Blog Archive

View My Stats
Monday, May 25, 2020

Cover Reveal Q&A: Cradle Of Sea And Soil by Bernie Anés Paz (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order Cradle Of Sea And Soil over HERE

Today we are glad to exclusively reveal the cover of Cradle Of Sea And Soil (book 1 of the Islandborn trilogy) by debutante author Bernie Anés Paz. Bernie also talks with us about the roots of his trilogy (Puerto Rican, West Africa, Caribbean,etc.) his background and about his #ownvoice fantasy story. So read ahead and enjoy the spectacular cover art

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Bernie. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and why you choose to go the self-published route? Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your past?

BAP: Thanks for having me! So, my path to becoming a writer was a little weird. I was a military brat, so I never stayed in one place for long. I was also born in Puerto Rico and struggled with learning English as a kid. It was bad enough that I couldn’t understand the teachers or my classmates, so I didn’t really have many friends or playmates outside of my younger brothers. I quickly found novels to be an escape from all that, though I needed help reading them at first. Once I started reading on my own, though, I became a voracious little monster and devoured stuff like Animorphs, Dragon Riders of Pern, and Goosebumps before leaping deeper into the fantasy and science fiction spiral. These novels also helped reinforce my understanding of English over time, and seeing me read made my teachers happy, so I kept at it.

Eventually, I stumbled onto a fantasy roleplaying website named Dae Luin. It was pretty awesome. Everyone had a character they developed over time, and we wrote our own plots within a shared world. Our members played shopkeepers, gods, angels, kings, monsters, pretty much everything and anything. I stayed there for almost six years. It not only helped improve my English even further, but it also gave me my first taste of writing, and I found it so enjoyable that I knew it was what I wanted to do.

I ultimately decided to go the self-published route for a lot of reasons. While I believe both traditional and indie publishing are valid paths, with self-publishing it’s more likely that any stumbles or roadblocks are of my own making. I also enjoy the creative freedom and ability to release on my own timeline, and I’m comfortable with shouldering a lot of the effort of publishing myself.

(Art by Daniel Kamarudin, Design/typography by Shawn T. King)

Q] The artwork for Cradle Of Sea And Soil is just spectacular. What were your main pointers for your cover artist as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

BAP: Daniel Kamarudin, my cover artist, pretty much turned lead into gold. To be honest, I didn’t know how to translate what I wanted into imagery, so I decided to trust his experience and knowledge. In the end, I just handed him some basic lore and background information, told him the two main characters—Colibrí and Narune—were mother and son, and mentioned that I wanted to portray that relationship as much as possible because family is one of the core themes of my novel. I gave him a description of the setting as well, which is this massive tropical forest where oversized roots and the lowest branches form pathways.

Daniel took that and ran with it and did a ridiculous job. I don’t know how he does his magic, but it worked. Shawn T. King then took Daniel's magic and added his own to compete the cover with his typography.

Q] Cradle Of Sea And Soil is the start of the Islandborn trilogy. What can you tell us about the main story and characters within it?

BAP: The entire trilogy will almost exclusively follow two POVs—Colibrí and Narune. As I mentioned, they’re mother and son, and they’re living together in exile just outside their tribe’s village because of a spiritual affliction they both have.

Colibrí is a veteran warrior trying to figure out why corrupted land is appearing well beyond where it should be, while Narune is trying to earn the right to become a warrior-mystic in order to better fight beside his mother—whose exile forces her to prowl the incredibly dangerous rainforest alone—when he earns his adulthood. The story alternates between them and follows them through their unique journeys, but they never really separate. Both Colibrí and Narune have to deal with each other and those who eventually became part of their family every step of the way. A lot of the story touches on the messy closeness families experience daily.

Along the way a lot of things happen. Colibrí and Narune are both warriors, so they’re sworn to take part in the eternal war against the strange, hollow monsters the tribes have fought forever. Those monsters also serve as the primary antagonists of the trilogy and are kind of tribal-themed eldritch horrors. You’ll also get to see Colibrí and Narune slowly deal with their shared spiritual affliction, and you get to watch Narune learn to use his people’s martial-based magic. Hopefully the end result is a trilogy that is both familiar yet a bit different than a lot of the Eurocentric fantasy out there.

Q] Let’s talk about how Cradle Of Sea And Soil came to fruition? What was your inspiration for this story?

BAP: I wrote a bunch of desk-drawer novels and they were all styled the same way as the fantasy I read. Many of my characters were even white and from European-inspired cultures. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. Many of my most beloved authors write “standard” fantasy, and all I really care about is a gripping story with characters I can become invested in. But I watched this amazing Ted Talk named “The danger of a single story” and it absolutely broke my heart. I looked long and hard at the stories I was already trying to tell, then decided to challenge myself.

The result was this novel. It’s primarily inspired by Puerto Rico, but includes a lot of inspiration from West Africa and the Taino natives, from which Puerto Ricans draw a ton of their heritage. I also pulled from the Carib natives and other Latin American cultures and, separately, from Spain which will pan out later in the trilogy.

Again, I personally believe there’s nothing wrong with writing what most people consider “standard” fantasy, but I figured that if I could add something born from my own experiences and heritage to the pool, then I owed it to myself to at least try and tell that story. There are already others out there doing the same thing, like Evan Winters, N. K. Jemisin, and M. L. Wang. Now, I want to be clear that I’m not trying to compare myself to any of them. They’re just very inspirational to me, and I wanted to write a story that followed after their footsteps.

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that The Islandborn trilogy is set in? What are the curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

BAP: The story’s setting is a tropical archipelago. Within it is the world’s most ancient rainforest, and at that heart of that is a giant fissure known as the Primordial Wound. It gushes magical energy known as Flow, which has basically hyper-evolved everything in the region, including the native people. The Wound is also festering with a kind of infection known as the Stillness, and from it grow these hollow monsters that imitate pieces of nature or ideas like victory and fury. The tribes have been fighting against them forever, and their entire culture is based around containing the infection at any cost.

The forest itself is where most of the story takes place. It’s a tangle of layers, bridges, and roads created by roots and low branches. It’s full of all kinds of crazy, dangerous life, too. Some of the frogs have a synaptic connection to each other, so killing more than a few by mistake will send a venom-dripping swarm after you. There are hunting plants that either set traps or seek out prey in order to make up for the lack of sunlight that comes through the canopy. Only warriors usually enter the forest, whether in search of food or their ancestral foe. Everyone else lives in the coastal villages of the tribes.

As far as the magic goes, I think people will find it fascinating. It’s very combat-based sorcery loosely inspired by Magic the Gathering’s themed colors. Spells are “painted” into existence and every color has its quirks. The depths of the magic system will be explored well over the series, but readers can enjoy a hefty chunk of it in this novel.

