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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"The Secret Knowledge" by Andrew Crumey (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

"A lost musical masterpiece is at the heart of this gripping intellectual mystery by award-winning writer Andrew Crumey.
In 1913 composer Pierre Klauer envisages marriage to his sweetheart and fame for his new work, The Secret Knowledge. Then tragedy strikes. A century later, concert pianist David Conroy hopes the rediscovered score might revive his own flagging career.
Music, history, politics and philosophy become intertwined in a multi-layered story that spans a century. Revolutionary agitators, Holocaust refugees and sixties’ student protesters are counterpointed with artists and entrepreneurs in our own age of austerity. All play their part in revealing the shocking truth that Conroy must finally face – the real meaning of The Secret Knowledge.
A novel for readers who like intellectual game-playing and having their imagination stretched."

Andrew Crumey is one of the authors I buy everything on publication as his novels are interesting and different from both genre and more conventional mainstream, combining aspects of both. 

At about 224 pages The Secret Knowledge is a very readable novel which contains a lot of things to make one think and look up. The novel alternates between a present timeline following David Conroy, a washed out former young pianist of promise, and Paige, a young student of his of great promise too but who has been passing through her own personal difficulties, and an evolving timeline that starts in 1913 Paris with the ambitious Franco-German composer Pierre Klauer proposing to his fiancee and then moves to important periods of the past century.

The book has as common thread the "secret knowledge" composition of the title and assorted related paraphernalia - secret books, codes, societies etc and of course the many worlds theory from Quantum Mechanics, where the gun pressed to the head fires a bullet and kills one here, but fires a blank and the character escapes, or maybe he just refuses to fire and moves away to start a new life. Or in the same vein another character may have a wife, a partner or may be delusional about that...

The novel has superb vignettes of personalities and events - Walter Benjamin, Adorno, Hannah Arendt, the events in George square in 1919 Scotland, flashbacks to the life of French revolutionary Blanqui - generally kind of obscure today but it made me look them up and overall is a composition of very good to great scenes that ultimately do not quite add up to as fulfilling a whole as I expected.

Maybe that is because I've seen the secret societies, multiverse, etc, way too many times - though the author as former practicing physicist definitely knows his stuff and there is nothing jarring there - maybe because the underlining Marxist and anti-capitalist message of the novel sounds quaint as do the once well known names mentioned above who today are just footnotes when history has passed them by, maybe because it is ultimately too short for its ambition.

Highly recommended for an entertaining, elegant page turning experience that makes one think, not quite the awesome top 25 novel I expected.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ex-Communication by Peter Clines (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE  
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Peter Clines 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Ex-Heroes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ex-Patriots
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Junkie Quatrain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of 14 
Read I See Dead People by Peter Clines (Guest Post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Clines was born and brought up in Maine, he moved to California when he grew up and worked in Hollywood for a number of years. He has also been a prop master for several movies and TV shows. He has published several pieces of short fiction and countless articles on the film and television industry, as well as the recent novel 14, named best sci-fi novel of 2012 by and voted one of the best horror novels of 2012 on Goodreads and Bloody Disgusting.

He has previously written reviews for the Cinema Blend website and for the Creative Screenwriting magazine as well interviewed many famous film personas such as Frank Darabont, Paul Haggis, Kevin Smith, George Romero, Akiva Goldsman, David Goyer, Mark Herman, Nora Ephron among many others. He currently lives in Southern California. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB:All of us try to cheat death. I was just better prepared to do it than most folks.”

In the years since the wave of living death swept the globe, St. George and his fellow heroes haven’t just kept Los Angeles’ last humans alive—they’ve created a real community, a bustling town that’s spreading beyond its original walls and swelling with new refugees. 

But now one of the heroes, perhaps the most powerful among them, seems to be losing his mind. The implacable enemy known as Legion has found terrifying new ways of using zombies as pawns in his attacks. And outside the Mount, something ancient and monstrous is hell-bent on revenge.

As Peter Clines weaves these elements together in yet another masterful, shocking climax, St. George, Stealth, Captain Freedom, and the rest of the heroes find that even in a city overrun by millions of ex-humans... there’s more than one way to come back from the dead.

FORMAT/INFO: Ex-Communication is 346 pages long divided over a prologue, thirty-six numbered/titled chapters, and an epilogue. All chapters are either divided into “Then” or “Now” sections. Narration is in the first-person for all “Then” chapters and in third person for all the “Now” sections. The POV's both first person and third person are via Stealth, Madelyn S. , Cerberus, Zzzap, Captain John Carter Freedom, St. George, Maxwell Hale, Legion and a few minor characters. Ex-Communication has a self-contained plot and is the third book in the Ex series. Readers can read this book without having read the previous two but there are some significant spoilers for the preceding titles.

Ex-Communication was published in paperback and e-book format on July 9, 2013 via Broadway Paperbacks (Crown Publishing) in the US. Del Rey UK has released it in paperback and e-book form (see cover below) on July 11, 2013 in UK. US Cover art is provided by Jonathan Bartlett.

CLASSIFICATION: Mixing zombies with superheroes in a desolate world. Peter ClinesEx series is George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead crossed with The Avengers (Marvel)

ANALYSIS: Ex-Communication is a book that I have been waiting to read for nearly 2 years. It was the third and supposedly the end of the Ex series but recent revelations by the author have clarified that this is not the case. The fourth book will be out early next year and remains a thing for the future. With Ex-Communication, I wanted to see where the author would take the story in regards to the plot arcs of the first two. 

