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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Ashes of Onyx by Seth Skorkowsky



Official Author Website
Order Ashes Of Onyx over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Dämoren
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Hounacier
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ibenus 

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemptor Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Read Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky (guest post)


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

FORMAT/INFO: Ashes of Onyx is 467 pages long divided over thirty-three numbered chapters and is a standalone bookThe book is currently available in all formats. It was published in 2019 by City Owl Press


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As a huge fan of Skorkowsky’s Valducan series, I was excited to check his newest book. Ashes of Onyx begins as Urban Fantasy but it contains elements of High, Portal, and Epic Fantasy, mixed with more than a bit of Horror.  

Kate Rossdale is a sorceress, and she comes with a lot of baggage. She blames herself for the accident that killed her friends and made her lose her magic. When we meet her, she’s a junkie. She justifies her behavior in a way that makes sense (the need to feel magic again), but in reality, her addiction allows her to cope with grief, self-contempt, and guilt.

Things change when she meets Richard Harcourt, who reveals she hasn’t caused the tragedy that destroyed her life. In reality, the sorceress Kate considered a friend cursed her and stole her power. Before Kate gets her magic back, she must get clean. Not an easy task.

Ashes of Onyx shifts between subgenres and settings. Kate's team looks for answers across the globe and across worlds. Unraveling Skorkowsky’s world of monsters, magic, and all the strange in-between gives a lot of fun. Some of it is what you’d expect, some of it not. The mix of familiar and foreign kept me interested throughout. I mean, he makes it feel like this stuff could be real. 

The alternate worlds and their inhabitants are imaginative and richly described. While it'll appeal to some readers, others (me included) will feel the novel spends too much time exploring places. I prefer focused narratives and can't help but mention that in places not much was happening. 
  
Kate is a strong lead character. Fiercely loyal, brave, but also broken and lost. All things combined, she makes for a complex, charismatic and memorable protagonist. If the book gets a sequel, I will read it for Kate alone. Secondary characters feel distinct but I wouldn't describe them as particularly memorable.

CONCLUSION: Ashes of Onyx incorporates aspects of many genres ranging from urban fantasy to horror. Skorkowsky takes recognizable story beats and shapes them into a compelling whole. Fans of character-driven stories who prefer heroes with a grain of moral ambiguity should add this novel to their "should read" list. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Prosper Demon by KJ Parker mini-review



Official Author Website
Order Fortune's Fool over HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Having worked in journalism and the law, K. J. Parker now writes and makes things out of wood and metal.

FORMAT/INFO: Prosper's Demon is 112 pages long. The book is currently available in e-book and paperback format. It was self-published by Tor on January 28, 2019. Cover art by 

CLASSIFICATION: Epic fantasy, Romantic fantasy


I have an idea you aren’t going to like me very much. That may prove to be the only thing we’ll have in common, so let’s make the most of it. I do terrible things.


KJ Parker has mastered the art of writing short fiction. With instantly recognizable voice, unreliable narration and humorously cynical tone, he makes me laugh, think, and loathe his protagonists.

In Prosper’s Demon the unnamed narrator can spot demons and communicate with them. The church has authorized him to evict them from their human hosts. While keeping the host healthy should be his priority, it means little to him. The truth is, he doesn’t give a damn about his fellow human beings and he knows scruples only from theory. Demons call him an evil lunatic and that should tell you everything you need to know about him.

Demons don’t die. They change hosts. When a demon with whom the narrator has a grudge takes over a royal child, things get complicated. Especially that a royal tutor and genius, Prosper of Schanz, may be inhabited by a demon as well. The narrator will have to make a difficult choice - expelling the demon will deprive the world of more masterworks. And if the narrator believes in anything, it's in genius.

We live in a miserable world, where the best we can honestly hope for is that one empty, meaningless day will follow another without things getting actively worse. (...)only two things live forever, the instruments of darkness and works of genius.


At 116 pages, it packs much more of everything than most novels succeed in 500 pages. KJ Parker is brilliant and Prosper's Demon proves he's still in prime form.


Monday, January 27, 2020

Mihir's Top Debuts Of The Decade (2010 - 2019) (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Here we go, as with my top 50 titles of the decade, here I attempt to catalog the top 50. But ti my eternal chagrin, I found this to be much harder than before. There have been so many great debuts over the last few years that I couldn’t limit it to just 50. While epic fantasy always stood the tallest, it was many proponents of urban fantasy who showcased some unique genre mixes and made their debuts into must-reads for me. So without further ado, here we go




50) Court Of Broken Knives by Anna Smith-Spark

49) Beyond Redemption by Michael Fletcher & Scourge Of The Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

48) The Shadow Of What Was Lost by James Islington

47) The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

46) Zero Sight by B. Justin Shier

45) A Devil in the details by K. A. Stewart & Hounded by Kevin Hearne

44) The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

43) The Grace Of Kings by Ken Liu

42) Blackwing by Ed McDonald

41) The Winds Of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu



40) Godblind by Anna Stephens

39) The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

38) The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

37) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

36) The Library At Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

35) The Girl With The Ghost Eyes by M. H. Borosen

34) The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer

33) The Nine by Tracy Townsend

32) Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike

31) The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley



30) Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn

29) Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

28) Seraphina’s Lament by Sarah Chorn

27) The Woven Ring by M. D. Pressley

26) Kings Of The Wyld by Nicholas Eames

25) Rage Of Dragons by Evan Winter

24) The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer

23) The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

22) An Alchemy of Masques And Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

21) Govinda by Krishna Udayasankar



20) Damoren by Seth Skorkowsky

19) Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

18) Paternus: Rise Of The Gods by Dyrk Ashton

17) The Traitor’s Blade by Sebastian de Castell

16) Endsville by Clay Sanger

15) Age Of Assassins by R J Barker

14) Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson

13) I am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells

12) The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes

11) The Grim Company by Luke Scull




10) God’s War by Kameron Hurley – Kameron Hurley’s debut was a zinger, it combined an unlikeable narrator, bugs and an SF landscape that was unlike any that has come before. God’s War isn’t a book for everyone and that’s fine. It was a spectacular read for me and I can safely say that God’s War was as unique a debut as they come.


10) Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines – Combining superheroes, zombies and a solid comedic tone, Ex-Heroes was an absolute blast to read. Peter Clines grabbed my attention immediately and since then I’ve read every book of his. With Ex-Heroes, he managed to give a spectacular story that combined so many different things (zombies, superheroes, a post-apocalyptic scenario, etc) and yet was refreshingly fun. Ex-Heroes heralded a rare comic talent who also wrote SF akin to Michael Crichton. Now if that doesn’t interest you, I don’t know what will.


9) Daughter Of The Sword by Steve BeinDaughter Of The Sword is one of those unique books that combine two different genres and makes them stronger. Set in Japan, and with dual timelines, Steve Bein’s debut story about powerful swords made me stand up and shout about its awesomeness from the rooftops. With magnificent attention to detail, and superb characterization, DOTS is another debut that needs to be in more readers’ hands.


8) The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron – Rachel Aaron’s debut about a glib thief wanting to get his bounty raised to a certain amount was a much understated book and one of my favorite titles from when I began blogging. Filled with humour, lots of charming skullduggery & a fun plot, The Spirit Thief is an absolute blast to read and clued me in to Rachel’s talents. Nearly 18-plus books later, Rachel Aaron is one of my alltime favourites and it’s this book which heralded what sort of writer she would be.


7) Prince Of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – No reading list of mine would ever be complete without Mark Lawrence. With his debut Prince Of Thorns, Mark Lawrence wrote a psychologically thrilling story about a broken man who is a villain (by his own words) and yet his story is heart-breaking than most heroes. Jorg Ancrath is incredibly hard to forget and Prince Of Thorns is as bleak and solid a story as any other book. The key difference being it does so with far little fanfare and exposition, giving us a brutal and dark story about a sociopathic character and his reasons as to his being.


6) The Bear And The Nightingale by Katherine Arden TBATN by Katherine Arden is a beautifully written debut focusing on Russian mythology & landscape. Katherine’s story about Vasilisa and her family is a terrific journey and the entire trilogy is one of my reading highlights of this past decade. I can’t stop recommending this trilogy and it all begins with this book. Dive in to find a rich story with several stories within and deeply nuanced characters.


5) Miserere by Teresa Frohock Miserere in my mind deserves a lot more accolades than it ever got. Mistaken for Christian fantasy, this brilliant debut about the world’s religions and an afterworld with a solid dose of horror was spectacular in every way. Teresa Frohock’s debut had a lot of unique features and I sincerely hope many other readers give it a try and make it a classic in the years to come.


4) Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell – Richard Nell really burst on the scene with Kings Of Paradise, a Kane vs Abel story that would have you rooting for a cannibalistic savant. With brilliant characterization, a real dying world narrative and a brutal landscape that will have you turning pages and marveling at Nell’s ingenuity and prose. Don’t take my word, go read it now. As I said before, Richard Nell's Kings Of Paradise is the underrated find of the decade for me.


3) Senlin Ascends by Josiah BancroftSenlin Ascends is a story that perhaps transcends its genre. It’s so hard to describe what makes Josiah Bancroft’s book so special, some point towards the lush prose, some towards the multi-faceted characterization, many towards the unique plot & world settings. I would think I fall in all those camps and more. We owe Josiah Bancroft a huge debt of gratitude for allowing us a peek into his fabulous creation.


2) The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker – Again another title which in my mind is the epitome of spectacular writing. Helene Wecker has created one of the most interesting stories set in New York City and it is so much more than just a love story. It’s an exploration of life, love, food, pathos and many other things that make up the human experience. Set in turn of the century NYC, the author has written a fable for the ages and yet it so much more than what I describe.


1) Blood Song by Anthony Ryan – As stated previously, Blood Song blew my mind with its singular POV and yet how gloriously Anthony Ryan showcased the world of the Unified Realm. Blood Song has it all, a great coming of age storyline, a central mystery about the main character and Vaelin Al Sorna, the only successor to Druss the legend. Anthony Ryan in my mind is the only heir apparent to David Gemmell’s top spot atop Heroic fantasy’s peak. Checkout Blood Song for the birth of a new legend and one that’s sure to leave a mark deeper than Snaga.

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Saturday, January 25, 2020

2019 Review / 2020 Preview - David


I don't think there has ever been a year when I've consumed more entertainment than I did in 2019. I read more books and played more games than any time outside of my 20s. I think this is a mixture of the overwhelming amount of things to engage with, but also a sense of escapism that I, at least, desperately needed in a year when the world around us seems to be falling further into a mire of stupidity. This is the also the year when I discovered just how much the self-publishing fantasy world had to offer - a fact that was hinted at in my introduction to the 2018 SPFBO, but was really hammered home in 2019. So, in all, the year was a mixed bag, but on the entertainment front it was excellent.

Books 

My favorite books this year are a healthy mix: of male and female authors; of newly published and older books; of traditionally-published and self-published. This is mostly unintentional, but I am happy with the results. My goal for the next year is to read more women and people of color. The order is also largely irrelevant because I loved all these books, and I only ranked them for fun. I strongly recommend any book on this list!


10. The Gutter Prayer, Gareth Hanrahan - This is one of the first books I read this year, and that I could even remember it by year's end says much for its quality. Hanrahan has a new voice in fantasy, and he has created a world that is fresh and interesting, and very, very dark. Men with stone skin mingle with worm-amalgamated sorcerers in his Guerdon, and the entire novel is rich in tone and character.

