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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

RE-REVIEW: A Dance Of Blades by David Dalglish (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Cloaks
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Dalglish
Read Fantasy Book Critic cover art interview with David Dalglish 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Dalglish is the author of the popular Half Orc fantasy series and the Paladin series. He was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He graduated from Missouri Southern State University in 2006 with a degree in Mathematics and used to work with Special Education students. He lives with his family in Missouri; A Dance Of Cloaks was his traditional publication debut.

OFFICIAL BLURB: It's been five long years since the city learned to fear...

The war between the thief guilds and the powerful allegiance known as the Trifect has slowly dwindled. Now only the mysterious Haern is left to wage his private battle against the guilds in the guise of the Watcher - a vicious killer who knows no limits. But when the son of Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the three leaders of the Trifect, is believed murdered, the slaughter begins anew. Mercenaries flood the streets with one goal in mind: find and kill the Watcher.

Peace or destruction; every war must have its end.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a world wherein there are multiple factions at work, this book is a dark, character-driven, gritty fantasy novel in the vein of Jon Sprunk, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: A Dance of Blades is 407 pages divided over thirty-two numbered chapters and an epilogue. Narration is in the third person via several different point-of-views, both major and supporting characters, including the main protagonist Haern the Watcher, Alyssa Gemcroft, Veliana, Deathmask, Nathaniel Gemcroft, Arthur Hadfield, Oric, Ghost, etc. A Dance of Blades is self-contained, but is the second volume in the Shadowdance series after A Dance of Cloaks.

November 5, 2013 marked the trade paperback and e-book publication of A Dance of Blades via Orbit Books. Cover illustration is provided by Michael Frost and Gene Mollica.

ANALYSIS: As with my re-review of A Dance Of Cloaks, I'm attempting to do a similar thing with this one as this book has changed the least with only some minor text changes. I read this book more than two years ago and since then have absolutely loved this series. The story begins nearly five years since the events shown in “A Dance of Cloaks”. The city of Veldaren is slowly recovering from the catastrophic night in which the Guilds decided to remove the Trifect from the political equation. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for Thren Felhorn because of the valor and dedication of a select few. Since then, the Guilds have fractured even further and now fight amongst themselves in an attempt to regain their earlier powers. The Trifect also suffers, but fares slightly better than their rivals. Complicating matters is a new addition to the city: the Watcher.

The Watcher calls himself Haern, and is the son of the most famous and devious guildlord (a secret known to no one). Using his former training, Haern’s goal is to sow dissent among the Guilds. Meanwhile, Alyssa Gemcroft, one of the leaders of the Trifect, has successfully taken over the Gemcroft estate and now has a son, Nathaniel, from her dalliance in the previous book. Serving Alyssa as her protector is Zusa, the ex-forsaken of Karak and also a confidante to Veliana. Veliana’s mission to save the Ash guild was successful, but she is now subservient to the new Guild master. Readers are also introduced to Deathmask, a character from The Half Orcs series, while Lord Arthur Hadfield and Mark Tullen try to obtain Alyssa Gemcroft’s hand in marriage.

The heart of the story unfolds when Haern comes across a devious plot to kill the child Nathaniel. Haern intervenes, but with chaotic results. Word soon spreads that the child is missing, presumably dead, so Alyssa in her grief decides to finish off the Guilds and kill the Watcher, who she believes are the guilty parties behind her son’s death. From here, A Dance of Blades follows Haern as he battles the Guilds, the Trifect, and perhaps his greatest enemy, an odd giant of a man who goes by the title of Ghost... 

Compared to A Dance of Cloaks, the prose in A Dance of Blades is remarkably more polished and a major highlight of the book. Pacing is similar to the first novel, meaning thrilling action sequences mingled with intriguing characters that reminded me of Paul S. Kemp and David Gemmell, but Dalglish has definitely turned up the excitement level. The story is more linear and streamlined than its predecessor, but there are still lots of machinations and subplots going on, while a deeper exploration of the world of Dezrel is provided. The grimness, which was so prevalent in the first book, has been toned down a bit, although plenty of killing can still be found in A Dance of Blades. Personally, I was glad for this as the author managed to surprise me a couple of times by killing off a certain character, while saving another. Thematically, salvation is a major theme, with many of the book’s characters seeking redemption, with both successful & unsuccessful results. 

Characterization remains top-notch giving readers a wide variety of characters to follow, including Haern with his psychological scars, Veliana with her toughness and never-say-die attitude, and Alyssa who now understands her father better than ever. What I love most about the characters is how they are all so unique and interesting, which is important in a book that features so many different POVs. Meanwhile, quite a few characters from The Half-Orcs series make an appearance in A Dance of Blades. With this book, there's a slight increase in the magic or paranormal nature of the world, of course in the previous book there were events and things happening that clarified that magic was present but with this volume, the author starts building it up even more starkly with the presence of Deathmask and his antics.

Negatively, Haern’s abilities and vigilante actions reminded me of Batman, which made some things in the book easy to predict. Also, because the Shadowdance series is a prequel to The Half-Orcs series, and features many of the same characters, those who have already finished the Half Orc books know who will survive and who won’t. For me, this is the single biggest flaw in reading any prequel series, which is why I have purposefully held off from reading The Half-Orcs novels.

CONCLUSION: Overall, A Dance of Blades is an excellent sequel, further establishing Haern’s story, while showcasing David Dalglish’s impressive growth as a writer. So now, after having fully enjoyed the first two books in the Shadowdance series, I can’t wait to read what happens next in Haern’s saga in the third book, A Dance of mirrors...
Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends (Ever After High #1)" by Shannon Hale (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Shannon Hale's Official Site Here

OVERVIEW: At Ever After High, an enchanting boarding school, the children of fairytale legends prepare themselves to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens...whether they want to or not. Each year on Legacy Day, students sign the Storybook of Legends to seal their scripted fates. For generations, the Village of Book End has whispered that refusing to sign means The End-both for a story and for a life.

As the daughter of the Evil Queen, Raven Queen's destiny is to follow in her mother's wicked footsteps, but evil is so not Raven's style. She's starting to wonder, what if she rewrote her own story? The royal Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, has a happy ever after planned for herself, but it depends upon Raven feeding her a poison apple in their future.

What if Raven doesn't sign the Storybook of Legends? It could mean a happily never after for them both.

FORMAT: Ever After High: Storybook of Legends is a middle school fairy tell retelling. It stands at 320 pages and was published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on October 8, 2013. This is the first book of a series.   

ANALYSIS: I am not a huge fan of books that are created with the sole purpose of selling, promoting Internet websites/TV shows/app. I understand that it is essentially a marketing tool that gets kids to read, but I am just not a fan of it.