As the story begins, the author returns us to Los Angeles nearly six months after the events of Ex-Patriots. Things haven’t been that smooth even with the addition of the Krypton super soldier unit as Legion is back and has discovered newer ways to harass the living. St. George, Zzzap, Cerebrus, Stealth and the others are settling in while trying to figure out how to best overcome Legion. Their problems however take a strange turn when they find out Zzzap has been talking to a strange entity. This entity claims to be someone from their past and one who has fought alongside the heroes. In the flashback sequences, we get to see who this might be and also we get a new POV character, a girl called Madelyn. She has a strange connection to the events of the second book and heralds a possibility that will be hard to comprehend for all our beloved characters.

With the third Ex book, I’m glad to find the author taking the series in a new direction. Until now we have had different plots and directions from each book, but with this one, there is a culmination to several plot and character arcs from Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots. There’s a lot hanging from the previous two books like the origin of the Ex-Humans, Regenerator and his unique tie-in with this issue as well as issue of death. All of it is brought to the fore in this book along with the concept of magic. Among the heroes, it has always been superpowers but so far there was never any magical side to things. In this book though, the author focuses on a character from the previous books and brings in a whole new side to that person. We learn how the normal humans have been coping with such a drastic change to their lives and how religion fits into the overall scheme.

I enjoyed this aspect of the story as the author explored the religion angle, which had been left hitherto unmentioned, and in this book, it forms quite a significant chunk. Then there’s another aspect, which the author explores that is tied in more with science but I’ll let the readers find out about it as it falls under massive plot spoilers. Trust me you’ll know when you hit that part of the story. Basically the biggest question explored in this volume is about death and what makes us human. The superheroes struggle with it as do the rest of humanity but in the end it’s up to the readers to decide whether the answers provided in the book make sense to them.

The story employs the claustrophobic elements of being trapped in fabulously from the first book but with the caveat that there’s a timer set to the storyline and at the end of it is an apocalypse that would make the Ex event seem like a honeymoon. The plot twists are rather amped up as the author brings a lot of conclusion to several events and plot-lines from the preceding books. I very much enjoyed that aspect of the story as many questions were answered and a lot of clues in regards to characters and possible future story-lines were set into motion. This book can serve as a conclusion of sorts to the story begun in Ex-Heroes however it is definitely not an end to Ex-series. With previous books there have been a few character deaths and the trend continues in this one as well.

With death and its trappings being explored here, it becomes quite fascinating to read about what the author has planned for the readers with these three books. Looking back now, one can see all the hints and foreshadowing that comes into play with this book. I think readers will enjoy reading all three books in one go to see how closely knit they are and perhaps they might spot further knots that have been planned by the author. Almost as good as Ex-Heroes. Ex-Communication will have more readers flipping pages to see how it all ends and hungering for Ex-Purgatory immediately.

Lastly with such a series, there are bound to be a few flaws that creep in, namely with such a huge cast of characters and POV characters, there’s no way the author would be able to fit all of them in a single book unless he goes all George R.R. Martin on the story (which thankfully he doesn’t). The story focuses on most but leaves out some others and therefore we are left wondering as to how those characters are doing until the next one. Like I mentioned previously, the author explores the religion aspect but doesn’t quite take it all the way, this I feel was more due to page constraints and plot pacing issues. I would love to see this angle explored in further stories.

CONCLUSION: Peter ClinesEx-Communication come with a whole lot of expectations and anticipation (2 years) but the beauty of the book is that it manages to overcome all of it and yet surprised me with the plot and story direction. A terrific third volume, which shows how much planning has gone into the writing of the first three books. Ex-Communication is a fun book that explores another angle of the Ex world and yet manages to retain a fresh approach to this zombie-afflicted story.
Monday, July 29, 2013

GUEST POST: A Question Of Quels by Michael J. Sullivan

In stories, there is something called setting; in science fiction and fantasy we call this worldbuilding—because we do more and feel we deserve a word with more letters. If you ask most invented-world authors they’ll tell you that a fraction of what they build makes it into their novels. In order to give the illusion of reality, that there is more to the world—that it bleeds out of the frame like a proper photograph—writers go overboard. People, places, legends, creatures, and economic systems are crafted with the same meticulous care as the backdrop to a move scene that lasts seconds and is ultimately left on the edit room floor.

I personally built more than ten thousand years of global history to support a story that encompassed only four years. Kingdoms rose, wars raged, reality became legend and then myth, and many things were just forgotten. After spending years building such a grand stage, it should be understandable that authors are not eager to abandon their creations, and why never-ending series, or sequels, are so commonplace.

Also if a series is doing well; if it has earned out its advance, has its own television show, or con event, publishers as well as readers expect more. Demand demands supply. Secretly I think this is why there’s more than one Hawaiian island.

For most authors this isn’t a problem. Sequel after sequel is churned out until Fonzie jumps the shark in his leather; Archie is alone running a bar, and Fox Mulder leaves the X-Files. I don’t know of any book series that has gone that far, (written characters can’t get fed up with the lack of creativity or ask for more money) but I have confidence we’ll get there. I, however, have a completely different issue. My series ended.

I was six books and out. Orbit published all of them in less than three months, and before the last one hit the streets I had requests for more. I was baffled. Rhett Butler hadn’t just walked off leaving Scarlett to declare tomorrow was another day, the series had a very conclusive ending. Short of having the whole world swallow itself out of existence, I’m not sure I could have sewn things up any tighter.

Readers disagreed. What about the Ghazel problem in Delgos? What about human-elven relations? What about Calis? What about the amulet in the Bernum? What about children? Someone has to have babies! That last one came more from budding fan-fic authors, but really these were all excuses, all thinly veiled rationalizations masking what they actually wanted—more Royce and Hadrian. Readers of the Riyria Revelations wanted their friends back.

