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Monday, January 15, 2018

Interview with John Hornor Jacobs (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Twelve-Fingered Boy

John Hornor Jacobs is a man of many talents, combining a background in advertising, a love for the written word along with a deep fascination for southern culture in all of its glory, charm and crazy. He has written several different books in several genres. Recently with the release of Infernal Machines (Book III of The Incorruptibles series) John was kind enough to join us for a chat about the series and its underlying themes as well as his future works.

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, it’s been a while since your last release. How are things with you?
JHJ: All is well. It’s the New Year and I’ve managed to live through 2017. I’ve been very busy this past year, though not as focused on writing as I should be. I am a partner at an advertising agency, where I act as the senior art director, and we’ve had an extraordinarily busy year. So, my day job has taken up a lot of my time. But, I did manage to see one book to print, write two novelettes and two short stories and see them all published. One in Playboy Magazine!

Q] Once you started plotting this trilogy, how much of the entire journey was planned and how much of it evolved organically? Was the ending planned from the very beginning?
JHJ: At the time my agent sold the whole series, I had written The Incorruptibles, and was confident I could continue telling stories in that world, but I only had some loose ideas of what might occur next. During the edit-for-submission phase for The Incorruptibles I realized there were some issues, I hadn’t address in the telling of that tale, especially regarding the true nature of some of the characters and especially the secrets and mystery surrounding the vaettir. So, no, I didn't plan it from the beginning but I had an inkling about the rest. Like standing in the foyer of a house you haven’t been in before but still having a pretty good idea about the layout of the house because, well, houses, like books, set up some expectations. Kitchen there, and of course bedrooms upstairs. Where’s the shitter? Right. Of course it’s there. The pain points in writing are opening the wrong doors when figuring out the layout of the house.


Anyway, I planned The Incorruptibles and figured out the other two books as I went along. I always have some scenes between characters in mind, and a notion as to their arc’s resolution, but nothing cast in stone. The most outlining I do is usually a Roman outline where I’ll go, I. In which Shoe and Fisk go to Passasuego to find Beleth, and so forth, just so I keep the plot straight in my mind. I think when my agent sold The Incorruptibles series, I had the first book in the can, and a paragraph for each of the other two.

When I start a book I need a title – yeah, I’m weird like that, but you know how they say snowflakes grow? Crystallizing around a bit of particulate matter in the air? That’s kind of my relationship with titles. I have to have one in my mind to really get work done on a project. When the project is complete, I’m cool with changing the title, but during the writing, in my mind, the title is fixed.

Q] Now talking about your POV characters, all of them are flawed to a degree. But they are also products of their circumstances. What would you say about them: are they truly heroes or circumstantial ones?

JHJ: I don’t think there are any “true” heroes. All heroes are circumstantial. “True” heroes in fiction occur in either comics or those sorts of fantasies that use prophecies, chosen ones, and that sort of rot as plot devices. I don’t. However, I will say my characters are usually exceptional in some way otherwise, how could I ask a reader to spend the length of a book with them? That’s part of the unspoken contract between authors and readers, at least in genre. Outside of genre, especially in literary work, authors write about “normal, everyday” people to try and understand some aspect of the human condition and that’s great, but most fiction works on the premise that if we’re going to train the lens of our attention on a character, they should merit our focus.

Conversely, by focusing on a character, they become special. At least depending on the author’s raw talent, craftsmanship, and voice. We’ve all read those books about subject and people who you’d think of as humdrum and become enthralled by entering their world. I think readers, on the whole and whatever the genre, want to feel like a veil is pulled away and a new reality is on view, be it thaumaturgy or taxidermy. On the author side, how could I spend months upon months writing about my characters if they were not exceptional? I need to be fascinated and engaged by my characters just as much as my intended audience because I spend a very long time with them.

Q] I want to ask you about your characters and not just the main POV ones but even the ones that only make secondary appearances. What goes through your mind when you create them? How do you make them so complex, tragic & exciting to read about? 

JHJ: I don’t always have a firm grasp on a character but sometimes I need the character to perform an action – give some information, offer some resistance - to move the plot along and during the writing of the character I realize not just what that secondary character is doing but why he or she is in story. As in an existential question regarding that character’s reason for being beyond just helping me as a writer.

For example, in Foreign Devils there’s the priceps of the collegium of engineers in Passasuego - a woman named Sapientia - whom I needed as an authority, and to help with some of the manhunt issues of Shoe and Fisk searching for Beleth. However, by the time we reach the end of Infernal Machines, she’s become a major character and somewhat of an unrequited love interest of Shoe’s. Why did I do that? Some of it is because you don’t want to spend “screen time” with a character that never returns – every scene has a purpose – and sometimes characters just grow because authors reason inductively rather than deductively and the character just feels right.

It’s been said before (and by me many times) but writing stories is like dredging the depths of your own psyche. Sometimes you’ll be surprised by what you haul up from those dark waters. It can be an old tire. Or it can be a mermaid.