Q] Can you share something about the book that’s not mentioned in the blurb and why should fans should be excited for your debut?

BAP: The worldbuilding, I think. The blurb just doesn’t do it justice. I love my characters, but it’s the setting that gives them so much of their flavor and cultural ticks. If you’re looking for something that’s different and not simply weird, and if you enjoy exploring worlds inspired by unfamiliar cultures like in Rage of Dragons, then I think you’ll really enjoy my novel too.

Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for this trilogy?

BAP: Tough one! I’d describe my stories as a trip abroad, just as with any other fantasy novel, but maybe one that’s a step further than you’re used to going. Rather than kings, emperors, and barons, you get a cacica. Instead of beer, you get chicha. My not-dragon is effectively a couatl. People eat cassava and guayaba. Again, different rather than simply weird and otherworldly, but there’s still monsters, magic, and battles to be had. I think that’s the pitch for my entire trilogy, in fact.

Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

BAP: I just want to say thank you to anyone who picks up a copy of my book. Seriously, this is the start of a new journey for me and I can’t wait to see where it takes me. I appreciate you being a part of that adventure.


(Art by Daniel Kamarudin, Design/typography by Shawn T. King)

Pre-order Cradle Of Sea And Soil over HERE

Official Blurb: The Primordial Wound has festered with corruption since the birth of the world. The island tribes have warred against its spawn for just as long—and they are losing.

Burdened by the same spiritual affliction that drove the first Halfborn insane, Colibrí lives in exile with little more than her warrior oaths and her son. But when Colibrí discovers corrupted land hidden away by sorcery, those same oaths drive her to find answers in an effort to protect the very people who fear her.

Narune dreams of earning enough glory to show that he and his mother Colibrí are nothing like the Halfborn that came before them. Becoming a mystic will give him the strength he needs, but first, Narune will need to prove himself worthy in a trial of skill and honor.

Together, Colibrí and Narune must learn to become the champions their people need—and face the curse threatening to scour away their spirits with fury.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley review

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu 

Order Pretty Little Dead Girls over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

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

FORMAT/INFO: Pretty Little Dead Girls is 260 pages long. The book was originally published in 2016 by Crystal Lake Publishing. Cover design by Galen Dara.

OVERVIEW: I loved this book so don’t expect me to be objective. I want everyone to read it. Pretty Little Dead Girls is gutting and dark, but there are lightness and beauty to it, especially in the prose.

“Bryony Adams was the type of girl who got murdered. This was always so, and it was apparent from the way that men looked at her as she adjusted her knee socks to the way that women shook their heads in pity when she rode by on her bicycle.” 

Everyone who knows Bryony knows, the moment they meet her, she’ll end up murdered. Doomed at birth, she remains bright, loving, and friendly. She lightens the lives of people around her, making them better, even if for a while. She comforts those who mourn, in advance, her unavoidable death. Her natural charm and openness allow her to make friends with everyone, including a charming serial-killer destined to fulfill her dark destiny.

I loved observing Bryony navigate her doomed life. We’re all born to die, but it doesn’t mean we should wring our hands and despair. There’s so much to experience and enjoy. Despite living on a borrowed time, Bryony makes every moment worthwhile.

Yardley’s captivating writing style conveys emotions (love, happiness, fear and pain) with ease and impact. Her lyrical style awed me. I don’t know another author able to create such a dark and disturbing atmosphere in such a charming style. Like in this passage where the killer runs after his victim:

"He was sprinting, because he did not need to make it to the edge of town: he only needed to make it to the girl. His feet hit the ground like pistons, cold and mechanical, and he held the knife tightly in his grip, blade down. Oh, oh, how tragically this shall unfold."

Her style resonates with me. I praise her not only for imaginative wordsmithing but also for excellence in handling a third-person omniscient narrative voice. Not only is the narrator omniscient, but they also break the fourth wall throughout and… it works! The narrator engages readers, questions their assumptions, and plays with their emotions. And it works every single time. Incredible. And gut-wrenching.

A killer is just a tool of sinister fate and personified Desert for which Bryony's demise is the only acceptable outcome. Whenever her friends rescue her or interfere with her fate, the desert gets angry. But nor for long, because

"The desert had a trick up its sleeve, oh yes it did. For it may be thwarted at the moment, but it will not be thwarted for long, and even now there was a rumbling deep underground that made the desert cease feeling sorry for itself. In fact, it began to smile, a harsh smile, a terrible smile, and anybody who witnessed it certainly would have been frozen in horror, pierced by the chill one feels when they drop something fragile, something that was given to them by somebody very dear who is now dead, and now they have nothing with which to remember them, and shall never be able to recall their features exactly ever again."

Yardley described Pretty Little Dead Girls as a novel of murder and whimsy, a perfect description. It's a horror that doesn't revel in gore. It's a romance that twists the genre. It doesn't shy away from brutal truths of our existence but even when it tugs at your heartstrings it leaves you with a sense of wonder.  Despite darker elements, it left me with a sense of hope and wonder at the end. This book gets a well-deserved place on my all-time favorites list.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Library of the Unwritten by AJ Hackwith (Reviewed by David Stewart)

The unintentional horror of The Library of the Unwritten might specifically apply to me. I have been a librarian for most of my adult life, and also a writer. The main character of The Library of the Unwritten is a woman named Claire, librarian of Hell's library and an author whose own literary ideas never found fruition. As I read though AJ Hackwith's novel, I couldn't help but feel a little called out. There is an idea in this book that if an author thinks about their unwritten character enough, that character will manifest and start walking around in the world. The idea of meeting my own main character, and the overwhelming guilt that would follow that meeting, terrifies me. Why did AJ Hackwith write a book specifically to shame me into finishing my own?


The idea of a library in hell where unwritten books go to linger is a good one, but it isn't unique. The first time I came across such an idea was in Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novel series, where the lead character has exactly this kind of library in his domain. In Gaiman's work, the idea is not fully fleshed out and is only really mentioned in passing. Hackwith runs with the notion, sets her library in Hell (because apparently unwritten ideas don't make it to Heaven), and sets a story in it. I'll admit, I am always a little uncomfortable when authors decide to claim the existence of a Judeo-Christian Heaven and Hell, but Hackwith softens this fear with the inclusion of other religions, including Valhalla which is always a plus with me, and even some dead ones. Claire's journey takes readers on a ride, and along the way she gathers up a ragtag group of adventurers to help and hinder her. Claire herself is an excellent lead, fleshed out and sympathetic, while being deeply flawed (let's face it, she wouldn't have earned her turn as Hell's librarian if she weren't full of regrets).