Be that as it may, I won’t force Royce to waterski with his hood on. The cloaked duo deserve their retirement just as much as Sam and Mr. Frodo. (And no, there has never been a secret meeting where Royce and Hadrian where they used that argument to secure their chance to do low budget artsy short stories and avant-garde novellas. That’s just a terrible rumor that no one has managed to prove.) Still I thought there might be another way. 

Instead of a contrived sequel that would ruin the eloquence of the series close, I could do a prequel. Royce and Hadrian worked together for twelve unaccounted for years, years ripe with intrigue and action. If the Riyria Revelations series is the full length movie, the Riyria Chronicles is the television series based on the movie. The great part is that amazingly we got the all the same actors, writers and director to produce it. (About now, someone skimming this is thinking Riyria just got its own TV show.)

The Crown Tower is the first of the chronicles, and reveals how Royce and Hadrian met. If you read the series you might think you know, but there are many unanswered questions. Why does Hadrian carry three swords? How could two such opposites decide to work together? Why was it that Royce was given the Alverstone? And of course, who the hell is Pickles?

I’ve been told that The Crown Tower doesn’t read like a prequel. I’ve also been accused of having written both The Crown Tower and the second chronicle, The Rose and the Thorn, prior to The Riyria Revelations. I didn’t, these are merely part of the world-building that had remained below the waterline until now, and some had to be invented.

The challenge as I saw it was the same as writing a novel about the Titanic. Everyone knows how the story goes, so how do you make it interesting? How do you kept people feverishly turning pages when they know the end? James Cameron managed it with a love story. I solved the problem much the same way. I also added a fair amount of origin events similar to the Santa Claus is Coming to Town TV special, where I can imagine readers of the Revelations series shouting, “so that’s how reindeers learned to fly.”

Another problem is that I know new readers will pick these books up and start their journey through Elan here. This was perhaps the greatest challenge: how do I construct a plot using many of the same characters without spoiling or contradicting Revelations? I’ve already had early readers going through with pens looking for breaks, for errors, trying to find the overlooked power lines in the wide shots.

I also wanted to keep the flavor. These are Royce and Hadrian stories. That has come to mean something to people, and I sought to keep the experience the same…yet different. When I wrote Revelations I wanted each book in the series to be very different in tone and setting. The first was a traveling adventure, the second a grisly single-set story, the third a revolution, the fourth a sea going tale and so on. My aim is to continue this trend, but first I had an origin story to tell. Much of it is known, much of it isn’t, and hopefully once read, both The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn will feel as if they’d always been there, indispensable parts of a whole you never knew you were missing.

Of course, as with all things Riyria, once you finish them, once you are armed with the new found wisdom within, there will be that nagging desire to re-read the series in total. On a positive note, re-reading is free. The problem with all quells pre and se, is the same as the success of a long marriage. You need to keep learning new things about old flames and keep the excitement alive through unpredictability, without ruining the core elements that made it work in the first place. That’s my answer at any rate—something old, something new, something borrowed, same old two!

Official Michael Sullivan Website 
Order The Crown Tower HERE 
Order The Rose And The Thorn HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Theft of Swords 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Rise Of Empire 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Crown Conspiracy 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Avempartha 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Nyphron Rising 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Emerald Storm 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Wintertide 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Percepliquis 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Viscount and the Witch 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Around 2010-2011, Michael Sullivan has moved from a small press debut author who was featured in one of our first "Indie Spotlight Reviews" to a "name" in the fantasy field whose wonderful Riyria Revelations has been published by Orbit Books in three omnibuses starting with Theft of Swords, followed by Rise of Empire and concluded in Heir of Novron. He currently has written a prequel series titled The Riyria Chronicles, which showcases how Royce and Hadrian became the fabulous duo that readers know and love.
Sunday, July 28, 2013

Three Recent Books of Great Interest, Paul McAuley, Jonathan (J.C.) Grimwood and Andrew Crumey (By Liviu Suciu)

"In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future. He's going to get it back. McAuley's latest novel is set in the same far-flung future as his last few novels, but this time he takes on a much more personal story. This is a tale of revenge, of murder and morality, of growing up and discovering the world around you. Throughout the novel we follow Hari's viewpoint, and as he unravels the mysteries that led to his stranding, we discover them alongside him. But throughout his journeys, Hari must always bear one thing in mind. Nobody is to be trusted."

A short take from reading some 1/3-1/2 novel so far:

Evening's Empires by Paul McAuley is just superb so far about 1/3-1/2 in; not anything new in structure (boy, ship, hijacked, escape, finding why, pursuit, revenge...) but an imaginative universe of the small worlds in the Solar System a few decades after the events of In the Mouth of the Whale and the stunning conclusion to those - which we find out only here btw - so some 1500 after the original duology, hence ~3800 AD.
Everything one wants in sf is here and one of the really original - or maybe better put, quite different than simply an extrapolation of the present with shinier gadgets, more tech/energy power -  and plausible description of the future I've see recently (eg IM Banks, P. Hamilton or J. Corey are plausible with some assumptions but not that original, C. Priest's Archipelago or something like Venusia are original but less plausible so to speak)

Also in a nice touch the parts of the novel are named Childhood's End, Marooned off Vesta, The Caves of Steel, Pirates of the Asteroids, The Cold Equations and Downward to the Earth which are all names that should be quite familiar to any sf lover


"Set against the backdrop of the Enlightenment, the delectable decadence of Versailles, and the French Revolution, The Last Banquet is an intimate epic that tells the story of one man’s quest to know the world through its many and marvelous flavors. Jean-Marie d’Aumout will try anything once, with consequences that are at times mouthwatering and at others fascinatingly macabre (Three Snake Bouillabaisse anyone? Or perhaps some pickled Wolf's Heart?). When he is not obsessively searching for a new taste d’Aumout is a fast friend, a loving husband, a doting father, and an imaginative lover. He befriends Ben Franklin, corresponds with the Marquis de Sade and Voltaire, becomes a favorite at Versailles, thwarts a peasant uprising, improves upon traditional French methods of contraception, plays an instrumental role in the Corsican War of Independence, and constructs France’s finest menagerie. But d’Aumout’s every adventurous turn is decided by his at times dark obsession to know all the world’s flavors before that world changes irreversibly."