Q] Most fantasy trilogies often focus on the fantastic, you however chose to highlight that aspect but in quite a different way for example your elves are scary, huge and quite alien. The concept of demons is utilized in a much more industrial way and not to mention the ancient empire analogues. What I wanted to ask you was what specifically went into the world building cauldron for these exciting things?

JHJ: I was called some unpleasant things regarding my depiction of the elves in The Incorruptibles because they (and Shoe’s race, the dvergar) were very loose stand-ins for indigenous peoples. But I wanted to create an indigenous people with their natures and response to a colonizing power writ large: the dwarves subjugated, the elves vicious and frightening. I thought that would offer an interesting dynamic, and during the course of the series I could play with, and subvert, those racial expectations. I am pleased with how Shoe, and the dvergar people change, as well as how by the end of the series, how the reader might view the vaettir.

As for the world-building, I really wanted to write about some of the things I loved and the inciting event that drove me to write The Incorruptibles was thinking about spaghetti westerns, and then realizing they were filmed in Italy, and then thinking, what if the western was Roman influenced? And then, I started playing with other ideas (like infernal combustion) and it just grew from there. One of things I see again and again in the reviews I receive is that the world’s premise is hard to explain, shouldn’t work, but it does. And I’m fine with that.

Q] The books start out pretty low key with regards to magic however with each book, the magic quotient is slowly raised. The first book gave us some huge revelations about the nature of the world, second one shone a particular focus on magic. Was this a planned move or do you believe in the Joe Abercrombie approach of keeping magic to minimalistic levels in your books and slowly raising the stakes?

JHJ: I’d be lying if I said that George R. R. Martin wasn’t an influence. A Game of Thrones, and the “low magic” aesthetic he espouses was and remains effective because seeing only a bit of the magical naturally poses a question, “If there’s this small amount of the wondrous in this world, surely, there must be more to be revealed.” That’s a pretty interesting frisson you’re giving the readers at the start. Also, it sets your book in a world not too dissimilar from our own, if one discounts the technological level. I’ve read (or tried to read) fantasy novels that have immediate and intricate magic systems they have to explain, people are flying around, buildings are levitating, there are demons strolling around, etc. and all that just doesn’t work for me. But that’s just my personal preference. Folks love it, it seems, judging by some of these author’s book sales.

Another thing I tend to do is look at any magic, like I have with the summoning of dæmons, and say, “Okay, we know how fantasy usually treats this, but how would people really use it?” I feel, at heart, pragmatism trumps magical. Say, if you have a sorcerer that could enchant things to levitate, yes, you might have a world full of skyships charting courses through the clouds, but more than likely, you’d just have a bunch of wheel-less hovering wagons, and a war between the wheelwright’s guild and local city’s journeymen enchanters who’re ruining the wheelwright trade.

Q] Let’s talk about the covers since Gollancz is so apt at creating magnificent cover art. Your Incorruptibles trilogy covers are on the stark but striking side, did you have input about them?

JHJ: Of all my books, these are my favorite covers (though my young adult series is a close second). They asked my feedback during the design phase, and I loved that, because I’ve had publishers just say, “Here’s your cover” with no input from me. They really knocked it out of the park.

I will add, I’m probably the worst author in the world to design a cover for since that is what I do for a living and I’m a local, regional, and national Addy Award winner and have had my work featured in many advertising journals, including Lürzer’s ARCHIVE.

Q] What are you writing currently and what can your fans expect to read next from you? 

JHJ: Currently, I’m writing a historical novel set in Arkansas. It’s the story of a jazz musician who goes to fight in WWII contrasted story of the man who creates the first large mechanized farm town in the south (who also happens to be a serial killer). It’s been going slow, I’m about sixty thousand words into it. Why is it going slow? Two main reasons – I’ve been trying to focus on the literary quality of my prose, to find my style, and the book could be considered my attempt to write something “literary” if that makes any sense. I wanted to write a story without any of the trappings of genre, and just focus on the human experience. In some ways, I’ve discovered that whatever genre you write in – fantasy, horror, sf, mystery, crime – a lot of conflict is baked in the story from the outset. But if you eschew that, then you’re left with just history and people. I imagine smarter people with me will take exception to that statement, but there it is.

And, when writing historical fiction, there’s not a paragraph that goes by that doesn’t require some sort of research. I don’t want to reveal the title of the work because it’s just a great title and I don’t want anyone to steal it (this has happened to me). But also, I’m not certain if it will get published (it’s a very different sort of book) and if it does get published, I’m not sure if it will be under my name.

But since the book is going slow, I needed to complete something, so I began writing a novella in late November, and I’m going to be done with it soon and hope it will see print in the future. It’s not a sequel to Southern Gods (still my most popular book) but it does occur in the same universe. It’s called The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky and if I could describe it, it would be to say it’s cosmic horror if it had been written by Roberto Bolaño.