So, imagine my surprise when I picked up Ever After High based off of the description only to discover it is a book designed to subtly (or maybe not so subtly) promote a series of Mattel dolls. I wasn't thrilled and almost put it back, but seeing as I love fairy tale retellings; I figured I'd give it a go. And I am glad I did.

Ever After High: Storybook of Legends was a fast-paced, light read that really gave fairy tales a new twist. The book is intended for middle school readers and the writing style, conversations, and some of the problems the characters faced reflect that, but I don't think there is anything 'older' readers can't relate to in this book.

The plot of Ever After High: Storybook of Legends revolves around the idea that the sons/daughters of famous storybook/fairy tale characters all attend a boarding school together. The first year, they are given the freedom to choose classes that they like, but the second year they are 'groomed' to be the characters/people their parents are in their stories.

Second year is when the characters must sign their name in the Storybook of Legends and pledge to assume their role as the hero/subcharacter/villain/etc. They have no choice in the matter, they must do this or they will disappear and the other characters in their story will not be able to get their 'happily ever after'.

Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen, is having second thoughts about this. The plot of the first book revolves around Raven Queen trying to discover herself and see if there is a way that she can change her destiny and not become the Evil Queen.

I believe this plot line allows 'older' readers to relate to the story. Every adult knows what it is like to not fit in, feel as if their life is in the hands of others, etc. In addition to relating to older readers, this plot line sends a subtle, but important message to the younger readers – that your destiny and life is your own.

Normally, I would say a novel that incorporates this idea is doomed to fail, but Shannon Hale really pulls this off. Sure, there are quirky things that drove me a little crazy, but it was a nice, fast, read that I really enjoyed. I can only think of a handful of other authors that would be able to pull this type of novel off without it being a total disaster.

One thing that drove me crazy for example was everything (and I mean everything) has some sort of cutesy nickname. Hextbooks instead of textbooks and things like that. I think it would be cute for younger readers, but it just made my eye twitch sometimes.

Shannon Hale does an excellent job of taking familiar characters, Snow White, Evil Queen, etc., and adding a unique twist to them. The characters are still familiar, but Hale really does make them her own. I think this above all is what makes this book stand out.

Just be warned, there are 2 more books planned for the series. So, not all questions or problems are solved in this book, which is a little disappointing.

Overall, if you are able to put aside the obvious marketing ploy and love fairy tale retellings this may be the book for you. The writing style is definitely middle school, but this novel is a page-turner and worth the read.
Monday, November 25, 2013

GUEST POST: Omnipotence is Impotence: Or Why Control Freaks Make Poor Fantasy Writers by Robert V.S. Redick

I’ve just received three messages from readers. They’re utterly different in their concerns, and yet somehow they all bring me to the same place.

Reader One told me that he’d finally gotten his hands on The Night of the Swarm. He added, “Sandor Ott had better die horribly at the end.” [Something everyone can agree on, I thought]

Reader Two explained that she’d just reached that end, and loved it, BUT:

As I was reading it and seeing how Pazel ________________ I just wanted to cry. And then to end it with _______________ was so heartbreaking…[it] hits too close to home. Great job in rousing deep feelings in how this story ends. I will probably think about this for weeks to come and carry these feelings of sadness for days.

[It’s strange—about half the readers who contact me find the end of the series heartbreaking. I didn’t expect this. I mean, it’s no dancing-Ewoks conclusion, I realize. But…heartbreaking?]

Reader Three, finally, asked a great question about writing description. After we talked about that, he followed up with another:

How do you go about building your characters? I understand that cliché’s not a bad thing and I also know that using real people is good too, but can you give a more in-depth explanation? 

What could I tell these readers? To the first, who hoped the venomous Sandor Ott would suffer and die, I confessed that I, too, kept waiting for some force to come along and chew him to pieces. I can easily imagine his response: Then why didn't you just make it happen

To Reader Two, I wrote that I’d watched my beloved character Pazel walk through the story’s close with my mouth agape. “I thought he’d buy a house in Ballytween! I didn’t think he’d become a drinker and a wreck.” I can imagine her response as well: But wasn’t that… your choice?

To Reader Three--well, I hope this is the in-depth explanation you wanted.

 1) Storytellers are explorers, not architects

This is key. Great fantasy writers are often called “the architects” of their respective worlds, but the term is deceptive. Mountains don’t have architects. Enchanted mountains, where spirits drift and the shadow of a god troubles the heather, sure as hell don’t. Fantasy realms are, alas, partly constructed. But long before that they are found. The marrow (if not the bones) of these lands is our common inheritance. They are born of myth and folktale, ghost story and ancient yarn. Peter S. Beagle may go a bit too far when he says of Tolkien 

…the world he charts was there long before him…. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day's madness here in a poisoned world.

— but only a bit. That notion of “tapping” is a good one. How do you tap a vein of nightmare, daydream, twilight fancy? Not with graph paper or genealogy charts. There are tools that just don’t exist in such realms. If you go there, you’ll find they’ve vanished from your hands. All this is to say that

 2) Planning alone never brought a world to life.

It has even, when done obsessively, kept the spark of life from entering well-made worlds. You can do all the outlining, diagramming, plot-balancing, language-inventing, magic-system modeling, warhorse-feedbag nutritional analyses and ogre skeletal-structure weight-bearing trials you like [believe me, I have]. It’s honest work and may well pay dividends. But when you actually write the book the unexpected will happen. Indeed, must happen, if the story’s going to breathe.

Of course world-building is absolutely vital. It’s simply not the same thing as storytelling. The latter requires a different kind of effort. It requires dream.

 3) To tell a story is to inhabit a waking dream

It’s very easy to be woolly and mystical about this, especially if you’ve just finished a long and complex tale, and especially if you’re me. But the fact is that the act of writing shares many characteristics— singular focus, loss of present awareness, altered time sense, emotional conviction, personal vulnerability—with dreams. And that’s a problem, because 

 4) It is in the nature of dreams to elude control

Nearly every writer who addresses this subject will tell you: the best stuff catches you by surprise. You think your heroine’s going to cross the Old City, climb the Long Stair to Raven’s Landing, sneak through the gardens of the Viceroys and knock on the door of the piano tuner. Because, see, the piano tuner’s shop is where the next plot element is going to snap into place. We know it is. We planned it that way.

But halfway up the Long Stair she smells smoke. She looks up from her reverie and sees her aunt—her once-beloved but long-since-vanished aunt, the one nobody speaks of anymore, the one who made her father sob like a child on the night she disappeared--gazing down at her with a look of horror. She doesn’t speak. In her hands smoldering book. She glances back over her shoulder, gasping a little, turns our heroine a final glance and dashes into a side-street.

HOLY TWO-HEADED ACID-SPITTING TOADS FROM HELL! Where did that woman come from? Where’s she been all these years? What’s frightened her? Why didn’t she speak? And what in God’s name is she doing with a half-burned book?