A short take from reading the first 50 pages or so: 

The Last Banquet is J.C. Grimwood's first non-sff foray; the novel is a first person narration by an impoverished nobleman in 18th century France who has an unusual sense of taste; excellent stuff with some descriptions that may make one uncomfortable as the hero tries the taste of everything from bugs, to rats, dogs, cats etc and describes various recipes with such...


"A lost musical masterpiece is at the heart of this gripping intellectual mystery by award-winning writer Andrew Crumey.
In 1913 composer Pierre Klauer envisages marriage to his sweetheart and fame for his new work, The Secret Knowledge. Then tragedy strikes. A century later, concert pianist David Conroy hopes the rediscovered score might revive his own flagging career.
Music, history, politics and philosophy become intertwined in a multi-layered story that spans a century. Revolutionary agitators, Holocaust refugees and sixties’ student protesters are counterpointed with artists and entrepreneurs in our own age of austerity. All play their part in revealing the shocking truth that Conroy must finally face – the real meaning of The Secret Knowledge.
A novel for readers who like intellectual game-playing and having their imagination stretched."

Andrew Crumey is one of the authors I buy everything on publication as his novels are interesting and different from both genre and more conventional mainstream, combining aspects of both. 

As The Secret Knowledge came just last night I had the chance ro read only about 25 pages or so, but that was enough to realize that this book will most likely be one of the top novels of mine for the year.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Interview with Steven Montano (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Blood Skies 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Black Scars 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Soulrazor
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Crown Of Ash
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Witch's Eye
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Scars
Read Steven Montano's guest post on Cross-genre writing

I’ve come across many authors that have trail-blazed their way across the indie scene. One of them is Steven Montano who is rapidly intriguing readers with his debut series The Blood Skies chronicles that mixes vampires, a post-apocalyptic scenario, dark fantasy, military-SF settings and fantastic characters to top it off. Since discovering his debut last year, I’ve read all of his long form releases until now and so I thought it would be great to have him over and introduce him and his ideas to our wonderful readers. So without further adieu, I present Steven Montano

Q] Steven, thank you very much for agreeing to participate in an interview. To begin with, could you introduce yourself for our readers and tell us what set you on the wordsmith path?

SM: Hi! My name is Steven Montano, author of The Blood Skies series and City of Scars. I’ve been writing for about twenty years, starting off with Dungeons & Dragons game supplements and moving into self-published novels about two years ago. I like coffee. (That has no bearing on the question; it’s just something I like to throw out there.)

Q] How did you get started in writing? What were the types of books that helped get you hooked on to reading and thereby set you on this path as well?

SM: I was really drawn into writing in high school, when I was reading a lot of Stephen King. While I credit Mr. King for getting me interested in writing, it wasn’t until I discovered Clive Barker and Tanith Lee that I truly fell in love with the idea of crafting beautiful, dark stories. Their prose really enamored me with the written word, and I started writing as a hobby shortly thereafter. I still haven’t stopped. =D

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 the Blood Skies Series?

SM: Darkness lined with hope. That’s probably the best way to describe my writing. My worlds are bleak, grim and violent, populated by really horrible monsters and evil villains who challenge my heroes and push them to their utmost limits. My characters go through an awful lot of hardship, but what keeps them moving forward is their drive, determination, and loyalty to something greater to themselves, whether that be a person, an ideal, or their family or friends.

As for the pitch for “Blood Skies”? Dystopian military dark epic fantasy. With real vampires!

Q] The Blood Skies series is currently five books strong along with a couple of short stories and a prequel novella. What are your plans for the series ahead? How many books more to go? Can you give us a rough idea of what’s to come?

SM: There will be nine Blood Skies books altogether. Book six (Chain of Shadows, due out this fall) will more or less wrap up the “trying to get home” storyline that started back in Book three, and also sets things up for a slight shift in the overall narrative. The new storyline will occupy the final three books:
- Vampire Down,
- The Ending Dream,
- Darker Sunset

It’s difficult for me to discuss too much of what’s happening with the story, except to say that Book six involves Cross and what’s left of the team exploring a foreign land, while Books seven through nine will involve a most unexpected turning point in the war.

Q] Even though your debut series embraces a number of fantasy tropes, you also have made a rather strong effort to twist reader expectations and keep them entertained. What are your thoughts on fantasy tropes in general and how did you decide what tropes you wanted to utilize and which ones not to?

SM: I think tropes are a useful element for storytelling. One of the best things I learned in college (I actually majored in Creative Writing…go figure) was learning to be highly aware of genre conventions and tropes, not so much to outright avoid them (as some do) or to follow them religiously (which even more do) but so you can use them as tools.

Tropes come saddled with certain story expectations – we know the young hero will rescue the princess, that the old man helping him is more than he seems, etc. It’s not always vital to stray from those expectations, but it can be fun to toy with them. It’s a fine balance, however, between twisting expectations and making your readers feel like they’re being cheated, so you have to tread carefully.

Q] The Blood Skies series also has a high character mortality rate. I’m sure you must have gotten quite a few angry emails from your readers about some of them. Aren’t you worried that you’ll run out of characters to write about?

