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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

SPFBO: Interview with David MacPherson (Interviewed by D.C. Stewart)

Official Author Website
Order Here Be Dragons over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Here Be Dragons

David MacPherson is the author of one of Fantasy Book Critic’s SPFBO semi-finalists, Here Be Dragons, and is a full-time writer out of Edinburgh, Scotland. David loves dragons, donkeys, and defying genre and the publishing industry. David was kind enough to sit down with FBC contributor D. C. Stewart to speak about his SPFBO entry, his great loves, and the meaning of life.

FBC] Hi David. Thanks so much for hanging out and answering some questions. Your book has made quite an impression on the SFBPO. What can you tell us about yourself? Is writing your full time gig?  From where do you hail?

DM] No problem. It’s been brilliant to see people enjoying Here Be Dragons and SPFBO has been a great experience right from the start. I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland, sometimes I say in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not really true. The Highlands is definitely Somewhere and a special Somewhere at that, particularly for a fantasy fan. Crumbling castles, towering mountains, haunted glens, spooky stone circles and murky forests, it was all on my doorstep so maybe it’s not such a surprise I have a taste for the fantastical. It’s also a place with great heart and a knowing, bone dry wit, which I like to think have both influenced my writing.

I live in Edinburgh now, another fantasy capital, and just a few months ago moved to writing full time (at least until my savings hold out). Over the last few years I felt I’d really progressed and I hit some big milestones so this summer I decided it was time to go all in. And so far it’s going surprisingly well (that should set the hubris hippo stirring).

FBC] It’s interesting that you say that because so many of us, particularly in these “new” United States, have the same desire for those fantasy castles but a real lack of them. How long have you been writing?

DM] It’s a funny thing calling yourself a writer. I have been working my way towards that title for about eight or nine years and it’s only recently that I feel comfortable saying it out loud. I spent a long time waiting for permission and then I eventually realised the only person that could give me that permission, was me.

FBC] Do you have any formal training? Do you see writing as your “real job?”

DM] I have done the odd writing class or writing retreat here and there, but most of my learning has been through self-directed reading and lots and lots of practise (much of it probably pretty awful). And lots of feedback from trusted friends.

FBC] How does it feel to be compared to Terry Pratchett?

DM] Humbling. And happy because I wouldn’t be who I am without him. And sad because I miss him.

FBC] You’re not alone there. Where did the inspiration for Here Be Dragons come from (and my sincere apologies for bringing up Shrek in my review, even if I think it might have given you a laugh)? Why tell yet another story about dragons (I am in no way reprimanding you for this as I would like to see dragons in everything, even textbooks)?

DM] Now there’s a question. I must admit, I started the book so long ago I’m not actually sure where the exact inspiration came from. There are lots of different things that fed into the finished novel – people I know, societal themes like the rise of the reality TV star, and fantasy tropes that I just wanted to play around with – but I guess the main inspiration was to write a book where the heroes were ordinary people. People without any superhuman skills or magical powers, but who become heroic through the force of their intellect, their heart and their compassion for others. Because those are the kind of people who have been the heroes in my life, and in the glut of superheroes at the cinema and on TV, I think sometimes we forget that.

And no worries about the Shrek comparison. It’s a great movie, although I reckon Thunder is more of an Eeyore.

FBC] A fair point. I certainly never heard Eddie Murphy in those italics. Aside from Pratchett, who inspires you? Who are your favorite authors?

DM] I like to read widely, across genre and non-fiction too. So while I love the fantasy big-hitters like Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson and Neil Gaiman, I also like to read Becky Chambers, Margaret Atwood, Michael Faber, Iain M. Banks, Emily St John Mandel, Roald Dahl (the children’s ones and the adult stories) and Patrick deWitt. I’ve just finished Robert Harris’ trilogy on the life of Cicero and loved it. It’s like a House of Cards for the Roman Republic and his writing is so good you can’t help but race through it. And inspiration comes from more than other books: the TV show Blackadder is a huge influence on my work, particularly the final series set in World War One. Richard Curtis and Ben Elton did an amazing job of letting you think you’re watching something fun and light, and then at the end just crushing you with the reality of the characters’ situation. I think that was an important lesson for me, that comedy lets you ease into really dark subjects but if you go down that route eventually you’ve got to let reality hit.

FBC] Do you have any plans for continuing with the characters or world in Here Be Dragons? It reads as a stand alone, but you have built a world that people want to see more of. Are you a fantasy author, through and through, or do you branch out?

DM] I am planning a follow up. It’ll be in the same world but not necessarily the same characters. I don’t want to say too much yet as I’m still working it out myself, but I know it’s going to involve the arrival in Drift of a certain class of people known for wearing capes, masks and underwear outside their trousers.

FBC] Oh boy. That might be a new genre. What made you decide to enter into the SFBPO? Have you ever submitted before? Have you tried traditional publshing?

DM] I was the lucky victim of good timing on that front. I first tried to get Here Be Dragons published traditionally about three years ago. After a lot of trying and failing I essentially gave up and left it to gather dust on my computer. Then at the end of last year I met a couple of friends who had tried self-publishing and had nothing but good things to say about it, so I thought, why not give it ago. I’ve very glad I did. I started getting the manuscript reading for publishing in Spring and searched through lots of self-publishing blogs and guides to find out the best route. Once I published in April I kept looking at those blogs and Facebook groups and that’s where I first saw SPFBO mentioned. Last year’s final round was still going on, so I started to follow it and read some of the finalists.

I’d been told by an agent in one of my many rejection letters that "there is no comedy fantasy market, there is only a Terry Pratchett market" but reading the SPFBO entrants and following the community I quickly realised that statement is a load of donkey droppings. Here was a whole community of people hungry for all kinds of fantasy, with far more variety than even the well-stocked book shops of Edinburgh were offering. That’s the great lesson of self-publishing for me, if you’re interested and passionate enough to write about something, chances are there are lots of people out there interested and passionate enough about the same things to read about it. My job is just to make sure it’s the best I can do and make sure they can find it.

FBC] That’s inspiring as hell (sincerely). If judging this contest has taught me as a reader anything, it’s that traditional publishing is missing some gems. Where does your cover art come from, and why is it such a perfect fit for this book?

DM] My cover was designed by Rachel Lawston. I found her through a site called Reedsy which is kind of like AirBnB for publishing freelancers. I found my proof-reader there too. I submitted a design brief to five designers and when Rachel came back to me and I discovered she’d actually worked on some of Sir Terry’s covers (the recent Johnny Maxwell reissues) it really had to be her.

We went through a lot of drafts of the cover because I knew I needed the design to make the tone of the book immediately clear. There’s little worse than picking a book thinking it’s one kind of story based on the cover and then finding out it’s something very different. Even if it’s still a good story, it throws you and it can be hard to get back into it.

FBC] What are you working on now?

DM] I am trying my hand at TV screenwriting at the moment and working on a pilot script for a series based on an oil rig. It’s about a rig off the coast of Scotland that gets mysteriously cut-off from all communications and the crew are forced into survival mode. There was a shipyard that built oil rigs near where I grew up and my dad works on them, so I’ve always been fascinated by what life is like out there.

