parts of self-publishing versus being with a commercial publisher would and wouldn’t work for me personally, which was a much bigger learning curve than I had expected. I kind of had to figure it out through my first years as I self-published novels and did some short works with small presses. I listened, I learned an incredible amount, and I’ve been lucky enough to land in a place where I have the ability to choose what I think will work best for me and for my books.

What made you decide to sign with Tor Books and republish your books, traditionally this time? 

By the year I got the Tor deal, I’d already come to the conclusion that, in the long run, going with a publisher was going to be much better for me. As I’d gotten more experience with self-publishing, with publishers, and in the publishing landscape generally, I’d started to realize that my own skills and limitations were a far better “fit” for traditional publishing. I’m still very glad self-publishing exists as an option, and other authors have found a great home there, but it was becoming clear that for me it wasn’t going to be the best long-term choice.

I was also getting an extremely good response to my work across the publishing landscape, which suggested that I was lucky enough to have the option of working with a publisher, if I wanted it. Agents and editors were expressing interest in whatever new work I might be thinking about, and I resolved to start working on a novel that I would query with and start my hybrid career.

I did, however, expect the Cas Russell books to stay self-published, as it’s extremely, extremely rare for a self-published series to get a publisher pickup the way mine did. Enter my magical agent,

Russell Galen, who drastically changed my career and, frankly, my life. I signed with him because I had movie interest on the books, and he told me that it was fine if I wanted to keep the books self-published—it would always be my decision—but that he was confident he could get me a six-figure deal with a Big 5 publisher.

Within my writing life, I’d already determined a more traditional career was what I wanted . . . and outside my writing life, I was at a career crossroads thanks to some health issues and surgeries. So when my agent said that, I jumped hard and didn’t look back.

He was right, and now I’m a full-time writer thanks to this deal launching my traditional career!

What did you find easy, difficult, or surprising about the publishing process?

Back when I first started working with editors on my short fiction, I think I’d say what surprised me most is how wonderful it felt to be part of a team. When I was self-publishing, of course I had my cover artist, editor, and other professionals I hired to help me, but I was the only one who was in the thick of it every day, intensely invested in the success of my book.

And the first time I had editors and a magazine alongside me in that investment? It was marvelous! I felt supported, and cheered on, and like I had other people than me doing heavy lifting to make sure everything was a success.

Looking back, I think I had some naïve ideas about “control” over one’s work versus working with editors, and I’m very glad those have since been knocked out of me. I’m not saying there aren’t poor editors out there, but I could not be happier with all of my editorial experiences thus far. My excellent editor for the Cas Russell series, Diana Gill, hasn’t taken any “control” from me at all—instead, she pushes me to make the books so much better. More of what I want them to be. She’s amazing, and I could not be more grateful to have her eye and talents. My whole team at Tor makes me so happy—my cover designer and his stunning art, my tireless, invaluable publicists, my copyeditors and proofreaders who catch literally everything, the editorial assistants who go above and beyond . . . I have a team now! And it makes me giddy!


I absolutely love your Cas Russell series. What was your initial inspiration for it?

I’ve long had an idea about science and math skills as superpowers, and it’s something I’ve had knocking around in my brain for years. It wasn’t until I figured out the premise for Cas, though, that I realized this is how I wanted to tell that story.

The initial idea I’d had was much more ensemble-cast and focused on a variety of powers. But I’d never really been able to get it to work. Once I hit on making the Cas books much more focused on mathematical powers than my initial idea was, and starring a particular, prickly, kickass protagonist in a grounded, contemporary setting, everything ended up fitting together very nicely!

You’ve created fascinating and unique characters. Cas is a mathematical prodigy for whom killing is not a big deal, Rio lacks empathy and can be described a weapon of mass-destruction. Both are great. Do you have a favorite one to write yourself? 

I love writing all of them!

Cas might be my favorite to write just because she gives no fucks and she can be so sarcastic and funny while also busting through her world with violence. As I mention below, my nerdy hacker Checker is the most like me, so I also get a big kick out of writing him. But I love Arthur and Rio too, especially their voices and the way they can so powerfully challenge Cas’s worldview.

In Null Set, we also see Pilar for the first time, and I want to give her a special shoutout. Pilar is a character type I feel we rarely see in a female action hero. Unlike the other characters, she’s not a math genius or a hacker or a serial killer or a private investigator. She’s not broken or a killer or a criminal. She stumbled into this world without much experience, and is a bit too delightful and kind and normal for it. But she learns fast and levels up, and I like to think she does it in a way where she never loses the core of who she is.

I like the fact Cas has male platonic male friends and isn’t engaged in any kind of romance. As a reader I dislike romance, but I know I’m in a minority. Do people contact you with expectations regarding Cas’s love life? Do you think that good fiction needs romance/sexual tension?

Oh, of course not! I think plenty of great fiction has romance as an element, but I certainly don’t think it’s necessary. We can write about the human condition so broadly in so many ways; there’s no element we have to have.

And I confess, I’m not as interested in romance myself as a reader, which is probably why I didn’t write very much in.