SM: Not at all, because I manage to keep coming up with new ones. ;D Again, this is another balancing act. I want the dangers of Blood Skies to feel very real, and one of the realities of war is that people die, especially the people we don’t want to. I don’t want my readers to just assume that every likable character I present is automatically a Red Shirt, but I also want to keep that sense of danger palatable, as I think it keeps the audience more invested. (And yes, I got my share of angry e-mails regarding certain character expirations, especially from Book 4…)

Q] Your most recent book was City Of Scars (book one of The Skullborn trilogy) . Was there a precise spark of inspiration that lead to the creation of The Skullborn trilogy? And how long have you been working on this series and has it evolved any from its original conceptual form?

SM: The Skullborn trilogy (and the two trilogies to follow, forming yet another nine-book series, only this one will be presented in smaller pieces) is actually quite old. I wrote the original drafts of the first trilogy by longhand when my family first relocated from Colorado to Washington; that was about 11 years ago. I’m completely rewriting it now (my stuff was pretty horrible back then…hell, it wasn’t even all that great two years ago, so you can imagine how stuff from 2002 must read), and it’s been fun re-living the story. It’s been so long since I originally scribed it I can barely remember what happened.

Inspiration for the tale came from a setting idea I had for a post-apocalyptic high fantasy world (think Mad Max with swords and sorcery instead of guns and cars). As a student of history (I minored in European History in college), I decided to tone down the post-apocalyptic element and instead craft a world that was recovering from a major war. This allowed me to use some of the standard conventions for high fantasy, but seen through the lens of a place recovering from conflict.

Q] I thoroughly enjoyed the world setting that you have developed for The Skullborn trilogy. In my review I’ve described the world as “The Wire meets The Lord Of The Rings as written by Glen Cook!” How did you come up with this strange, war-torn world and what were your inspirations for it (if any)?

SM: I love that description, by the way. Inspirations for the world of Malzaria come from all over, many of them from my old Dungeons & Dragons campaign I ran in college. In terms of tone, scope and story there are bits of C.S. Friedman, John Marco, Stephen Erickson and Robert Jordan to be found in Malzaria, as well as well as a healthy dose of George R.R. Martin. (Conversely, the world of Blood Skies derives from a healthy mix of China Mieville, J.V. Jones and John Meaney.)

Q] On Amazon, I noticed that there are few books listed under your bibliography that aren’t connected to any of your current works. Can you tell us about “Black Ice Well”, “Fane Of The Witch King” & “Hellstone Deep”? When did you write them? What are they about?

SM: Blasts from my past. ;D All three of those works are Dungeons & Dragons adventures produced by third party publishers. A lot of how I learned to use description and present stories came from running role-playing games, and a few bits and pieces from those adventures have worked their way into the novels (not surprising, since like Malzaria those adventures were all based on my campaign world).

Q] A facet of your writing that I noticed about your books is that you wax eloquently about the landscapes within the storylines. Also you invoke a lot of colors amid your imagery to convey the grim nature of the settings. What gives?

SM: I think I’m a hippy. ;D To me, part of what makes fantasy is the depiction of the landscape, whether that’s flowing rivers and valleys or skies filled with poison smoke. I try to make the readers feel like they’ve been transported to another world, and physical description is a big part of that.

I’m honestly not sure what’s up the colors. I was a Goth in college and wore nothing but black up until a few years ago, so maybe that’s just my writer’s mind trying to put all of that behind me. ;D

Q] What are your plans for the future? What’s next for you in terms of other new projects?

SM: I’ve got tons of things in the works. Chain of Shadows is in the editing stage, and I’m working on the re-write of Path of Bones (Book two of The Skullborn Trilogy). Because the Blood Skies series shifts gears a bit after Book six. I may though take some time to finish up the Skullborn Trilogy before I return for the final three books of my first series.

I’ll continue working on my second horror novel, Blood Angel Rising (which I’m presenting right now in eight sentence chunks every Saturday through Weekend Writing Warriors), and, as I mentioned earlier, the Skullborn Trilogy is actually just the first in three trilogies telling the story of Malzaria. Hand-written draft versions exist for seven of the remaining books, so I’ve got plenty of re-writing to do.

Q] On your blog, you review Indie titles that have impressed you, from time to time. In that regard, I’ve picked up some excellent recommendations courtesy of your thoughts. So are there any new books/writers that you would like to highlight or give a shout out to?

SM: That’s mean to make me pick and choose, Mihir! (Shakes fist.) Sadly, I haven’t been reading nearly as much Indie work lately as I should, partially because I’ve been woefully behind on my reading all around. Regardless, I have a huge Indie TBR list. Bruce Blake’s “Blood of the King” is remarkable, and I can’t wait to finish that trilogy. I’m eagerly awaiting Candice Bundy’s “The Dream Sifter”. Jen Kirchner is working on the follow-up to “The Fourth Channel”. And if Alan Edwards doesn’t finish writing The Northreach Saga I’m going to hunt him down with a pitchfork.

Q] Since your indie debut in 2011, you have published six books and three novella/shorts at a prodigious rate. As a writer, what are your aspirations? Conversely where do you see yourself in a decade from now?

SM: I’d like to someday be able to write novels for a living as a self-published author. It’s a tall order, I know, and one that only a few have had true success with, but that’s the dream. In 10 years I see myself doing that. Or resting comfortably in a padded cell. Either way, I’m good.