FBC] What will you do if you win the SPFBO?

DM] Woah hubris hippo, woah girl… I’m not really sure. I’d certainly want to give something back to this great community, so I’d be doing a giveaway day for sure. And do some major celebrating of course (board games party anyone!). Then it’d be back to writing. The contest has already given me a massive jolt of energy and I’ve got lots more stories I want to tell so I need to get cracking.

NOTE: Sir Terry Pratchett picture courtesy of Boris Spermo & Toronto Star.
Saturday, October 13, 2018

SPFBO: The Third Diminution & Semifinalist Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's First Semifinalist Update
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Semifinalist Update

This year’s SPFBO has been a trip and a good one at that. With Lukasz and David joining Cindy and me, it has been a very rewarding experience as it’s great to hear different views. Plus in all the last three editions, with me being the solo person, it has been a tremendous boost to not be the slowest judge. Within our lot, we had decided to split the books between the four of us and here are my thoughts on my lot of seven titles (I'll also be uploading them to GR & Amazon):

Truth Or Darkness by Craig Aird

Truth Or Darkness had one of the best covers in the competition and was our number 1 cover amidst our lot (special kudos to Felix Ortiz & Shawn King for it). The premise of the book is pretty cool too. The souls of the departed aren’t reaching heaven and the bridge to heaven has two demons who are blocking the path. We have a typical storyline wherein our protagonist Leoh is pushed into the story and soon learns more about the extra-corporeal happenings. There’s a reincarnated warrior who wants to set things right and couple of assassins (Daelin and Juliette) who get pulled into the happenings for their personal reasons. From there, the action and reveals happen continuously as the story veers towards its “out of this world” climax which was sheer fun to read.

Overall this story had a very interesting angle to its plot but the characterization didn’t match up to the worldbuilding. The book ends on a solid note and this book definitely can be read as standalone but there’s a thread left open for further sequels. Craig Aird has written a solid dark fantasy and I would like to read more of his work to see how he develops his craft.

The Bladesman of Darcliff by Jason A. Holt

I’ve read a previous book of the Edgewhen series in The Burglar Of Sliceharbor, it was a bit comical and featured a mix of human and humanoid races. The Bladesman of Darcliff is set in a different part of the same world and focuses Vinnagon and his wife Gwenshi. Forced by circumstances to become an outlaw, Vinnagon and Gwenshi will have to do the utmost to stay alive and finally prove Vinnagon’s reasons to be true. This story was a quick read and of a shorter length. The story is sprinkled with humor in likely and unlikely places and honestly for me, Gwenshi was the more intriguing character than Vinnagon. Overall this was a much better read than my previous Edgewhen experience and I would recommend readers to give this one a try so that can a fun read.

Jason A. Holt is trying a lot with his Edgewhen books and I have to applaud his efforts for giving readers a different read (genrewise, new characters, etc.) with each book and making them as standalone as possible as well.

The Firebird by Nerine Dorman

The Firebird is a novella and deals with a brother sister duo who are on opposite sides of a  mytho-religious struggle. Lada is burdened with legacy of familial betrayal that haunts her mind, but with the capture of her brother Ailas, old wounds are brought to the fore. It’s a novella but it packs a lot into it and Nerine Dorman is a writer who really shines in her efforts. The story settings are starkly different from the usual fare that we have seen. We are given a tropical island setting and the characters are fully realized within such a smaller setting. Even though we only get the story from Lada’s POV. It’s one that goes into a lot of things especially self-angst and family troubles. This is a story that will haunt you as it does Lada and Nerine Dorman absolutely aces the atmosphere which in turns is partly claustrophobic and yet does not stunt the read in any way.

Nerine Dorman packs so much into this novella and it easily is the one of the best stories among all the SPFBO books I’ve read so far in the last four editions. It almost seems like a tragedy that this is a novella only. A wonderfully unique story for its stark portrayal of a family in crisis and a people at war with themselves.

Fangs & Fins by Amy McNulty 

Fangs and Fins is a book that perhaps I’m mismatched for as a reader. It’s a paranormal story that focusses on two step sisters and the troubles that enter their lives as two separate races of Vampires and Merfolk bring their conflicts into them. I’m not a big PNR fan but I love urban fantasy quite a lot. This story has a lot going for it, characters who are their own personas, familial secrets that come out and action (though not as much as I would have preferred). Fangs & Fins is a quirky story focusing on Ember and Ivy who must figure out their own pathways whilst figuring out the newer complications in their lives.

Overall this was a decent book with some interesting plot angles. I especially enjoyed the supernatural conflict between vampires and Merfolk as I haven’t quite come across that in the urban fantasy books which I’ve read.

Missing by William C. Markham

I thought Missing by William C. Markham would turn out to be a typical urban fantasy story. I was wrong to a large degree about that. Missing does a lot of things differently than most urban fantasy stories, primarily this book takes a solidly noir tone to the story and infact in the first half, the supernatural elements are kept to a bare minimum. The story focusing tightly on Mason Grey, our gumshoe protagonist who is a cliché in every sense and knows it. The story slowly but methodiously unwinds leaving Mason and the readers knowing exactly what he’s up against. I enjoyed the noir aspect of the story as well as the touch of horror within the story.

Overall though this is a decent debut, it doesn’t offer anything new for urban fantasy lovers like me.

Chronicles of Nartesis Shazarack: Father Of Necromancy by J.D Hart

This is another novella that was an interesting read. It focuses on Nartesis Shazarack, a necromancer of repute and ambition no less. We had received this book and it does mention in the blurb that this is a companion story that would be better appreciated after reading the first two volumes of the Dragonbonded books. I feel after reading this novella that I would certainly have enjoyed it more that way. Not to say that this novella is full of fluff or hard to follow, in fact I would say that this was a certainly a dark and fun read. Nartesis is obviously an antagonist of the main books and here we are given a look into his past. This isn’t some quick trip but rather a solidly focused sojourn into what makes Nartesis tick and certainly makes him a fascinating antagonist to know more of.

I thought that this was a good companion piece and an excellent way to get newer readers interested about the series. The novella is good way to find out more about JD Hart’s writing style and whether you want to jump into his books.

The Blood Tartan by Raymond St. Elmo

The Blood Tartan is an odd book, I’m confident the author will not mind me saying that. I would go so far as to say he must have planned it so, otherwise how you explain the character of Rayne Gray who’s described as “three steps from madness, two steps from arrest, one step from death!”. If that description along with the blurb doesn’t make you reach for the book, then I’m not sure whether you are the target audience for Raymond’s work. Surprisingly when I first read this book, it didn’t grab me at all and I was not quite feeling it. However my teammates Lukasz and David had certainly enjoyed it and that spurred me on.

I restarted it and I must say, it took me a while but I could slowly enjoy the manic nature of the story as well as of the main character. Slowly but surely this book won me over and I’ll eventually go on to the sequels to see what happens next with Rayne Grey.


