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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.


Monday, September 17, 2018

SPFBO Semifinalist: Here Be Dragons by David Macpherson (reviewed by D. C. Stewart)

Official Author Website
Order Here Be Dragons over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

FORMAT/INFO: Here Be Dragons is 414 pages long, divided up into 57 chapters with a prologue. The story is told via the third-person omniscient viewpoint, with most of the action focusing on Orus. As of this writing, Here Be Dragons is only available via digital edition.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Many would seek the crown once worn by the late Sir Terry Pratchett; headwear that proclaimed Pratchett as master and lord of all comic fantasy. He has had many emulators, both during his reign and after, but none have quite managed to capture the humor and philosophy offered by the realms of Discworld. While I am not ready to sling the Pratchett-crown at David Macpherson (even were I the master of crown-slinging), I have read few authors who fell so readily into the mold even while distinguishing themselves. With Here Be Dragons, a bouncing tale of incompetence and buffoonery, Macpherson has proven himself at least worthy of sharing a sentence with the best of the best.

The hero of Here Be Dragons is a has-been named Orus. Orus used to be a big deal, even graduated with honor from the acclaimed Cromalot School for Heroes, but after his first big adventure he found himself quite suddenly married with a child. Happens to all of us, right? Decades pass and Orus is offered a chance to once more take up the mantle of heroism, and feeling the doldrums of middle-aged boredom, he jumps at the opportunity - or he would if he hadn’t become fat and easily-winded. Macpherson subverts our typical hero right away. Orus is not the grizzled veteran, still capable of out-fighting his foes. Orus has settled down, become a family man, and his greatest challenges involve sewer pipes and stubborn weeds. Nevertheless, the world needs a hero, and Orus might be the best man for the job - nevermind what that says about the current state of worldly heroes.

Orus is recruited by a monk named Ambrose, who pleads his help and when offered leads him to the dragon shrine where his mission will become clear. Orus is fine with ignorance because he is simply happy to have a quest.. There is also a donkey who bears their equipment, talks to the reader in italics, and is likely the true hero of the story.

On the surface, this all might sound silly, and it is. It would be easy to send Here Be Dragons straight to the comedy cemetery if it weren’t actually so damned funny. Not every joke lands, but most find solid ground. It can even veer towards slapstick at times and somehow not lose its luster. It is a rare author who finds themselves able to make readers laugh out loud while reading. Pratchett did it, and so does Macpherson

What I didn’t like about Here Be Dragons was that it so often reminded me of Shrek:
1) Talking donkey - check.

2) Villainous prince who is secretly a coward but who is adored by the masses - check.

3) Bumbling oaf who somehow manages to stumble his way into heroism - check.

Add a princess into this mix, and we might have some copyright infringement on our hands. Here Be Dragons does enough to separate itself from the famous ogre’s tale, and Mike Myers is thankfully nowhere to be found, but there is enough there that I found myself thinking of that movie multiple times throughout the story.

I also took issue with Macpherson’s use of real-world terminologies in his metaphors. In the early part of the novel, he uses footnotes to speak to his audience, and this works and is fun. But this is a fantasy novel set in a world not our own. The line, “The style favoured was like that found at a Scottish rugby club ceilidh at 2am,” is jarring as soon as that reality encroaches upon the escapism (even if the term ‘ceilidh’ sounds more like fantasy that reality).

This is a comic fantasy novel and that could be an excuse to use such terms - we are often told that fantasy has no barriers - but their addition cuts into the easy flow of this work and, I think, harms it. This is particularly frustrating when Macpherson’s other metaphors are so good. The term “red-pen gaze” is so evocative of a certain character in the novel that I wrote it down for use in my own work.

Thankfully the issues I had with Here Be Dragons failed to deter from the simple delight of it. Macpherson takes a common story and makes it fun, and in what I consider to be the most remarkable aspect of the tale, he does so without resorting to violence. At the risk of spoiling some of this book, Orus never once uses his fists to solve problems that he and Ambrose can figure out using their heads. It is amazing in part because this isn’t a passive world. There is violence here, and much of the book’s focus is on the slaying of legendary creatures. Heroes in Macpherson’s world have celebrity status, even boasting trading cards with their likenesses, all because of their ability to kill the bad things set loose upon humanity. Though Orus may have aspired to such status in his younger days, it is the tempering of fatherhood and a settled life, and perhaps an overly large gut, that keep him from seeking blood before seeking solutions.