Now, it’s very possible that what’s waiting in the piano shop is of greater importance than the aunt and her burning book. If so, you must banish her to the Demented Visions folder (doesn’t everyone have a Demented Visions folder?). But what if this business with the aunt, this unplanned business, has you writing with more eagerness than you’ve found in weeks? What if it’s going somewhere that thrills you, and your paint-by-numbers plan is not? Remember the inscription that Digory Kirke finds in the dead world of The Magician’s Nephew:
   Make your choice, adventurous stranger 
   Strike the bell and bide the danger 
   Or wonder, ‘till it drives you mad 
   What would have followed if you had. 

Of course he gives in—every gun must go off—and hell, or hell’s queen anyway, immediately breaks lose and goes on a rampage. It’s a moment that captures the best of the Narnia books—economy of vision, a shockingly vivid scene, a reversal of the myth’s gender rolls (Eve resists, Adam succumbs). And then, pages later, the very worst. Lewis can’t help himself. He spells out not just the consequences, not just Digory’s mistake, but the absolute truth—that he knew better, that he betrayed his own soul, that the unchaining of evil is all his fault because he didn’t stick with The Plan.

Sorry, kid, you blew it. At least you’ll have a story to tell.

This is your choice as the writer of the scene on the staircase. Following your muse, following the voice of the weird in the waterfall, almost certainly will play havoc with your own version of The Plan. You don’t have to do it. You won’t actually go mad. But no story ever came from leaving the forbidden apple on the tree.

Two and a half centuries ago there was a spat between Voltaire and the latter-day champions of Shakespeare. The feud turned nasty and nationalist, but it brought to light a vital difference between the literary men. Voltaire is a thinker and a landscape gardener. Shakespeare is a bard. The former gives us systematic philosophy and logical argument. The latter gives us pain, love, rage, betrayal, hilarity, hope, catharsis. Voltaire offers shining ideals; Shakespeare, scalding experience. No one remembers Voltaire for his fiction per se: the wit, yes, the ideas, certainly. He's a genius with a reason for everything. A precise reason, one he can both articulate and defend. Before a judge if necessary.

I doubt very much that Shakespeare could defend Lady Macbeth, or Hamlet, or Lear. He didn’t plan them, contrive them as symbols, make them jerk and dance (like C.S. Lewis) to a moral-proving tune. They aren’t devices but forces of nature, famished bears at a picnic; they make a mess of things. Shakespeare’s genius is to achieve order anyway—to create world and music and meaning to encompass these monsters. Voltaire shows us what ought to be. Shakespeare conveys what terrifyingly is.

When you perceive that—when you sense what’s most true about your vision, rather than most cozy or entertaining or in vogue—your job, quite simply, is to capture it as best you can. Not to tame it, and never to squash it into the service of some lesser thing. Of course this makes your job much harder. And what's so bad about that? Yes, empty, featherpuff books sell more copies, as a rule. But no one reads an essay this long in pursuit of featherpuff.

Sooner or later, if we’re after something real, we step beyond the tidy garden of the book we’ve planned and light out for the territories. All hell breaks lose. The sword descends, Eden withers behind us; we sense a world ahead that is vast and frightening and raw. That is where discovery can happen. That is the step that must be dared.

Official Author Website 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Red Wolf Conspiracy 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Rats And The Ruling Sea 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The River of Shadows 
Read Fantasy, History, Hannibal & Talking Rats: A Conversation between David Anthony Durham & Robert V.S. Redick

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert V.S. Redick is a writer of fantasy, mainstream fiction, creative nonfiction and criticism. He is the author of The Chathrand Voyage Quartet. The fourth novel in the series, The Night of the Swarm, was published earlier this year. He’s currently at work on a new epic fantasy series. Born and raised in Virginia,  Mr. Redick currently lives Bogor, Indonesia. More information about him can be read at his website.

NOTE: This post was originally posted over at Robert's blog. The Longbridge art courtesy of Alexandra Semushina. Author picture courtesy of the author himself.
Saturday, November 23, 2013

Eragon (10th Anniversary edition) by Christopher Paolini (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Christopher Paolini was born in Southern California. and has lived most of his life in Paradise Valley, Montana with his parents and younger sister. Christopher was homeschooled by his parents and some of his favorite books were Bruce Coville's Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, Frank Herbert's Dune, and Raymond E. Feist's Magician, as well as books by Anne McCaffrey, Jane Yolen, Brian Jacques, E.R. Eddison, David Eddings, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

The idea of Eragon began as the daydreams of a teen. Christopher’s love for the magic of stories led him to craft a novel that he would enjoy reading. Christopher was fifteen when he wrote the first draft of Eragon and took a couple of years to self-publish it. In 2003 it was re-published by Knopf and has gone on to become an international bestseller. In 2007, it was also made into a film of the same name.

OFFICIAL BLURB:  One boy . . .  One dragon . . .  A world of adventure.

When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself.

Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds.

Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands

FORMAT/INFO: Eragon is 507 pages long divided over fifty-nine titled chapters with a prologue. Narration is in the third-person via Eragon solely. There is also a map, a glossary, a pronunciation guide, a note from the author explaining this edition & lastly the acknowledgments section. Eragon is the first volume of the Inheritance series.

October 22, 2013 marked the North American hardback publication of this edition and it was published by Knopf books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: When I got a chance to review Eragon’s 10th anniversary edition, I didn’t want to turn it down. Because
 (a) I wanted to see how it would hold up when I read it nearly 10 years ago as a fantasy newbie
 (b) This was a gorgeous special edition and being the book-whore collector that I’m, there was no way I could pass up this chance.

What I’m going to do in this review is that I’m going to focus simply on the story of Eragon and not the entire series and also stress the coolness of this special edition. When I had first read the story back in late 2003 in India, I had just about started reading fantasy and had recently finished Lord Of The Rings. I hadn’t seen Star Wars (the old and the new trilogy) and yet when I read this story written by a teenager, I found it to be an interesting read if not simply a good one. Did I see some of the similarities between Tolkien’s magnum opus and Paolini’s debut; the answer would be yes, but I thought at that point that this was an interesting version told by a kid as was The Sword Of Shannara.

Fast forward to a decade later, when I’m re-reading this story after being massively disappointed by Eldest & giving up on the Inheritance series, still haven’t seen the Star Wars films and after reading quite a lot in fantasy. This time around my read wasn’t as smooth as my first one. Here’s what the gist of the plot is about. Eragon is an orphan living with his uncle and cousin Roran in a small village in the farther corners of an empire. His luck changes when he finds a smooth blue egg-shaped stone that hatches into a blue-scaled dragon.