Q] You have mentioned this wonderful quote in a previous interview: “Examine conflict, in yourself and others. Examine your fellow humans, figure out why they act as they do. Listen to the way people talk. All in all, become a student of humanity, in all its terrible glory.” 

Considering what goes down in Foreign Devils & Infernal Machines, this quote seems very, very prophetic. What do would you say viv-a-vis the trilogy climax? Can you expound on what you meant in general with that quote?

JHJ: I said that? Well, look at me. I am so very smart.

Humans, as a species, are very much like a person who takes too many selfies. Our favorite subject matter is ourselves. We can’t even interact with the natural world without anthropomorphizing everything. Also, we’re really monstrous. It’s true. Yet, we tell stories many times to convince ourselves that we’re not living on a planet teeming with the hominid monsters, each full of their own desires and drives. We tell stories to convince ourselves we’re not monsters, that we’re actually good. Our that the universe that shat us out isn’t absolutely indifferent to us. That we’re special. That we’re exceptional. Hey, it looks like we’ve come full-circle, back to the first question!

Anywho, fiction is driven by conflict, and humans, being monstrous, are always offering us new ways to be in conflict. So, study them, study yourself. So that not only can you make a better attempt to ascertain truth about the human condition, but also so you can lie in fiction about it convincingly.

Q] Nowadays it’s pretty common to see novels adapted into different formats such as movies, comics, videogames, animation and TV. How would you like for this trilogy to be adapted (if budget was not constrained and it was entirely your choice)? 

JHJ: I appreciate the question, but I try not to think about stuff like that. No one has optioned any of my books, and at this point I doubt they will. My books are problematic, for a variety of reasons. So, if anyone does choose to adapt one of my books, all I want is to get paid handsomely for the honor and maybe visit the set. Beyond that, I have no thoughts or expectations.

Q] Lastly, do you have any words of wisdom for your readers or anything else you’d like to say about your upcoming works? 

JHJ: I hope you enjoy my books, if you read them. I hope I have something in print this year for you to read. Failing that, keep an eye out for me in 2019.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Sworn To The Night by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Order Sworn To The Night HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cold Spectrum

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in Joliet, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration. 



OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Marie Reinhart is an NYPD detective on the trail of a serial killer. When she sleeps, though, she dreams of other lives; she dreams of being a knight, in strange wars and strange worlds. On the other side of the city, Nessa Roth is a college professor trapped in a loveless marriage, an unwilling prop in a political dynasty. She's also a fledgling witch, weaving poppets and tiny spells behind closed doors.

When Marie's case draws her into Nessa's path, sparks fly. What comes next is more than a furtive whirlwind affair; it's the first pebbles of an avalanche. Nessa and Marie are the victims of a curse that has pursued them across countless lifetimes; a doom designed to trap them in a twisted living fairy tale, with their romance fated to end in misery and death.

They aren't going out without a fight. As they race to uncover the truth, forces are in motion across the country. In Las Vegas, a professional thief is sent on a deadly heist. In a Detroit back alley, witches gather under the guidance of a mysterious woman in red. Just outside New York, an abandoned zoo becomes the hunting-ground for servants of a savage and alien king. The occult underground is taking sides and forming lines of battle. Time is running out, and Nessa and Marie have one chance to save themselves, break the curse, and demand justice.

This time, they're writing their own ending.

FORMAT/INFO: Sworn To The Night is 428 pages long divided over sixty-four chapters with a prologue, three interludes. Narration is in the third-person, via Nessa Roth, Marie Reinhart, Carolyn Saunders, Daniel Faust, Harmony Black, Mourner Of the Red Rocks, Dora, Richard Roth, Alton Roth, Calypso, and a few others . This is the first volume of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy.

January 2, 2018 marks the North American e-book publication of Sworn To The Night and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design. 


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sworn To The Night (STTN) is the culmination of a lot of threads and characters, chief among them as two whom we previously meet in The Revanche Cycle books by the author. The true inclinations about this whole "story" were first mentioned in the Revanche Cycle (book III) and then later gloriously expanded in The Castle Doctrine (Daniel Faust book 6). If that might seem confusing, then dear reader then welcome to the universe(s) of Craig Schaefer wherein everything is connected and only now (after 15 books, 1 novella & 3 short stories) are we getting to see where the connecting threads lie.

STTN is the first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy but it is a book in the making from 2014 (wherein Craig first wrote the Revanche Cycle). It is a book that can be read as a standalone story but for readers who have read and enjoyed any or all of the author's previous works (the Daniel Faust books, the Harmony Black volumes, & The Revanche Cycle) will love it the most. The story begins in the future or present (depending on how you want to look at it) wherein we encounter famed fantasy hack Carolyn Saunders (first introduced in The Castle Doctrine) get picked up by an unknown group and is forced to recant the story of "the Witch & the Knight". Carolyn mentions that it's a fairy tale and a fairly grim one at that but nevertheless accedes to her captor's wishes.