There would be a real danger, in a novel like this, of abusing its connection and adoration of books and the written word. Puns would kill The Library of the Unwritten, and I am happy to say that it handles its connection with literature in as deft and plausible way as it could. The concept of book characters coming to life could feel hokey, on paper, and it takes suspension of disbelief to make it work even in this book, but that's the nature of fantasy. The meta-conversation about how characters are alive is in full swing here - many of Hackwith's inside-the-book characters feel as fleshed out as her "real" characters, and that says something about a writer's ability to humanize imagination. Of particular note is when Claire's history reveals that she has literally fallen in and out of love with one of her characters, revealing the kind of tangled psychology that would require months of therapy to unravel. What could have been a comedy fantasy about living books in Hackwith's hands becomes something much deeper.

I also had a moment in this book, which is full of beautiful prose and captivating imagery, when I was imagining the actual library. I thought of all those stories, potentially billions, that had never been written down, never conceptualized beyond the step of creation, and it hurt. It made me physically uncomfortable to think about every story that someone felt too afraid to write down, or show someone else, or to even think about for fear that they might not be praised, or worse, might be shunned. This was perhaps an unintended moment for the author, but a welcome one for a reader.


As much as I did like The Library of the Unwritten, there were aspects of it that prevented it from being truly great - even for a library book nerd like me. Many of these hiccups are parallel to the book's strengths. For instance, the inclusion of non-Judeo-Christian religions was a nice nod, but it almost feels like a begrudging addition. I never had the sense that any of these other religions carried any weight, and it was the belief in Heaven and Hell that was the supreme arbiter of faith. Now, this tracks on a percentage basis, Christians and Muslims make up the majority of the world's religious, but it feels like it places too much weight on one particular belief. Nor does it take into account the nearly one billion or so folks who claim no faith or a faith that lies outside of the major ones. This same critique can be applied to a dozen authors who write books like this, Gaiman, Pratchett, Moore, etc., and it likely boils down to the author's own background and shouldn't be counted as a ding against the book, but I would have really loved a deeper exploration of faith-based systems that did not center so much on Judeo-Christian beliefs. Perhaps that's asking too much for a book that carries a lighter hearted tone than many that deal in religion.

I mentioned liking Claire quite a bit, and I did, but I had some issues with other characters in the novel. Leto, for one, who is a good character in his own right, feels largely forced into the story for a big reveal later that, for me, fell completely flat. There are actually a few characters in the book that feel largely purposeless, but is it fair to criticize characters, even well-written ones, for not serving much purpose? Probably not.

To again parallel some of my earlier thoughts on the strengths of The Library of the Unwritten, while the reference to books and writing are well done, there is also a pattern of characters consistently trying to say these lines as though they are trying to get into Barlett's Book of Quotations. If it hadn't happened so often, I might not have noticed, but the novel has a persistence of characters basically turning to the camera and delivering one-liners that they hope will feel meaningful but ultimately feel a little cheesy.

The last area where The Library of the Unwritten falls flat for me is in its inability to go further. This is a series, so perhaps this critique will correct itself in subsequent novels, but for a book about the power of imagination, the sheer depth and breadth of it, it stays fairly tame. When I consider the amount of unwritten stories in a library like this, how many tales the author had to draw from with almost no limitation, I find myself disappointed in how mundane some of the events of the book play out. There is a climactic scene at the end, in particular, that could have really been a memorable one, but it plays out in a predictable way with one contrived deus ex machina moment that made me sad to read.

If You Liked

I was a little surprised, given the clear influences, that the author did not mention Neil Gaiman in her acknowledgements. This book screams Good Omens and Sandman to me, but I will acknowledge that similar ideas can bloom in different minds at different times. Regardless, readers who enjoy the more Judeo-Christian tones of some of Gaiman's England-centered work will find this enjoyable. I also found some pretty heavy similarities to Christopher Moore, particularly in the early parts of the novel which are more comedic in tone than some of the latter. Fans of books about big mystical libraries also might find some similarities to Scott Hawkins' fantastic Library at Mount Char, though Hawkins' book is a fair bit darker in tone then Hackwith's.

Parting Thoughts

The Library of the Unwritten is a book that, on paper, I should love. I liked it, and I will probably read the second book in the series when it is released later this year. Hackwith's writing is very good, and I only would wish for a stronger exploration of her material to really love what she is doing with these books. I am happy that she will continue with Claire as her main character because her complexity and range is really refreshing to read. I would like to see some of the adjacent characters brought up to that level, but ultimately the series feels like it belongs to Claire and I am ok with that. She is the librarian. 
Friday, May 15, 2020

Xindii: The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dominic Watson Cover Reveal and Q&A

Pre-order Xindii: The Boy Who Walked Too Far over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

We have the immense pleasure of hosting the cover reveal for Dominic Watson’s Xindii: The Boy Who Walked Too Far. It’s a unique story that blends fantasy, sci-fi, metaphysics, and more.

Xindii is a thrilling story unlike anything you’ve read and Dominic was super kind to answer a few questions to talk about the world, the story, and how the cover was created.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Series Acquisition Interview with G. R. Matthews (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read Noir Under The Ocean by G. R. Matthews (guest post)
Read Building A New Word by G. R. Matthews (guest post)
Download a free copy of The Stone Road over here (first 5 folks get it)

Just last week Solaris books announced the acquisition of Seven Deaths Of An Empire by G.R. Matthews. I’ve come to know G.R. via the SPFBO competition and over the past five years have gotten to know him well. I’ve read and enjoyed his noir SF thrillers as well as Wuxia fantasy titles. So I was very excited when he had begun writing this new fantasy book.

Join me in welcoming G.R. as we chat about the inception of this series, its roman-inspired beginnings as well GR’s path in becoming a traditionally published author.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Geoff and many, many congratulations on your signing with Solaris Books. Can you provide us with a summary of your journey leading up to your book acquisition?

GRM: There is a long journey from beginning to write, to learning to write, through practicing and eleven completed novels - the magical 1 million words.

There is also the shorter journey of this book though it will take longer to describe. Get a coffee, maybe a snack, and settle down in your comfiest chair.

I’d been subbing to agents for a couple of years, and one (Jamie Cowen) gave great feedback on the first book I sent in. He took the full manuscript, read it, enjoyed it, but ultimately turned it down with some incredible advice and thoughts. Just getting the full MS request was a massive boost. So, I wrote another book and subbed that. Again, Jamie got back to me - comparing the book to the ‘The Revenant’ (and adding in a little John Wick), which was great, but again it wasn’t quite right as a debut, a first book.