As for whether people contact me about Cas’s love life, well, a fair number of people ship her with one of the male characters (I’ve heard people root for Rio, Arthur, and Checker all three, but Rio the most—clearly what Cas needs most in her life is a relationship with a psychopathic serial killer). But the most common question I’ve gotten, mostly from queer readers who want more QUILTBAG portrayals, is whether they might be right in reading Cas as asexual. And they are indeed right! I intended from the beginning for Cas to be gray asexual, and I’m delighted people are picking that up. Her particular orientation is such that romance and sex aren’t off the table for her, but they’re also nowhere on her priority list. So however long the series runs, you can expect it to continue to be relatively low on the romance scale.

The main characters in any book are commonly considered a reflection of the author. Is this true in “Cas Russell series”?

Checker is! I often say Checker is the character who is most like me (although he’s a lot more talkative than I am). We’re both pretty intense in our geekery.

People ask a lot whether Cas is based on me, and I always laugh, because I really HOPE I am a nicer and less murderous person than she is. I do think, though, that there’s a little bit of my id in her—those sneaky hindbrain bits that wish that when someone condescended to me I could punch them in the face. (To be clear, I do not do this.)

Everyone’s favorite character, though, is Rio, my delightfully empathy-lacking serial killer. This makes me worry slightly about my readers. And no, he is not based on me at all.


What sort of research did you do for Cas Russell series?

So, so much research. Everything tech-related I mention, every bit of law enforcement procedure, everything I can think to ask a question about I’ve researched. For example, the way the EMP worked in Zero Sum Game was as close as possible to government reports I read on the subject, and the cell phone hacking in Null Set is also as near to reality as I could get it.

And, of course, the math. I do so, so much math for this series—many of Cas’s computations, I’ve done ridiculous research on the particular scenario and then walked through the calculations myself just to make sure it’s possible. And, of course, to pull some lines of texture. It’s not unusual for me to spend an entire afternoon on math research for about three lines of the book.

Would you say that Cas Russell series follows tropes or kicks them?

Both, I hope. As a lifelong SFF reader, I hope I both hit the tropes I love about the genre—and subvert the ones I think we can do better at!
For example, mind control is a big theme in the series, and I think that’s something SFF tends to treat in an abysmally cavalier way, from J.K. Rowling to Professor X. I’ve purposely been playing off that history in the way I approach it here, and at the same time pushing against it.

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

I’ve always wished someone would ask me what Rio says to Cas in Tagalog in Zero Sum Game.
Because then I could explain that it means “I believe in your teapot.”

And then I could explain further, that it’s a reference to Russell’s teapot—a thought experiment that is often used in support of atheism. The mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell posited that if he said a teapot was floating in space above Earth, the burden of proof was on him to prove it, not on other people to disprove the existence of such a teapot. It’s commonly seen as a way of saying the burden of proof is on religious people to prove God exists, not on atheists to prove God’s nonexistence.

Rio, however, being religious, is using this extremely esoteric analogy to remind Cas that his faith is his guiding principle. The play on Russell’s teapot amuses him . . . but he’s also doing it deliberately in a language Cas doesn’t understand, because otherwise it might too obviously be an indication that the “Russell” in Cas’s name isn’t originally hers, and instead was chosen as a reference to that same mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell.

What can we expect in the next book? You’ve mentioned that republished books will differ from the first four self-published instalments. 

Yes, and they’re differing more and more as the series goes on. But the next book after Null Set will actually be a brand-new novel, never before seen in any form!

As to what to expect—without giving too many spoilers for Null Set, I’ll say:
Cas’s mental condition, which is a big part of Null Set, will continue to be an ongoing theme in the book coming after that. I’m not a fan of magical cures, and I don’t see a lot of SFF characters portrayed as having chronic, long-lasting mental health issues (even if supernatural). Stability, for Cas—even when she can attain it—is always an unstable equilibrium for her.
And again without giving too many spoilers—Cas is a selfish enough character that she doesn’t know that much about her friends’ lives, even a few books in. So she’s going to be very surprised to realize in Book 3 that her friends have intense lives, families, priorities, and histories that don’t have anything to do with her, and all of that suddenly gets dumped into her life in a big way!

Can you name three books you adore as reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer? 




Oh, wow, there are a lot more than three. I’ll choose:

Kintu, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Described as the great Ugandan novel, it’s not only far deeper and more important than anything I will ever write, but is a stunning, expansive, multi-generational epic that somehow makes each page riveting.

The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin. I am such a fan of hard science fiction, and I will never be able to do it as well as Liu. The way he intertwined all that with Chinese politics stabbed me in the heart. And I could drink the prose (as translated by Ken Liu) all day.

The Love Song of Numo and Hammerfist by Maddox Hahn. The funniest, most creative fantasy I’ve ever read. I will never be able to invent a world or creatures that are this clever, or characters as alien and yet somehow intensely relatable. I don’t understand how that came out of someone’s brain!

Thank you so much for agreeing to this conversation, SL! We greatly appreciate your time and thoughts.

You’re quite welcome! Thank you for having me!