9. The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang - The Poppy War is such a surprising read. It's incredibly dark, in a way that is uncomfortable and heavy, but it also manages to create moments of humor that are touching and genuinely funny. I had heard the hype surrounding it for a year or more, and this often leads to disappointment when one actually gets to a book, but that was not the case for me at all.

8. Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami - There are a few things that one could accuse me of being fanboy about. One is Zelda. One is Final Fantasy. And the biggest is Murakami. I have read every one of his books, love them all, and basically assume the man can do no wrong. I have never connected with an author more in my life, and while Killing Commendatore could be critiqued for being more of the same, to me, it's a lovely book that makes call-backs to some of his best while exploring new and weird avenues.

7. Nevernight, Jay Kristoff - I am very late to the boat on the Nevernight series. I blame libraries for putting Kristoff in the young adult section (which is criminal). The cover to Nevernight is so pretty that I should have ignored the dastardly, uninformed YA librarians and read it anyway, but I balked. This year I finally picked it up, and the tale of revenge and death that Kristoff weaves around Mia Corvere grabbed me completely. I haven't read the rest of the series yet, but judging by how many people post photos of themselves on Twitter with tears running down their faces, I won't be disappointed.

6. Kings of Paradise, Richard Nell - Had this not been such a fantastic year of reading for me, Kings of Paradise could easily have been the best book I read all year. In fact, I might just have a six way tie on  my hands. I only knew about Kings of Paradise because of its inclusion into the SPFBO last year and the high recommendations from my colleagues here at FBC. I won't mince words here - this book should have won last year and somehow it did not even make the finals. It burns me a little to even think about that. Kings of Paradise is an intricately plotted, character-rich fantasy novel that has the makings of a classic. I wish everyone would read this book.



5. House of Chains, Steven Erikson - Yes, I'm a Mala-stan. I haven't even read all of the series yet, but I am wholly invested in this Goliath. It's hard to believe that House of Chains is only the fourth book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen because I feel like I have been reading it for a decade or more. I can realistically only read one book per year, for reasons of length and of depth - sometimes these books take time to recover from. House of Chains is one of my favorite ones, next to Memories of Ice. It follows Karsa Orlong, a malcontent but fascinating character. It also continues the grander plot of the series while focusing in on Orlong's quest - one that spans both the previous books and beyond. It's signature Erikson and a joy to wade through.

4. Ship of Magic, Robin Hobb - I only started reading Robin Hobb's Elderlings series last year, but she quickly entrenched herself as my favorite fantasy author - to the point that I have tried emulating her style in my own writing. She writes characters and relationships better than anyone, and she always manages to break my heart. Ship of Magic is the first in the Liveship Traders series, and it's a really interesting book. It's slow, as slow a burn as I think I've ever read, to the point that it felt like a bit of a slog at times. That sounds negative, but its a pleasurable slog somehow, and by the end I was so grateful for the careful exploration of these characters and families that I could only sit back in amazement at what she'd done over the course of a very long novel. Like Erikson, I can't read Hobb's books in succession because they feel so dense and are so emotionally heavy, but I will be getting to Mad Ship this year.

3. The Hod King, Josiah Bancroft - If there is one author's who style I would never try to match, it's Josiah Bancroft. It's easy to bandy about words like "authorial style" when reviewing books, but I'm not sure I know anyone else whose style is so forward in their writing. Show me a paragraph of Bancroft's writing, and I'll know it's him. I could not emulate it if I tried, and thankfully I don't have to because he keeps putting out these books, one better than the last, and I'm not sure how I'm going to feel when he's finished with his quartet of novels. Good and bad in equal measure I'd bet. The Hod King dives even deeper into the Tower of Babel, uncovering more mysteries and answering more questions - even as it creates new ones - and it's just a delightful read from end to end. And yes, I've threatened Josiah with bodily harm should anything happen to Edith. 

2. Bone Ships. R.J. Barker - Keyshan Rising! Bone Ships takes it for the best moment of my year, with a scene that QUITE LITERALLY SHIVERED MY TIMBERS. This is a glorious book, the best amalgamation of high seas ship faring adventure and fantasy weirdness, and I loved it so much. Bone Ships follows Lucky Meas and Joron Twiner as they try to make a crew out of a bunch of scalawags and protect the last living dragon from a world that only seeks its death and bones. If there is one novel on this list I would wish adapted into a film, it's this one. The imagery would blow me right out of the theater.

1. The Sword of Kaigen, M.L. Wang - Sometimes you get to read a book that feels like the author pulled out the most exciting things in your brain, the things you love most, and managed to craft a story around them that was both engrossing, heart-wrenching, and glorious. The hype train for The Sword of Kaigen was strong this year, and like The Poppy War, I was concerned that this would damp the flame. I could not have been more wrong because The Sword of Kaigen quickly became my favorite book of 2019. This is a magical tale, and not just because it has superheroic swordspeople in it. There is an essence to Wang's telling of this small portion of a larger war, some indefinable trait that makes it just feel special. The character work is a large part of it, and she manages to characterize in ways that I've never seen. There is a fight scene, for instance, that pushes forward character development and plot in a way that some entire novels would struggle to accomplish. To call the book a masterpiece is perhaps a little hasty, but it feels like that. It feels like a pivotal moment for fantasy, and whether or not we see more from this incredibly talented author or not, she has created something extraordinary in The Sword of Kaigen. This is a book I will keep with me, and it is the best book I read in 2019.

Games 



Fire Emblem Three Houses - Guys, my relationships with Fire Emblem is...what's that syndrome where you start to sympathize with your abductors? John Hopkins Disease? I don't know, but this is a series that I have spent an embarrassing amount of money and time on, and I have no intention of slowing down. Three Houses continued the tradition of excellence that Intelligent Systems has cemented over the past several decades. It adds in a host of new features, like Hogwart's and fishing, but keeps the timeless game-play and character development addiction that keeps idiots like me coming back time and again.