Amidst my seven titles, there was quite a mix of genres, writing styles and story lengths. It was tricky to choose a single semifinalist as they were good ones in the mix. So far we have had four semifinalists, thanks to Lukasz’s & David’s diligence. So I decided to follow their example and select two more semifinalists who will be getting detailed reviews.

So amidst these seven titles, the two that will be joining the ranks of Hell Comes To Hogtown, By Raven’s Call, Here Be Dragons, & The Boy Who Walked Too Far are


The Firebird & The Blood Tartan , both these stories were so refreshing and presented something vastly different than I've found in fantasy usually. With Firebird, Nerine Dorman has given us a very nuanced story within a unique setting. It’s a pity that this is only a novella, whereas with The Blood Tartan, Raymond St. Elmo unleashes his particular brand of crazy humour and wild action to make up a thrilling tale.

Both these books will get full reviews and of course will be one step closer to being chosen as the FBC finalist for the SPFBO finals. Many congratulations to Nerine and Raymond and best of luck ahead!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Priest Of Bones by Peter McLean (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Priest Of Bones over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)
Read "Grimdark or Grimheart" by Peter McLean (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter McLean was born near London in 1972, the son of a bank manager and an English teacher. He went to school in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral where he spent most of his time making up stories.

By the time he left school this was probably the thing he was best at, alongside the Taoist kung fu he had been studying since the age of 13. He grew up in the Norwich alternative scene, alternating dingy nightclubs with martial arts and practical magic.

He has since grown up a bit, if not a lot, and spent 25 years working in corporate IT. He is married to Diane and is still making up stories.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety heads home with Sergeant Bloody Anne at his side. But things have changed while he was away: his crime empire has been stolen and the people of Ellinburg--his people--have run out of food and hope and places to hide. Tomas sets out to reclaim what was his with help from Anne, his brother, Jochan, and his new gang: the Pious Men. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, everything gets more complicated.

As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the back-street taverns, brothels, and gambling dens of Tomas's old life, it becomes clear:

The war is only just beginning.

FORMAT/INFO: Priest Of Bones is 352 pages long and is divided into fifty titled chapters spread over two sections. There’s also a map, dramatis personae section as well as an acknowledgements section. Narration is in first person solely via Tomas Piety. This is the first book in the War Of The Rose Throne series.

October 2 2018 marked the American e-book and trade paperback publication of Priest Of Bones and it was published by Ace Roc Books. The book is also released in hardback and e-book format in the UK on October 4 2018 by Jo Fletcher books.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Priest Of Bones is Peter McLean’s fantasy debut and one that will certainly mark his name in the annals of grimdark fantasy. Priest Of Bones is a book that focuses on Tomas Piety and his soldiers who wish to return to their home town of Ellingburg from a war that even though their nation has won, it was a pyrrhic victory through and through. The story begins with Tomas and his men who find themselves homesick and home bound as Tomas' younger brother Jochan Piety and his band of men happen upon them as well. Tomas has a lot of special folks in his unit like his sergeant Bloody Anne, Sir Eland, Cookpot, Billy the boy etc. His crew is one of soldiers whose mettle has been tested and they have proven themselves multiple times over.

Before the war, Tomas had multiple business holdings which he plans to takeover and enjoy the good life. Things however turn out a bit differently as he finds a big surprise for him in his hometown. He will have to return to his days of being a wise guy gangster before he learnt to be a soldier and a priest. Things then take a darker turn as we find out about the true workings of the city of Ellingburg as well as the past of the Piety family.

Peter McLean has previously written a horror urban fantasy and it was starkly different than what was then being published in the urban fantasy genre. He does something different with this opening salvo as well. Priest Of Bones is the first volume of the War Of The Rose Throne and it is a bloody, dark, vicious, slim volume of a book. There are many things to like about it, for me the prime highlight was the characterization as even though the story is  solely presented from the first person perspective of Tomas Piety. All the characters presented are vividly described and will stand out in the reader's mind starkly. Be it Bloody Anne or Tomas’ aunt Enaid or dangerous bête noire Ma Aditi or even bit characters like Billy the boy who I believe deserves a bigger role in the upcoming sequel as do the aforementioned characters.

Peter absolutely nails each and every character down as they struggle with their morals as well as visceral needs. In a world wherein survival is often dependent on wits, wiles and weapons. Truth, decency and morality often are shorn in favor of survival instinct. It’s  a stark representation of Darwin’s law in a secondary fantasy world and the author showcases it brilliantly. Characters will die as newer ones are introduced and none are more fascinating than Tomas Piety, ruthless gang boss, brilliant commander and a consecrated priest of the Lady Of Eternal Sorrows. Tomas truly shines as he slowly unfolds himself from his militaristic roles and slips back into his previous occupation as the leader of the Pious Men. There’s much more to Tomas as the reader learns and they learn quite a bit as to why he’s so different than his younger hotheaded, fierce warrior of a brother Jochan. Why Billy the boy listens to his orders and yet also serves as his confessional priest (the only one tending to Tomas). Why Bloody Anne being the ruthless warrior she is, still looks on to  his commands and why Ma Aditi, most dreaded gangster and feared by the constabulary, royals as well as the common populace counts him and him only as her foe.

Tomas is a leader and an alpha for sure but he’s not brilliant yet foolhardy like Locke Lamora, neither is he a deadly but cursed warrior like Logen “The Bloody Nine”. He’s the fantasy equivalent of Michael Corleone, a ruthless and brilliant man who can shed his morals upon the circumstantial dictates and do the unthinkable to make sure of his victory. This book heavily reminds one of the Cosa Nostra methods and measures espoused within The Godfather series of books and I believe it might not be an accident. Some reviewers have compared it to the TV show Peaky Blinders but since I haven’t watched it at all, I can’t comment on it.

The world showcased within is a shaky one wherein gangs are often double-crossing each other and the nobility likes to play within these shadows as well. I enjoyed this aspect of the book and for those who like a bit of political machinations within their stories, will certainly enjoy this story. Amidst all of this savagery, the author veritably showcases the humanity of the people within. This is a hard task but it’s done adroitly by Peter McLean as he shows us how scary monsters like Jochan came to be. Plus in that moment, you feel the savage brutality of the world as well as the keen sense of sympathy for folks whom you would have never guessed. It’s not just with one character but many others and I enjoyed this aspect whilst having to steel my mind against the very horrendous crimes committed (trigger warning for paedophilia).

This book while high on crime and intrigue doesn’t disappoint with the action sequences. There’s enough action both of a personal and large scale nature to keep fantasy readers engrossed as well a very vivid climatic homage to The Godfather. I loved reading it and would be overjoyed to see it translated on the big screen. Lastly there’s some crucial hints dropped about the nature of the conflict as well as the upheavals in the city of Ellingburg. I enjoyed how the author makes this book a strong mix of low fantasy as well as a crime thriller but yet at the same time, there are bigger machinations on the horizon (both magical and illicit). This is just the opening salvo and yet it left me desperately wanting more.