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

SM: Just to thank you for having me, Mihir, and to all of the readers who’ve taken a chance buying my books, given me feedback and left reviews. I’m humbled every time anyone reads my work, and I just want my fans (it feels weird saying that, by the way) to know how grateful I am for their support. =D

NOTE: Author picture and book covers courtesy of the author.
Monday, July 22, 2013

Winners of The Thousand Names Signed ARCs giveaway

Many congratulations to Paul Nelson (UK) and Nayan Patel (India), who were  both randomly selected to win a Signed ARC of The Thousand Names courtesy of Django Wexler and Fantasy Book Critic.

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read the prologue and chapter one HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Thousand Names and The Penitent Damned
Friday, July 19, 2013

The Dark Thorn by Shawn Speakman (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman and Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order The Dark Thorn HERE 
Order Unfettered HERE
Read Word Of Mouth Or Just Let Me Be Read by Shawn Speakman (guest post)
Read an excerpt of The Dark Thorn HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Shawn Speakman grew up in the beautiful wilds of Washington State near a volcano and surrounded by old-growth forests filled with magic. After moving to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, he befriended New York Times best-selling fantasy author Terry Brooks and became his webmaster, leading to an enchanted life surrounded by words.

He is also the webmaster for authors Naomi Novik and David Anthony Durham. Shawn now owns the online bookstore The Signed Page and is a freelance writer for Suvudu. He also contributed the annotations for The Annotated Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Shawn is a cancer survivor, and currently lives in Seattle, Washington. The Dark Thorn is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Beneath the streets of Seattle, a long-forgotten war is about to be renewed...

Richard McAllister, a spiritually destitute homeless man and Knight of the Yn Saith, protects one of seven portals linking his world to that of Annwn, where the fey Tuatha de Dannan of antiquity have been relegated by a long-running religious war. Unknown to Richard though, powerful forces are aligning against him and all he stands to keep safe. In the wilds of a discarded world, Philip Plantagenet, son of Henry II, moves to claim a birthright nine centuries in the making, one that drives him to eliminate the Tuatha de Dannan--at any cost to both worlds. In the halls of Vatican City, Cardinal Vicar Cormac Pell O'Connor schemes to control the Heliwr--the Unfettered Knight--one who possesses the great power known as the Dark Thorn.

The three men are on a collision course with history--and their futures. For in the wilds of Annwn, death comes as easily as magic. Haunted by a past he can't forget and a knightly responsibility he can't shun, Richard is drawn into levels of machinations--and two worlds--far darker than any he has prepared for.

FORMAT/INFO: The Dark Thorn is 478 pages long divided over thirty-nine chapters. In this book, narration is in the third-person, via Richard McAllister, Bran Ardall, Lady Deidre Rhys, King Philip Plantagenet and Cardinal Vicar Cormac Pell O'Connor. There's also a map of Annwn included. The Dark Thorn is the first book of The Annwn Cycle.

November 25, 2011 marked the North American Hardcover and e-book self-publication of The Dark Thorn via Grim Oak Press. Cover art provided by Todd Lockwood.

ANALYSIS (Mihir): The Dark Thorn is Shawn Speakman’s debut vehicle. I was intrigued by it and thanks to Shawn who offered us a review copy. The blurb details an urban fantasy world with fantasy elements and makes for intriguing plotline. I was able to read an excerpt and that impressed me greatly. The whole book was another thing altogether.

The plot of The Dark Thorn is a multivariate one and focuses on many characters; the first one is Richard McAllister. A knight in the metaphysical sense who lives in Seattle and has faced a whole host of worldly and other-worldly problems, he has had a rough past and even more troubles currently. His status as a knight of the word is a bit shaky but still reliable. Bran Ardall is an orphan lost on the streets of Seattle however his destiny pulls him on to the path with Richard. Bran doesn't quite know how his past ties into his present but he will have to partner with Richard to unveil all secrets. In another realm Philip Plantagenet, scion of Henry II is planning to rule the land of Tuatha de Dannan and he will do absolutely everything to conquer it entirely. Lastly there’s Cardinal Vicar Cormac Pell O’Connor who is in the Vatican doing his religious duties however knows all too well what truly is at stake. There’s much more happening in this first volume but that’s all I’m going to talk about the main plot.

Speaking about the book, it’s a veritable monster if you consider the usual book size in the urban fantasy genre. This story while primarily being an urban fantasy story has huge dollops of thriller and high fantasy genres as well. The author does his best to mix them up and gives us a story whose outcome is hard to predict. There are multiple threads focusing on various characters that speak of the author’s intent in creating a complex storyline spread across various realms. I found this to be a bit unique in regards to urban fantasy storylines. Yes The Dresden Files is currently mixing urban and high fantasy and building up to a big climax however the author never quite revealed this until the 7th book. Shawn on the other hand opens up the story in a dark, smashing fashion showcasing faeries, the Vatican church, an otherworldly realm and some Arthurian mythos. This is just a small teaser of what to expect from this book but rest assured there’s much more in the story to keep the readers occupied and wondering how it all ties in together.

The characterization becomes very crucial in a tale with a huge cast of characters and we get a wide variety of them. With Bran and Richard, we get two whom the audience can connect and root for. However the other POV character Deidre who starts off as simple maiden but gets sucked into a horrible arrangement, truly shows some surprising chops. Then there’s also Richard’s past mentor who is mysterious and devious at the same time and I’m very curious to see how the author develops his storyline further. The side character cast is also intriguing and I’m sure some of them will play major roles in the upcoming sequels. The main plot takes quite some turns which will keep the readers on their toes as they follow all the character arcs. Lastly there’s the magic system and world setting which aren't all that new but have been presented in a slightly new format with the obvious focus on Celtic and Arthurian elements.