We are then brought back to the past or present (depending on again your perspective) wherein we meet Marie Reinhart, an NYPD detective currently hunting a missing prostitute called "Baby blue". Eagle eyed readers might remember that we first have encountered Marie and her partner Tony in Glass Predator (Harmony Black #3) but that was only a small taste. Within this book we get to meet her fully, a determined cop who's haunted by her very tragic past (Revanche Cycle readers might have a solid inkling about this) who looks out for the small guy with an obsession. Teased by her roomate and her partner for her love of the simplistic fantasy volumes (by Carolyn Saunders) that she has devoured from her teenage years, Marie is nevertheless no less focussed on her job but some in her department don't look at it the same way. We are also introduced to Nessa (Vanessa) Fieri-Roth, the timid & mentally troubled professor and wife of Richard Roth (son of senator Alton Roth who has been in the background of both Harmony Black & Daniel Faust books). Nessa has been trying to figure out her life's purpose and her skills but is stymied within her personal and professional lives by a variety of agents.

Things take an interesting turn wherein Marie makes her way to Vanessa's home and the two characters meet each other for the first time in this lifetime. This is where the metaphorical sparks begin, of course this isn't your typical love story. Hell I'm not even sure that we can it a love story, is it love if two characters are fated to be together even if for a short time? That's a fundamental question posed in this story, are these characters truly their own or are they marionettes dancing to the tune of the "cosmic story". As far as I can, the answer to the former part is a resounding yes, they are their own people and their love is something that neither of them can explain but they feel just right for each other.

This book is solidly about characters and none shine brighter than Nessa and Marie. Infact it's Nessa who truly gets to shine as we get to see her transformation from a meak mouse into the terrifying Owl we have seen and met before. Previously when we meet Nessa in the Revanche Cycle, she seemed like a onenote villain and it's to Craig's credit that she becomes a terrifying person but one that readers get attached to. In this book as well, we get to see her descent into the Owl and it's a terrifying one. Make no mistake, Nessa is no hero and she makes no qualms about it. She and Marie have been brought together and taken apart violently over and ad infinitum. We even get to see a scene play out that was previously featured in the Revanche Cycle and it was a delight to read. For newer readers it will give them a background as to what happened before and give seasoned readers a clue as to what comes next.

Marie also takes center stage in this story and she's as terrifying as ever. Mari Renault was her previous reincarnation and as the warrior suffering from PTSD and yet striving to achieve an ideal, she stole reader's hearts (including mine). She was the hero that the world didn't deserve but yet needed. The characters who met her were bemused but no less inspired. Marie is very much in Mari's mould as the "cosmic story" dictates but is still an endearing character. When we meet her, we get to see her determination, her hard-edged obsession with the law (whom she sees as her liege) and possibly her transformation. There are other characters in the play and I won't reveal them but safe to say that there are other witches in the fray and I can't wait to read more on the main one. There are also some memorable cameo appearances from Daniel Faust, Harmony Black and a couple of other minor but important characters from the other series. Lastly as is the case with other Craig Schaefer books, characterization remains a solid point and readers will have their favorites namely a NYC librarian who's funny and badass all the same.

This book doesn't feature all out action sequences like the Harmony Black series or the noir plot twists of the Daniel Faust ones. But make no mistake, this volume is no less effective than either one of them. This book is a slow burn and one wherein the consequences are the same if not worse. I loved how the author set up the story and then let it unspool and unspool it does (in quite a horrific way). As mentioned in the blurb, there's a potential serial killer hunting prostitutes but the truth is much worse. I loved how the author explored this angle and then tied it to the Network and also to elements that have bubbled up to the surface in the recent Harmony Black books. We also get a clearer look into the production of "Ink" the designer drug that has been mentioned extensively in the Daniel Faust volumes. Especially we get a solid idea about how it's tied into the mythology of the series. What I was looking for was an explanation about the phenomenon of "The Owl Lives", which isn't quite explained but this is the first volume only and there are two more to go.

This book in my view is a like an atmospheric thriller which builds up on tension, characters and plot elements which bring it to a resounding climax. This I believe is the highlight of the book and featured the author's version of a magic vs science fight. You have to read it to be enthralled and I certainly was. Lastly remember the dual timeline I mentioned in the start with Carolyn Saunders, we get a solid twist to that plotline as well.

Since I've gushing so much about this book, one might wonder what are the drawbacks to this book and yes there are a couple (YMMV with them though). Primarily the book's pace in the start is on the slow side and slowly builds up as the chapters go along. For readers of the Faust & Black books, this might be perhaps a different experience which they might not enjoy all too well. For newer readers, this will a very personal thing, some might like it some might not. The second and last thing which stuck a craw in my mind was that the final twist on the villains is very much the same with regards to what happened in the Cold Spectrum book (Harmony Black #4). Craig Schaefer is too talented an author to be repeating this twist and I feel that there will other readers for whom this might seem the same.