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (reviewed by David Stewart)


Official Author Website

Order The Poppy War over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rebecca F. Kuang is the Nebula, Locus, and Campbell Award nominated author of The Poppy War and its forthcoming sequel The Dragon Republic (Harper Voyager). She is currently pursuing an MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies at Cambridge University on a Marshall Scholarship, where her dissertation examines propaganda literature by Northeast writers during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Her debut The Poppy War was listed by Times, Amazon, Goodreads, and the Guardian as one of the best books of 2018 and has won the Crawford Award and Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel.



OFFICIAL BLURB: When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.


Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.


For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .


Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

 
FORMAT/INFO: The Poppy War is 530 pages divided over 26 numbered chapters across three parts, and is the first entry in The Poppy War series. The book is currently available in all formats, with its sequel, The Dragon Republic, available to pre-order. Cover design by Dominic Forbes with art by Jung Shan Chang.


ANALYSIS: Upon finishing The Poppy War, I had two very pressing questions: Why was it called The Poppy War, and why does the cover show, presumably, its main character wielding a bow when she never even touches one within the book's pages? I was not questioning the book's plot, it's quite solid, nor the characters, which are excellent. No, I was left with trivial questions - though deserving of some answers - because The Poppy War is a fantastic debut novel from an author who I think we will all be watching for some time.  



Rin, the main character and star of The Poppy War, is a great protagonist. She is strong, determined, and infinitely capable. This is kind of refreshing in the fantasy genre because we often find ourselves rooting for underdogs - hoping that kid who was bullied will rise up and become a great warrior, despite watching him or her fail and be trounced down at every turn. This is kind of where Rin starts, she is definitely an underdog due to her economic and social status, but we know from the very beginning that she is going to succeed. She is simply too stubborn to fail, and so we get to watch her succeed over and over. Yes, she gets beat to hell and barely ekes out those victories, but there is satisfaction in watching her triumph despite knowing she will likely never fail. Also refreshing, for me at least, is the Chinese-fantasy setting, something I have not come across in the genre yet (outside of some areas within larger works that might have some Asian-inspired traits). The Poppy War is more parallel to actual history than I am often comfortable with, but I think it works due to the author's intent to depict some of the real-life horrors of Asian history.  

It's no secret that there is some very grimdark imagery in The Poppy War. I think that's part of the reason why it has generated so much buzz. For anyone unfamiliar with the Rape of Nanking, I would suggest not doing a Google image search unless you want to start weeping at the savagery of human beings and what they can do to one another. It is a tragic time, both for those victimized and for those whose legacy will never live down the shame of such acts. Kuang is not shy in telling readers that she pulled most of what happens during the sacking of Golyn Niis, one of the fictional cities in The Poppy War, straight from the horrors of Nanking. The Mugens are the Japanese, the Speerlies seem to be some kind of Taiwanese or amalgamation of islander Asians, and of course the Nikarans are the Chinese. Part of me wonders if Kuang's intent with this novel was to bring up old memories, and simply wanted to tell the story without having to write a history book - and I can see the appeal of doing that. She is a historian of the time, and I can sympathize with the cathartic need to deal with one's racial history. However, she manages to go beyond even that dark event and craft a story with some real meaning and depth, and in this way creates of herself something more than an author with a gimmick and instead one who has fashioned a large and intricate world

Chinese mythology is some of the richest in the world, and likely the oldest. In Kuang's vision, the gods exist, and they are out there waiting for someone to summon them into the world so that they can unleash the primordial chaos that is their nature. For Rin, she is that someone, and it is the Phoenix that calls to her. She is gifted with the ability to travel, via her mind, into the realms of the gods and connect with her fiery patron. But becoming a god's tool is not as simple as throwing around some fire. In The Poppy War, great power comes with great consequence. The wielders of the gods power often go mad, and many have to be locked up in prisons of stone when they become too powerful even to kill. The Poppy War is so rich with this mythology that it would almost succeed based on that merit alone. 

Thankfully, The Poppy War is a tapestry of themes and things that will grab the reader's interest. For one, it's incredibly funny. Laughing out loud at books is not that common for me, and I don't think many readers will interrupt the silence of their reading time to burst out in laughter as I did while reading Rin's interactions with some of her fellow students and soldiers. Kuang has comedic timing, and the writing ability to convey that timing in a way that many authors struggle with. She is great at banter, and never makes it feel forced or inauthentic. The same can be said for most of her dialogue, and it is a pleasure to read.

All this is not to say that I thought The Poppy War a perfect book. I wouldn't be much of a critic if I didn't point out some problematic areas. There aren't many, but some do stand out. For one, Kuang seems to want to create an emotional impact, particularly between characters, that I never really felt carried its weight. There is some vital piece of humanity missing between Rin and the other characters, despite the very real humor that Kuang manages to convey. In contrast, the emotional weight when she is describing atrocities is very real, and had she been able to give her character interactions as much weight as she does her dark descriptions, it would be been an amazing feat. There is also some inconsistency in the plotting of the book, which is divided in to three parts. Part one is great, and gives that academy/boarding school experience that so many fantasy books do well - From Harry Potter to Red Rising. Part three is also a wild ride because it is where things really heat up and get going. But part two is a slog. Not much happens, and while it might be necessary for Rin to gather information and find the source of her power, its a bit boring to read. 