He bonds with the dragon who calls her Saphira and then learns about what it might mean to be a dragon rider if he can survive long enough in his training. That’s how the story begins and soon Eragon and Saphira will become famous all across the lands of Alagaësia but not everyone who seeks them is a friend. The story then twists and turns as the reader is strung along and soon discovers that there’s more to this story than what was assumed. The story is told entirely through Eragon’s eyes and thus the reader slowly gets introduced to the intricacies of the world and the magic within. The author takes care never to overwhelm the readers at any time while doing out bits of history and world info that are interlaced through the dialogue.

The book has a reasonable pace that will keep the readers racing along and especially has a terrific, action-packed climax. This book also has six interior art pieces by these artists: John Jude Palancar, Michael Hague, Donato Giancola, Ciurelo, Raoule Vitale and one piece by the author himself. Another thing that works well within the story is the action sequences, the first half of the story is not quite action packed. But the second half more than makes up for it as the story races towards a terrific climax. The pace is also something that picks up as the story progresses and while it is a bit stagnant in the first few chapters, it does get better.

Now on to the things that make this book such a divisive one, the book’s plot seems very akin to Star Wars and also seems to have a strong inkling of Lord Of The Rings with its generous usage of terms and names that sound a lot similar to those found in the seminal fantasy epic. There’s also the “orphan/chosen one“ trope that the plot heartily plays out on, while this would be entertaining if you are reading it for the first time. But after reading a reasonable amount of fantasy books, this trope as well the story doesn’t quite generate the same amount of attention. But here’s why I still think that this book deserves some accolades, it was written by a teenager (15-17) and on that level, it’s quite a fun read.

Most writers don’t churn out original, path-breaking stuff during that age or much less get published with it. It’s to his and his parents’ perseverance that he got published and has gone on to such divisive fame (or infamy if you will, based on all the dislike as seen on Goodreads). So on that note, I must say that this book will continue to charm and inflame its readers but it can’t be completely discounted. This edition does spruce up that fact and so for readers who loved this story, this edition is a must have with its interior art.

CONCLUSION: The 10th anniversary edition of Eragon is a fine one; it’s a nice homage to a book that launched Christopher Paolini’s career. This book doesn’t have changes in the story but combined with the cool interior art, it does look quite regal. Which I believe is what the publishers and author was aiming for. So Eragon fans, if you don’t mind the price, then this book is a cool addition to your library.
Thursday, November 21, 2013

Manifesto UF: edited by Tim Marquitz & Tyson Mauermann (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author website
Order the anthology HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Armageddon Bound
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Resurrection 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of At The Gates and Betrayal
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Echoes Of The Past 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Beyond The Veil
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of From Hell
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Tim Marquitz 

EDITOR INFORMATION: Tim Marquitz is the author of the Demon Squad series, and the Sepulchral Earth serial stories. He is also an editor, a heavy metal aficionado, a Mixed Martial Arts fan, and is also a member of the Live Action Role Playing organization. When he’s not busy writing dark stories, which catch his imagination he also manages to go about his day job. Tim lives in El Paso, Texas with his wonderful family.

EDITOR INFORMATION: Tyson Mauermann was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington. He graduated from the Eastern Washington University with degrees in History, Geography, and Satellite Imagery Analysis. He later went back to the University of Washington to receive his Teaching Certificate and his Masters in Education. After several years of teaching English and History in public schools he was bit by the travel bug and in 2009, he packed his bags and flew to South Korea where he teaches English to middle school students at a public school.

Tyson is constantly reading something whether it is fantasy, science fiction, history or a book that attempts to teach him how to speak Korean so that it can make his life easier when ordering a chilled and frosty adult beverage. He currently lives with his wife in American northwest.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: This anthology was something I was looking forward for twofold reasons:
 a) It focusses on urban fantasy, a favorite sub-genre of mine.
 b) Because Tim and Tyson were helming this project. Both of whom are capable editors in themselves and also are good friends of mine.

The blurb can be read here and I'll be commenting about each story as it simply helps in elucidating what I liked and disliked about each story (apologies in advance for its length):

Rev by Kirk Dougal – The anthology opener is one that focuses on Revenants and the protagonist of the story is one seeking escape from his undead lifestyle. An old Welsh legend might be the key to his salvation but can he beat fate? This story was an interesting one with an odd twist to the usual zombie story and the way it ended made me curious as to whether a sequel would be written. A good opener if not a stellar one.

I’m an Animal. You’re an Animal, Too by Zachary Jernigan – The first thing I liked about the story was the title and coming from Zachary, I didn’t quite know what to expect from this one. The story is simply about an initiation unlike any other and with enough doses of savagery and black humor made this story the first gem in this collection. Dark, brutal and with a few cameos, IAAYAAT gives us the first clue that this is not like most other urban fantasy anthologies, very highly recommended!

Los Lagos Heat by Karina FabianLos Lagos Heat focuses on Vern and is a short story from The Case Files of DragonEye series. In this world wherein the Faerie and the Mundane have met and struck up awkward symbiosis of sorts, Vern gets handed a case of a missing dryad. Of course nothing is as ever simple in any P.I. story and in this one, there’s crime, magic and gods muddying the waters. An interesting story with a good conclusion, Karina Fabian really intrigues the reader via her protagonist Vern and the curious world he calls his abode. Another fun and intriguing addition to this collection.

Savage Rise by Adam MillardSavage Rise is the second time I've come across any of Adam Millard’s work, rest assured it won’t be the last. Savage Rise focuses on Frank who recalls the horrific event he underwent nearly a year ago in Birmingham, UK. This story has quite a bit of horror to it and the way the story expands, readers will be hooked to see what happens in the end. I loved this dark tale and should the author expand it to a novella or book, I would among the first in line to buy a copy.

Front Lines, Big City by Timothy Baker – This story was something more in line with Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series and features an unnamed narrator who is caught up with a terrible situation. This short almost seemed like a chapter out of a longer story and perhaps left me with a longing to read it in its entirety. For some that might be a plus and for others, it might be detracting so it will be up to the reader to decide. Overall it was an interesting story.

Break Free by Ryan Lawler – The way the author had paraphrased writing this story was his story would mix Matthew Reilly’s explosive story style with magic and it is a very high-octane story. Max is the protagonist who is trying to break free his father from a prison high up in the clouds. A fast-paced story that has a huge, serious twist in the end, this was another plus point for this collection.

Naked the Night Sings by Teresa Frohock – This was another story, whose title was attention-grabbing, plus it was written by Teresa Frohock and so I was assured of two things; elegant prose and dark settings. Not only does the author does her best in creating a rich, dark atmosphere but she also goes about creating admirable characters who leave you hooked onto the story. Another fine dark gem from an author who is fast becoming a solid favorite of mine.

Double Date by Andrew Moczulski – This was another surprise in this collection. Focusing on two individuals who take different routes to get to the same pest, the author explores a neat concept. The story is told through the eyes of Eric Margrave who is a hunter and has a strange partner. His most recent mission however will bring him into more trouble and a competitor as well. A great urban fantasy short with a strong narrative voice.