CONCLUSION: Sworn To The Night is a book that leaves a mark perhaps in the same way as the Owl intends to leave one on this world. STTN is a book that is like a nine course meal, it takes its time to get to the final course but leaves you sated completely and wanting more. I loved this book from cover to cover and can't wait to read the sequel tentatively titled "Desolation Boulevard".
Sunday, January 7, 2018

FBC Decennial Giveaway Winner Announcement (by Mihir Wanchoo)


So after collecting hundreds of entries from all over the world. We had a elected a fun way to select 14 entries as I chose 7 random numbers from all our entries by numbering them from the first to last and vice versa.

Then after narrowing the contest down to 14 entries, I put them in a random order and asked my wife & brother-in-law to provide 4 random numbers. Thus narrowing down the four finalists (Brazil, Canada, UK, & USA). I asked our twitter followers to give me a number between 1 & 4 and @Dsharken was the first to reply back.


So many congratulations to Lacey M. we will emailing you to confirm your address and other details. Thank you to everyone for participating and for making it such a success.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Fifth Empire Of Man by Rob J. Hayes + Black Blood short story review (by Mihir Wanchoo)


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BLURB: The Pirate Isles are united under Drake Morrass’ flag, but the war has only just begun.

There’s still a long way to go before he’s able to call himself King, and traitors at every turn. The Five Kingdoms and Sarth have assembled a fleet of ships unlike any the world has ever seen and they intend to purge the Pirate Isles once and for all by fire and steel.

Revenge, never far from Keelin Stillwater’s mind, is finally within his grasp and he sets sail to the Forgotten Empire. But more than dense jungles and ruined cities await him there. Vengeful gods and malignant spirits now call those cursed lands home, and they are not wisely disturbed.

Meanwhile, Elaina Black tries to secure herself powerful allies and the forces those allies can spare. She’s set her course on the throne: either by Drake’s side or over his dead body.

FORMAT/INFO: The Fifth Empire Of Man is divided into four parts which are spread out over fifty-seven ship titled chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person omniscient via Drake Morass, Keelin Stillwater, Elaina Black, T’ruck Khan, Damien Poole, Kebble Salt & Arbiter Beck. This book is the concluding volume of the Best Laid Plans duology and can be read as a starting point to the First Earth saga.

September 26 2017 marked the US and UK e-book publication of The Fifth Empire Of Man and was being self-published by the author. Cover art is by Alex Raspad & cover design is provided by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: Focusing on a wide character cast of pirates and epic sea battles, The Best Laid Plans duology is the grimdark version of Pirates Of The Carribbean if imagined by Joe Abercrombie.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Fifth Empire Of Man as far as fantasy book titles go is a terrific title. It is the concluding volume to the Best Laid Plans duology and a story that is epic in every sense of the word. I was lucky to be able to read this story in its draft form and I can safely say that the final version is something that will readers’ slack jawed at the very least. A warning though for readers who haven’t read Where Loyalties Lie, the book’s blurb might be a little spoilerific so you might want to avoid this review if you don’t like things spoiled even a little bit.

We begin with the immediate events of Where Loyalties Lie wherein Drake has been pronounced king of the pirates with Tanner Black’s support. However the support is tentative with the caveat that Drake has to take Elaina Black as his consort. Drake is certainly chafing at that but he has his mind on the final prize. On the other hand, Elaina Black has been sent by her father to gather support and when we last saw her, she had just reached Chade. Within the city, she meets a few fan favorite characters from the preceding trilogy and it was fun to see their interactions. The start of this book also references events in Chade and I believe this book runs concurrently with the events that will be featured in 2018’s City Of Kings.

Elaina’s journey is only beginning though as she will also have to travel to Larkos and therein lies the rub as she tries to do the impossible. Keelin Stillwater had a huge hand to play in the events which played out in the climax of Where Loyalties Lie. Drake’s belief in him proved strong in the end but for him the ultimate prize is all about revenge. That’s the one thing that’s been his main focus even amidst all the changes and he’s perhaps closer than he’s ever been. We are also reunited with T’ruck Khan and his crew as they find themselves in an impossible bind. Amidst his crew we get to meet a new character, Nerine Tsokei who is a character that I would love to read more of. Lastly there’s Beck who while in the background has perhaps the most crucial role and Kebble Salt also gets a POV wherein we learn all about his backstory.

The Fifth Empire Of Man is a book that takes the baton from its predecessor and amps them up even more. Firstly as is the case with the previous book & the preceding trilogy, characterization is the most prominent highlights of Rob J. Hayes’ writing and in this book, we are given a whole array of awesome characters. While Where Loyalties Lies focused on Drake Morass & Kellin Stillwater squarely, it also introduced Elaina Black, T’ruck Khan, & Arbiter Beck. This concluding volume gives them bigger roles and also gives a POV turn to newer fascinating characters such as Lady Tsokei & Kebble Salt. In fact it could even be argued that this is Elaina’s book as her arc easily eclipses that of Drake Morass.