Third time’s the charm, they say. Well, only if you work damn hard and listen to advice.

In July 2019, I started writing Seven Deaths and then went on a family holiday. While there I saw, actually I think I got told about it, a ‘Shoot your Shot’ event held by Rebellion Publishing. At this point I had three finished, unpublished books; the two I’d sent to Jamie, and a post apocalyptic ‘World of Warcraft meets the A-Team’ one (I think you’ve read that one, Mihir). Being cheeky, but when you are shooting your shot, the more bullets you fire, the better chance you’ve got to hit the target (my approach to Call of Duty multiplayer), I figured why not try them all.

Each “shot” was a pitch of one of those books on twitter using the right hashtag. I crafted three pitches - one line to sell the book on. I have them lying about somewhere. Anyway, I fired them off whilst on holiday (I take a laptop so I can write) and then went swimming (probably). After a day or two, and near the close of the window for that event, I thought “why not?” and pitched the book I was only 18,000 words into. Utter madness.

(Anna Stephens picture courtesy of Mike Evans & Fantasy Hive)

However, I’d learned from the advice and rejections, and for the past three books I’d written a plan for the book. I had character arcs, major events, and gone from pantser to architect without really realising. I’d also gone to an event in London a week or so before my holiday with Mike Evans and Anna Stephens, where commissioning editors had spoken about pitches. Admittedly, I might have gatecrashed one of the events, but one of the panel (and the organisers) did say it was OK. So, I didn’t really gatecrash, I asked… I am British and was raised to be polite. Just after that panel and as the person who’d booked the slot didn’t show up, I sat with Jack Rennison, Editor at Harper Voyager, for about ten minutes talking about this nascent book and pitches - I’d always had a “pitch line” in my agent query letters and working out how to improve them was, for me, important.

It was, after sending the pitches in, all about waiting… and writing. I settled in for the long haul and put it out of my mind. This book wasn’t done, nowhere near, and I’d just pitched it. It would be just my luck they’d chose this one instead of one of the completed books.

Bugger, they asked for Seven Deaths and it had been less than a week! I polished the 10K near the end of the holiday. My family allowing me the time to do so. I sent the first 10k to some friends (an SPFBO judging panel - there is no more difficult group to get a book past), who are all readers and writers. I took their corrections, feedback and polished some more.

Synopsis - bloody synopsis. I hate them, my precious… cough… erm… anyway.

This time, due to my new method of writing, I’d actually written that before I set to writing the book. It wasn’t perfect and things might change as the book gets written, but this synopsis needed to be right. I begged, well asked Adrian Selby (Winter Road, Snakewood) to look it over for me… please… and like a gent he agreed!

(Snakewood & The Winter Road pic courtesy of Baggies40)

Let me point out before a deluge of synopsis rain down upon him, I’ve met Adrian quite a few times and spent many an hour drinking and discussing something or other - the alcohol is not good for the memory. All of which boils down to; I sent it off and he replied a day or two later with some great advice. A quick rewrite and it improved massively. All done and with a nervous flutter, I hit send and the letter (it is just polite), synopsis and 10K sample was carried to Rebellion on the wings of an email.

I put it out of my mind again. Well, tried to, but what if they asked for the full MS and I’ve only got 25K done by this point. It was back to work (the job that pays the bills) in September, writing in the evenings and at the weekends. Write, write, write. I had a plan to follow; scenes, beats, and events to include. By mid-October it was done. Well, the first draft was done. I typed “The End” and sighed in relief, opened by social media, checked my emails. 155, 000 words… I can write quickly and have often had two books on the go at a time, but this had been like doing three NaNo’s in a row. I was knackered, but exhilarated.

A week later. Shit. They’ve asked for the Full MS. I’ve just finished draft one… it is rough, unpolished. A quick email to Kate, the editor who asked for MS, explaining how rough it is. Doesn’t matter, she said, send it anyway. Gulp.

Bundle it up in an email, a quick check of the formatting as I dragged it from Scrivener into word. A very quick spell-check, and send.

And now it was off to BristolCon, keeping it as quiet as I can, because, you know, jinxing things. Had a great time meeting an amazing bunch of folks, watching a friend demolish, ever so slowly, a plate of pasta. I really enjoy BristolCon - small enough to be friendly, big enough to always meet new folks. Back home and I know I’ll polish the draft, because if they say no, it is going to be subbed to agents. I sent my second draft, really just a read through and tidy up of sentences, to Julia, always my first reader, and wait for the feedback. When Julia sends it back it is edit, correct, and polish. Wait and try and think about the next book.

December 2019. Sat in a board game cafe on a work team building, well-being event. Check my emails, because I’ve been checking it every five minutes since October. Read the offer email… we’d like to publish your book… read it again. And a third, fourth time. Have I read that right?

Almost scream in shock, fright, excitement - but manage to keep my cool (I so did not). Woohoo!

What now? Jamie, help!

Q] After your adventures with self-published books in the SF and epic fantasy genres, what spurred you to give traditional publishing a try?

GRM: I love Self-publishing for the freedom it gives, and hate it for all the things, the tips and tricks I don’t understand, or haven’t got time to do. I love each and everyone one of the books I have put out. There is evolution in each of them, and there is a lot of my heart and soul in them too. I’d say the books I’ve written now are more polished than The Stone Road (my first), but I’d also say that book has an energy to it that I try to recapture each time I write.

I asked myself, what next? Do I continue to self-publish or do I look for an agent? I think it came down to a few things:
 1) I always wanted to see my book in a book shop. I’ve always dreamed of seeing it there, nestled in amongst other writers that I look up to in amazement and awe.
 2) There is the confirmation that I was good enough.
 3) I need to be moving forward a lot of the time. Despite my reputation for being laid back, I like having goals and working toward them - even if they are self-imposed.

Where I’ve ended up is, I suppose, a hybrid, a bit of both. From now on, I don’t intend to Self-publish another book in a new series. That isn’t to say that the Corin Hayes books are finished, because four books in and 15k into the fifth that would not be fair to him. It is likely to come out at some point… if enough people ask (hint hint).

Q] The title Seven Deaths Of An Empire is very, very catchy. What can you tell us about how it came to be?

GRM: I don’t think it was the first title I came up with, but it is by far the best. It may have been the second (I’ve just checked my journal) but it came after the initial planning was done. By that I mean sorting out the main characters and some of the main events rather than being an in detail, two page synopsis or complicated outline.

Seven Deaths, Seven Samurai, Magnificent Seven, Lucky Seven, it just seems we have a love affair (in Western Europe and US) with the number seven. If it had been written in another country, by another writer, it might have been Eight Deaths or Three Deaths (a much shorter book).