That Old Tree by R.L. Treadway – This was a very confusing story set in a neighborhood with a typical cast of characters. The way the author has written it can be a tad cumbersome in regards to the actual happenings in the story and some of the dialogue of the narrator. A tale about retribution that is seen through the eyes of an ancient one, That Old Tree was a story that will liked depending upon your temperament.

Dharmasankat by Abhinav Jain – This was another favorite of mine as Abhinav Jain basically subverted urban fantasy with an Indian twist and also at the same time, used a cool mythological story to tie it in with his set up. The story focuses on Vikram, a warrior in training to be a Dharmayoddha. He gets tasked to deal with a rather obnoxious guru whose wishes seem to be unholy to say the least. A very nice story which will require some understanding of Indian terms and mythology and another strong, diverse addition to this fabulous collection.

Nephilim by TSP Sweeney – This one was first story to focus on angels and it had a good noir-ish edge to it. Focussing on Dantalion, a fallen angel who is hunting the source of a new drug called “neph” in Hong Kong. Dantalion soon finds that there are more things in Heaven and earth than thought of by Horatio or him and that might soon be the end of him. A taut story which has a nice twisted ending, Nephilim reminded me a lot of the indie horror Gabriel, with a tad touch of Tad Williams’ current trilogy. Another shining effort from this collection.

Toejam & Shrapnel by Nickolas Sharps – What can I say about this story, simply other than this story was best in terms of fun and subversion of urban fantasy tropes. Beginning with a quirky title, the author neatly lays down a clichéd story about a writer named Cathan Keene who is trying to write his new mystery while being in a locked room of sorts. Pretty soon he finds out that things are going south at a rate he can’t manage and thus he finds himself in the company of our titular characters. What happens next is something that you will have to find out yourself as after finishing this story, I proclaimed myself (with the blessings of the author) as the first T & S fan. A highly enjoyable story that mixes fun, intrigue, death & Middle eastern mythology in a combination that is almost unheard of. Very highly recommended and possibly one of the top three stories in this collection.

Green Grow the Rashes by William Meikle – This was a strange story and perhaps one that I didn't quite understand. The story opens up with a person who via his monologue explains certain things about the environment and the plot happenings. A story that will perhaps endear itself to certain readers who enjoy an understated approach.

Under the Dragon Moon by Jonathan Pine – This was a story that felt as if it was a chapter of a larger book or at least part of a series of shorts or novellas. Kyle is a person who has lost his love and soon finds that there might be people who had a hand in it. They however don’t know what they might be facing. Another short that has a tense ending and leaves the reader wanting to know more about what has happened previously & also what could happen.

Gold Dust Woman by Kenny SowardGold dust Woman is a story that takes several different elements and genres to combine itself into an urban fantasy beast, which is one of a kind. Celix is a drug addict who is running away from troubles that cant be contained. Unfortunately for her, her pursuers have sent someone that could be a friend. Whom does she trust and can she still find the power within her to say no and survive. A story that ends on a totally unpredictable note, Kenny Soward showcases some deft skills with this one.

Wizard’s Run by Joshua S. Hill Wizard’s Run is a story that leaks the plot with its title. The eponymous wizard of the story is shown to be running through the streets of Melbourne (Australia) while being pursued by an unknown number of assailants. Those who are familiar with the city might very well enjoy the author’s descriptions and factoids about the city which are liberally sprinkled throughout. The ending is a quick one and with a nice hook left for sequel stories to follow.

Chains of Gray by Betsy DornbuschChains of Grey is a story set in recent times but occurs in an unnamed place. Suriel is the protagonist of the story and also a Grigori, despised by the angels for his love of mankind. However recent angel deaths have forced Gabriel to seek his aid and when Suriel discovers who is behind all of it, he will be forced to make a tough decision. Another story featuring angels but one that showcases their internecine struggles. Betsy Dornbusch keeps the story moving at a rapid pace but doesn't quite manage to make it entirely unpredictable.

Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic LA by Jake Elliot – This story had an intriguing title and it featured angels and demons particularly focusing on Mikael and Ba’al. The author does a terrific job in describing a confrontation between the two aforementioned entities in the streets of Los Angeles and over it. However after finishing it, I couldn't really say that it had the narrative strength of the its predecessors nor did it offer anything different from the other stories featuring angels.

Queen’s Blood by Lincoln Crisler Queen’s Blood was a story that features a guy called Max who retrieves things for people who can’t be helped by the police. In his most recent case, he’s trying to recover a young girl who’s been kidnapped and also figure out who is behind it all. A quirky story that features a very likable protagonist with a fascinating condition, Queen’s Blood will easily leave you wanting more of Max.

Beneath a Scalding Moon by Jeff Salyards – This was another surprise for me, I didn't know what to expect from Jeff Salyards and he further compounded it by having a story that mixes Desperate Housewives with True Blood. Cassie is the protagonist of the story that has a cavalier attitude towards life and her sexual partners. Going gung-ho she discovers that perhaps all is not well with her, but the optimist that she is, she never lets it get in the way of her next lay. A very weird story that will have a few chuckling and others shaking their heads, but the audacity of the author in presenting this story can’t be questioned. A very different UF story that shows the scope of this collection.

Separation Anxiety by J.M. MartinSeparation Anxiety was a surprising story that incorporates several mythologies and also showcases a post-apocalyptic theme smartly. To reveal more about the story is spoilery so I would leave it for the reader to discover its charm. An interesting story mix that has an equally interesting plot to go with it.

Blessing and Damnation by Wilson Geiger – A story about what happens when a demon decides to break all accord and nomenclature that has been set since the heavenly war. Norshael is the other demon chosen to stop the previous one and his task has him co-opting a human body whose owner might be more than what he thought. A surprisingly brisk story which leaves the reader asking for more of Norshael.

Jesse Shimmer Goes to Hell by Lucy A. SnyderLucy Snyder brings up the last story in this intrepid collection and she focuses on her debut series character Jesse Shimmer. Jesse is forced to look for a person named Miko however Miko might not entirely amiable to being found. The story has a breakneck pace and ends on a surprising note. Quite a strong finish to this collection.

CONCLUSION: Tim and Tyson have compiled quite an eclectic collection of stories, they encompass the vast swath in the urban fantasy sub-genre and some push the line even further. I happen to be a fan of urban fantasy and therefore this collection was a gem in that regard. Perhaps a tad extra focus was provided on angels but each story highlighted a new aspect dealing with angels and so my complaints were muted.