Disco Elysium - This game has the best writing that I have ever seen in a video game. It's in its own league. If this were a novel, it would be on the list above this one. It's really good, and so impressive in its ability to make choices meaningful. That it's a cRPG only makes it more special to a cRPG veteran like myself. There were times when I was having conversations with characters in this game when I wasn't sure if what I was playing was real or if I'd been knocked unconscious and dragged through a field of poppy flowers. I had a stupid smile on my face almost the entirety of my playtime in Disco Elysium, but for the life of me I could not tell you what the game is actually about. I'm not even sure I played it now. I don't really even know if it was a video game or just an idea I had in a former life.

Return of the Obra Dinn - I feel like this type of game needs its own genre. Return of the Obra Dinn and Portal. Those would be the only two games. It would be called - games that can be played in one sitting that are perfect. That's an unwieldy title, but it fits. Return of the Obra Dinn is not something that makes sense on paper. It looks weird, in a late 80s computer game way, and even the story is an odd fantasy myth involving eldritch sea gods and a kraken. The goal is to uncover a mystery - why an entire crew on board a ship wound up dead - but the why of it, by the end, is irrelevant because in a way that many novels fail to do, it becomes more about the journey of getting there than it is about its ending.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers - I am obligated by the laws of time spent playing a game to include the latest expansion in the Final Fantasy XIV saga. I have never been as immersed in this game, which I have been playing on and off since 2012, as I was this year. FFXIV is the best MMO out there, and Shadowbringers is the game at its peak. It's difficult to jump into at this point, but incredibly rewarding once you've had all there is to have (which is a lot).

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - This is the one. My game of the year for sure. What I said about Sword of Kaigen above applies to Sekiro as well. It feels like this game was made for me, and now I have the troubling prospect of judging every other character action game by its lofty standards. When you get past the frustrating bits and find the flow spot, From Software games become divine. That I have an affinity for feudal Japan surely fueled my love in part, but it's the gameplay and world exploration that really bring Sekiro home.

TV and Movies 



The Witcher - Cavill is marvelous. Anya Chalotra is brilliant. I could not have asked for a better adaptation of a book and game series that has been so central to my world for the past half-decade. I went on a serious Witcher binge by year's end, somehow managing to coordinate finishing up the first Witcher game, the Netflix series, and The Tower of Swallows all on the same day. This show brings back some of those feelings of excitement I felt, long before the final few seasons, that Game of Thrones hit me with back in its heyday. I can't wait to see where they go with the next season, and I hope it isn't one of Netflix's three-season casualties.

Avengers: Endgame - I cried ok. I teared up a few times during this penultimate Marvel movie, and when that thing happens at the end, I full on had tears. I think these movies are remarkable, both for their continuity, and for their ability to appeal to a wide range of audiences. There were certainly some cheesy moments in Endgame in particular, but the cast works so well together, the Russo brothers manage to weave everyone into this massive narrative in such an impressive way, and it's all so much fun that it's easy to look past its flaws. I have been with these movies since Iron Man, and having it all wrap up in such a satisfying way healed my soul.

Captain Marvel - I think Brie Larson is perfect as Captain Marvel. That I also like her as a person helps this, but she really brings the strength of presence and growth to that character that I'm not even sure the comics represent well enough. There is a moment in Captain Marvel when Carol Danvers finally figures out just how strong she is, and it is those moments of power realization that I live for. This one does it really well, and it had me pretty emotional

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse - This is the first movie I saw in 2019, and it's probably the best of them. Like Captain Marvel, Spider-Verse has some incredible moments of power recognition, and it's soundtrack does an amazing job of flavoring those moments. I have a special place for Spider-Man in my heart. It's probably the superhero that most  brings me back to my childhood, so seeing it done right in this and the MCU Spider-Man films has really shined up my memories.

Frozen 2: Into the Frozen-Verse - I haven't actually seen this movie, but my two year old has made me listen to the songs from it about ten thousand times and so I feel like I know it intimately, in a way I've never known another piece of media in my life. I wake up every morning with one of ten songs rambling through my head, and it's always an adventure to find out which one will hit me on any given day. Sometimes I just wander through the halls at work, repeating lyrics out loud and hoping no one calls the police. Perhaps one day I will be released from the icy shackles that have bound me, but, then again, some things...never change...

2020

The election? Seriously though. I'd like to live in a world that doesn't require me to escape into fantasy with every news headline.

But, as I'll be diving into fantasy anyway, there are some things I am looking forward to. The next Witcher season is a lock for me. I'd love to see sequels for some of the books I have on my list, like the next Tide Child entry, or the next Tower of Babel. Those are books I will drop everything for and just read. I have begun to read The Lord of the Rings again, and every year I want to do a deep dive, reading everything Tolkien, from the central epics to all of the tangential material that currently occupies the top shelf of my bookcase. Gaming wise, it's going to be a weird year due to the upcoming console releases, but I will definitely play through the Final Fantasy 7 Remake.  I would also love to see Elden Ring, whatever it is, come out this year though that might be asking too much. I hope that Avengers game is good, but I'm skeptical. A Baldur's Gate 3 release would blow my mind.

And of course, I can't wait for the continued success of Frozen. I can't wait to listen to more songs and see more YouTube clips. Did I mention that the release of Disney+ means we can watch all of the extra, smaller Frozen additions?  Did I mention the LEGO Frozen miniseries yet? Or Frozen Fever, a short about Anna's birthday that is simply delightful?  Did I??
Friday, January 24, 2020

Cate Glass interview (interviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)



Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Feel free to brag. 