CONCLUSION: Though a bit rough around the edges, and perhaps in need of a nit-picking editor, Here Be Dragons is a stand-out in this year’s SFPBO. It is so rare that we fantasy fans are allowed to jump out of our scary grimdark and epic, world-crashing tales and simply laugh at an oafish dad and his mid-life crisis while still getting to hear tales of dragons and swords. I’ll take that even if I have to suffer through cynical telepathic donkeys.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cover Reveal: Chasing Graves – Book One of the Chasing Graves Trilogy By Ben Galley

(Desert digital art by Daniel Kvasznicza)

One of my favourite parts of the book publishing process is reaching the cover design stage. I find that even though you can stare at a humongous Word document for months on end, even though you’re well aware you have a book, it somehow doesn’t feel tangible until it has a cover. It’s part film poster, part packaging, and it’s why I thoroughly enjoy getting to this stage. And so, back in May, when my calendar politely reminded me it was time to organise the cover for Chasing Graves, I may have performed a small jig around my writing cave.

The genesis of the Chasing Graves cover concept came from the story itself. Wherever possible, I always like to feature a character on my book covers. In the new trilogy, the main protagonist is a fellow by the name Caltro Basalt. He’s a master thief, somewhat of a bastard, and finds himself ostensibly dead on his first night in the city of Araxes. In the world of Chasing Graves, bodies can be bound so that their ghosts become slaves for the rich. The process involves submerging a body in the black water of the River Nyx, and I decided that Caltro’s moment of passing into the ghost realm would be perfect for the front cover, showing his tumultuous transformation from human to ghost. My hopes were that through colour and content it would be eye-catching, almost horror-esque without leaving the fantasy genre behind.

The next step was to transfer what I had in my mind’s eye onto paper and reality. Now, I’m not an artist, as you’ll see from my rough sketch below, and that’s why I’ve always relied on professionals to create my covers. Chasing Graves was no exception. Initially I looked to the fantastic covers we’re blessed with in the fantasy market, and the amazing artists behind them. I also trawled ArtStation and DeviantArt to find creators that were producing art similar to the style I wanted. After a few weeks of chatting to various artists, discussing briefs and timescales, I decided to go with an artist called Chris Cold.

I came across Chris on ArtStation and was immediately transfixed by the array of otherworldly, haunting, and incredibly detailed artwork in his portfolio. The tone of his artwork was gothic in places, colourful where it needed to be, and to be honest, exactly the style I’d had in mind. Chris got back to me within a day and within no time at all, the brief was sent over and the artwork for the entire trilogy was commissioned.

I always try—emphasis on try—to give a detailed brief. Writing a brief is very similar to writing a blurb. I can create a world and spin multiple yarns, but ask me to condense an idea into succinct sentences in my head and I fall to pieces. With the help of a few examples—such as the scene in Watchmen where Jon Osterman/Dr Manhattan is ripped apart by the field generator—and one terrible sketch, Chris started work in early August.

First we confirmed composition and colours, working on details such as the fact ghosts in my world are bright blue and that Caltro has a darker skin-colouring, as most of the trilogy is based in a North African world.

After that stage, the initial cover popped into my inbox. I would prefer not to say I squealed, and recall it as a barbarian’s roar, but there was definitely some excitement.

I wanted more ghost in Caltro’s face, and after I confirmed my feedback with a few fellow authors and long-time fans, Chris went straight to work on the final artwork. And here it is: 

If I could have hooked my brain up to a printer and generated the image I had in my mind’s eye back in May, scribbling ideas down over a pint, this would have pretty much been it, except it didn’t look anywhere near as good. I think Chris has absolutely nailed the brief and perfectly encapsulated Caltro being torn from mortality. The detail and colour against the black strike me in just the way I wanted, and he also incorporated a feather for the detail on the back cover, which is the symbol of the bound dead in Chasing Graves.

Next up was the typography and the very final cover design, which came down to the inimitable Shawn King. Shawn and I worked together on my standalone novel The Heart Of Stone and its short story prequel Shards, and he did such a brilliant job with those that he was my first choice for adding text to Chris’ art. Needless to say, Shawn smashed it as always. For me, the font choice backs up the grungy nature of the art and the decay of the world Chasing Graves is set in, while adding dynamism to the whole design.