Some of the stories like those by Zachary Jernigan, Teresa Frohock, Nick Sharps and Adam Millard were absolutely delightful and in my view the ones I enjoyed the most. While those by Ryan Lawler, Abhinav Jain, TPS Sweeney, Jeff Salyards, Lincoln Crisler showcased the innovative twists and plots as devised by the authors. All in all this is a must have and must read for any UF fan and those lamenting the pitfalls seen in this genre.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three Shorter Reviews: Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds and Jean-Christophe Valtat (by Liviu Suciu)

Three highly expected sf novels, two disappointments, one quite good but less than the sum of its outstanding parts. My slightly edited Goodreads short reviews/raw thoughts follow:

"The very far future: The Galaxy is a drifting wreck of black holes, neutron stars, chill white dwarfs. The age of star formation is long past. Yet there is life here, feeding off the energies of the stellar remnants, and there is mind, a tremendous Galaxy-spanning intelligence each of whose thoughts lasts a hundred thousand years. And this mind cradles memories of a long-gone age when a more compact universe was full of light...

The 27th century: Proxima Centauri, an undistinguished red dwarf star, is the nearest star to our sun - and (in this fiction), the nearest to host a world, Proxima IV, habitable by humans. But Proxima IV is unlike Earth in many ways. Huddling close to the warmth, orbiting in weeks, it keeps one face to its parent star at all times. The 'substellar point', with the star forever overhead, is a blasted desert, and the 'antistellar point' on the far side is under an ice cap in perpetual darkness. 

How would it be to live on such a world? Needle ships fall from Proxima IV's sky. Yuri Jones, with 1000 others, is about to find out...PROXIMA tells the amazing tale of how we colonise a harsh new eden, and the secret we find there that will change our role in the Universe for ever."

Proxima has a lot going for itself and while it does not fully succeed in its ambitious goal of integrating three classic but usually disparate sfnal story-lines, so being overall less the sum of its parts, the parts themselves attain true magnificence on occasion and the book is worth reading for sure; not to speak of the sequel (Ultima) that the sort-of cliffhanger ending requires.

As others noted, the blurb is quite inaccurate - even the name of the main human character is wrong as he is known as Yuri Eden, while his real name is implied in the end pages - so as a quick summary, I would say that Proxima combines bare-bones (little tech, short, nasty, brutish lives) colonization of a strange planet - this part is the best but ultimately it is a little irrelevant in the big picture - with humanity encountering mysterious and ultra-powerful artifacts that may give it the stars but at a cost and with grave danger - this part will be most likely the most relevant in the next book - and finally power struggles, politics, conspiracies and standard near-future stuff - this part kind of resolves itself at the end.

Overall, ambition and some awesome stuff in various parts of the novel overcome the major shortcoming of the whole being less than the sum of its parts and the feeling of forced stitching of sf tropes that do not really work together and as mentioned, that issue
solves itself logically by pushing one trope to front and leaving the rest as "done".


"It is a thousand years in the future. Mankind is making its way out into the universe on massive generation ships.
On the Steel Breeze is the follow-up to Blue Remembered Earth. It is both a sequel and a standalone novel, which just happens to be set in the same universe and revolves around members of the Akinya family.
The central character, Chiku, is totally new, although she is closely related to characters in the first book. The action involves a 220-year expedition to an extrasolar planet aboard a caravan of huge iceteroid 'holoships', the tension between human and artificial intelligence ... and, of course, elephants."

On the Steel Breeze is quite disappointing - one of the few A Reynolds novels that bored me to no end except for the last 50 or so pages which were excellent and a return to form; the novelty from Blue Remembered Earth is gone, the storyline(s) are very drawn out boring almost to the end with the standard "abundant technological future" tropes where all conflict is kind of made up rather than real, the characters live very long lives that are not really reflected in the page by the author as they act like regular humans of today with aging a counting matter but not really a life-changing experience one etc.

There is very little sense of the external - again, the bland future makes it hard to go into details as I've seen this repeated in similar works like 2312 - and the characters are not that interesting or engaging as that was never the author's forte anyway.

Still ambitious and with enough stuff and a great ending to make it passable but not among the author's best.

Not sure I will bother to read the last installment - maybe I will take a look when I see a copy - and I hope Mr. Reynolds goes back to writing the sense of wonder sf he showed so magnificently in the Revelation Space sequence or in his short stories.


"It's 1907 in the icily beautiful New Venice, and the hero of the city's liberation, Brentford Orsini, has been deposed by his arch-rival -- who immediately assigns Brentford and his friends on a dangerous diplomatic mission to Paris.

So, Brentford recruits his old friend and louche counterpart, Gabriel d'Allier, underground chanteuse and suffragette Lillian Lake, and the mysterious Blankbate--former Foreign Legionnaire and leader of the Scavengers, the city's garbage collecting cult--and others, for the mission.

But their mode of transportation--the untested "transaerian psychomotive"--proves faulty and they find themselves transported back in time to Paris 1895 ... before New Venice even existed. What's more, it's a Paris experiencing an unprecedented and crushingly harsh winter.

They soon find themselves involved with some of the city's seediest, most fascinating inhabitants. But between attending soirees at Mallarmé's house, drinking absinthe with Proust, trying to wrestle secrets out of mesmerists, and making fun of the newly-constructed Eiffel Tower, they also find that Paris is a city full of intrigue, suspicion, and danger.

For example, are the anarchists they encounter who are plotting to bomb the still-under construction Sacre Coeur church also the future founders of New Venice? And why are they trying to kill them?

And, as Luminous Chaos turns into another lush adventure told in glorious prose rich in historical allusion, there's the biggest question of them all: How will they ever get home?"

After the awesome Aurorarama - top 10 of mine in 2010 - huge expectations for this follow-up. A great beginning and superb artwork throughout the novel, but a major disappointment in the end. Picking up a year after the end of the earlier book, Luminous Chaos lacked somewhat the freshness and originality of Aurorarama but to start with, it had enough goodies to keep me entertained and the style was the same irreverent one of the first volume. Of course as per blurb, the action moved from the Polar regions to Paris where the heroes traveled by "Psychomotives":

"Once the pilot is charged with Od, it is but a matter of channelling the force efficiently. For one thing, Od, as I said, is diamagnetic and can be used for easy levitation. Then, because the two hands of the body are differently Od-polarized, they can rotate two disks in different directions, hence furnishing electromagnetic power, which in turn operates contra-rotating turbines with mobile rotor blades for steering. It’s as simple as that, really.

Brentford was unconvinced, but after all, this was New Venice. He had seen Helen stop Time and a kangaroo with a wolf’s head emit telepathic messages: if he willed it, he could make his disbelief diamagnetic and let it float on thin air."

I tried to make my belief diamagnetic too and let it float on the air too for but sadly there was a point where with all the magic in the book and my disbelief just couldn't be suspended any more.