Now while The Dark Thorn did manage to impress me quite a bit, there are some areas wherein it needs improvement. First the author plunges the readers directly into the story without much of an explanation. This is a bit Steven Erikson-esque and while some might enjoy such a introduction, there will be many who wouldn't prefer it to be so. The story takes a while to get itself grounded and the readers will have to labor on trying to understand what’s happening and who’s connected to which facet of the plotline. Secondly the pace of the story is uneven in the sense, there are some terrific action sequences but in between them, the story flounders a bit as the author pushes the story forward. Lastly there’s the morally ambiguous main POV character Richard, while many readers might enjoy his dark plot arc. His characterization might leave a lot unsettled and hard to connect with.

ANALYSIS (Cindy): I have to admit I have been looking forward to The Dark Thorn now for several months. The idea of an epic fantasy/urban fantasy set in Seattle always has me hooked and let's face it, I love finding new, talented authors. Then toss in the combination of English Folklore, Fairies, Swords and other things and I immediately knew I had to read this.

Shawn Speakman is an amazingly talented author. He takes what other authors have tried to do and succeeded. This is not the first time an author has tried to combine epic/urban fantasy elements into one novel and it won't be the last. However, where Speakman differs from other writers is he adds his own unique touch to the world and that is how he succeeds. There was just something about the style of writing, pacing of the novel, and character development that really makes a novel like this stand out. This book literally had me hooked from the second or third pages, and it was nearly impossible to put down.

Now, I will point out that I did find the main character – Richard McAllister – hard to like. I didn't hate him, I didn't dislike him; I just did not click with him. That is not a bad thing, because I think the unique elements and plot twists were enough to keep me reading, but I really wish that I had clicked with the character faster.

However, by the end of the novel he started to ever so slowly grow on me. I think with another read-through I might change my opinion on the story. I can definitely see myself liking the characters in other future books. 

Overall, I believe Shawn Speakman shows amazing promise. He is definitely a wordsmith who the fantasy community will be hearing more about in the future – if this novel is any indication of what is to come. Meanwhile, I will anxiously be awaiting the next book in the Annwn Cycle

CONCLUSION (Mihir): Shawn Speakman’s debut vehicle is one that showcases his talent and marks itself out to be a different book amidst the crowded urban fantasy genre. It has its plus points and some flaws but that shouldn't deter readers from giving it a shot. The Dark Thorn will surely feature in my year-end lists for the ingenuity shown in its plot and world setting while also providing some intriguing characters. If you are tired of reading the same old urban fantasy stories, then make sure you read this one, as it will surely refresh your mind as it did mine!
Thursday, July 18, 2013

At Half Year: The Recommended Books of 2013 To Date (by Liviu Suciu)

As for the foreseeable future I will be just sporadically here at Fantasy Book Critic, I will try to present the books I found of interest and comment on the ones that did not go as expected as often as possible. 

Shorter or longer reviews of the books I finish - though not carefully edited as here but more in the form of raw thoughts - can be found on Goodreads and if time allows, I will edit them at FBC standards, if not I will just point you there.

Here is the list of 32 books of 2013 that comprise my current top lists - the positional "Top 25" which I expect to go somewhere from 25 to 30 titles by year end and the unordered Highly Recommended list which I call T1 (tier 1) on Goodreads.

As a quick analysis, in the Top 25  to date, outside of the 2 non-English language novels (Frontiere Barbare - French SF and Asylant - Contemporary Picaresque Romanian, both though with English language reviews and summaries on Goodreads), there are 7 fantasies (LE. Modesitt 2, D. Wexler, R. Ford, D. Abraham, P. Brett, B. McClellan), 4 sf (C. Priest, D. Weber, K. Lord, C. Gannon), 2 associational (JM Blas De Robles, I. Banks) and 3 non-sff (C. Cameron, L. Santoro, Wu Ming).

In the Tier 1 list there are 4 short story collections/serials (P. McAuley, D. Weber, C. Cameron, A. Roberts), 1 mix of short novel and Honorverse facts from D. Weber and BuNine, 5 non-sff (R. Brook, M. Werner, W. Ryan, A. Espinoza, J. Boyne), 2 fantasies (D. Walton, K. Elliott), 1 Romanian language contemporary and 1 non-fiction about the battle of Kursk by D. Showalter


(Click on picture for larger view)

Top 25 (click for ordered list on Goodreads)

(Click on picture for larger view)

Highly Recommended (click for unordered list on Goodreads)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

NEWS: Apocalypse Blog Hop (by Mihir Wanchoo)

I found out about this wonderful event thanks to Maja. She along with Heidi @Rainy Day Ramblings and Christy @Love of Books are hosting the Apocalypse! blog event for the week of 13th July to 20th July. These lovely ladies have organized a fantastic number of guest posts, author interviews and reviews of apocalypse-themed books, and each to be accompanied by a giveaway.

This event opened with a huge giveaway and to learn more about it, click over here to see what all is up for grabs. Lastly here are the schedules for all the three major blogs, be sure to check all of them and enjoy the events lined up.