Overall, I’m thrilled with how both Chris and Shawn took my humble imagination and turned it into something not only tangible and real, but something that I’m incredibly proud to slap on the front of my book. They’ve done a fantastic job, and if Chasing Graves is anything to go by, I’m straining at the bit to see what they produce for books two and three…

Thanks for reading, and a big thank you to Mihir and the rest of the Fantasy Book Critic crew for letting me ramble on. I hope you like the cover and enjoyed the story!


Official Author Website, Facebook & Twitter

Release Date: December 7th 2018 (eBook & Paperback)

Pre-order link: Amazon US & Amazon UK

Official Book Blurb: Meet Caltro Basalt. 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 rule 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 only the beginning.

NOTE: Environment: Dune digital art by Daniel Kvasznicza.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

SPFBO Semifinalist: The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson (Reviewed by D. C. Stewart)

Order The Boy Who Walked Too Far over HERE

FORMAT/INFO: The Boy Who Walked Too Far is 756 pages long, with named but un-numbered chapters. It is a third-person limited viewpoint set mostly through the eyes of Heironymous Xindii, Solomon Doomfinger, and Brick. The Boy Who Walked Too Far is the first book in Dom Watson’s Xindii Chronicles and is available in e-book formats with potential physical publication in the future.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Defining fantasy, as a genre of literature, is one of the trickiest things in this industry. There are so many sub-genres now, as well as decriers of genre who insist that everything should simply be called literature, that to enter a contest like the SFBPO is to hope that whoever reads your work will see it as you see it.Dom Watson claims that THE BOY WHO WALKED TOO FAR is a fantasy novel, an implicit fact in his entering this contest, but there might be some who would disagree. This novel is set millions of years into the future, the year 11,234,097 to be precise, and imagines a world in which humans have survived until the end of time.

It is a book about dreams, and a “magic” system called Dreamurlurgy that is mastered by only a select handful of beings. There are different species of humans in this book and ancient, demonic gods - possibly even God him- or herself. There are DNA-engineered elephants in Watson’s vision, shrunk to trot around at peoples’ feet like dogs. This is a complicated novel that likely defies genre, and while some might not see it as the cut-and-dried sword-and-sorcery fantasy that we are used to when we browse our local library shelves, in some ways I believe that Dom Watson’s work embodies the spirit of fantasy as much if not more than most of what we know. This is a work of imagination, unlimited by time and space, and for that I think it is not only a worthy entry into this contest, but possibly one of the best.

Xindii Heironymous is a Mapper - one of the best Mappers living or dead. He is able to infiltrate dreams, control them, and even trap people into their own Reveries - states of perpetual dream that they are unable to escape from unless the Mapper wills it. Xindii’s home is Testament, the last bastion at the edge of civilization. Time is ending, and Testament stands as the spot where living creatures will make their stand. But it is a city, and cities must function as they do, and so in Testament, Xindii serves not only as a professor in the most prestigious university in town, but as an investigator into potential dream-related crimes. When Godrich Felstrom is devoured by a supernatural horror in the middle of a bar, Xindii, along with his lifelong friend and half-ape hyper-genius Solomon Doomfinger, is called upon by the Auditors, a group of mathematical rulers who seek to record every living thing’s number into their grand algorhythm that allows them to predict the future, to figure out how and why Godrich was killed.

If that paragraph feels like a very large and confusing info dump, welcome to THE BOY WHO WALKED TOO FAR. This book can be incredibly confusing, particularly at the onset. Watson is not shy about throwing his readers terms that he never explains, or only subtly explains via context clues and careful reading. One of the book’s many flaws, in fact, is this inability to convey what the hell is actually going on. This can be a strength, however, in the right hands, and Dom Watson very nearly succeeds in wielding those hands.

What begins as a seemingly standard Doyle-esque murder mystery, albeit set far into the future, quickly evolves into the kind of adventure that would make a Doctor Who episode look boring. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Xindii in the same sentence as a Doctor or a Sherlock Holmes or even a Gregory House because he is of this same ilk. His addiction to a violent and horrible drug, along with a dark and tortured past, are offset by a personality infectious in its zest for life and the ability to fling himself headlong into adventure. Xindii’s charm is balanced by Solomon Doomfinger’s austerity and poise, and while some might accuse Watson of taking too much formula from Doyle and Steven Moffat, these types of pairings work and to great effect in this author’s hands.