There were just a few minor niggles for me, primarily the character of Billy the boy is given a small role but his actions are vastly important and so I had hoped for more of an explanation about him and his past. While none is found in this volume, I hope the author changes it in the sequels. Secondly the worldbuilding is on the leaner side and I really was hoping to know more about the nation, the previous war, the history, etc. Lastly the plot ends on a small cliffhanger and for those who don’t like them, be on the watchout as you will experience one which might leave you thoroughly teased for the sequel "Priest Of Lies".

CONCLUSION: Priest Of Bones is a magnificent crime thriller that’s set in a secondary fantasy world. Most crime readers would be forgiven if they momentarily forgot that this isn’t set on Earth but some other world. Peter McLean proves himself to a very adapt writer and joins the pantheon of brilliant British minds such as J. Abercrombie, M. Billingham, M. Lawrence, D. Mina, etc. Priest Of Bones is that rare title that straddles two different genres and showcases the brilliance of both.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

COVER REVEAL: The Crimson Queen & The Silver Sorceress + Alec Hutson Q&A (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Crimson Queen
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Alec Hutson

The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson was FBC’s SPFBO finalist in last year’s competition and one of the best debuts that I’ve ever read amidst all the self-published books I’ve read in the last decade. The cover though was a bit staid as I had noted in my review.

Recently though Alec Hutson decided to engage the dream team of John Anthony Di Giovanni & Shawn King to update the cover for his debut The Crimson Queen as well as have them create a brand spanking one for the just released sequel The Silver Sorceress.

Alec was super kind enough to answer a few questions about the covers and his decision to go with the dream team. So enjoy his answers and checkout both the amazing covers:

Order The Crimson Queen HERE

Official TCQ Blurb - Long ago the world fell into twilight, when the great empires of old consumed each other in sorcerous cataclysms. In the south the Star Towers fell, swallowed by the sea, while the black glaciers descended upon the northern holdfasts, entombing the cities of Min-Ceruth in ice and sorcery. Then from the ancient empire of Menekar the paladins of Ama came, putting every surviving sorcerer to the sword and cleansing their taint from the land for the radiant glory of their lord.

The pulse of magic slowed, fading like the heartbeat of a dying man.

But after a thousand years it has begun to quicken again.

In a small fishing village a boy with strange powers comes of age...

A young queen rises in the west, fanning the long-smoldering embers of magic into a blaze once more...

Something of great importance is stolen - or freed - from the mysterious Empire of Swords and Flowers...

And the immortals who survived the ancient cataclysms bestir themselves, casting about for why the world is suddenly changing...

Order The Silver Sorceress HERE

Official TSS Blurb - Following the deadly assault on the Scholia by the kith’ketan, Keilan and Nel pursue the paladin Senacus south, hoping to catch him before he can vanish into the Gilded Cities. Nel desires vengeance for the death of her lover, while Keilan hopes to find answers about the immortal sorcerers who sought to challenge the Crimson Queen . . .

In the Empire of Swords and Flowers a young woman is called upon to avenge her father’s death and return honor to her family . . .

And after a millennia-long imprisonment, the monstrous Chosen are again free to work their dark will upon the world of man . . .

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, and congratulations on the new spectacular cover for The Crimson Queen. What lead you to get newer cover art for your debut title?

AH: Well, The Crimson Queen was my first foray into publishing, and I have to admit that despite my best efforts I didn't really know what I was doing, or know very much about the book creation process. I did luck out because I actually really love the art of the first cover of Queen, and I think it certainly contributed to my first book's positive reception. But though I loved the art I thought the typography could be improved - IMO, what really separates a good cover from a great cover is often the quality of the text on the cover. So as I was planning for The Silver Sorceress I thought it would be cool to redo Queen and engage two of the very best professionals who work with indie publishers. I wanted a strong series branding so that all the books in the series would look great together on a book case.

Q] How did you end up selecting John Anthony Di Giovanni as the artist for the new covers? What drew you to his style?

AH: John's art blows me away. I love it. I had seen it before, actually, and marveled at how awesome it was, though I didn't know he was the artist - that would be Michael R. Fletcher's Ghosts of Tomorrow. But it was when my friend Dyrk Ashton had his excellent Paternus reskinned that I put a name to the art I'd previously seen and liked. John has an incredible talent, not just for drawing, but also for infusing the scenes with tension and a real sense of wonder and the fantastic. I feel very lucky he agreed to work with me.

Q] What were your main pointers for your cover artist & Shawn King (cover design) as you all went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

AH: My directions are always really vague, and thank goodness these guys are so incredibly talented. I wanted a strong series branding, and otherwise just let him loose. I love what he came up with.

Q] The sequel The Silver Sorceress is releasing soon/has been released. What readers expect from the story?

AH: They should expect a continuation of the storylines introduced in The Crimson Queen - Keilan will continue to develop his powers and personality, Jan will wrestle with the horrors of the past and what he was a part of, and Alyanna will scheme to reclaim what she has lost. I'm also introducing a new character - Cho Lin, the daughter of the Shan demon hunter from The Crimson Queen. Some of the book takes place in Shan, and I took as a model and inspiration the Chinese Wuxia TV shows and movies that I have seen while living over here in China. So it's not supposed to be historically accurate, but a romanticized version of ancient China - just like most fantasy fiction is a romanticized version of medieval Europe.

It was also important to me that I have some payoffs in this story - there were plenty of mysteries introduced in Queen, and I wanted the readers to feel like some of them were explored in this book. I don't like it when writers cram all the reveals into the final third of the last book - or drop some of the mysteries that they've introduced all together. That said, it is a middle book in a trilogy. I'm quite happy with it, but I am worried that readers will reach the end and feel like it doesn't have the arc resolution that The Crimson Queen had, which was a bit more self contained. By the last chapter the pieces are all set up for the final book - and I'm excited about what I have planned - but perhaps it's not quite as satisfying a resolution as the first. We'll see.

Q] How's your writing going for book III and how many more books will be required to reach your ideal conclusion to the Raveling series?

AH: The plotting / planning is going well. I'm excited to start. I've actually been writing a sword and sorcery book this summer, something short and exciting, about 75k words. It's due at my editor in mid-October. Then I'll spend a few weeks finalizing my thoughts for book three and dive in when November rolls around. I'm hoping to write at least 20k words a month (I know - so slow. I'm the slowest writer ever) and if I can keep up that pace I'd expect to finish May / June of next year. so realistically expecting a publication date of this time next year.

Q] Thank you again for your time, any parting thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?

AH: Well, just that I really appreciate the support that readers of The Crimson Queen have showed me. I hope they enjoy The Silver Sorceress.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

SPFBO: Interview with Dom Watson (Interviewed by D.C. Stewart)

Official Author Profile
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Boy Who Walked Too Far
Order The Boy Who Walked Too Far over HERE

Dom Watson is the author of The Boy Who Walked Too Far, one of Fantasy Book Critic’s choices for semi-finalist in the 2018 SPFBO. According to his Twitter bio, Dom is a “Writer. Tinker. Book Maker. Drinker of Tea, Eater of biscuits. Full time nutter, part time fool,” and, “Smiles for Merlot.”