I also like that the title gives you clues to the story, but plays a little bit the language - there are at least two ways to read it, maybe more. Also, the reader can count the deaths in the book and work out which are the significant seven? It is a puzzle and a hook (I hope).

Q] Based on the blurb details, there seems to be a roman influence on the world settings. Would you say that’s a fair assumption? Also what was your fascination with the Roman origins of the story?

GRM: The original idea was… The death of Alexander crossed with the rise of Nero. The juxtaposition of cultures, the desire of Alexander to conquer, the madness of Nero, all melded into one whole story. However, before you think it is historical fiction - it isn’t. It is inspired by those two events in our history and you can see that in the blurb.

The Empire itself is modelled, to a degree, on the Roman Empire and Army. It isn’t a lift and dump of structure, politics, and culture because that wouldn’t work in this world. Also because I’d get things wrong and someone would pick me up on it. So, it is based upon the Roman Empire.

Why? Because they are bloody interesting. Any Empire which can survive as long as the Roman’s, which can impose its culture and technology upon others is fascinating (from a distance, and almost 2,000 years is a good distance). You can argue, and it has been, that the Roman Empire persists to this day in the form of the Catholic Church, and that too is an element in this book (not the Catholic Church, but the persistence of ideas and faiths). There is also a fair amount of backstabbing and betrayal because that seems to be an element of many Roman stories and histories.

More than that, and cheating a little, most everyone is familiar with the Roman Army or Empire through school, TV, Film, or computer games. A lot of the heavy lifting or imagination is done before you sit down to read the book - it isn’t completely alien to the reader and their imagination will fill in the bits I haven’t described in great, overflowing, info-dump detail. It should make reading a smoother journey than needing to stop and go to a WIKI every two minutes to look something up.

Q] What would you say are some of the inspiration(s) for your new series?

GRM: Excellent question. Erm…

Really, this book came about from a map - the Geographer in me. I’d wanted to begin a new series. The Stone Road and rest of the Forbidden List was finished. Corin Hayes continues because he is just fun to write. It was a question of what next?

Whatever it was it needed a setting, a world, a history (even just a sketch of), and so I started there. Drew the map, worked out the weather patterns, biomes, transport links, trade routes, geology etc and the Six Kingdoms was born. You know, a lot of this probably came from reading Prisoners of Geography and seeing how much of national identity, politics, thinking is tied to our physical geography. Certainly, both of the other books in the Six Kingdoms (not published, yet - fingers crossed) have characters formed by their geography - both physical and human.

Anyway, Seven Deaths is not the first book in the Six Kingdoms. I have written two others. However, it is the first book chronologically speaking. With that in mind, I can truthfully answer that inspiration came from events in the other two books which take the story of the Six Kingdoms on and resound to the impacts of the events in this book and planned sequels - if that makes sense.

Q] How many books are you planning to write in this series?

GRM: I am planning nine books. That is three trilogies, in my mind at least. They cover three different periods in the history of the Six Kingdoms. Strangely, maybe, the first books of the other two trilogies are written and complete - though they need tweaking and polishing etc.

Everything from here on out depends on the readers. If they buy Seven Deaths Of An Empire, the other books will follow (I hope). Which, I suppose, depends on how well it is written and how much word of mouth, attention from blogs, and on Social Media the book gets. My hopes are high because I love this book!

Q] What can readers expect from this book and series?

GRM: My editor, and how strange it is to say and acknowledge that, describes the book as Grimdark. I like to think of it as a book of choice and consequence. Each character makes choices based upon emotion, morals, and upbringing, and each choice has a consequence, for good or ill.

More than that, readers can expect characters they can root for and others they can hate. There is double dealing, heroism, bravery, opportunism, and there is heart, soul, noble sacrifices, dark deeds and magic.

Readers will get to explore some of the Six Kingdoms in book one, and more and more as the story and world opens up.

They’ll be maps too. Maps which I, as a trained Geographer, have tried my hardest to make coherent in relation to geology, climatology, economics, and biomes.

Q] Thank you for your time and for consideration Geoff. I can’t wait to read SDOAE. Do you have parting thoughts for our readers?

GRM: I see some folks on social media say “I’m not buying a book until the series is finished.” Please, please, please don’t do this with mine. If this book does well, and it is a complete story, then you’ll get more. So, to paraphrase Mark Lawrence…. "Buy My Books!"

It has been a long road to get here and I’d like to thank everyone, including you, Mihir, for all the support to get here.

NOTE: For The Glory Of Rome digital art courtesy of Dusan Markovic.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Middle Volume Mini-reviews: Rob J. Hayes' The Lessons Never Learned & David Dalglish's Ravencaller (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Soulkeeper
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Cloaks 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of A Dance Of Blades
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Mirrors 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Shadows
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cloak & Spider
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Dalglish 
Read Fantasy Book Critic cover art interview with David Dalglish
Read "Sequels And Satisfying Endings" by David Dalglish (guest post)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ravencaller is the sequel to Soulkeeper and as far as middle volumes go, completely outshines its predecessor. In this fashion, it’s not surprising as a David Dalglish title but definitely a big surprise for a middle volume.

The story begins with the focus solely on the city of Londheim as its inhabitants face an upheaval of unimaginable proportions. We are quickly reunited with our POV characters Adria, Devin, Jacaranda and Tommy (along with a few other new POV characters). The book’s plot mainly deals with all of the different magical races that have slowly awakened and now wish to eradicate the grotesque children of the sisters i.e. the so-called feeble human race. This never bodes well as the humans decide to fight back and in such a type of genocidal fight there are no true victors. I believe David Dalglish amply demonstrates that and more in this middle volume.

Firstly let me clarify why this book was so good to read. Now just about anybody can write mindless and over-the-top action sequences. That’s not why this book is so good. Yes it has its share of action and magical battles. But this is where David Dalglish truly differentiates himself from everyone else in the dark fantasy genre. It’s his skill with characterization and dialogue which makes the action that much more realistic and endearing. David often explores the grey within the characters as in this fight nobody comes out with clean hands. While he expands all our POV characters who deal with the stress of this war in many different ways. He also provides us with three non-human POVs in Puffy, Cannac & Tesmarie who provide another view into these events and do a lot to lighten the atmosphere from time to time.

Let’s talk about the action sequences, in a book full of monsters and monster slayers. The action sequences are a key component and it’s one of Dalglish’s strengths how beautifully he strings them together. To old time fans of the author, this comes as no surprise considering what he showcased in the Half-Orcs and Shadowdance series. But to his credit, David is able to keep his action fresh and this is aided by the monstrous races that have come back. The action sequences are pretty cinematic in their scope and while they range from the personal to absolute bonkers. They are equally fun to read about.