Xindii and Doomfinger are but two in a wide cast of characters. They are joined by Brick, an inspector who brings the hard-boiled trope to life and whose skin is made of literal stone. Bliss, a seemingly innocuous woman who is actually the very first of her kind to exist, and a cast of villains that range from the blackest evil to the ones we feel can be saved if we just love them enough. Watson plays with morality in this novel like a philosopher who has studied it for decades, and no one comes in or out with a clean slate.

The Boy Who Walked Too Far takes place almost entirely in the city of Testament - the last stand of humanity. It is here that all the races, human and sub-human alike have to attempt a life against the backdrop of civilization’s end. In humorous fashion, Watson is perpetually detailing aspects of this town that are both laughable and unbelievable. Starbucks is still around, for instance, and LED lights are still somehow in fashion. God, the ultimate creator of reality, has his own district and house that would make Doctor Strange jealous. But thankfully, Watson’s humor is ingrained in the very nature of his writing, and he manages to make this novel both deadly serious and out-loud funny at the same time. Few novels can even do one of these properly, but Watson weaves them in the most human and authentic way.

The Boy Who Walked Too Far’s plot does follow the murder-mystery trope in its initial stages, but it does not take long to blossom into a full-fledged world-ending saga. Watson does a beautiful job weaving Xindii’s past into the current narrative. He does so purely in italics, which I found jarring and unnecessary, but as with many aspects, this book needs an editor’s eyes to correct such potential mistakes. Without getting into the spoiler-weeds too far, there is one aspect of The Boy’s plot that I feel needs to be praised above others. Well into the novel we are introduced to the idea that stories burrow into the mind and stay there. A tale we heard as a child never leaves and only needs the right cue to call it forth. This is a lovely idea and one we are all probably familiar with. Dom Watson ruins this. He creates of storytelling a literal monster, and it is a brilliant accomplishment that I have never seen in any other narrative medium. Watson makes a story an evil thing, and despite my overwhelming love of story, I’m not even mad about it. In a book full of the kind of creativity all authors should aspire to, it is this one portion in particular that I will never forget

It is frustrating that The Boy Who Walked Too Far is so riddled with errors. Some of these are commonplace mistakes, a plethora of sentence fragments or a name spelled differently in multiple places. Some are more egregious, like an entire scene replicated twice that spans several pages - a situation particularly frustrating in a novel about dreams and experimentation where one might not realize that they are reading a mistake until they have pored over it several times.

CONCLUSION: The truth is, I’m not sure that this novel can win SFBPO with the sheer amount of editing that it needs, and this is a tragedy to me because I truly love this book. Whether or not Dom Watson makes it past the first round or into the finals is irrelevant to me (though certainly not to him!) because he has found himself at least one reader who will evangelize his flawed masterpiece to anyone who will listen. The Boy Who Walked Too Far is far and away my number one choice for advancement into the SFBPO semi-finals.
Sunday, September 9, 2018

GIVEAWAY: Win a Set of Serena Valentino's Disney Villain's Series

 Hashtag: #DisneyVillainsBooks
Follow Disney Books on: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
Follow Serena Valentino on: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to partner with Disney Book Group to offer our readers a giveaway of the Villains Series. Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge fan of all things Disney. These books in the series, which are told from the Villain’s POV, are really good!

The giveaway is being offered to celebrate the release of the fifth book in the series Mother Knows Best: A Tale of the Old Witch by Serena Valentino.

The giveaway is for 1 prize pack that includes ALL FIVE of the books in the series. The Giveaway is open to US addresses only! 

Follow the giveaway instructions below to enter! May the odds be ever in your favor!

Learn More About the Book Mother Knows Best: A Tale of the Old Witch
The Disney VILLAINS series by Serena Valentino explores how the antagonists in Disney movies became some of storytelling’s most iconic villains. In the first five VILLAINS books, we see how the Evil Queen, the Beast, Ursula, Maleficent, and Mother Gothel fall into darkness, through the instigation of the mysterious Odd Sisters: Lucinda, Martha, and Ruby.

The tale of the legendary golden flower is widely known. The story has been told many times and in many ways. But always the flower is coveted by an old witch to keep herself young and beautiful. And always the flower is used to save a dying queen, who then gives birth to a princess with magical hair. Not willing to lose the flower, the old witch steals the princess and locks her away in a high tower, raising her as her own. But the princess always finds out who she truly is and manages to defeat the old witch.

And yet this is only half the story. So what of the old witch, Mother Gothel? Where does she come from? And how does she come across the magical golden flower?