But that's about it. The Poppy War is a really fantastic debut, and I will definitely be reading The Dragon Republic when its released later this year. I was happy to be immersed in a Chinese fantasy novel, despite the horrors that came along with its mythology. This is something that we need more of, because as much as I love European-based mythology (you might say it was my first love), the fantasy genre needs diversity as much as any other medium. If authors with Kuang's talent continue to produce works as good as The Poppy War, it will move the entire genre forward. 


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Blade's Edge by Virginia McClain (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order Blade's Edge over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Virginia thinks dangling from the tops of hundred foot cliffs is a good time. She also enjoys hauling a fifty pound backpack all over the Grand Canyon and sleeping under the stars. Sometimes she likes running for miles through the desert, mountains, or wooded flatlands, and she always loves getting lost in new places where she may or may not speak the language.

From surviving earthquakes in Japan, to putting out a small forest fire in Montana, Virginia has been collecting stories from a very young age. She works hard to make her fiction as adventurous as her life and her life as adventurous as her fiction. Both take a lot of imagination.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The Kisōshi, elite warriors with elemental powers, have served as the rulers and protectors of the people of Gensokai for more than a thousand years. Though it is believed throughout Gensokai that there is no such thing as a female Kisōshi, the Rōjū ruling council goes to great lengths to ensure that no one dares ask why.

Even as young girls, Mishi and Taka know that they risk severe punishment - or worse - if anyone were to discover their powers. This shared secret forms a deep bond between them until, taken from their orphanage home and separated, the two girls must learn to survive in a world where their very existence is a crime. Yet when the girls learn the dark secret of the Rōjū council, they discover that much more than their own survival is at stake.


FORMAT/INFO: Blade's Edge is 310 pages long. This is the first volume of the Chronicles of Gensokai series.

The book was self-published by the author on January 23rd, 2015 and is available as an e-book and paperback. Cover art and design is provided by Juan Carlos Barquet.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSISI like it when authors look for influences further than in an imaginary medieval Europe. I’m not alone, as clearly seen by an increasing number of Asian-inspired fantasy books. Blade’s Edge takes place in a setting strongly influenced by feudal Japan history, traditions, and myths. Kami (Shinto spirits) are real and they influence the world and interact with the living. The magic, based on Zen meditation practices, involves mastery of the elements and requires a solid grasp of inner energy’s working, and self-restraint.

Kisōshi are an elite, magically enhanced protectors of the realm. Only men can join them as no woman is born with elemental powers. At least that’s what the Rōjū council wants people to believe. They’re ready to kill innocent children to keep the truth from citizens. Mishi and Taka, two orphan girls who meet in an orphanage, share not only a beautiful and lasting friendship but also immense elemental powers they need to hide.

The girls are separated from each other in the early chapters. We observe their growth and development of their powers as their plotlines start to converge. Mishi becomes a fierce and dangerous warrior, more competent and deadly than any male Kisōshi. Taka becomes a healer. Both undergo training from Kami (powerful spirits). Both meet sweet boys they initially dislike (although things don’t turn the way one would suspect. A good thing.)

Blade’s Edge builds the plot on well-known tropes (magic school, an orphan with immense powers etc.) but also crafts an intriguing new angle on the formula. Because I have a soft spot for magical training arcs I wish McClain had spent more time showing Mishi and Taka’s training with Kami. She didn’t but I understand the choice. What we get allows us to understand the extent and limitations of their powers and focus on well-thought-out plot and strong twists instead. The narrative stays focused and things develop at a steady pace.

The cast of characters is diverse, and it’s good to see the female characters playing leading roles as convincingly as their male counterparts. Both Mishi and Taka are bright, proactive, resourceful and good at heart. As a warrior, Mishi struggles with all the killing she has to do, but her inner conflicts lack credibility and could use some fine-tuning. McClain repeats time and again that Mishi feels bad about the killing and won’t do it anymore, but, truth be told, it’s not something I felt as a reader. I think showing instead of telling is one aspect of an engaging storytelling McClain has yet to fully master.

That said, the plot engaged me and the build-up to the climax kept me at the edge of the seat.

Unfortunately, the ending itself felt too tidy and convenient. Don’t misunderstand me - I have nothing against stories that don’t finish with everyone broken and miserable, and the world destroyed. I just prefer when things don’t get too easy the closer to the end we get. Here, though, everything felt too tidy, happened too fast, was slightly anticlimactic. And we’re speaking about a huge social change.

Sure, we’re told one of the characters can no longer live the life she used to live but I must take the author’s word for it as I don’t think she portrayed this change convincingly enough.

One more thing. McClain uses a lot of Japanese or pseudo-Japanese terminology throughout the story, and I applaud her for including an excellent glossary at the beginning of the ebook version. Seriously, more writers should do it. Having a glossary at the end of the paperback comes handy, but in ebooks, I prefer to read and memorize it before starting the story.