I am a former software engineer and a longtime reader who was hooked into writing as a hobby by a coworker. I then discovered that it was the career passion I had always been looking for. Though I enjoy reading every genre of fiction, writing fantasy is my first love. As Ursula Leguin once said, “Fantasy is the great canvas upon which every human story can be told.” Since my first novel was published in 2000, I have also discovered a love for teaching writing at writers conferences, speaking on panels and meeting readers at fantasy/science-fiction conventions, and spending multiple week-sized chunks of time per year with other writers on mountain writing retreats. My books have won a number of awards, including the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and multiple Colorado Book Awards. I live in Colorado with my Exceptional Spouse and have three sons who are now putting together exceptional lives for themselves. 

When and why have you decided to become an author? 







I never planned it. I started writing fiction on the prompt of a friend from the software engineering lab where I worked. We shared a lot of books and talked about them over lunch. One day she confessed to me that she had always wanted to be a writer and coerced me into exchanging email letters “in character”. It was So Much Fun. After a year, we had each written thirty-two long letters (including dialogue and dramatization, of course) and had a complete story. The writing was pretty awful, but I was entirely hooked. Even then, I didn’t think of myself as an author. I never imagined anyone would want to read what I was writing, so I gave no thought to editors or agents. Only after about eight years, when I all of a sudden felt like I understood exactly what the narrator of my newest story was feeling, did I start to think that maybe I was onto something. A year later, I sold three books to an editor at Penguin who heard me read the opening of Transformation at a writers’ conference. She, and then her successor at Penguin, bought my first fifteen novels. 

How old were you when you first sat down to write a fantasy story or novel? 

I wrote one fantasy short story in a tenth grade English class. Even got an A on it. But I didn’t sit down to begin a story again for 25 years. Too much else to do. A math degree. Husband and three kids. A computer science degree. A software engineering career. And LOTS of reading. 

As Carol Berg, you’re an award-winning and bestselling author of fifteen fantasy novels, and half a dozen novellas and short stories. We know the publishing industry can be brutal and staying published isn’t a given. Can you tell us why have you decided to write under a pen name? Did it work? 

After my fifteenth book came out in December of 2015, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. My mom was in her late nineties and in a steep decline. My last release had been rocky due to a dispute between Penguin and Amazon which resulted in the book being unavailable for two of its first three weeks. And I was a bit burnt from delivering fifteen books in sixteen years. I took some time off and wrote some short fiction for several anthologies – a new thing for me. Then I had a smattering of an idea for a new series. 

Rather than a large over-arching story broken into several volumes, this would be an episodic series of fantasy “heist” adventures with a strong mythic foundation and an ensemble cast of characters. I noodled over it for about a year and wrote the first adventure. It was really short compared to my earlier work. I decided I ought to write a second one, just to prove I could. In November 2017 my agent got after me and told me to send her what I had. I did. She loved it. Told me to write up a proposal. I did. She did a broad submission in January, and Tor (the fantasy/SF imprint of MacMillan) pounced immediately. Before I knew it I had a three-book deal. 

On my first call with my new editor – after the contract was signed – she asked if I would consider an open pseudonym. She felt like my series would get more attention as a Tor debut, than as an epic fantasy author moving to a new publisher with a new kind of series. It would open up some marketing programs and expand my audience, while still allowing my current readers to know that it was new work from me. I knew other writers who had done this kind of thing. I talked to my agent, and she agreed that it could be a good thing. So I jumped. 

For those who haven’t yet read any of your work, where should they start? 

It depends. Many people feel that Transformation is the best entry to my work. Though it is the first of three books, it is also a complete story unto itself. Some who prefer a shorter, faster, episodic adventure might prefer to start with Cate’s Chimera books, and then move on to Carol’s longer ones. Other readers like the mythic quality of the Lighthouse books—Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone. They start out a little slower as the duology is really one big book split into two. (The Sanctuary books—Dust and Light and Ash and Silver—are set in the same world over the same time period, but with wholly different characters.) Others like to start with the Collegia Magica books because they are set in my version of the Age of Reason—the time like that of Newton and Galileo, but where were the conflict between science and magic shapes the background of a murder mystery. Yeah...I really love them all. 

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer? 

Over that eight years between the time I started writing fiction and the day I first felt like I knew what I was doing, I would talk with my friend and let her read my work. My sister gave me a subscription to Writers Digest. I would read an article on point of view or openings. If the article made sense to me, I would go back and revise all my earlier manuscripts to see if it made any difference. I tried to figure out what was special about the books on my shelf that I loved and reread. Mmm – complex characters. Intimacy. Emotion. Prose that was rhythmic and flowing and easy to read aloud. In essence, I gave myself an eight-year self-directed writing course. 

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

You hit on the word that I think describes my storytelling better than many others. Grow. Some people would call me a pantser because I don’t develop an outline before I write. But to me the word pantser implies that you sit down with a blank page with no end in mind except the end of the book. Instead of that, I start with a seed: a character and a setting, and I have a destination in mind. It might be a short-term destination: to get the slave back to the prince’s house; to get Portier into the king’s service to investigate a murder; to take Anne to see where her sister was found dead. Whatever. Then I start writing. As I write I set the event in motion and think – at that moment – how does this character react to this event? What does that reaction tell me about that character? Who else is there and why? As I write the scene, I decide what else I need to include in this setting to make the scene more sensory. More vivid. And then, how do those details inform the world that includes the setting? Etc. Etc. That isn’t flying by the seat of your pants. That is growing new things from known things. 


As to when and where: I write every day for as long as it takes me to feel I have moved forward – even if that movement involves refining existing chapters or writing out pieces of world mythology or figuring out why three female characters are all turning out to be exactly the same. Most often write in a chair in my office where I can see out the window, but I have been known to write in a tent while camping or on a bike trip, on my deck looking out at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, in a car, on an airplane or ferry. Once my favorite alternate venues is a funky little hotel in central Colorado at 10 thousand feet with several other writer friends. 