Here is one account that recounts a version of the story that has remained untold for centuries . . . until now. It is a tale of mothers and daughters, of youth and dark magic.

It is a tale of the old witch.

Learn More about the Author!
Serena Valentino has been weaving tales that combine mythos and guile for the past decade. She has earned critical acclaim in both the comic and horror domains, where she is known for her unique style of storytelling, bringing her readers into exquisitely frightening worlds filled with terror, beauty, and extraordinary protagonists. The books in her best-selling VILLAINS series are best enjoyed when read in the following order: Fairest of All, The Beast Within, Poor Unfortunate Soul, Mistress of All Evil, Mother Knows Best.


1. This contest is open to US addresses only.

2. Only one entry per person.

3. To enter send an email with the subject ‘VILLAINS RULE’ to Please include your name, mailing address, and email address!

4. Contest starts from date of this published post and will run until September 24 at 12:02 p.m. Entries after that date and time will not be counted.

5. Winner will be picked by random number generator.

6. All information is collected for giveaway purposes only and deleted immediately after the contest winner is verified.

Have fun!
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

SPFBO: The Second Reaping & Semifinalist Announcement (by D.C. Stewart)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's first semifinalist update

Truth be told, I had not even heard of the SPFBO contest until last year. I had become more active in the reddit fantasy group and people kept talking about these books with titles I’d never heard of: Sufficiently Advanced Magic, The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids, The Grey Bastards. These weren’t being published by Tor and Houghton Mifflin, and like many, my preconceived notions of the publishing world stood on shaky ground at best. What ventures I had made into self-published work had nearly put me off reading anything of its ilk. I am thankful that Mihir invited me to join this year’s SPFBO because not only is my heart flipped on the concept of self-publishing, and not only do I now see my own faults and strengths as a writer, but I strongly feel that I may have discovered one of the next big names in fantasy, and that is a hell of an exciting prospect.

I should state here that while I finished most of the books on my list, there were several that I did not complete. When reading through these entries, it would become clear fairly quickly what titles would make the final cut and what would not. If I was not enjoying a book and did not feel as though it had any chance to beat out stronger entries, I would put it down. If an author is unable to hold a reader’s attention even in the first fifty pages, the chances of that author winning this contest are not good.

My finalists will get full-fledged reviews here on FBC, and I may choose to write about a few of the other entries. There is not one author on this list who does not have potential and/or talent, and I think with some work any of them could be a published author. I truly believe it.

Without more side-talk, here is what I think:

Apples Of Idunn by Matt Larkin

I was happy to get Apples of Idunn in my pile because I’m a Norse Mythology junkie. I also really like mead. Apples of Idunn seeks to reinvent the saga of the Aesir, but tackles the myth from a very human angle (and one seemingly authentic to ancient nordic life). Odin’s father is slain, and the mantle of leadership over the As tribe falls on his still-young shoulders. Odin is quickly approached by the Vanir goddess Idunn, who promises him immortality should he unite the tribes and declare himself king.

Apples of Idunn is ambitious, but ultimately falls victim to poor characterization. I did not like Odin, or Tyr, or any of the characters aside from Loki (oddly enough the most sympathetic character), and found their behavior reprehensible with very little redemptive presence. I also found the gender dynamics to be flawed to the point of frustration, and would have torn my hair out if I’d have read the word “trench” or the phrase “swelling trousers” one more time.


Seeking Shiloh by Coleman Grey

Seeking Shiloh started out so strong that I expected to not only like it but possibly find it in my list of semi-finalists. There are genuine laughs in the first and second chapters, and while the tale it sets out to tell is a familiar one (rescuing a princess), I am happy to read something full of tropes if it’s humorous. Setting the viewpoint in the eyes of an incompetent accountant further separates this from its ilk.

Unfortunately, Seeking Shiloh quickly loses itself in the attempt to push its humor agenda too far. The jokes start to feel so forced as to become cringe-worthy, and many of the scenes in the book feel like they exist only to insert snide politic jokes or to damn the press. The fine humor line that Seeking Shiloh could have taken is crossed heavily and it never recovers.


Death’s Merchants by Justin Hennar

The protagonist of Death’s Merchant begins his tale in a gruesome way - through patricide. Wielding powers he doesn’t understand and in a world that defies understanding, Jem Trask is alone. Or so he thinks. Through an aimless wandering Jem becomes embroiled in the games of gods.