These are all attributes that permeate his debut novel and first entry into the SPFBO, but they only scratch the surface of his madness. Through a series of long-distance questions, I sought to dive deeper into the mind behind “The Boy Who Walked Too Far,” a mind that spawned some of the most interesting concepts that I have read in my long history with the written word.

My thanks to Dom, for his time and his vivid answers. Enjoy them and then check out The Boy Who Walked Too Far:

FBC: Thank you for sitting down to answer a few questions, and thanks for being in FBC’s pile of entries!

DW: No, no. It's a privilege.

FBC: First off, can you give us some nitty-gritty personal details? Where are you from?

DW: Well, I'm a human, most of the time. I flit between being a badger and an owl mostly. I love the night. I live in Suffolk, a county in the east of England, in a small market town called Halesworth. Bit like the Shire without the dancing. Well, maybe on Saturdays.

FBC: Ah, a dancing shapeshifter. That explains a lot. What is your “day job” and does it get in the way of writing?

DW: I work as a printer's assistant (so I'm clad in paper and ink pretty much everyday, whether it's working or writing), I make sure a printer has enough paper or enough plates to print with. It's not too time consuming. I do it as a staggered shift rotation, so it gives me time to write, when, of course, I have done my dad duties. That takes precedence.

FBC: I can sympathize (17 month old, exhausting). What do you do for fun besides craft elaborate worlds and scenarios?

DW: When I do have some time I usually like to read, naturally, or maybe head off on my hybrid bike and get some exercise. It's good writing fuel, exercise. Many an idea has been spawned cruising the back roads of Suffolk (The Boy Who Walked Too Far included)

FBC: Why put yourself through the tortuous process of writing? At what age did you become a masochist?

DW: Oh, I think writing found me. I have always been a big thinker. Even at school I would always wander off into a dream or doodle toothy nasties on the back of my exercise books. I was a bit of an introvert. Not shy, I just wanted to be elsewhere. That pretty much began in middle school. So, in effect, I've been unplugged from society since I was about 12 (I have so much fun).

It wasn't until after high school that I found a passion for it - primarily college where for the first time tutors actually egged me on. They didn't really do that in high school. They expected to teach you and send you off into the system. I said I wanted to be a movie director and they just shook their heads and gave me a leaflet on becoming a bank manager.

FBC: I’m glad you didn’t become a bank manager, though that might lend itself to some healthy daydreaming as well. Do you have any professional training? A writing degree or an apprenticeship perhaps?

DW: I left college and worked myself through a variety of jobs until I fell into print. With this I joined a few writers workshops and just carried on imagining, or as I like to call it, imagineering. Writing, reading, living life so I had something to write about, typical university of life outlook. Recently I have joined a few online writers courses, and fell under the tutelage of Eliza Robertson, a Canadian shorts author. You should read Wallflowers, it's excellent. She has a real talent for observing humanity, which I have took on board.

FBC: ‘The Boy Who Walked Too Far’ is overflowing with humanity. The characters are alive in that book in a way that really floats it above and beyond, Xindii in particular. Tell us about the ideas that inherent in the book. Did you simply one day wake and decide to create something no one had ever done before? Can you give us any clues as to the ideas for some of your more creative areas, like the DNA house or the Story demon?

DW: 'The Boy Who Walked Too Far' has been gestating for years. Like a story parasite itself. It had been in my mind for a long while before I decided the time was right to exorcise it. If you read it carefully there is a mixture of depression woven into the prose - that was pretty much the basis of the big bad - a stain, moulded in illness. It is an inherent thing, forged itself in living: our own story. Sometimes for days it can sleep, and then one morning it wakes, goading you, mocking you. A sentient gospel. Your own.

I blame Neil Gaiman. I went to a book signing once. I was a very anxious boy, attending the launch of American Gods, and he just looked at me and smiled and wrote, 'dream dangerous dreams.' I didn't want to disappoint.

FBC: Uncle Neil. Always inspiring.

DW: The ideas that permeate the book are just me being philosophical on things. The DNA house was my thesis on haunted houses: that a house can contain such memories, imprinted in the walls, good and bad, soaking up emotion. A genetic blueprint itself for life, that the house can take all that and form new families. I like the notion.

FBC: So do I. Why SPFBO? Have you ever tried going down the traditional pub-route? Is self-publishing your preferred method?

DW: I tried a few agents with the 'The Boy Who Walked Too Far', but I noticed a few similar replies. 'Very interesting, but not for me', 'Not for me, right now,' pretty standard really. I remember saying to someone that I need an agent with a betting streak. Agents know their jobs, don't get me wrong, they need to eat too, but I think at the moment publishing is becoming quite safe. The world isn't safe anymore, we need story more than ever, and we need to push it further than ever before. We need to chuck the rulebook out of the window and drive over it. At least self - publishing gives the author a chance to share his voice with the world. An opportunity to showcase his/her wares.

FBC: I have a feeling many fantasy readers are tired of ‘safe’ as well. Do you consider ‘The Boy Who Walked Too Far’ to be a fantasy novel, or one with fantasy elements that is not easily classified? Were you concerned that a book set in the future might not be construed as fantasy?

DW: Oh it is fantasy. Dead cert. I'm not going to sit here and protest that I’ve discovered a new genre. That would be incredibly arrogant. The thing is, writers have been mixing fantasy and sci-fi for years. No one really thinks they do though. Look at Krull as a film - a medieval society invaded by a space faring army, exotic weapons (Excaliburesque), sorcery - yet the Beast and the slayers come from above. As a kid, I loved the fusion. It probably set me on this path. Thor does it now - the Bifrost, magic is science and all that. A Never Ending Story, the Nothing is entropy isn't it? Surely. Authors are doing it, now. Jen Williams, Ed Cox, Ed Mcdonald. I'm just joining their ranks.

FBC: I completely agree. Fantasy is imagination, first and foremost. What about the physical portion of the book? Where did you find the idea for your cover art? Is it yours, and would you change it if you had a wider release?

DW: The cover was done by a friend of a friend. The guy is called Steven Spicer and he's extremely talented. A friend recommended him after he did some album cover art for him. I love that cover, but all things need to evolve to continue. No, I wouldn't be adverse to a new design. The cover is as important as the pages. The whole package.

FBC: Hopefully this doesn’t sound too pointed, but was your book was edited by a professional editor?

DW: Wow. I edited about two hundred pages out of that book but it still needs a good edit. There were whole scenes taken out. Maybe even a chapter at one point. It needs a good editor. A professional eye. I'm honest, I won't lie. There are still some bits I think, well, do I need you? The time jump at House, that was a raucous one. But I felt it needed taking out. It would have been an unnecessary info dump at a crucial stage. So, if anyone is up for a challenge, email me. (smiles).

FBC: I’m tempted. There are obvious influences in this work, namely Doctor Who and Arthur Conan Doyle. What are some hidden influences that might not come across as obvious?

DW: Yeah, they are obvious. But, it works. As a template, it works. Story is made up of templates nowadays. A pairing. It's what I call gutter-sniping. Taking tried and tested formulae and using it as the foundation of your story. It's more a homage than anything.