Do you give yourself mini-deadlines (e.g. must have chapters x-y written by January 1st) or do you progress with an ultimate deadline in mind? 

I try to give myself small deadlines, but I’m not at all good at meeting them. So I keep my eye on the end point—the deadline I’ve agreed to in my contract. That isn’t the most efficient or even the best for productivity. But it seems to work for the most part. I also have a critique group. We have been together for about fifteen years. We meet twice a month and they read all my world. That gives me intermediate deadlines while I’m working on a new book. I always want to have one or two chapters ready to hand out each time. 

What was your initial inspiration for the Chimera series? 



The notion came to me when I happened upon an old episode of Mission Impossible, the (pre-Tom Cruise TV series). I enjoyed the series at the time – corny though it could be. And it came to me that I had never written a true ensemble adventure. I had enjoyed transferring my love for a murder mystery/double-agent spy thrillers to my own fantasy world in the Collegia Magica books, and thought it could be fun to transfer another favorite genre – the ensemble spy/caper series to a fantasy world as well. The first thing I had to do was to decide on the ensemble. MI had its muscle guy, its techie guy, its brains-of-the-outfit, and the actor/actress impersonators as its mainstays. You could do almost any kind of mission with those skills. So then I came up with magical talents that would give my people a similar range. Before I knew it, I had four very interesting people to fill those roles. Then I had to create a world where their adventures could be of civic importance. I like paralleling particular times in our history, so I settled on Renaissance Italy- where great cities were states of their own, and where there was lots of skullduggery! 

Please, tell our readers what do your characters have to overcome in the Chimera series? What challenges did you set before them? 


Because the talents that make my four players unique are magical, I didn’t want such skills to be common or freely available. Thus I started with a society of forbidden magic – severely forbidden. Most children born with any signs of sorcery are drowned at birth. Those who survive to adulthood spend their lives hiding what they can do, as well as striving to avoid notice. So that is the biggest obstacle. 

Each of my four also has a personal history that creates obstacles. Romy was sold to a procurer at age ten and then bought by a very rich man as a courtesan, so her life took a very different course than her brother Neri, who grew up in poverty and ignorance with parents who didn’t drown him, but were terrified of him. Placidio has a murky background, wreathed in secrets—but is a professional duelist, who has to stay in the middle ranks of his profession, lest someone take notice of the particular skills he brings to a fight. Dumond the metalsmith has a wife and children. He believes in using his talents, but is constantly aware of the danger he is to his family. Poverty, civic strife, violence, and the other, more ordinary difficulties of life in a society just finding its way are also present. 

What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any? 

For Illusion, it was transforming a long novella into a novel! I wanted to get readers invested in the characters from the beginning, telling the story of who they are and how they came to work together. So I started out writing the story of these four people and how they started doing what they do. Then I wrote them into their first adventure. When I got finished, I loved it, but what was it? Novel, novella, backstory? Fortunately, my editor at Tor loved it too and gave me some wonderful prompts as to where to expand. So the first volume took a slightly different shape from the other two volumes in the series where we get into the mission early on. I discovered that being a spymaster is not easy! 

An Illusion of Thieves is an engaging and entertaining book with plenty of twists, reveals and cool ideas. Tell us about magic and why is it feared/hated in this world? 

First of all, thank you for that! 

Because I wanted my version of the Renaissance to spawn some different issues for my characters – and more difficulties, if course! – I devised a mythology that speaks of a Great War at the Creation. The war resulted in the gods retiring into oblivion (they are now known as the Unseeable Gods) but not before they raised a great beast from the sea to sweep their Enemy, Dragonis, from the sky and bury him under the earth. Volcanoes and earthquakes are a constant reminder of the imprisoned monster. Sorcerers are considered to be descendants of Dragonis’s ravaging of the human population. If sorcerers are allowed to live, it is believed that they will find a way to set Dragonis free to send the world back to chaos. Thus sorcerers must be exterminated. There is no evidence that sorcery run in families – Romy and Neri are the only two of their parents’ thirteen children who possess what the world calls the demon taint. But oftentimes whole families are destroyed when one is determined to be a sorcerer. 

Many people like Romy have embraced more modern ideas, dismissing the notion of imprisoned monsters and vanished gods. But then, things happen along the way...



What new challenges can we expect in A Conjuring of Assassins? 

Politics. Foreign ambassadors with very unusual inclinations. Assassins (of course.) Vendettas. Burial tunnels. A mysterious stranger that Romy saves from drowning in the river. Some personally scary incidents with magic for our heroine. A mission that seems simple, but gets more and more convoluted when investigations yield wholly unexpected results. 

I think many readers enjoy reading about Placidio, a mysterious and battered swordsman with secrets. Would you consider giving us a glimpse of his thinking process? 

Placidio is an expert swordsman who earns his living as a professional duelist. Throughout the Costa Drago, dueling is an accepted practice of settling disputes. It is strictly regulated. Referees maintain a Dueling List in each of the nine independencies, including Cantagna. Those higher on the list, ie. those who win more, can charge higher fees. Placidio cannot let himself win as often as his skills might allow, lest referees or clients start noticing that he has other skills than just swordsmanship. Which means he is not very well off and gets terribly depressed. So he drinks a lot. But as Romy and her brother Neri learn, he has a wide variety of experiences...and knows people a middling duelist has no reason to know...and in Conjuring we will see some other areas where he seems to know more than one might think. But I can’t really say anymore. 

Can we expect a sort of overarching plot/meta throughout the series or will it remain episodic? 

I see the mythos plot—the truth of magic and the Creation stories—as the series arc. Both the second and third books will delve into such matters. Is there really a monster under the earth—or is there something else going on? 

Would you say that the Chimera series follows tropes or kicks them? 