I liked Blade’s Edge. Victoria McClain has a smooth touch with characters and plotlines. Her focused narrative should keep most readers engaged in the story and the characters’ arcs. I’ve already bought the sequel and plan to read it soon.
Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Spotlight: Intriguing Titles in SPFBO Part II (by Mihir Wanchoo)


After yesterday's post about the titles that fascinated us. Here's part deux and similar to yesterday, the titles within this post have caught our eye due to their blurbs, their covers, as well as potential subject matter. A few we have read, reviewed and hence are on this list.

We would like to state that this list is in no way an indicator of our choices going forward in the contest. But simply details titles that we WOULD like to read.

So onwards to part II of the noteworthy titles (in random order):


Never Die by Rob J. Hayes


Official Blurb: 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.


Sweetblade by Carol Park


Official Blurb: Every decision she had thought was right had led her astray..

Perhaps it was time to make the wrong decision..

LIVES ARE SHAPED BY DECISIONS, and Ivana's decisions have destroyed her life..

She finds herself on the streets of Carradon, broken, destitute, and utterly alone. But perhaps not entirely without hope. A man named Elidor comes to her rescue and welcomes her into his home. But Elidor holds secrets of his own..

Lives may turn upon a single moment, and Ivana's decision to accept the hospitality of this stranger will transform her in ways she never imagined...or feared..


The Fox And The Hunter by Linn Tesli


Official Blurb: Fate does not wait for you to be ready...

Elva lives a peaceful life with her tribe, practicing to one day become the noaidi—the shaman. Her peace is shattered when two viking earls arrive in the camp. Her grandmother, the current noaidi, is accused of witchcraft, and is taken away to stand trial before the tyrant king Olav. The punishment is death.

Elva is not ready to become the leader of her tribe, nor is she ready to let go of her grandmother. She is nowhere near strong enough to fight the vikings in Nidaros, but she has to try. She's an outcast in her own land, on a journey that will challenge her convictions, her faith and even her heart. Can Elva overcome the powerful enemy and rescue her grandmother?

Or will she add her name to the fallen?


From the Shadows of the Owl Queen's Court (Yarnsworld #4) by Benedict Patrick 


Official Blurb: If you value your life, stay out of the forest.

As a captive of the Owl Queen’s Court, Nascha’s life has always been one knife’s edge away from disaster. But when she is threatened for nothing more than the colour of her hair, Nascha attempts the unthinkable: escape through the dreaded Magpie King’s forest. Hunted by sharp toothed and sharper witted foxfolk, and hated by all for being a witch, Nascha fears herself doomed until she joins forces with a mysterious young man. With him she finds a glimmer of hope, even as her own unpredictable powers flicker into existence.

But hope is fleeting.

The forces arrayed against her are insurmountable, and Nascha soon comes to realise that pursuit of her own freedom will come at a greater cost to the forest. As the darkness closes in around them, Nascha is forced to ask:

At what price is she willing to purchase her life?

How dearly is she willing to sell it?


Quill by AC Cobble


Official Blurb: The fate of empire is to crumble from within.

A heinous murder in a small village reveals a terrible truth. Sorcery, once thought dead in Enhover, is not. Evidence of an occult ritual and human sacrifice proves that dark power has been called upon again. Twisting threads of clues lead across the known world to the end of a vast empire, and then, the trail returns home.

Duke Oliver Wellesley, son of the king, cartographer, and adventurer, has better things to do than investigate a murder in a sleepy fishing hamlet. For Crown and Company, though, he goes where he’s told. As the investigation leads to deeper and darker places, he’ll be forced to confront the horrific spectres rising from the shadows of his past. When faced with the truth, will he sacrifice what is necessary to survive?

Samantha serves a Church that claims to no longer need her skills. She’s apprenticed to a priest-assassin that no one knows. Driven by a mad prophecy, her mentor has prepared her for a battle with ultimate darkness, except, sorcery is dead. When all is at stake, can she call upon an arcane craft the rest of the world has forgotten?

In Quill: The Cartographer Book 1, a pair of unlikely investigators walk a deadly path into the past, uncovering secrets best left alone.

The fate of empire is to crumble from within. Do not ask when, ask who.


Devil’s Cape by Rob Rogers


Official Blurb: Devil's Cape, Louisiana. Founded by pirates. Ruled by villains. Desperate for heroes.

In 1727, the masked pirate St. Diable created the city of Devil's Cape as a haven for his men and a place to begin his empire. Pirates gave way to outlaws, who gave way to gangsters, who gave way to gangs and organized crime. But the city has never escaped from its shroud of violence and corruption.

And now a stunning, murderous act has made Devil's Cape more dangerous than ever. Someone needs to protect the city.

Three people are willing to try. Jason Kale, part of a criminal family, who hides the abilities of Greek heroes. Cain Ducett, a psychiatrist and former gang member, who finds that he is turning into a monster. Kate Brauer, genius engineer, daughter of a slain superhero, who has lost more than most to the city and its criminals. But they're outnumbered and overpowered. Can they possibly make a difference?