Clive Barker is definitely an inspiration. Some of the Auditor stuff is quite him. I read a lot of Barker growing up. He has made up some particular grotesques in his time. The Gob is a definite part of that. Gaiman, for the God House stuff. I just like the idea of Gods sitting down and chewing the fat, talking about the state of the world and the latest coffee sensation at Starbucks.

FBC: Now that you mention it, the God House does echo Uncle Neil. Even outside of this book, who are your influences, and as a different question, who are your favorite authors?

DW: I'm loving Ed McDonald's Blackwing stuff at the moment. Joe Hill is on my radar, too. He creates some great moments of horror. Jen Williams and Ed Cox. Love those guys. Ed Cox has actually been very supportive toward 'The Boy'. Loved Jonathan French's The Grey Bastards. That's pushing story, right to the window and cracking it.

FBC: I’m actually reading The Grey Bastards right now! It’s refreshingly different, much like your own work. What’s next? Is Xindii your goal for the foreseeable future?

DW: He is. He has some sway over my brain. Doomfinger and Brick, too. Love those boys. I'm twenty thousand words into the follow-up. Working title, A Stage Of Furies. We delve a little into Xindii's time in the army and the people he pissed off. Also the Auditor mythology gets scrutinised.

I'm now putting the finishing touches to a novella called, Smoker on the Porch. It's set at the end of Thatcher's Britain in the late 80's. It's told in the first person and concerns a boy and the creepy neighbour across the street. I don't want to spoil it. But there's a blink and miss it connection to ‘The Boy Who Walked Too Far’. Everything is linked in my brain. Then, maybe a novel set in the Evermore, concerning a gay wizard and his lover. No joke. Don't be safe. I can see them in my head, already. There's no rule book here in my house!

FBC: What will you do if you win the SPFBO?

DW: Probably dance for a bit. Give my wife the biggest kiss ever and say thank you for believing in me. It's hard, writing. Especially when you have family. But she knows I love it. She believes I can do it. But most of all, if I won it, I'd switch the computer on and keep writing, because my brain is ready to let the floodgates open. Be warned. I have such sights to show you, walk with me...


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Hounacier by Seth Skorkowsky (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order Hounacier over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Dämoren
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Read Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Raised in the swamps and pine forests of East Texas, Seth Skorkowsky gravitated to the darker sides of fantasy, preferring horror and pulp heroes over knights in shining armor. When not writing, Seth enjoys cheesy movies, tabletop role-playing games, and traveling the world with his wife.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Eleven years ago, atheist Malcolm Romero met a god. Now he's a demon-hunting voodoo priest armed with a holy machete named Hounacier.

After the murder of his mentor, he returns to New Orleans to catch the killer. But more is at stake when Malcolm finds himself betrayed, and his holy blade stolen. Now Malcolm's only hope to save his soul and to recover Hounacier, is the Valducan knight sent to kill him, Matt Hollis, the wielder of the holy revolver Dämoren.

FORMAT/INFO: Hounacier is 279 pages long divided over twenty one numbered chapters. The narration is in the third person limited. This is the second volume of the Valducan series. It can be read as a standalone.

The book is available in e-book and paperback formats. It was republished by Crossroad Press in 2018. Cover art and design are by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: Hounacier is a character-driven dark urban- fantasy book with immersive world-building and in-depth study of demons lore and Voodoo.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Matt Hollis is a great and relatable character. Malcolm Romero isn’t. At least that’s what I thought after finishing Dämoren. You can’t blame me. Malcolm behaved like a huge asshole all the way through.

And yet here we are following Mal’s adventures in New Orleans. When he learns that someone murdered his mentor, Malcolm returns to New Orleans to catch the killer. Instead, he loses his holy machete (Hounacier) and finds himself on the run. Not only from others. He'll face an even more dangerous foe. I can’t say anything more so as to not spoil the twist.

This book is all about Malcolm and his relationships (with people, holy blade, ghosts, himself). We learn more about him. He was brought to faith by terror – as a young, defiant journalist he was looking for a strong article topic. He investigated the world of voodoo. After witnessing an exorcism, his world shattered to pieces, he felt a calling that would lead him to become a Valducan demon hunter.

I’m impressed with world-building and amount of research put into crafting the story. The author does a great job of describing the city giving us a deeper look at voodoo and the loa. Voodoo is a central theme in Hounacier. It feels vibrant, authentic and darkly fascinating.

Additionally, through scenes and notes that broaden knowledge stored in Valducan archives, we get new insights into demon culture. Demons pictured in Valducan series aren’t just flat incarnations of evil. They’re much more and they’re fascinating. It makes Valducan such a different read than most of what urban fantasy has to offer.

Above all, though, Hounacier isn’t a Dämoren copy. It’s different in almost every way. It’s more low-key and more intimate. We witness demon-slaying and good action scenes but the book has a feel of a good psychological thriller, especially after sudden twist that’ll have Malcolm facing the biggest challenge of his life. It’s a dark and violent book. If you have a visual style of imagination, then you risk getting a visceral reaction to the events more than once. Some scenes were terrifyingly gruesome but didn't feel unnecessarily gory.

The pacing of the book however is uneven. The first half of Hounacier sets the scene. After the main plot twist, the novel becomes much faster. Some readers may find the beginning slow but I enjoyed it, especially the nicely crafted New Orleans' descriptions. It’s the city I dream to visit one day.

CONCLUSION: Overall, I’m impressed with Hounacier. It took me to some dark places but remained engrossing all the way. If you are looking for a dark Urban Fantasy story mixed in with a solid dose of horror, the Valducan series is definitely worth your time. 
Monday, September 24, 2018

Dämoren by Seth Skorkowsky (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order Dämoren over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Read Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Raised in the swamps and pine forests of East Texas, Seth Skorkowsky gravitated to the darker sides of fantasy, preferring horror and pulp heroes over knights in shining armor. When not writing, Seth enjoys cheesy movies, tabletop role-playing games, and traveling the world with his wife.

FORMAT/INFO: Dämoren is 382 pages long divided over twenty one numbered chapters. The narration is in the third person. This is the first volume of the Valducan series.

The book is available in e-book and paperback formats. It was republished by Crossroad Press in 2017. Cover art and design are by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: Dämoren is a character-driven dark urban- fantasy book with immersive world-building and in-depth study of demons lore.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: While I consider myself a pacifist and have no interest in guns, I wouldn’t mind having Dämoren at hand. Just in case. You know how it is with werewolves, vampires, and daemons – impossible to say when they’ll come to get you. 

Unfortunately, the moment I took the Holy Weapon, it would be my last. Matt would kill me. No one, except him, can touch his beloved one.

Dämoren is an impressive debut. Dark and fast, it’s filled with foreboding and terror but also a healthy dose of wit and hope to balance things a bit. It tells the story of Matt Hollis – the wielder of a holy weapon called Dämoren, and his introduction to Valducan society of demon hunters.