Justin Hennar is what I would call a master of language. He writes beautifully, with every sentence an elegant combination of words fine enough to put to poetry. However, a mastery of language does not mean a mastery of storytelling, and sometimes purple prose can hinder a story more than help it. It hurts Death’s Merchant, as does a meandering narrative that has trouble ever finding its feet. I wanted to like Hennar’s work for its beautiful language, but I ultimately could not stomach the endless descriptions and overwrought writing.


Glitch Hunter by Skyler Grant

Glitch Hunter is the first LitRPG that I have ever read, and in fact my introduction to the existence of this new fantasy sub-genre. As someone who spends entirely too much time and money on video games, this is a style of novel after my own heart. I could immediately relate to the events of Glitch Hunter because I have spent decades of my life immersed in a variety of online multiplayer role playing games. Grant throws us into the shoes of the player Alex, who finds himself naked and amnesic in an unknown world where he is a Glitch Hunter who must fulfill specific quest parameters and slay monsters known as Glitches.

What Glitch Hunter does right - namely telling a really fun dungeons-and-dragons-style story within the confines of a game-style world - is overshadowed by what it does wrong. There are some basic writing issues in this work that need to be addressed, but even beyond that the complete obsession with sex completely eclipses the story. I like a nice racy scene as much as the next reader, but when every character is jumping every characters bones within the first paragraph of meeting them, I being to wonder if I’m reading a fantasy novel or pornography. This might work for some, but it did not work for me.


Recumon by Michael R.E. Adams

Recumon features a world like our own, but one full of hidden demons and those few select people who can see them, and hunt them.

Recumon is one of the few novels of my pack that I did not finish. The writing is fine even if at times it feels as though the author is not a native English speaker. This is a work trying to be cool and edgy but not understanding what cool and edgy writing actually feels like. There is an manga quality to it that I could not adjust to given my own views of what written storytelling should be. It is clear from the start that Michael R.E. Adams has a flair for the creative and dark nature of fantasy, but his knowledge of basic storytelling and writing techniques needs work.


Soul Prison by Derek Hampton

Soul Prison is an ambitious attempt at telling huge, world-scale fantasy, but regrettably became another book that I could not finish due to poor pacing and the kind of fight scenes that are more reminiscent of Dragonball Z than anything believable. I knew from the first two chapters that Soul Prison was not strong enough to contend with the other entries on my list, and I could summon very little desire to continue with its story. There is a way to write about god-like characters without making them look silly, and unfortunately Hampton has not yet mastered this method. There is solid world-building buried in the bones of Soul Prison, but too many flaws hamper the effort to make it work.


Here are my semi-finalists:

Here Be Dragons by David Macpherson

Many would seek the crown once worn by the late Sir Terry Pratchett; headwear that proclaimed Pratchett as master and lord of all comic fantasy. He has had many emulators, both during his reign and after, but none have quite managed to capture the humor and philosophy offered by the realms of Discworld. While I am not ready to sling the Pratchett-crown at David Macpherson (even were I the master of crown-slinging), I have read few authors who fell so readily into the mold even while distinguishing themselves as masters of their own work. With Here Be Dragons, a bouncing tale of incompetence and buffoonery, Macpherson has proven himself at least worthy of sharing a sentence with the best of the best.

Though a touch rough around the edges, and perhaps in need of a nit-picking editor, Here Be Dragons is a stand-out in this year’s SPFBO. It is so rare that we fantasy fans are allowed to jump out of our scary grimdarks and epic, world-crashing tales and simply laugh at an oafish dad and his mid-life crisis while still getting to hear tales of dragons and swords. I’ll take that even if I have to suffer through cynical telepathic donkeys.


The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson

What I can say about The Boy Who Walked Too Far is that this book defies expectations. The title does not make sense until the very end of the book, and the cover would suggest a journey into the afterlife or some ghost-realm. I was not expecting a book to defy genre so wholeheartedly because even after reading it I’m not sure if this is a Victorian inspector novel, a science fiction piece set billions of years into the future, a psychological fantasy thriller, or a novel on dream interpretation. It is somehow all of those and more. Set millions or even billions of years into humanity’s future, the city of Testament has seen a murder in its midst, and it is Heironymous Xindii’s task as the world’s foremost Dreamurlugy detective, along with his assistant the super-genius Solomon Doomfinger, to figure out whodunnit, little realizing that their quest might prove to be the lynchpin that saves civilization.