Secondly the characterization is further elevated in this middle volume. As noted in my previous review, I really enjoyed Jacaranda, Tesmarie & Puffy’s characters and in this volume, basically everyone is boosted. Devin is no longer a goody two-shoes and we learn that humanity can be overrated while some of the supposed monsters just want to be alive and enjoy the world. We meet a new character by the name of Evelyn and she’s one tough badass. One of the major villains from Soulkeeper takes a backseat in this book but his presence is felt throughout the story. Dalglish’s characterization is top notch considering he gives a wide look in to the human and non-human characters while making each of them distinct. Even the villains aren’t just murderous savants, there’s a reason to what they want to accomplish. It’s not something we as the readers will agree with but it’s valid nonetheless and they can’t be written of just homicidal monsters (well not all of them).

The book’s pace is also breakneck and that heightens one’s read as we are constantly taken from one surprise to another. This book is also around 550-plus pages and so it’s to the author’s credit that none of them feel sluggish. Lastly I have to say that Ravencaller’s cover is absolutely spectacular. I wasn’t a fan of the Soulkeeper one which was a more than a bit staid IMO. Paul Scott Canavan absolutely nails the look of the Avenria and I hope he returns to draw the cover of Voidbreaker as well.

For me this book didn’t have any major issues, yes I would have liked some more backstory about the Sisters and how the world was shaped. I’m sure though it will be all forthcoming in the final volume. This book was a near perfect one in that regards and it’s only second volume.

CONCLUSION: Ravencaller proves why David Dalglish should never be underestimated. One of the pioneers of the self-publishing revolution, he proves himself to be a master of dark fantasy. Brimming with terrific characters, awesome action sequences & a magical world that’s on the brink of utter annihilation. Ravencaller definitely proves itself worthy to be called one of the best books of 2020 (So far).

Official Author Website
Order The Lessons Never Learned over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Along The Razor's Edge
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Never Die
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Kings 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Fifth Empire Of Man
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Mini Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO Aftermath Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Post COK interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Never Die Release Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's The War Eternal Trilogy Release Interview
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After the claustrophobic events of Along The Razor’s Edge, we get a much different story in The Lessons Never Learned. This second book from The War Eternal trilogy expands the world and background admirably so.

The story literally opens up where Along The Razor’s Edge ended. Eska and her remaining gang (Tamura, Hardt, and Yorin) have reached the surface. Eska can’t believe that her crazy sounding plan has finally paid off. However things aren’t easy as once outside they will be hunted by the Terralan empire as fugitives. Eska has a plan and now that she’s free of the claustrophobic confines of the pit, the sky’s the limit literally. However the only place safe for her and her mates is in the sky itself. The flying city of Roshan, controlled by the R’and. It’s the sole place where she can be free of the Terrelan Empire as there’s a special group of people hunting her as well.

The sequel is a book that takes a wide scope lens to the story so far. In book 1 we found out how Eska and Josef got captured, in this sequel we get a solid inkling of the why. As always Eska occupies front and center of the book’s plot as well as the reader’s attention. Eska as a character is still a bit abrasive but now she’s learning more about herself and what she underwent at the Orran academy. In this volume, we see Eska’s evolution from a singular focused sourceror into a person that will leave a mark on this world.

The previous book was all about the claustrophic nature of the surrounding and in this one we get an exact 180 as most of the plot is situated around the flying cities across this world. We also get to see how and why they were formed.

The world is founded on lie, upon lie, upon lie. But the truth is always there, just waiting for an opportunity to tear down everything we have built.”

The book’s main plot deals with the how and why of the magic system as well as the backstory of the world. This is what made this middle volume a better one than its predecessor. The author breaks down all the various stereotypes and falsehoods that have been perpetrated upon the human populace. We also get to see quite a lot of the non-human races and where they stand in the hierarchy of the world.

We are, all of us, marred by scars, plagued by the faults and insecurities laid upon us by our pasts.”

Once again the book is centered around Eskara Helsene and another narrator. Eska has come a long way from where and what she was in the previous volume. This book deals with her maturation in more ways then one. She gets to experience love, and also learns a lot about the fate of the Orran empire. Her mental and physical evolution are fun to watch as we see her internalize her anger and insecurities but also sharpen her zeal and power. Serrakis is there to provide backup whenever she needs and also to taste the fear that she evokes. I loved how the author managed to make Eskara a stronger character while still keeping her sharp edges. There’s also the other narrator and I loved how ambiguous that narrative thread was until the very end.

This book also doubles up on the magic and action sequences more so than its predecessor. There’s some terrific sequences in the end and it more than makes up for the lulls in between the action sequences. However there’s not a dull moment to be had, in between all of the story, we get to meet so many new characters as well see so many new locations that we as a reader as well as Eska are left spellbound. Rob J. Hayes does something truly incredible with the worldbuilding & magic system as in the first book we have no clue about what awaits in this volume. Lastly the ending is something that will make your head flip and leave you wanting the last volume pronto. So it’s a good thing that we are only 13 days away from its release.

CONCLUSION: The Lessons Never Learned is another spectacular volume in a trilogy that does the unexpected, breaks all conventions and makes its tough protagonist into a person that we can root for. Rob J. Hayes stretches his literary muscles in more ways than one and once more proves why he’s a self-publishing star that will rise higher and higher.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky review (reviewed by Łukasz)

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

Monday, May 11, 2020

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)

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
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Foundryside

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert Jackson Bennett began attempting to write books because of 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. His work has received the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Phillip K. Dick Citation of Excellence, and he has been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Locus Awards. He currently lives in Austin with his family.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A few years ago, Sancia Grado would’ve happily watched Tevanne burn. Now, she’s hoping to transform her city into something new. Something better. Together with allies Orso, Gregor, and Berenice, she’s about to strike a deadly blow against Tevanne’s cruel robber-baron rulers and wrest power from their hands for the first time in decades.

But then comes a terrifying warning: Crasedes Magnus himself, the first of the legendary hierophants, is about to be reborn. And if he returns, Tevanne will be just the first place to feel his wrath.

Thousands of years ago, Crasedes was an ordinary man who did the impossible: Using the magic of scriving—the art of imbuing objects with sentience—he convinced reality that he was something more than human. Wielding powers beyond comprehension, he strode the world like a god for centuries, meting out justice and razing empires single-handedly, cleansing the world through fire and destruction—and even defeating death itself.

Like it or not, it’s up to Sancia to stop him. But to have a chance in the battle to come, she’ll have to call upon a god of her own—and unlock the door to a scriving technology that could change what it means to be human. And no matter who wins, nothing will ever be the same.