Magpie's Song (The IronHeart Chronicles #1) by Allison Pang


Official Blurb: In the slums of BrightStone, Moon Children are worth less than the scrap they must collect to survive. It doesn’t matter that these abandoned half-breeds are part-Meridian with their ancestors hailing from the technologically advanced city that floats above the once-thriving, now plague-ridden BrightStone. Instead they are rejected by both their ancestral societies and forced to live on the outskirts of civilization, joining clans simply to stay alive. Not to mention their role as Tithe, leading the city’s infected citizens deep into the Pits where their disease can be controlled.

Nineteen-year-old Raggy Maggy is no different, despite the mysterious heart-shaped panel that covers her chest. Or at least she wasn’t… Not until her chance discovery of a Meridian-built clockwork dragon—and its murdered owner. When the Inquestors policing the city find Maggy at the scene of the crime, she quickly turns into their prime suspect. Now she’s all anyone can talk about. Even her clan leader turns his back on her, leading her to rely on an exiled doctor and a clanless Moon Child named Ghost to keep her hidden. In return, all she has to do is help them find a cure for the plague they believe was not exactly accidental. Yet doing so might mean risking more than just her life. It also might be the only key to uncovering the truth about the parents—and the past—she knows nothing about.


River of thieves by Clayton Snyder


Official Blurb: Cursed thief Cord relies on his partner, Nenn, to recover his body, stash the money, and convince the authorities that there are no leads left to follow. They spend their days hitting low-tier lenders and banks, but after a botched robbery, Cord begins to think they need something bigger, something that will set them up for life.

When that thing happens to be a heist no one else in the kingdom has the stones to pull off, he gathers a group of rogues with a particular set of talents—Nenn, handy with a knife and a cool head; Rek, cat-fancier and strongman; and Lux, undead wizard.

Together, they converge on the city of Midian to steal the heart of a saint and punish a tyrant. What comes out of the carnage is so much more—a conflict between gods that could decide the fate of every thief in the worlds.


Beggar’s rebellion by Levi Jacobs


Official Blurb: 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 everything 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. Trouble with lawkeepers lands Tai’s surviving friends in a prison camp, and he goes underground seeking the last of the rebels, to 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 new 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.


Chasing Graves by Ben Galley


Official Blurb: He's a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.

They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to be its ruler is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.

While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor's throne in Araxes' cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.

Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is just the beginning.


Seraphina’s Lament by Sarah Chorn


Official Blurb: The world is dying.

The Sunset Lands are broken, torn apart by a war of ideology paid for with the lives of the peasants. Drought holds the east as famine ravages the farmlands. In the west, borders slam shut in the face of waves of refugees, dooming all of those trying to flee to slow starvation, or a future in forced labor camps. There is no salvation.

In the city of Lord’s Reach, Seraphina, a slave with unique talents, sets in motion a series of events that will change everything. In a fight for the soul of the nation, everyone is a player. But something ominous is calling people to Lord’s Reach and the very nature of magic itself is changing. Paths will converge, the battle for the Sunset Lands has shifted, and now humanity itself is at stake.

First, you must break before you can become.


Blood Of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke


Official Blurb: 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?


The Blackbird and the Ghost (The Boiling Seas, #1) by Hûw Steer


Official Blurb: The Boiling Seas are the mariner’s bane – and the adventurer’s delight. The waters may be hot enough to warp wood and boil a hapless swimmer, but their scalding expanse is full of wonders. Strange islands lurk in the steamy mists, and stranger ruins hold ancient secrets, remnants of forgotten empires waiting for the bold… or lying in wait for the unwary.

On the Corpus Isles, gateway to the Boiling Seas, Tal Wenlock, the Blackbird, seeks a fortune of his own. The treasure he pursues could change the world – but he just wants to change a single life, and it’s not his own. To reach it, he’ll descend into the bowels of the earth and take ship on burning waters, brave dark streets and steal forbidden knowledge. He’ll lie, cheat, steal and fight – but he won’t get far alone. The ghosts of Tal’s past dog his every step – and one in particular keeps his knives sharp.

The Blackbird will need help to reach his goal… and he’ll need all his luck to get back home alive.


The Prince Of Cats by D. E. Olesen


Official Blurb: To stay alive, Jawad must succeed where all others have failed: he must catch the Prince of Cats. More legend than man, the Prince is draped in rumors. He can steal the silver teeth from your mouth in the blink of a smile. He is a ghost to walls and vaults, he laughs at locks, and Jawad must capture him before powerful people lose their patience and send the young rogue to the scaffold.

Ever the opportunist, Jawad begins his hunt while carrying out his own schemes. He pits the factions of the city against each other, lining his own pockets in the process and using the Prince as a scapegoat. This is made easy as nobody knows when or where the Prince will strike, or even why.

If suddenly collide, Jawad finds himself pressured from all sides. Aristocrats, cutthroats, and the Prince himself are breathing down his neck. Unless Jawad wants a knife in his back or an appointment with the executioner, he must answer three questions: Who is the Prince of Cats, what is his true purpose, and how can he be stopped?