The Boy Who Walked Too Far is the best book I have read out of this pile of SPFBO entries, and I suspect Dom Watson might be the hidden gem that comes out of this contest. I loved this book. I loved its characters and their interactions and its weird, mind-jumble of a plot. I loved its setting, which itself becomes a beloved character. I loved the plethora of, to me, completely new ideas that emerged from this novel (genetic architecture, reverie prisons, and story parasites to name a few). Make no mistake, Dom Watson needs an editor (there is an entire section of the novel that unintentionally repeats itself, just as a for instance), but he is overflowing with talent and I want his book to succeed. It is testament to his ability to craft story that a book so laden with mistakes could still be so phenomenal. The Boy Who Walked Too Far is far and away my number one choice for FBC semi-finalist.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Foundryside by Robert J. Bennett (Reviewed by D. C. Stewart)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Mr. Shivers 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Stairs

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert Bennett Jackson currently resides in Austin, Texas. His attempt to write books began with an early fascination with Stephen King books shared by him and his brother. Mr. Shivers was Robert's debut and since then he has gone on to write many more books that mixed several genres & have defied classification in as many years.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic--the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience--have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

FORMAT/INFO: Foundryside is 496 pages long and told in third-person limited point of view mostly by Sancia Grado. Foundryside is the first in the Founders series and is available in print, as well as e-book and audio formats as of August 21, 2018 in the USA.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Having not read any of Robert Jackson Bennett's work, I went into Foundryside with only the book’s description to guide me. It sounded cool, and the name Sancia Grado is rad. I don’t often walk so blindly into novels, even though I made a resolution recently to do just that. Foundryside is a good first step into such unknown territory for me. It not only encouraged me to seek out authors I am unfamiliar with, but it also introduced me to one whose previous work has lept up to the top ranks of my to-be-read pile.

Foundryside is an area within the city of Tevanne, named because it is adjacent to the foundries that make up the heart of a busy metropolis. Tevanne is a place made up of competing merchant houses - a group that used to include many but has been winnowed down over time to a strong four. Sancia Grado is a thief who exists in between the houses but with a particular set of skills that make her adept at functioning in that dark zone. She takes a job that sees her stealing from a lockbox in the harbor, and she quickly realizes that the item she has stolen is not only incredibly powerful, but the catalyst that will change her entire life.

Sancia’s specific power takes an entire book to explain, but the core of it involves object empathy - Sancia can read a thing’s history and relation to the world by touching it. On the surface, this seems an odd power without much application, but it makes picking a lock simple and it gives her unlimited access to any building. Her role as a thief is a natural one. Sancia’s power is singular to her because most of the great magic in Tevanne comes from a method known as sigiling. Sigiling involves writing arcane runes upon objects and confusing their reality. This means that projectiles can be tricked into thinking that they are moving downwards, thus ignoring the truth that gravity is pulling them one way instead of another, or that a door can be convinced to only open with a specific set of commands. Sigiling is what makes the merchant houses of Tevanne so strong - they have the technology and so have the power.

Sancia as a character is well-rounded, and while hard, she is likable enough to care about and root for. She is a scrapper, a woman with a hard-edge who doesn’t take anyone’s crap but who is secretly rife with vulnerabilities. She is joined by an equally mixed cast - a military veteran, Gregor, who seeks justice at any cost, a pair of genius engineers in Orso and Berenice whose loyalties are never sure, and a character who can’t really be written of without spoiling things but who, for all his verbal modernity, gives the novel its heart.

As an ensemble, the characters in Foundryside are both memorable and avoid the tropes of many fantasy novels. Like many novels about cities, Tevanne is itself a character. My only complaint is that we aren’t allowed to see more of it, and this comes from the over-exploring RPG nerd in me. I want to poke my nose in every alley of Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter, talk to every character, and I have this expectation to do the same in my fantasy novels when they center around a specific place as this one does.

What perhaps makes Foundryside so unique is the author's attempt to mix cyberpunk with fantasy, while at the same time blending those themes with a logic generally found in scientific methods. To add to this, there is a mysticism to the sigil-writing akin to that found in religious work. This is ambitious system-creation, and while it is confusing (to the very end), it makes for a compelling background to what is mostly a fantasy heist novel in the vein of The Lies of Locke Lamora. The writing is good, the plot flows nicely, and there is enough left at the end to demand a sequel.