There are a lot of tropes that I love, just as many people do—a story or character elements that we find throughout all literature (not just fantasy) because of the satisfaction we get from seeing them unravel. Tropes ill-used become cliches, and I don’t want that. So I take the ones I want and try to turn them on their heads. If that’s kicking them, then I guess that’s what I do. 

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

The second Chimera book, A Conjuring of Assassins, will be published on February 4, 2020. Beyond that is yet to be determined. 

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about? 

I have more stories I want to write. Stories that I want to revive. Some short fiction I’ve written, I would love to find a home for. 

Finally, can you tell us a couple of fun facts about yourself that are not already available on the internet? 

I had a very brief career as a bike racer. OK, I was a silver medalist in the Pikes Peak Area Corporate Cup women’s criterium back in the late 80s. I rode the one race and retired immediately after, saying I’d never do THAT again. I also rode the Hardscrabble Century bicycle ride – note this was a ride, not a race - in southern Colorado in three different years. My times are lost in the fog of beautiful, but painful memory. A few years later, I was the only woman ever to complete a BSA Scout Troop 93 High Adventure trip - a 400+ mile bike ride through the San Juan Islands. That is the entirety of my sports career. 

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












Tuesday, January 21, 2020

2019 Review / 2020 Preview - AC Cobble


2019 Favorites


Evan Winter’s Rage of Dragons. This book was previously self-published to great success, but Orbit picked it up and in 2019 launched it to even greater success. It’s billed as “Game of Thrones Meets Gladiator”, which is all I needed to know. Aside from the intriguing premise, the book delivered on all of the elements that a really great epic fantasy does, including giving us a promise of much more to come.

Bryce O’Connor and Luke Chmilenko’s A Mark of Kings. If you’ve read my Benjamin Ashwood series, you know I’m a sucker for a great coming of age, young boy goes on an adventure to become a young man story. Bryce and Luke nail everything I love about those tales, and they do it in a way that feels really fresh and unusual. It gave me the same feeling that fantasy did when I grew up reading it, but AMoK avoids simply re-walking that same ground. Bonus points, audiobook narration by Nick Podehl.

Alec Hutson’s The Shadow King, Book 3 in the Raveling series. I really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy when it came out in 2016 because it introduced us to an exciting new world with boundless potential. I felt the epic span of Alec’s story was on par with the greats in our genre. Shadow King brings the tale to a satisfying conclusion, giving the payoffs we stayed three books for. This is the fantasy I want to write!

Carnival Row and The Witcher, the shows. All freaking year everyone was talking about “the next Game of Thrones”, and while it never came, I think we got something better. That kind of breakout hit only happens every few years. We needed something to click so that companies would keep bringing more fantasy to the screen. We needed to prove the genre could be successful without it being a smash hit. Carnival Row, and the upcoming Witcher series both already have second season orders. They’ve proven there is more appetite for good fantasy. They might be base hits instead of home runs, but sometimes that’s what you need to win championships!


Traditional publishing finally is getting its mojo back. I spent the last few years reading self-published books. I just wasn’t interested in much of what the Big 5 were putting out there. This year was different. Some of the old workhorses had releases; Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, Leigh Bardugo, Mark Lawrence, Michael J Sullivan, and others. The publishers took risks, and for the first time in years, they seemed to pay off; Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree, Alix Harrow’s Ten Thousand Doors of January, Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, Marlon James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf, and more. They also started dipping methodically into the self-pub pool to find some of their next authors. Everyone has known this would happen, a sort of farm league approach, but we didn’t know if they’d get it right. I mentioned Evan Winter already, but I was also excited for; Duncan M Hamilton’s Dragonslayer, Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen, and more. I’ll go as far to say 2019 was the best year for debut/new to the genre releases in at least five years.

Hans Rosling’s Factfulness and Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. So, yeah, not fantasy, and published in 2018 instead of 2019, but this was the year I read them both! These books have to do with the way people perceive and understand the world. Interesting material for an author, and important concepts for anyone given the divisive political climates we live in. Both of them permanently changed the way I view the world, and how often can you say that about a book?

Looking Ahead to 2020

The sequels. I claimed 2019 was the best year in the last five for new faces, which means we’ve got a lot of exciting follow-ups coming. I’m really excited to see what these authors can do now that they’ve gotten their feet wet.

Phil Tucker has an unnamed epic fantasy series that will arrive in 2020. I really loved his Chronicles of the Black Gate, and I’ve been keeping up with him as he bounces around a little. I expect when he returns to the genre he does best, he’s going to come back with a bang.

The Kings. Sanderson has the pre-order up for Stormlight 4, there are rumors that George R.R. Martin will get a book out, though I’m suspicious since there is no official word. There are less credible rumors that Patrick Rothfuss is getting close. In the self-pub space, Jonathan Renshaw is working on his sequel again. I wouldn’t bet a lot of money they’re all getting books out next year, but I think they might make significant progress. These authors get a lot of flack from fans for long periods between releases, but I’m still on board. I want to see what they’ve got in the works.

On the Horizon for AC Cobble

At the moment, I’m finishing up the first draft for Spirit:The Cartographer Book 3. This series is a Sherlock Holmes, Epic Fantasy mash-up, and it’s been a ton of fun to write. I’ve really enjoyed adding in layers of mystery, and I don’t drop the final curtain until this last book. I can’t wait to see what people think! I’ve been sharing a June 1st release, but I’m trying to speed that up. Bonus points, Simon Vance is narrating the audiobook, and his work on this series has been amazing.


After I finish up the Cartographer, I’m going to move into a new series. This one will have a classic fantasy feel, similar to my Benjamin Ashwood series or Michael J Sullivan’s work. There will be a ranger character who gets saddled with three mischievous teens. Responsible for managing the wilderness at the edge of an empire, he’ll be pressured into taking the three back to their homes. Their journey will lead the ranger into the heart of a deep, dangerous conspiracy.