Almost each (except apprentices and those who retired) Valducan member is bonded to a Holy Weapon (swords, maces, a sabre and a gun). They love their weapons more than spouses or children. It’s an absolute love. When the weapon is destroyed there’s nothing left for Valducan to live for. Listen to Matt’s thoughts:

"If Dämoren died, smashed to pieces before him, he wouldn’t want to live. For a Valducan, his weapon is a single most important thing in life. Sure, they’re able to socialise but there’s a driving, all-consuming force in their life. It gives them a goal and a direction."

The novel starts strongly with a wendigo attack on Hollis’ family. A hunter goes after them. He’s faced with a difficult decision to make. But it’s not only his to make - Dämoren will express her opinion as well. 

Soon after the prologue, we meet Matt Hollis who’s hunting daemons with his holy gun. Things don’t go as planned, and he meets Valducan representatives who want to recruit him. It seems the monsters around the world make teams and join their efforts to destroy holy weapons and their human guardians. Because of Matt's past and the fact he may be possessed by a daemon, not all team members welcome him with open arms. As the hunters become the hunted, they must learn to trust one another before a powerful demonic entity thrusts the world into a terrible and ageless darkness.

Matt Hollis is a likable guy. I feel tired of Urban Fantasy heroes/martyrs who try to bear the whole weight of the world on their tired shoulders. Many of them like to despair. I don’t. Matt doesn't either. He is a hunter. He loves his weapon, and he’s bonded with her. He kills demons. He stays out of trouble if it’s possible. Because of his lifestyle, he isn’t in any kind of long-term relationship. These are his choices. He knows who he is, what he does and fully embraces it. While he’s not the funniest guy ever, he has a distance that makes the book pleasant to read. 

Other characters felt nicely drawn and fleshed out. I would love to learn about Max's past (he’s a retired Valducan; a guy who’s spent almost fifty years fighting demons must have some fascinating stories to tell). Because the story is set in the modern world, it’s easy to recognise and imagine places. It’s not a very happy world but good things also happen. Yes, it’s filled with darkness and monsters and it may feel a bit reminiscent of Constantine lore. In the same time, though, there are good people in here who make choices I can identify with.

World-building was introduced skillfully through dialogue and later by notes from Valducan archives. I loved these notes. I could easily spend time scrolling through them. Some theories, for example, why werewolves can be hurt with silver and rakshasas with gold were fascinating and felt fresh. 

Basically, the only gripe I have with the book is the fact it didn’t go deeper into characters. Instead, the pacing became breakneck and bloody fights between monsters and Valducans got all the spotlight. The fights weren’t bad, actually, they were pretty nice. I would like more layers of what was happening though. I love good popcorn reads but this book has a potential to be something more, and it didn’t fully use it.

CONCLUSION: Even though it’s not perfect, I’ve already bought the rest of the books in the series and plan to read them shortly. I hope they're at least as good as Seth Skorkowsky’s debut.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Author Website
Order The Child Finder over HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Enchanted

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "This is something I know: no matter how far you have run, no matter how long you have been lost, it is never too late to be found. "

Rene Denfield’s first novel, The Enchanted, was a dazzling look into a dark place. It showed that even under the bleakest circumstances life and hope can find a way to make the unbearable into a transcendent experience. No sophomore jinx here. Denfeld has done it again.

There are similarities in core concept between The Child Finder and The Enchanted. Both deal with imprisonment, with imagination as a tool for psychological survival, for transporting oneself beyond one’s immediate chains.

In The Enchanted, The Lady represented death row inmates, looking for the truth in their cases, and ways to keep them from dying. In this story Naomi is The Child Finder, a freelance investigator with a passion and a gift for locating missing kids. Her motivation is pretty clear. She had been taken as a child herself.

On a winter day in rural Oregon, five year old Madison Culver had vanished. Three years on, the authorities have abandoned hope. Having exhausted all other options the girl’s frantic parents call in Naomi. There is no such thing as a cold case for her. She finds a way, discovers the clue everyone else missed, considers things from a new perspective, haunts relevant locations. She is fearless, fierce, and coldly relentless.

The narrative switches between Madison’s and Naomi’s point of view. Madison is held by a man known only as Mr B. We track the development of the relationship between Madison and Mr B. Watch as Madison’s will to survive digs in, as she moves on from victim to actor, from object to powerful player, using her native intelligence and keen observation to give herself at least a chance of surviving. The other tool she uses is her imagination. A favorite fairy tale becomes a mechanism by which she feels hope and a limited sense of freedom even while imprisoned. In talking about The Enchanted, Denfeld addressed a theme relevant to The Child Finder:
"I think the fantastical elements are important, as they show how the narrator copes with being in solitary confinement for so many years. He escapes through his imagination, including astonishing interpretations of his world. I've worked with men and women facing execution, and am often thunderstruck at how humans can persevere despite horrific circumstances." - from the author's GoodReads Q&A
Naomi follows clues in a procedural style, checking with this person, then that, noting oddities, poring through public records and old newspapers, her feel for a trail making some items stand out. She is shown working on another simultaneous case, and we learn of some of her past successes and failures.

Naomi is beset by what she calls The Big Dream, a recurring nightmare that may hold clues to her past. Her investigative prowess has failed so far to let her find out who she really is:

 "As always, after having the dream, she tried to uncover the truth. What part was reality and what part was fantasy? Are the stories we tell ourselves true or based on what we dream them to be?"

Naomi is a powerfully crafted character, a beautifully moving portrait of anguish, strength, and compassion. She recalls her own escape and subsequent upbringing with an amazingly warm foster mother. Her relationship with her foster brother, Jerome, is a core element here, and it sings. Her brief dealings with an older detective seemed far too brief. I hope that when Naomi returns in subsequent volumes we get to see more of him.

As with The Enchanted, Denfeld makes use of her poetic sense, and sparkling command of language, to paint a grim world with great swaths of beauty. And there is considerable darkness here, but graphic unpleasantness is kept to a minimum:
"I feel strongly against graphic violence that is vicarious, or exploitative. After working with so many victims, I feel sensitive to honoring how unspeakable crime can be." - from Rene's GoodReads Q&A
The emotional connections are beautifully written. There is a scene in which a very patient foster mother is finally allowed in by a damaged child. If your eyes don’t gush, it’s time to being to bring them in to your ophthalmologist. Something is not working right.

As with her earlier work Denfeld offers an insightful look at the baddie, a nuanced portrait of a damaged person engaging in unspeakable behavior. This has particular resonance with the death row characters of The Enchanted, an interest not merely in extinguishing the darkness but in understanding how it came to be. We are also treated to some insight into psychological elements of surviving captivity. Denfeld knows a fair bit about such things, as her day job entails investigating on behalf of death row inmates. She is also a foster mother.

In addition to offering keen observation of the world Naomi inhabits, (Naomi ate a large breakfast in the diner, where the waitress no longer called her hon, but nodded indifferently, like she was a local.) The Child Finder offers a rich supply of supporting imagery, concept and insight. The sometimes necessarily porous line between the real and the imagined is considered. As is the virtue and value of patience, whether as a captive, a caregiver, or an investigator. Where does dreaming leave off and memory begin? There is a balance between seeking the lost and hiding out. The earth, the ground, serves as a worthy image here. In one case, an opening in the earth yields a cornucopia of inspirational stones, a sacred place, in another a dark pit fraught with peril. Naomi as a child and Madison are held in subterranean, cave-like places. Naming issues are considered as well. Madison thinks of herself as the Snow Girl from her favorite fairy tale. Her captor is only ever Mister B to her. Even Naomi does not know her real name. What is means to be human comes in for a look. Ironically, Mister B feels more human for having Madison with him than he had felt before. Madison subsumes her humanity at times under her alt-reality fairy-tale persona.