Up To The Throne by Toby Frost


Official Blurb: Revenge is never simple...

Giulia Degarno returns to the city-state of Pagalia with one intention: to kill the man who scarred her and left her for dead. But Publius Severra is no longer a mere criminal, and has risen to become a powerful politician - and perhaps the only man who can save Pagalia from anarchy. Now, as Severra stands poised to seize the throne. Giulia must choose between taking her revenge, and saving her home.

Up To The Throne is a dark fantasy novel set in a magically-enhanced Renaissance: a dangerous world of assassins, alchemists and flying machines. It is a world where artists and scholars cross paths with feuding nobles and clockwork monsters - and death is never far away.


The City Screams by Phil Williams


Official Blurb: Tova's getting her hearing back.

She's going to wish she wasn't.

Alone in Tokyo for experimental ear surgery, Tova Nokes is finally shaking up her life. But when she starts to hear things she shouldn't, all she wants is to make it home alive.

There's a voice saying it's where she comes from that makes her special. If she can only survive violent stalkers, and the terrible screams, she might figure out why...

Experience the world through the eyes of a unique hero in this standalone fantasy thriller from the Ordshaw universe.


The Queen’s Executioner by Christopher Mitchell


Official Blurb: Would you kill for your sister?

High Mage Shella has a choice to make. When her sister decides she wants to be Queen at any cost, should she help her?

Or stop her?

Feeling restless in the claustrophobic and over-crowded metropolis of her birth, Shella is drawn to the power of her sister’s voice as she assembles thousands of their people, calling upon them to gather their possessions and follow her in a Great Migration. Her sister plans to lead them over the border into the Rahain Republic, whose unconquered army has just returned from victorious campaigns abroad. There, she intends to settle and crown herself Queen.

Shella’s mage powers have only ever been used for the good of her homeland. Now, in the service of her sister, is she prepared to use their darker side?

For Shella knows that if she cannot control her powers…

…they will consume all that she loves.


The Sword of Kaigen: A Theonite War Story by M. L. Wang


Official Blurb: 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.

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?


The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King


Official Blurb: John Carver has three rules: Don't drink in the daytime, don't gamble when the luck has gone, and don't talk to the dead people who come to visit.

It has been almost five years since the incident in Kabul. Since the magic stirred within him and the stories began. Fleeing the army, running from the whispers, the guilt, and the fear he was losing his mind, Carver fell into addiction, dragging himself through life one day at a time.

Desperation has pulled him back to Afghanistan, back to the heat, the dust, and the truth he worked so hard to avoid. But there are others, obsessed with power and forbidden magics, who will stop at nothing to learn the truth of his gifts. Abducted and chained, Carver must break more than his own rules if he is to harness this power and survive.


The Steel Discord by Ryan Howse


Official Blurb: Zarachius Skie is presumed dead.

His mentor, the Arcanist Mordekai Gethsemane, had been arrested for conspiracy to commit regicide. Zarachius knew it was false. He did what had to, and snuck onto a military train to break Mordekai out.

But now, the Ancien Legion, vengeful anarchists, and Mordekai's old co-conspirators are doing whatever it takes to bring Zarachius out of hiding. They need to know what he knows.

They need to know the secret he uncovered on that train.


Blade’s Edge by Virginia McClain


Official Blurb:The Kisōshi, elite warriors with elemental powers, have served as the rulers and protectors of the people of Gensokai for more than a thousand years. Though it is believed throughout Gensokai that there is no such thing as a female Kisōshi, the Rōjū ruling council goes to great lengths to ensure that no one dares ask why.

Even as young girls, Mishi and Taka know that they risk severe punishment - or worse - if anyone were to discover their powers. This shared secret forms a deep bond between them until, taken from their orphanage home and separated, the two girls must learn to survive in a world where their very existence is a crime. Yet when the girls learn the dark secret of the Rōjū council, they discover that much more than their own survival is at stake.


From Legend by Ian Lewis


Official Blurb: Sober, serious, and driven, Logan Hale is the highest peace officer in Beldenridge, and he knows his city better than anyone: the labyrinthine streets, the vaulted architecture, and all the dark corners where tales of mutations and a vicious enemy still linger like hushed secrets. Logan is quick to dismiss these accounts as part of a storied past with which he’d rather not contend, but when a suicide investigation leads him to believe there’s something more sinister at hand, he questions whether that near-forgotten lore isn’t the stuff of legend after all.


In Numina by Assaph Mehr


Official Blurb: A rich landlord finds tenants are abandoning his apartment buildings, spouting tales of horrific events and whispering that the old gods - the numina - came alive and cursed the buildings.

Enter Felix, a professional fox. Dressed in a toga and armed with a dagger, Felix is neither a traditional detective nor a traditional magician - but something in between. Whenever there is a foul business of bad magic, Felix is hired to sniff out the truth. Now he must separate fact from superstition - a hard task in a world where the old gods still roam the earth.

In Numina is set in a fantasy world. The city of Egretia borrows elements from a thousand years of ancient Roman culture, from the founding of Rome to the late empire, mixed with a judicious amount of magic. This is a story of a cynical, hardboiled detective dealing with anything from daily life to the old forces roaming the world.