About the Author

AC Cobble is the author of the fantasy adventure Benjamin Ashwood series and the gaslamp fantasy mystery, The Cartographer series. AC resides in the Houston, Texas area with his wife, their three children, and his wife’s dog. Outside of time for family and writing, he’d rather be traveling. For updates on his writing, a peek at the artwork for his series, and free short stories and novellas, you can go to: www.accobble.com.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

2019 Review/2020 Preview — Justine Bergman

2019 Favorites

As my first year with Fantasy Book Critic comes to a close, I find it's the perfect time to sit back and reflect on what a wonderful year it has been. There was a lot of reading...I mean A LOT of reading, and when asked to round up my favorites, I actually had a really tough time narrowing it down. I'd love to give you all a "Top 20", but I'll do my best to follow the trend! Here goes.


Books


Smoke and Stone by Michael R. Fletcher – Ever since I took a peek behind the cover of Beyond Redemption, I've been a huge fan of Fletcher's, and I'll pretty much read anything he writes. Upon reading the blurb for Smoke and Stone, I knew I needed this story in my life - and I devoured it. So raw and tragic, original and immersive, beautiful and repulsive, I literally loved everything about this book. My only complaint is that I immediately needed more, and I'm still waiting...impatiently.


Already Comes Darkness by T L Greylock – Ho. Ly. Sh*t. What a remarkable conclusion to an incredible series! Greylock knows how to weave a tale that makes you feel as though you're experiencing something that has been passed down through the ages and withstood the test of time. Poetic prose, vivid worldbuilding, impeccable characterization, this is a Norse-inspired masterpiece, flawless in every sense of the word. I wish I could read this entire saga for the first time all over again.


The Deep by Rivers Solomon – This book fractured me into a million pieces. A fantastical interpretation of the savage effects of the African Slave Trade, of a people losing their history, and of a single individual forced to bear the burden of generations of pain. Achingly beautiful with precious moments of silent reflection, it's simply gorgeous. And it made me cry...at least three times.




Priest of Bones / Priest of Lies by Peter McLean – Yes, yes, yes! Tomas Piety, I love you, you glorious bastard. I arrived a tad late to the War for the Rose Throne party, but I ADORE this series to pieces. Strong characters forced to face their own inner demons, deceit and treachery, street gangs and secret undercover agents, magic and explosions and harsh justice! Oh, and Tomas Piety - did I mention him already?


The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark – You know when you read that one special something and you're just left speechless? Yeah, that's this book. Poetic and beautifully lyrical, hyper-violent and melancholic, it's one of the most stunning and devastating books I've ever read. Confession time: This was the second time I've read this book, and after a not-so-great initial impression, it finally clicked. It's peerless in the world of modern fantasy.



Games

I strangely didn't get to play many games this year - yes, I did my yearly playthrough of some Skyrim (which I've put an obscene amount of hours into since 2011), and picked up a bit of Fallout 4 loaded with mods to simply build some settlements. New games...not so much.



Borderlands 3 – These games are INSANE. Just the epitome of chaos, and I don't think I could possibly love them any more. It's imperative to play co-op for this one, so there were weekends aplenty where my husband and I would split-screen this bad boy and cackle at the complete absurdity of everything we encountered.


Elder Scrolls Online – I'm not a fan of MMOs, but I am a lover of all things Elder Scrolls. I tried my best to not give in to this one, as I knew both my schedule and wallet would thank me for my resistance. Buuuut, I just couldn't say no anymore, and finally picked this up during December. And it's wonderful. Truly wonderful.


TV Shows


The Witcher – I know there have been a lot of mixed reactions to this adaptation, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have an unhealthy obsession with The Witcher (books and games), and this was my most anticipated ANYTHING of 2019. Seeing the short stories from The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny come to life was an amazing experience - the Three Jackdaws episode was absolutely breathtaking. On the downside, I cannot get "Toss a Coin" out of my head whatsoever.

Russian Doll – Excellent concept, excellent execution, this show was incredible. It began with a little bit of dark humor, then hit you with an unexpected emotion bomb towards the end, and wow! This was one that definitely surpassed my expectations.


What We Do In The Shadows – Utterly ridiculous in the most hilarious of ways. I don't know why I loved this one, but I did. I still walk around my house calling out with a sing-song "Guilleeermooooo". I can't wait for more.


Looking Forward to in 2020

Ok, I definitely wrote more than I wanted to above, so I'll keep this section short.


Books


Ash and Bone by Michael R. Fletcher - Book Two of City of Sacrifice, continuation of the book listed above. I need it.

Paternus: War of Gods by Dyrk Ashton - In all honesty, I didn't know I'd enjoy Urban Fantasy until I picked up Paternus a few years ago. I'm excited to see what the conclusion holds.


Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden - I'm a sucker for all things Norse, and I absolutely loved A Gathering of Ravens. I'm looking forward to what Oden has in store for us with this one.


#nocabal


The Hollow Gods by A.J. Vrana - So, the title caught my attention, the blurb drew me in, and the charming author sealed the deal. Folklore, mystery, and an ancient evil...uh, yes, please.


House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas - I'll shamelessly admit I really enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses, and the blurb for this one sounds pretty great. Fingers crossed it's as lovely as I hope.



Games


Cyberpunk 2077 - I've been waiting for this game ever since the cinematic teaser premiered in 2013. It's a real thing now, and I CANNOT WAIT [she screamed into the void].

Ghost of Tsushima - Oh my, this game is gorgeous. Samurai and the Mongol Invasion, I have a feeling this game is going to break me.


Last of Us Part II - 'Nuff said.



TV Shows



I kind of go with the flow when it comes to shows, so I don't really have a list here. BUT...Cursed is looking to be pretty good. I'll take an Arthurian origin story for Lady of the Lake any day.

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