 I would like to avoid major spoilers but overall this book is the precise of equivalent of "everything that happened was a dream and life goes on without any changes/consequences" and I dislike such way too much for even its great style and madcap action to compensate. Hopefully there will be more New Venice stuff rather than this book that could have been skipped without any loss...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

GIVEAWAY: The Fated Blades Series by Steve Bein

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Daughter Of The Sword and Only A Shadow
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Year Of The Demon 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Steve Bein
Read Fantasy Book Critic's 2nd interview with Steve Bein
Read Steve Bein's Guest Post on Cool Samurai Trivia

At Fantasy Book Critic, we are huge fans of Steve Bein and his Fated Blades series. So it's our great pleasure to announce that ROC books are giving away one set of “Daughter Of The Sword” and “Year Of The Demon” to One Lucky Winner!!!

To enter, please send an email to with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: Fated Blades. Giveaway has ENDED and was open to participants in USA & CANADA ONLY.

Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Interview with Rajdeep Paul (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Page
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Davyaprithvi

Davyaprithvi was Rajdeep Paul's debut in the SFF genre. It was a different read in terms of style, content and story settings. Rajdeep shares my love for the Mahabharata and that is how we met way back in India. I enjoyed reading his debut work and wanted to explore his understanding of the Indian mythology that he utilized so successfully as the background to the Indus Valley series. So read ahead to know about Rajdeep, his path to being a writer and all that has influenced him to be the person that he is today...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, could you please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write in the first place, and describe your journey to becoming a published author. 

RP: Hi everyone, I am Rajdeep from India. The first thing I ever wrote was a translation of a Russian fairytale in Bengali, my mother tongue. I have always loved epics and fantasies, and have wanted to write since then. But I was pretty shy and growing up in this part of the world, where you have to be either a doctor or engineer to be considered of any worth in your family. I got pushed into the Software Industry however while on that job I wrote my first novel which was a re-imagining of the Mahabharata. I put it to various publishing houses, but in a country like India, which is rich in its population but poor in resources, very few things happen unless you know people in key positions personally.

So none of the publishers ever got back. In 2007, I quit my job, and got into a film school to study film direction, wherein I met my friend and partner Sarmistha Maiti, who wrote about art for Mr Anoop Kamath. She spoke about my book to Mr. Kamath, who liked my writing but felt that particular novel was a bit too culture-specific. However, last year when I proposed the idea of the Indus Valley series, he was very enthusiastic and that sums up my journey so far.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of the Indus Valley series occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)? 

RP: The genesis of Indus Valley started about seven years back when I was writing my first novel – Vichitrabharata ( a re-imagining of the Mahabharata). While doing research for that story, I came upon a book called “Brahma Vishnu and Siva” by Sukumari Bhattacharaya, analysis of the growth of religion in general and the evolution of the Vedic Indian Gods in particular. I had always been fascinated by religion and mythology and conceived this idea set in the pre-historic times, when the Aryas first arrive in the Indus Valley ruled by the non-Aryas, and how different cultures mix. And how heroes of one age mix with imaginations of poets and realizations of philosophers to become Gods of the future.

However more or less at that time, I happened came across the Shiva Trilogy written by Amish Tripathi (in fact it was you Mihir who sent me the link of the first book which had just arrived on the stands), which had a similar backdrop, and so I abandoned the idea for then… But it remained within me, got more refined with time, my writing style also evolved and the idea finally took form of what it is now.

Q] 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 elevator pitch for Davyaprithvi? 

RP: Davyaprithvi- Heaven on Earth is my first published novel. My earlier published book was a series of novellas, in which both my novellas India 24 and 3 on a Bed were based in the contemporary world written with a realistic style and setting. Davyaprithvi on the other hand is in the fantasy genre and on face value, it's very different from my earlier book as chalk and cheese. However in spite of being set in a pre-historic fantastic world, the themes addressed are very contemporary – like energy crisis, invasion, clash of cultures and civilizations, tradition vs modernization, the evils of materialism, chemical warfare.

These themes are very contemporary while also being universal and timeless. And thus although the world of Davyaprithvi is based in fantasy, the crisis therein is very real. To sum it up in simpler worlds, you can look from The Gulf War or the War in Afghanistan imagined in the scale and style of the film “300” set in the backdrop of pre-historic India.

Q] Tell us more about the world that Davyaprithvi is set in and some of the series’ major characters. 

RP: Davyaprithvi is set in pre-historic India, when the first Aryas arrive in the Indus Valley from Central Asia in a time before the Vedas were written (roughly 5000 years before Christ), however taking the liberties that the fantasy/sci-fi genre grants, it is a world that is far technologically advanced than it was in reality. The series focuses on the rivalry of the three main races – the Aryas, the Dasyus and the Gandharvas. The Aryas are a nomadic war-like race, who have been forced to leave their home in Central Asia, due to clan rivalry and drying up of resources and they are on the lookout for greener pastures, which they find in Indus Valley.

Their opposites the Dasyus are the native rulers of Indus Valley. They are far superior to the Aryas in technology and advanced in every way. Amassing power is not their motto anymore… now they want to bring a cultural unification in the Valley under their banner, but the Aryas stick as a sore thumb in their mission. Caught in the violent rivalry between the two are the peace-loving and hedonistic race of Gandhravas who are basically the hippies of that age. And a central bone of contention between the three races is the liquid Soma derived from the plant of the same name which in its different forms is used as an intoxicant by the Gandhravas and a fuel and major source of power by the Dasyus. However the true power of Soma is yet to be discovered and it provides one of the major plots in the story.

Among the main characters, first there are the three Kings - High King Varuna of the Aryas – brave and just but cunning and ambitious as well ready to take any means necessary to achieve what he wants. As a foil to that we have King Pasupati Sambhu of the Dasyus, majestic and proud, who is probably much nobler to Varuna in terms of moral standards but he is also ruthless and fearsome when enraged. And then we have Gandhrava King Vishwavasu, unassuming, peace-loving and wise. There are the two Queens - Arya Queen Aditi, a feisty warrior-princess, and the more motherly and loveable Queen Danu of the Dasyus. There is also the heroic Arya Prince Dyus contrasted with the ambitious and cunning Mahakala Swarbhanu, General of the Dasyus, and Pasupati Sambhu’s brother. There are the three Arya Chiefs Agni, Vayu and Surya, the Dasyu Priest Isana and finally the Arya visionary Bhrigavangirasa, who are conjoined twins and his attendant Atri, a commoner Arya boy with a dream to make it big. These are the main characters of this novel. Newer characters will be introduced as the series progresses as the whole story of Indus Valley will span generations.

Q] When you started out, did you have an overall plan for the Indus Valley series, such as a specific number of books to be written? How much of the plot do you plan out? Or to quote George R.R. Martin, “are you a Gardener or an Architect” when it comes to your writing? 