The 19th Bladesman by SJ Hartland


Official Blurb: His duty is to die young, but fate has something far more lethal in mind.

If Kaell breaks, the kingdom breaks with him. And prophecy says the 19th Bladesman will break...

The Bonded Warrior...

Kill. Die young. That's what a swordsman bonded to the ancient gods does. Without expecting praise from the man who trained him to survive this centuries-old, malignant war against the inhuman followers of an invincible lord. But Kaell wants more. More of Val Arques' attention, his approval. Just more.

The fire dancer...

Ice lord, spy, Heath never loses a fire dance. Yet he longs to know that thrill of danger down his spine as he kills for his god, to fight a warrior who might, just might be better than him.

The broken...

Val Arques is a bladesman of formidable power entrusted not only with Kaell's life but with the truth that will destroy him. Banished to a grim outpost of this doomed kingdom of sorcery, poetry, and treachery, he cannot afford to care about the young warrior. For love means loss. And Val Arques has a shameful secret...

A kingdom on the edge of chaos...

As a vengeful god escapes his ancient prison and Kaell is drawn into his web of deception, even Val Arques can't protect him from the dark prophecy awaiting him. Because you can't flee fate unless you're willing to do the unthinkable.


Fortune’s Fool by Angela Boord


Official Blurb: 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?


Cry Havoc by Mike Morris


Official Blurb: When the demons come, you either fight or you die.

The Black Dogs know this all too well. For seven hundred years, the warrior priests have sacrificed their lives to keep the island nation of Abios safe from the flesh-eating Nostros, while the rest of the world fell under the demons’ savagery. However, an armada now stands poised to invade mankind’s last bastion.

Child thief Jack Frey is saved from the gallows and joins the mysterious order. Trained with the bullet and the blade, Jack finds himself on the front-line of a centuries-old war. Across the Angel Sea, Lin is fighting for her life. As a slave of the Nostros, she knows death can strike at any time, either at the hands of her masters or her fellow humans.

Little do they know mankind's fate lies in both their hands.


Blood and Shadow (The Mage's Gift #1) by Robin Lythgoe


Official Blurb: A vengeful mage. A powerful gift. A naive youth. .

Sherakai dan Tameko never wanted to become a warrior like his well-known father and brothers. Satisfied with being fourth in line to inherit title and responsibility, he wants only to be Master of the Horse. But a shocking event turns young Sherakai's life upside-down and propels him on a course that changes his life forever..

When he discovers his magic is the key to a powerful secret, Sherakai must risk more than he thought possible and become greater than anyone dreamed if he is to escape the web woven around him. .


Lykaia (Sophia Katsaros #1) by Sharon VanOrman 


Official Blurb: "We are the terrors that hunt the night.And we have never been human"

In Greek mythology there’s a story of King Lykaonas of Arcadia and his fifty sons who were cursed by the father of the gods, Zeus, to become wolves. The very first Lycanthropes. Forensic pathologist, Sophia Katsaros, receives a cryptic phone call from Greece telling her that her brothers are missing and leaves to search for them. With the help of Illyanna, her brother’s girlfriend, Sophia examines the evidence but cannot accept a bizarre possibility: Has one or both of her brothers been transformed during the Lykaia, the ceremony where Man is said to become Wolf?

Who is Marcus, a dark stranger that both repels and excites her? And what is the real story behind the 5000 year old curse of King Lykaonas?


The Lord of Stariel (Stariel #1) by A.J. Lancaster


Official Blurb:The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.

Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they?

Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?

Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave.

But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with.

Winged, beautifully deadly problems.

For the first time in centuries, the fae are returning to the Mortal Realm, and only the Lord of Stariel can keep the estate safe.

In theory.


Child of the Flames (The Seven Signs Book 1) by D.W. Hawkins


Official Blurb: In fire, some things are destroyed. Others are forged.

The men of the Galanian Empire came with the dawn, bringing swords and hunger. Seeking an ancient relic, they slaughtered Shawna Llewan’s family. They burned her life to the ground.

But blades are born of fire and tempered by its embrace.

Shawna Llewan is such a blade. Carrying her mother’s heirloom—the very relic for which her family was killed—she sets out on a quest, driving to the heart of a conspiracy that could plunge the entire world into darkness.

She is wrath. She is a blade pointed at the throats of her enemies. She is the child of the flames.


The Narrows By Travis Riddle


Official Blurb: "I can show you how to enter the Narrows to find what you seek."

Oliver and his friends have returned to their hometown of Shumard, Texas for the funeral of their close friend Noah. They each grapple with the loss in their own ways, trying to understand the strange circumstances of their friend's unexpected death.

While visiting the site where the body was found, Oliver stumbles across a chilling discovery that he knows must be related to what happened to Noah. Wanting to protect his friends from these newfound horrors, Oliver takes it upon himself to venture into the grotesque otherworld known as the Narrows to learn what happened to his friend and find a way to bring him back.

Entering the Narrows is one thing, but will whatever he finds there allow him to leave?

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