Drake has always been the central focus of this duology and it’s his ambition which has fueled almost all the events however this duology easily could have been Elaina’s story and the second volume goes a long way in proving that. We not only get a swashbuckling pirate story but we get to see four fantastic character POVs. First Drake is ever present with his scheming and secrets, then there’s Keelin and then Elaina & lastly T’ruck Khan as well. These four pirate captains are what power the story to its exciting conclusion but the biggest stage is set for Elaina. She is a Black and is Tanner’s true daughter, she’s intelligent, brave, bloodthirsty but calculating and is perhaps the only character who sees Drake for what he is. For those complaining about strong female characters, look no further than Elaina Black. She’s a complex, bloody pirate who will have readers in the palm of her hand and rooting for her no matter what.

Keelin on the other hand suffers a bit in this volume. His thirst for revenge takes a backseat in this volume as he finds amidst a love triangle of sorts (keep in mind this is Rob J. Hayes after all). So there’s no smoldering looks, waxed chests, etc. but simply characters who get entangled with each other and it was fun to read after all. Lastly the best part to Keelin’s arc is a family reunion of sorts which I believe was a highlight for me. This is due to this character being mentioned in The Ties That Bind trilogy in relation to Jezzet. T’Ruck is T’Ruck and in this book, we get to see what a leviathan of a warrior he is and also the secret behind his crew’s prowess is revealed in a very, very bloody manner.

This concluding volume also doubles up on the naval battles, magical revelations and a climax twist worthy of GRRM. Oh the sea battles in this one, there are so quite a few and each of them is spectacular to say the least. The action in this volume never lets up and when the action slows down a bit, we are treated to secrets (Drake’s main one, the Drurr), world history (Larkos’s founding, the problem with witches & their magical dealings) and character interactions. All in all this book had me flipping pages as fast as I could to get to the end to see how it all goes down and it’s right before the end, that the author pulls the rug rather brilliantly under the readers. I will say watch out for the epilogue as it is a shocker and perhaps a clue to what lies ahead in the First Earth Saga (I believe this is Rob Hayes’ version of end credits scenes wherein the entire plot of the story is upended and we get an idea about the next story.)

This book for me didn’t have any drawbacks and was a complete winner. While the first book is a SPFBO 2017 finalist, I hope the other judges and readers read this volume as well to see how amazing a storyteller Rob J. Hayes is.

CONCLUSION: The Fifth Empire Of Man has a unique title and certainly the story to herald itself as one of the best books (if not the BEST) of 2017. I dare you to read it and not be enthralled by this dark story of feuding pirates. I certainly was and will continue to spread the word about the wonderful gem that is the Best Laid Plans duology.


Read BLACK BLOOD For FREE Over HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Black Blood is an 8000-plus word short story that is set before the events of Where Loyalties Lie and focuses upon Captain Elaina Black and Arbiter Black. Ideally it can be read before Where Loyalties Lie but I would recommend you read it just after finishing Where Loyalties Lie and just before The Fifth Empire of Man so a particular sequence in the second book will make a lot of sense.

The story begins with arbiter Beck finding herself in a scrap with a certain group of pirates when she gets rescued by Elaina Black and in exchange for travel to a particular island, agrees to help her find a special book. That’s all that I can reveal about the gist of the story without spoiling it further. This short story was written by the author to get himself into the head of the characters and to get a feel of the world before plunging in (see Q.7).

This story while being entirely from Beck’s viewpoint also affords a small yet intriguing look into Elaina Black. In this story, we get to see why Arbiters are so feared and yet treasured amidst the world of First Earth. Beck has to employ all her powers and tricks to locate a journal that potentially has some black magic ties which is exactly the sort of heresy that Arbiters like Beck love to stamp out.

This story is a free, fun adventure story and I would recommend it to one and all for those interested to know more about the world of pirates introduced in the Best Laid Plans duology. Plus this will be an excellent stepping stone to see whether these books are for you as well as get a strong taste of Rob J. Hayes as well. Now that’s a win-win scenario if I ever saw one.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fantasy Book Critic Tenth Anniversary Day 5 + Worldwide Giveaway (by Mihir Wanchoo)


As we wind down to our last and day 5 of our decennial celebrations, we decided to hold a giveaway to top of our celebrations. Since we have readers from all over the globe, we felt it would only be fair to keep it open to anyone worldwide.

Another question was how to select the titles among all four of us (Robert, Liviu, Cindy & me). So eventually we came to the conclusion was that the simplest and fairest way to select the titles for the giveaway, was to select the #1 titles from all of our best of the year lists from our humble beginnings (2007) to until now (2017).