The schedule for the upcoming week at The Nocturnal Library is:

July 14th: Jay Kristoff (Stormdancer, Kinslayer) Guest post and giveaway
July 15th: Phoebe North (Starglass) Guest post and giveaway
July 16th: Tim Marquitz (Demon Squad series) Guest post and giveaway
July 17th: Mira Grant (Feed, Parasite) Guest post and giveaway
July 18th: Teri Terry (Slated, Fractured) Guest post and giveaway
July 19th: Misty Provencher (Cornerstone, Keystone) Guest post and giveaway
July 20th: Alden Bell (The Reapers Are the Angels) Guest post and giveaway

The schedule for the upcoming week at Rainy Day Ramblings is:

July 13th: Michelle Pickett (PODS) Guest post, review and giveaway
July 15th: Jeyn Roberts (Dark Inside) Guest post, review and giveaway
July 16th: Heather Hildenbrand (Imitation) Guest post, review and giveaway
July 17th: Laura Bickle (The Hallowed Ones) Guest post, review and giveaway
July 18th: Ann Aguirre (Outpost) Guest post, review and giveaway
July 20th: Rick Yancey (Fifth Wave) Review and giveaway

The schedule for the upcoming week at Christy’s Love Of Books is:

July14th: Demetria Lunetta (In the After) Interview and giveaway
July 15th: Annie Walls (Taking on the Dead) Guest post and giveaway
July 16th: Megan Crewe (Fallen World Trilogy) Guest post and giveaway
July 17th: Em Garner (Contaminated) Guest post, excerpt and giveaway
July 18th: Jesse Peterson (Living with the Dead) Guest post and giveaway
July 19th: Dana Fredsti (Plague Town Series) Guest post, excerpt and giveaway
July 20th: Christy's Apocalyptic Picks

Then there are these other blogs who are also participating on the following dates as well:

July 14th: Shaunta Grimes (Viral Nation) Character interview and giveaway over at Buried in Books
July 15th: Demetria Lunetta (In the After) Review and giveaway over at Books, Bones and Buffy
July 16th: Alexander Gordon Smith (The Fury) Interview and giveaway over at My Shelf Confessions
July 17th: Jay Posey (Three) Guest post and giveaway over at My Shelf Confessions
July 18th: Alexandra Bracken (The Darkest Minds) Guest post and giveaway over at Tressa's Wishful Endings
July 18th: Will McIntosh (Love Minus Eighty) Guest post and giveaway over at My Shelf Confessions

NOTE: All pictures courtesy of Maja, Christy and Heidi. The Apocalypse blog event schedule originally found over here. Remaining links to be updated once they go live on the stated blogs.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

GUEST POST: I See Dead People by Peter Clines

The wonderful folks here at Fantasy Book Critic asked if I’d be willing to do a guest post about writing. We bounced a few ideas back and forth, but the one that seemed to fit best was a piece on killing characters. After all, in my superheroes-vs-zombies series, Ex-Heroes, I wiped out over two-thirds of the world’s population (shameless plug—book three, Ex-Communication, just went on sale last week). If I killed off almost six billion people, well, I must have some small idea what I’m doing.

Granted, to some folks, killing characters is no big deal. I’ve seen writers brag about how “no one is safe” in their stories. All too often in the real world, death is a random, unexpected thing, so killing off characters at random must bring my work closer to real life, right? And since art imitates life, well, that’s just further proof I’m doing the right thing. Random death = real life, real life = art. Makes sense, yes?

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not a biographer or a historian. I don’t write real life, I write fiction. Made up stories. And while real life can be messy and have no structure, fiction—no matter how reality-based it may be—needs to have an actual plan behind it. It can look like there’s no structure, but the events in a good story need to be happening for a reason. If I’m just randomly killing off characters left and right, I can’t have much of a plot, can I? Death in fiction—and this is just my own opinion of course, not some law of prose to be revered and taught—needs to serve a purpose. One way or another, it needs to be moving things forward, not slowing them down. It should be helping to establish the tone, advancing the plot, or affecting a character’s story (beyond, of course, the poor character whose story just came to an end).

If a death in my book doesn’t do any of these things, well... what was the point of it? And if it doesn’t have a point, why am I wasting words on it?

Of course, I’m kind of dancing around the obvious, aren’t I? If I’m going to kill a character in a story and really have it mean something, there’s one key element I need, isn’t there? A character.

Browse any news feed and you’ll see at least half a dozen reports of death—natural, accidental, or deliberate. Death is all around us, but we barely ever react to it because we don’t connect to it. It’s happening to people we don’t know, and that lessens the impact of it.

Killing off cardboard cutouts is fine to drive a story’s body count, but it won’t drive a plot or motivate anyone on a personal level. If I want a character’s death to affect the reader in some way, then that character needs to be fleshed out. They need to be believable. They need to be relatable to the reader. They need to be likeable, in one way or another. I’m not saying they need to be a saint or a supermodel or anything, but there needs to be a reason we want to keep following this character or it’s not going to matter that we can’t follow them anymore.

Do any of you remember Braveheart? Some of the posters had a tagline—Every man dies, not every man truly lives. It sounds a little cheesy, but believe it or not, that’s the secret with killing characters. Massacring dozens of them doesn’t mean anything. What strikes a reader, what sticks with them, is when a character comes to life. When a collection of words comes out of the writer’s head and onto the page (or a Kindle screen) and somehow turns into a person that the reader can believe in and identify with, that’s an amazing moment.

That’s when you can kill them. And then it’ll really hurt.

Official Author Website 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ex-Heroes 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ex-Patriots
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Junkie Quatrain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of 14
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Peter Clines 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Clines was born and brought up in Maine, he moved to California when he grew up and worked in Hollywood for a number of years. He has also been a prop master for several movies and TV shows. He has published several pieces of short fiction and countless articles on the film and television industry, as well as the recent novel 14, named best sci-fi novel of 2012 by and voted one of the best horror novels of 2012 on Goodreads and Bloody Disgusting.

He has previously written reviews for the Cinema Blend website and for the Creative Screenwriting magazine as well interviewed many famous film personas such as Frank Darabont, Paul Haggis, Kevin Smith, George Romero, Akiva Goldsman, David Goyer, Mark Herman, Nora Ephron among many others. He currently lives in Southern California. 

NOTE: Red wedding meme courtesy of Quickmeme. Book cover picture and author picture courtesy of the author. Braveheart picture courtesy of Cinemasterpieces.

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