FORMAT/INFO: Shorefall was published in North America by Del Rey books on April 21, 2020 and is available in ebook, audiobook, and print formats. It was published in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books on April 21, 2020 as well in e-book & trade paperback formats. It is 496 pages long split over fourty-four chapters. Narration is third person across multiple viewpoints. It is the second book in The Founders Trilogy.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: It's been three years since the battle at the Mountain, the night that Sancia, Gregor, Orso and Berenice took down one of the great merchant houses of Tevanne and stopped their leader from becoming a powerful magical being. The group now runs their own scrivening house, working methodically to undermine the other merchant families that control the city. But when an old foe warns them of an ancient power that has awakened and is traveling to Tevanne, everything falls by the wayside as they race to stop him. Because this new threat has a very particular view about how humanity should conduct itself - and if humanity won't comply, then it might be time to just start the whole world over.

Shorefall is the kind of book that throws you into the middle of an escapade, gives you a little time to settle in, then takes off the brakes and never stops. The pacing is utterly relentless, as situations go from bad to worse and our heroes have only a few short days to stop the new villain before they manage to achieve their full power. It never felt rushed or overwhelming, because I was so invested in what was to come that I wanted consume the book as fast as humanly possible. The stakes are real and are balanced between the personal and the "saving the world" variety. And one late act reveal in particular made me curse out loud, not necessarily because of its shock and more because of the realization the clues were there all along.

As good as plotting and pacing are, this book wouldn't have gotten five stars if it didn't have great characters. Those personal stakes I just mentioned are what keep me so utterly transfixed. Gregor in particular gets a chance to shine in this installment, as some discoveries made in Foundryside add a wrinkle to the problems facing our heroes, and watching him grapple with the ramifications provides some intense pathos on top of the tension. I also have to give a shout out to Sancia and Berenice, who are #relationshipgoals. It is SO rare for a couple to just exist in a completely healthy state, and watching them lovingly work together without ego or drama was refreshing. There's enough to deal with in the book without unnecessary angst.

Lastly on the character front, let's take a moment to respect how utterly terrifying this new villain is. My favorite antagonists are the ones who are always calm because they are utterly confident in the knowledge that they are in control of the situation. The new villain is a sociopath, one who doesn't blink twice at human sacrifice, one who is utterly convinced he is in the right and if you aren't smart enough to get out of his way, it's not his fault if you die. The crew of Foundryside is way out of their depth here, and only an unlikely ally provides them any hope of contending with the situation.

The world-building in Shorefall is much the same as Foundryside so if you were a fan of the "magic by way of computer coding with runes," you'll be back in your happy place. I have to admit, I occasionally didn't follow every part about "permissions" and "editing" and the nitty gritty of the magic system, but it was never enough to stop me from understanding the overall gist of what was happening (ie, if the bad guy gets Item A, it will be bad). I outright giggle any time Sancia interfaces with a scrived item and convinces it "You think gravity works how? Oh, no, there's been some changes, let me explain to you how gravity ACTUALLY works now."

CONCLUSION: Shorefall is everything Foundryside was, but even better. The characters you love are back, the stakes are real, the consequences devastating. This is the Empire Strikes Back of the series, and the state of the world when you hit that final page is jaw-dropping. Any book that wants me to grant it the title of Best of 2020 is going to have to fight Shorefall for that coveted honor, and it won't be won easily. I unreservedly recommend this series, so do yourself a favor and get it now!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

SPFBO 5: Conclusion & Some Thoughts (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Over ten days ago, the fifth edition of SPFBO came to a close and we got perhaps the most closely fought top three finish ever. It was a fascinating duel between fabulous titles and in the end we got the gold, silver and bronze finishes by Sword Of Kaigen (M. L. Wang), Fortune’s Fool (Angela Boord) and Blood Of Heirs (Alicia Wanstall-Burke).

As this edition ended and as I look back, I’m amazed to see how quickly these five editions have gone by. I often try to recall the heady days back when Mark Lawrence dreamed up this competition along with Sarah Chorn and reached out to us bloggers about it. Since those early days, the competition has flourished and become bigger and bigger.

It has seen many new faces enter both on the author and blogger fronts and we have been richer for it. So as we look forward to the next edition, I would like to share my thoughts as to why this competition is so special.

Firstly as clarified by Mark, it exists to shine a light on self-published works. In this economy and market, old and new authors will always have a hard time gaining a foothold and hence the SPFBO exists to help. Here’s the official mission statement:

"The SPFBO exists to shine a light on self-published fantasy. It exists to find excellent books that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. It exists to help readers select, from the enormous range of options, books that have a better chance of entertaining them than a random choice, thereby increasing reader faith in finding a quality self-published read."

This competition has a bit of randomness to it and that’s to prevent bloggers from selecting their friends or favourites. Mark and all of us work diligently to make sure that this competition stays free of any bias or favouritism.

As with any complex thing, there are aspects of this competition which are tricky to manage. However we try to evolve and keep it sensible. After 2016, there was a small change initiated which was called the Senlin Safety Net (SSN). So far there have been only 6 times wherein titles have been offered as SSN options by the judges and only one singular time - a title was picked up as a SSN. It came 2nd in the competition (Devin Madson’s We Ride The Storm in SPFBO 2018).

(An unsuspecting  and lovely Josiah Bancroft)

The SSN is a topic that’s a bit tricky but as a judge who’s been around since the start, I feel it’s a strong necessity. The basic theme of this completion is to choose the ten best books for the finals. So for judges, it can be a tricky thing to manage. Choosing a SSN title means overlooking the 30 titles in your lot. Is it fair to all the 30 authors, probably not?

But here’s where the objectivity comes in to play. If (and only if) one reads and gauges that none of the 30 titles in their lot are worthy of the finals, then it’s imperative to look at all the SSN titles on offer (if available) and choose a worthy title to put forward to the finals instead. Of course this is a tricky situation and the key is in avoiding any selection bias. One of the crucial factors for this is that a judge opting to go for the SSN title over their own lot HAS NO SAY about which titles might/will be offered as SSNs by the other judges.

Utilizing the Push principle rather than the pull as advocated by Mark Lawrence. We hope to avoid favouritism in this SSN scenario, while giving the best book the chance to reach the finals and thereby potentially reap more reviews and reader eyeballs. This way, no blogger judge can just simply choose a title from another group. It has to be offered by that judge on their own volition and as seen by the previous editions, the blogger judges only do it when a book is deemed worthy.

I think the SSN is a necessary and wonderful addition to this competition. We judges might not all agree about its vitality but it remains a crucial addition to this competition and should be nurtured as such.