Also we thought it would be fun to fun to add an e-reader and present all the titles as e-books. So what we have decided to giveaway is a Kindle Fire HD 8 Tablet (16 GB) and given below are all the titles that are up for grabs for one lucky winner:

- Acacia by David Anthony Durham (Robert T. best of 2007)

- Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Robert T. best of 2007)

- Stealing Light by Gary Gibson (Robert T. best of 2007)

- Radio Freefall by Matthew Jarpe (Robert T. best of 2007)

- Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Liviu S. best of 2008)

- The Kingdom Beyond The Waves by Stephen Hunt (Robert T. best of 2008)

- Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover (Liviu S. best of 2008)

- The Host by Stephanie Meyer (Robert T. best of 2008)

- First Contact by Michael R. Hicks (Liviu S. best of 2008)

- The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt (Liviu S. best of 2009)

- Transition by Iain M. Banks (Liviu S. best of 2009)

- Twelve by Jasper Kent (Robert T. best of 2009)

- Horseman’s Gambit by David B. Coe (Cindy H. best of 2009)

- The Warded Man/The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett (Mihir W. best of 2009)

- Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks (Liviu S. best of 2010)

- The Folding Knife by K. J. Parker (Mihir W. best of 2010)

- Shadow’s Son by Jon Sprunk (Cindy H. best of 2010)

- Spellwright by Blake Charlton (Cindy H. best of 2010)

- 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Liviu S. best of 2011)

- Run by Blake Crouch (Mihir W. best of 2011)

- Blood Song by Anthony Ryan (Mihir W. best of 2012)

- The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks (Liviu S. best of 2012)

- Sharps by K. J. Parker (Liviu S. best of 2012)

- The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (Liviu S. best of 2012)

- The Colour Of Vengeance by Rob J. Hayes (Mihir W. best of 2013)

- City of Stairs by Rob J. Bennett (Mihir W. best of 2014)

- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Mihir W. best of 2015)

- The Killing Floor Blues by Craig Schaefer (Mihir W. best of 2016)

- Theft Of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

- Prince Of Fools by Mark Lawrence

- Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

- Los Nefilim omnibus by Teresa Frohock

As you might have noticed that the last four books aren’t part of any #1s but we wanted to show our thanks to Michael, J. Sullivan, Rachel Aaron, Mark Lawrence, & Teresa Frohock for taking the time to write a few words about their FBC reviews as well as our past decade.



So there you go, there are 32 superb titles to be won along with a Kindle Fire HD 8 Tablet (16 GB) for ONE LUCKY WINNER.

To enter, please send an email to "fbcgiveaway@gmail.com" with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: FBC 10.

Giveaway has ENDED and was open to participants WORLDWIDE! Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY RULES:

1) Open To Anyone WORLDWIDE
2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name
4) No Purchase Necessary
5) Giveaway has ENDED
6) Winner Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Books To The Winner

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Blog Tour Stop for Beneath the Haunting Sea by Joanna Ruth Meyer: Read an Excerpt from Chapter 5!




Website: JoannaRuthMeyer.com
Twitter: @gamwyn



They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but that is exactly what attracted me to Beneath the Haunting Sea. I saw the cover a while back, read the short blurb about it, and it immediately went on my to-be read pile. When I was asked if I wanted to be a part of the blog tour for the book, I immediately said 'yes'.

Now, I get to share this amazing book with you. For our blog stop today, we have an excerpt from Chapter 5. The blog tour is still going on throughout the month, so if you see something you like, please do stop by the other blogs and check it out.

List of blog tour stops!

December 19: Mother Daughter Book Club
December 20: YA Books Central
December 22: Brittany’s Book Rambles
December 27: SFFWorld
December 28: Short & Sweet Reviews
December 29: SciFiChick
January 2: The Cover Contessa
January 11: Fantasy Book Cafe
January 18: YA Interrobang 


https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gifAbout the book:


Can't you hear it, Talia?
Can't you hear the waves singing?

Sixteen-year-old Talia was born to a life of certainty and luxury, destined to become Empress of half the world. But when an ambitious rival seizes power, she and her mother are banished to a nowhere province on the far edge of the Northern Sea.
  
It is here, in the drafty halls of the Ruen-Dahr, that Talia discovers family secrets, a melancholy boy with a troubling vision of her future, and a relic that holds the power of an ancient Star. On these shores, the eerie melody of the sea is stronger than ever, revealing long-forgotten tales of the Goddess Rahn. The more dark truths that Talia unravels about the gods' history--and her own--the more the waves call to her, and it may be her destiny to answer.

About the Author:
Joanna Ruth Meyer is a writer of Young Adult fantasy. She lives with her dear husband and son in Arizona, where it never rains (or at least not often enough for her!). When she's not writing, she can be found teaching piano lessons, drinking copious amounts of tea, reading thick books, and dreaming of winter.