But this genre blending does not come without its drawbacks. The temptation to do whatever you want in writing is potentially at its strongest when dealing with multiple fields. Foundryside takes liberties with its rules, and attempts to have its cake and eat it too by using real-world themes and hiding them in fantasy-punk. For example, messing with an object’s sigils is a basically computer hacking on a more magical level. This made me feel, at times, as though I were not so much in a fantasy novel as in The Matrix. This is not an inherently bad trait, and that first Matrix movie is quality storytelling, but I might have preferred less nods to Neo and more originality. Even saying that, this novel does not lack for originality and stands out as a true oddity among the fantasy shelf.

CONCLUSION: By the end, Foundryside finds itself transformed from a story about a thief to something that plunges headlong into epic fantasy, and I will watch Robert J. Bennett’s unfolding of this tale with great interest. That he has only explored one city in a world teeming with possibility is an exciting prospect.

Friday, August 17, 2018

SPFBO: Silverglen by E. A. Burnett (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order Silverglen HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: E.A. Burnett is a teen fantasy author. She has received honorable mention for her short story "Iskossaya," and was a finalist for the short story "The Sash-Maker and the Contradictory Queen," in the Writers of the Future Contest. "Silverglen," is her debut novel.

Burnett grew up devouring works by Garth Nix, Robin McKinley, and Philip Pullman, among many other authors. She began her first novel in grade-school, with her youngest sister as her primary audience, and hasn't stopped writing since.

Today, Burnett lives outside of Columbus, Ohio with her husband and their black Labrador. When she isn't working or writing, she likes to garden, sing, and enjoy her husband's delicious cooking.

CLASSIFICATION: Silverglen is a YA fantasy novel with strong female protagonist.

FORMAT/INFO: Silverglen is 411 pages long divided over forty three numbered chapters. The narration is in the first person via Ember. It’s a standalone novel.

The book is available in e-book and paperback formats. It was self-published by the author. Cover art and design are by Leesha Hannigan and Bookcoverworld.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Silverglen is E. A. Burnett’s debut novel. It's a teen epic fantasy about a young woman who must leave home when her shapeshifting abilities are discovered.

Her father - Lord Arundel is known for his hate for shape-shifters. As a powerful wizard able to devise intricate spells, he's not the one to play with. Especially that torture is one of his preferred pastimes. Lord Arundel's minion - Fletch is even worse, a cunning, gross man driven by low instincts and petty wickedness.

Ember flees her home and discovers other shapeshifters. She'll have to gain their trust and overcome many obstacles before she's fully accepted. Lord Arundel doesn't putter, though, Danger is close and it's up to Ember to save those close to her heart. Fortunately, She's a skilled heroine - a shapeshifter able to perform magic and read spells of other wizards has a pretty unique set of preternatural skills. They come in handy in many situations.

Ember is easy to like. She's brave, fierce and caring. She's not willing to use her powers to hurt others (although at times it would be reasonable). It's nice to see her learn new things and discover herself. While she's probably not the most complex heroine ever, I was pleased to explore the world through her perspective.

Secondary characters were fun and well defined. Shape-shifters are such a colourful band with all exotic and shocking behaviours (like mating in the middle of the camp). One of them, Kitt, gets much more attention than the rest. In the beginning, Kitt doesn't trust Ember. It changes, obviously, but their growing bond didn't feel forced or rushed.

The author’s prose is, for the most part, excellent. There’s very little awkward sentences or ill-constructed descriptions in the book. Actually, I would go as far as to say Burnett's prose has a great flow to it. It never stumbles around. It's pleasant to read and follow.

The characters and the events are well-described, and the pacing of the novel is, mostly, brisk. Shortly after starting in, you get to the meat of the story. There are parts were pacing becomes slower, and I'm not sure if some parts of the book weren't too long.

My main issues concern villains who feel somewhat two-dimensional. Additionally, as it's teen fantasy, some of the personal dramas of characters weren't convincing to me. I appreciate the resolutions, but I can't say I was thrilled and immersed all the time.

CONCLUSION: In the end, it's good standalone YA book with fitting bitter-sweet ending. I appreciate E.A. Burnett's rich imagination and nicely developed world. I would recommend the book for younger readers looking for an original* epic fantasy book.

* As I don't read that much YA / teen fantasy I may be wrong here. On the other hand, I read a lot (100-150 books per year), and I think Burnett's take on shapeshifters is exciting and definitely not recycled.

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