Another aspect which I cherish is the diversity of the blogger judges. This includes single judges as well as groups. As a single judge for the first three editions, I have only praise and admiration for the judges who do it solely (including all editions). So take a bow Lynn, Sarah, Ria, Kitty, Nicole, Katherine, Jared and Bob 😃

There are a couple of things which aren’t codified in the rules but have invited discussion among the judges:

1) Whether previous winners should be allowed to re-enter the competition with their new titles

2) Whether to set a ratings limit for titles to be entered (for eg. Any title with a 5K+ Goodreads rating SHOULDN’T be allowed to enter)

Both of these conditions seem restrictive and a bit illogical from my perspective. So far in five editions (and 1500 entries), there has been just one winner who re-entered the competition and that title reached the finals (Never Die in SPFBO 2019). While there might have been some chatter about the book’s presence, more importantly and this is crucial all the judges IMHO treated it fairly and gave it their honest reviews (even if some of them might not have agreed with its inclusion in the competition). I believe this speaks to their integrity and I’m sure the author would be glad for it.

It all comes down to what I think is the advantage of winning SPFBO. There’s no cash prize offered or any special favour. The winner gets a lovely selfie stick and the honour of knowing that their title beat out 299 others according to ten blogger judges with varied interests. As far as ego boosters go, that’s a pretty solid one.

But as we all know fame is fleeting after all and one’s mental health isn’t a constant. Why should previous winners be any different? As the competition prospers, its popularity and reader visibility increases. Ergo the winner of the first edition definitely has not gotten the same reader eyeballs as say the third SPFBO winner who might not have gotten the equivalent Goodreads adds as the fifth (current) winner. Hence to equate an author’s win as their ultimate glory and to prevent them for further participation is not only silly but also self-defeating in terms of the SPFBO's official mission statement.

We want the best to participate in this contest so the finalists know their books have overcome worthy adversaries. All of the writers who enter this competition are professionals as such. Hence coming to the second point about a ratings cutoff for titles, I believe this is  irrelevant to the SPFBO. We want the best to participate but that doesn’t mean they (popular authors) will choose to enter (in fact in the past five editions, there have less than ten titles with a 5k-plus GR rating entered among 1500 entries).

With a 97 perfect cutoff rate, this competition is BRUTAL to say the least. I’m perennially in awe of authors who submit their books to be judged by strangers. In this regard, popular titles and authors have more to lose in such a scenario than say someone who’s relatively unknown. Yet both also have the same odds of success.

Some might argue that popular books and their authors have name recognition which might influence judges. By that very reasoning, they also have more to lose as judges might be judging them a bit more harshly than the relatively unknowns.

Lastly I would like to clarify what the point of the contest is... Here's what I think:
- It's NOT about the authors.
- It's NOT about the bloggers
- It's about shining a spotlight on books that readers might have overlooked or never heard about. It doesn't matter whether a book has a single Goodreads rating or 5K-plus because it can still reach more people by being in the contest.

I vehemently believe that every book should be judged on its own merit and not whether its author has won SPFBO or been a previous finalist or is a famous one (either traditionally published or self-published). Yes we can have rules about how frequently a previous winner or finalist can re-enter their new books (maybe with a cooling period of 2/3 years for a winner and a year for the finalist) but that's a discussion to be had.

These are some of the reasons why I believe we shouldn’t be thinking of limiting folks based on selective reasons of previous success or Goodreads popularity. These thoughts have been percolating in my brain for some time and maybe I'm the only one espousing them but I'm sure there will be much discussion to be had around this.

The self-publishing world is a tough and lonely one. The SPFBO is a lovely community and I for one would like to see it prosper more. So thank you to Mark Lawrence for its creation and management. My thanks to my fellow judges and blogger teams for their hard work and  vital commitment in helping run this competition. I can’t wait for SPFBO 6 and the hunt to unearth new gems to begin 😃

NOTE: Josiah Bancroft and SA picture courtesy of Nicole Hill and B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog. Selfie stick picture courtesy of Mark Lawrence.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

A Boy in a Park by Richard Parkin (Reviewed by David Stewart)

Author's official website
Order A Boy in a Park here

There is a theme to Richard Parkin's collection of short stories, and I write not only of the obvious titular link between each tale. These stories all tell of loss in one way or another, and also of persistence. The title A Boy in a Park, is an apt title, but the subtitle, Tales of Wonder and Despair perhaps rings more true to the heart of these yarns. I might argue that the despair outweighs the wonder because these stories are full of the kind of sadness that only living alone can bring. The boy in the park is everyone who has ever had to make their way along in the world without the help of others, longingly wishing they had someone to share the journey with. I struggled, at times, to find the metaphors clearly buried within these tales, but that one at least felt apparent.

Parkin's prose is effective, even beautiful at times, and he presents his various boys in similar ways while making them all feel slightly different. A Boy in a Park is a collection of ten different children, all living in very English-style parks, though location is never overtly mentioned. There are common elements weaving into many of these stories. Girls riding away on bicycles is mentioned in two of the them, and horticulture is a near-ever present canopy (as it should be in a park). As readers, we don't often see the autobiographical nature of stories without knowing the writer in an intimate way, but I would be surprised if you told me that Parkin had not developed a childhood crush on a girl riding a red bike.

But while these stories are pleasant and well written, I did struggle with the why of it all. Why tell these stories? I never found a common enough thread through the tales to link them, despite their similar settings. At times, I even felt like this was a writing exercise, as though I were in a creative fiction class and the assignment was to pen tales of boys in parks. That is not to say that there is not value in what is written, but I tend to prefer to spend my time on fantasy that feels more robust.

I will not deny that there is wonder here. The last tale in particular, "Yellow Frog," tells about two people who find one another through apparent drug use, and the lure of being able to forget about the world in a haze of feel-good stupor. That seems like a heavy subject when the majority of the characters in Parkin's work are children, but it is told in an Alice in Wonderland type of way that dulls the harder edge of its message. I also quite liked "The Heron Man," a tale of showmanship and what happens when a performer disrespects his or her fellow showmen (or in this case, show-herons).

A Boy in a Park, despite potentially lacking any deeper meaning, is well worth reading. Parkin knows his way around the written word, and if nothing else this collection is a primer for what I hope might be a larger work in the future.

Follow by Email


Click Here To Order “Right To The Kill ” by Craig Schaefer!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Spit And Song” by Travis M. Riddle!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The Arkhel Conundrum” by Sarah Ash!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The Company Of Birds” by Nerine Dorman!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The True Bastards” by Jonathan French!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Rumble In Woodhollow” by Jonathan Pembroke!!!
Order HERE