Excerpt from Chapter 5 

 


She looked back to where her mother still leaned against the port rail, purple dress bright against the sky. She told herself there was nothing wrong with her—a few solid days of food and sleep would set her right again.
“I’ve never seen anyone, man or woman, as enamored with the sea as she is. Except maybe you.”
Talia jumped and turned to see Hanid climbing up beside her, his silver hair mussed from the wind. He gave her a wry smile. “It’s like the sea is in your blood.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she snapped.
He shrugged. “Most people get horribly seasick their first time aboard ship. You and your mother seem entirely unaffected.”
She didn’t know why this line of questioning was making her so irritated. “I guess the sea air agrees with us.”
“I guess it does.” Hanid studied her a moment more, then shook his head and chuckled to himself. “Glad to have you sailing with us, in any case. Women are good luck aboard ship, you know. The Waves seem to prey mostly on the men.”
“What do you mean?”
“You haven’t heard the stories?” He spread his hands out toward the sea. “The Billow Maidens, singing in the storms to wreck the ships and drown the sailors. Their songs are so beautiful men can’t resist, running their ships onto reefs or rocks, throwing themselves into the sea just to follow the music.”
The wind flung a snatch of her mother’s song into Talia’s ears, and she cursed, which made Hanid laugh. “It’s all superstition and nonsense.”
“Maybe. But maybe not. I’ve been to the ends of the earth, Miss Dahl-Saida—not everyone is as apathetic about religion as you Enduenans. I can’t dismiss such stories entirely.”
“Aren’t you Enduenan?”
“My parents were. But I was born in Od and lived on Ryn. I served in the emperor’s army and was part of the failed campaign against Denlahn. I climbed the tallest mountain peak on Halda and saw millennia-old offerings to the god Tuer: wine and fruit and grains, as fresh as the day they were laid on his altar. I met a woman in Ita who kept a temple to the wind goddess—she swore the goddess spoke with her, and was teaching her how to weave the winds.”
Talia shook her head in disgust. “That’s absurd.”
“She didn’t seem to think so.”
“Doesn’t mean she was sane.”
“Perhaps not.” He smiled. “In any case, Miss Dahl-Saida, I didn’t come up here to harass you. Captain sent me to ask if you needed anything.”
She glanced once more toward her mother, who was still by the rail, staring transfixed into the waves. But Talia couldn’t worry about her right now. “A proper tour of the ship would be nice. And ink and paper, if I may.”
He saluted her smartly and quirked another smile. “At once, m’lady.”
***
The sun slid into the sea, staining the water scarlet and the same fiery orange as Ayah’s hair. Talia sat tucked up on the poop deck, her legs growing numb underneath her.
Dear Ayah, she scratched onto the paper Hanid had given her. She paused to glance west toward the sinking sun. She’d begun mentally composing a letter to her friend on the endless carriage ride, but now it came to it, she didn’t know what to say. I miss you, perhaps, or, I should have told you I am the emperor’s daughter. Or, I hope Eda didn’t turn you out of the palace just because you’re my friend.
None of that seemed right. She rubbed one finger along the feather of her pen, and dipped the nib back in the inkwell.
There’s a sailor called Hanid on this ship who’s even more religious than you. He talked to a woman once who claimed she communed with the wind goddess and he believed her. But at least he’s full of information, too. He told me all about our ship, the Lazy Jackal, which hails from Evalla and is paid for on the emperor’s coin, but makes port all over the world. The captain is part of Evalla’s private navy, and one of the most esteemed sailors alive right now. Do you know, he’s so renowned he’s allowed to port in Denlahn without fear for his life? He’s very polite to my mother and me, but there’s no use trying to convince him to turn the ship around—Eda’s gold is heavy in his pocket, and Hanid seems to think she’s promised him land as well. Maybe even Irsa, though I try not to think about that.
The Lazy Jackal sails first to Ryn, and then on to Od and Ita before returning to Enduena. We’re carrying figs and tea, cinnamon and other spices, mounds of cotton, and barrels upon barrels of rice (Hanid pointed them out to me when we were down in the cargo hold). There’s also a half dozen pigs and one small goat to provide fresh meat and milk for the voyage, but so far all I’ve had is fish and biscuits. I expect I’ll be heartily tired of them by the time we reach Ryn.
My mother and I are not allowed to leave Ryn, not ever. I hope you will come and visit instead. The inhabitants swear the Tree was there once, which I hope will tempt you—you can investigate their claims and write them all down in a dusty book. I can laugh at you and all will very nearly be like it was before.
I do wonder you never told me how beautiful the sea is—you were on a ship for months from Od. There are so many shades of green and gray. My mother thinks she hears it singing.
Her throat tightened, and she stilled her pen. The last of the sunlight was just glancing off the water, and she turned to see her mother still perched by the rail. She hadn’t moved an inch all day.

Excerpted from BENEATH THE HAUNTING SEA © Copyright 2018 by Joanna Ruth Meyer. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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