The gripes here are few. There are some moments in which the sentiment expressed seem a bit Hallmarkian. (Her entire life she had been running from terrifying shadows she could no longer see—and in escape she ran straight into life.) There a few of these. In one moment of peril, a rescue seemed a bit deus ex machina for my taste. These small stumbles may keep The Child Finder from quite matching her previous work, but really, can you gripe at Herman Melville for not matching Moby Dick with his next effort? This is still an amazing book.

CONCLUSION: The Child Finder is a beautifully written, gripping page turner, rich with psychological insight, emotional engagement, life-and-death peril, and a memorable cast of characters, rooted in a darkly atmospheric landscape. It is a book that is worth searching for, bringing home, and welcoming into your family.

NOTE: This review was originally posted by Will on Goodreads.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

SPFBO: Interview with J. A. Devenport (Interviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of By Raven's Call
Order By Raven's Call HERE

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, can you tell us a little about yourself, your background & your interests?

JAD: Haha! There’s a lot to tell. I guess I’ll start with the basics…I grew up in the Alaskan wilderness, in a cabin (16 feet x 20 feet) with my rather large family (at the time there were 11 of us). After I graduated high school, I attended BYU in Utah and never really ended up leaving because it’s actually warm here.

There’s a lot of things that I enjoy, mostly really manly things like cutting firewood, and shooting guns, but I’m also a retired ballroom dancer, which is weird. Currently, I mostly spend my free time hitting the gym and playing videogames. Also, I like cats.

Q] What inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, & why you chose to go the self-publishing route?

JAD: My writing drive started early on, evolving pretty naturally from reading constantly (there wasn’t much else to do during the Alaskan winters). There’s a good story here, but I’ll save it for when I finally get around to starting a blog.

Finishing my first book was actually quite difficult, I’d been working on a project for years during college, an epic fantasy, but as I learned more about the publishing business (from Brandon Sanderson’s creative writing class) I realized I wouldn’t be able to get it published as a first-time author. So then, I started a smaller “standalone” project which I felt would be easier to attract the interest of publishers. To finish that project I had to quit a very awesome job with the National Park Service so I could take a stab at writing full time. Once I did that and could actually focus my energy, I managed to finish a VERY rough draft of By Raven’s Call in about four months. Then I had to get a job again :(

Even though I wrote the book specifically so I could get it published, I found the actual submission process to be time consuming (you spend so much time just waiting to hear from a batch of agents about your query, and then even longer if they ask for a partial). I hated it, and I probably only ever submitted to 15-20 agents. But then, last year, I stumbled on J. A. Konrath’s blog about self-publishing and I was hooked. Here was a viable way for me to get a project that I was starting to get annoyed with off my plate so I could move onto the next.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of By Raven’s Call occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

JAD: By Raven’s Call has gone through a few stages. It was born from a writing prompt in a creative writing class, just an idea a couple paragraphs long. Then, during another class it turned into a short story. And finally, I novelized it when I decided I needed a quick, sellable idea. And honestly, I couldn’t have purposefully made it a more difficult and complicated process.

The idea has evolved a ton since I started it in 2010. The original short-story was told in the first person and had a jaunty and light-hearted tone that I realized didn’t work after I finished the first draft. So I had to change all that. And that was just the beginning. Getting the whole project to the stage where I felt confident letting other people read it has been painful. But I learned a lot. And the result is something that I feel is a solid first attempt.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

JAD: That’s a hard answer. I wish I had a muse. That would make things easier, I think. But right now my source of inspiration is my imagination, and my motivation is that I don’t want to work a day job forever. Haha!

Q] Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

JAD: Honestly, I literally found out about SPFBO the day the contest opened for submissions. Randomly, a month or so earlier, Kopratic over at The Fantasy Inn had discovered my book on the Kindle store and liked the cover (we’ll get to that). So he bought it and wrote a review about it (my first ever! Woot!). The first day of submissions for SPFBO4, his fellow blogger, HiuGregg, messaged me and convinced me to enter. What did I have to lose?

Q] I described your book as plot-driven - do you agree?

JAD: Yeah, absolutely. I like fast-paced, action oriented books and I guess that’s what I ended up writing.

Q] You have quite a few distinct characters in the book - was it difficult to manage them in a satisfying way?

JAD: Yes and no. The first draft had more characters, and I tried to remove all the unnecessary ones. Other than that, there was only one character that really gave me trouble. One of the women. I had to rewrite her five or six times because it was so difficult getting a balance of vulnerability (in regards to what she experiences early on) and core strength that was relatable, and likeable. Hopefully I succeeded.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

JAD: I discovered the realm of fantasy through two books: The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, and The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. They’re very different, but both absolutely captivated me with their magical worlds. These days I read a bit of everything, but, obviously, I’m a fan of Brandon Sanderson. He’s basically the king of fantasy right now. If I could accomplish a tenth of what he has, then I’ll be happy.

Q] By Raven’s Call features an impressive and immersive world-building. How long did it take you to develop the world? How do you keep track of everything? Does it still evolve?

JAD: Oddly enough, I never really focused on world building. It just happens because I have an imagination and I spend a lot of time daydreaming and taking pieces of the real world and giving them a bit of magical flare. For instance, my magic system was born from my enthusiasm for dance, augments are a natural progression of real world drugs, and airships…airships are just frickin’ awesome!

It isn’t really hard to keep track of…in my head the world exists, it operates a certain way, and obeys its own rules. As long as I know the rules—and I do since I made them—then everything just makes sense. At this point, the evolution is mostly over, though some things will change through the course of the sequels.

Q] Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Your cover is rather simple and minimalistic. Can you tell me about the idea behind it?

JAD: Ahem. This is easy. I’m dirt poor. So I designed my own cover, and since I was limited by my artistic skills, I had to keep it simple. Still, you can accomplish a lot with a shutterstock subscription and free art programs like GIMP and KRITA. I drew the sword by hand though. Hahah! I know it doesn’t compete with most of the covers in this competition, but it works.

Q] Can you tell us about your editing process?

JAD: I’m a firm believer that the best writing is actually good editing. So I just vomit the first draft, then I go through and clean it, cutting as much as I can. Then I give it to the meanest, most critical people I can find and let them tear it to shreds. Then I rewrite it again. And again. And again. I do that until I have a story that I am happy with.

Q] I love oddball questions and oddball answers, so allow me to ask you one - What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?

JAD: Errm…I’d slap it with the salmon he was trying to steal and tell him to go get his own. I think. I don’t know. Is he a wizard?

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

JAD: Louis L’Amour is underrated as a writer. That is all.


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