RP: I am a bit of both I guess. The ‘Gardener’ part of me plants the seeds and lets them grow naturally, but the ‘Architect’ side builds a cage of a specific shape around it, so although the plant grows on its own it takes the shape which I want to give it. And thus you have a tree sculpture ☺

Well I have the basic rules set in place when I begin writing. When developing a new world, I have to know very clearly what this world is like… what is the physical nature, the political motivations, the economic status, the religion in this world. I have the basic character arcs in mind. While creating each character, it is very important that I define how this person is like, what are his/her motivations, desires, insecurities… what will take one particular character to the edge and force him to blow his/her handle… but once these basic things are defined I let my characters grow on their own… and I cannot just force one character to behave in a certain way, just to enhance the plot…

The same goes for the plot, I may have the beginning and the end defined, but the middle often takes shape as and when I proceed with the writing. For example, in this book, the character of Queen Aditi was never defined before I started writing, but the character grew on me, and the more I wrote about her, it grew on and on until she became one of the major characters.

Q] I’ve known you for a few years now Rajdeep, we bonded over our common love for the Mahabharata. Will you be ever writing about the Mahabharata? 

RP: I already have. My first novel Vichitrabharata, which is still not published, is an alternate reality Mahabharata, where the characters are same but the incidents differ. The Mahabharata is such a nuanced and complex text, that you never seem to get enough of it. And everything that I write is in some way inspired by it. I have this great dream of making the entire Mahabharata into a series of films, but for that we would need a huge amount of money. So that’s the distant dream, but if the readers support me, hopefully it will come true one day.

Q] You are also a director who released his film “3 On A Bed” last year. Tell us a bit more about it and how did that come about to be? 

RP: I have done post-graduation in screenplay and film direction from Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, one of the premium film schools in India. “3 on a Bed” was my graduation film from film school – 32 minutes in length, shot in celluloid. “3 on a Bed” tells the story of a polyamorous triad – two men, one woman – who fall in love and instead of fighting over who gets whom decide to share that love equally among them. For the uninitiated, “polyamory” is a relationship orientation which believes in a committed non-monogamous relationship with knowledge and consent of everyone involved in it. Though the term is coined recently, the practice has existed since the dawn of time under different names.

I am polyamorous by faith and I wanted to make a film about polyamoros people standing in my social context. That’s how “3 on a Bed” originated. Though a student film made in shoe-string budget, the online promos of the film went viral and created quite a stir. People who saw the film, started taking us seriously as filmmakers. In fact one of the reasons why Mr. Anoop Kamath agreed to publish me, was because he loved the film so much. Later I and my co-director Sarmistha Maiti, also wrote the book “3 on a Bed Contemporary Indian Novellas” which is a collection of three novellas – India 24 by myself, One Day for Love by Sarmistha and 3 on a Bed by both of us. While the film is horizontal in its approach exploring how the relationship of the three protagonists developed and evolved placing them in their broader social context, the novella takes a vertical approach delving deep into the trio’s psychological make-up and the nuances of their relationship.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right 

RP: My all-time favourite author is Vyasa, the creator of the epic Mahabharata. In my view nowhere in the world at any point of time has anyone else shown a deeper more nuanced understanding of the human condition than Vyasa. Coming to the modern times, I am a big fan of fantasy literature starting with J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, a character I myself identify with. I am also a great devotee of J. R. R. Tolkien, whose sheer brilliance and magnificence, puts me to awe every time. However apart from the Lord of the Rings, I do not quite agree with Tolkien’s political and philosophical stance. I also think that J. K. Rowling is an absolute master when it comes to creating plots twist and turns therein. I simply love how the Harry Potter series evolved over time – how good and bad became more overlapping and interconnected as the series progressed and how against all odds, she kept Harry Potter – a children’s story at its core.

I enjoyed George R. R. Martin’s writing because of the pure shock value within, but I feel so much of darkness and negativity takes away from fantasy its basic requisite – hope. Among literary writers, I adore Oscar Wilde, O. Henry, Sadat Hasaan Manto among others. I am also a big fan of the absurd literature created by Sukumar Ray, the father of world-renowned Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Oh, and how can I possibly not mention Joseph Campbell, who I consider to be my literary Guru! It is through his analytical books on mythology that I have learnt the basic grammar and art of story-telling.

Q] Tell us a little bit about the research you undertook before attempting to write this series. What were the things you focused upon? Were there any fascinating things that you found amidst your research? 

RP: In the Indus Valley series, what we really try to explore is the history of human conflict. And the primary reasons behind this conflict have been land, resources and religious faith. Since the beginning of time to the present day, one group of people have been fighting another group of folks about occupation or supremacy over a piece of earth. Using the psychological influence of the religions, they believe in order to gain control over a supply of resources which is the basic need of survival – these resources can be food, water, or fuel. The story is age-old and as new as can be. This is the basic theme – the central plot of the Indus Valley series.

As I said earlier, the idea of the series first came after I read the book “Brahma, Visnu and Siva” by Sukumari Bhattacharya. The concept of how human beings come up with the notion of God, Gods and religion and how it evolves with time fascinated me. I had already read a lot of Indian mythology. I mixed all these mythological tales, with a historical backdrop and my own interpretations regarding how these mythical tales could have evolved. I went into the mythical genealogy of Gods, Kings and Sages, and came up with my own version. I re-read part of the Vedas, along with interpretation by scholars, as the characters I was writing about were Vedic Devas and Asuras. One of the most interesting finds of my research was that in contrast to contemporary Indian interpretation of Devas as forces of Good and Asuras as forces of evil, originally both these were different kinds of supernatural forces. While the Vedic Devas mostly represented Natural Phenomenon, the Asuras presided over Moral Phenomenon -… later the Good-Evil dichotomy crept in.

In fact the Persian or Iranian Gods who are originated from the same source take a complete opposite approach to the Hindu way – while the Hindu Devas are Good and Asuras evil, the Persian or Zorastrian Dewas evil and Ahuras Good. It just seems that there were two opposing different clans or races who interpreted these deities as Good and Bad according to their preferences. All these dichotomies and racial collisions form the body of the Indus Valley text. There are different races fighting among each other over their versions of the truth, their interpretation of God, while missing the bigger picture altogether. It is the same story now – people from different religions, races, countries fighting over a limited source of resources, blindly insensitive to the each other’s cultures, thinking themselves to be good and the others to be bad while the truth is that human civilization can truly reach its zenith when all cultures all traditions all point of views merge mix and co-operate with each other. That will be the true Davyaprithvi Heaven on Earth.

Q] What did you think was the most challenging part about writing your debut novel? What about the easiest or most rewarding parts? 

RP: When I started writing Davyaprithvi, the biggest challenge that I faced was how to make it stand out in a crowd of novels being churned out by every Indian author with the backdrop of the Vedic or Indus valley civilizations with Shiva or Indra or some other mythical character as its hero. However when I read a page or two of these novels, my initial dilemma was resolved. Despite becoming instant potboilers, these other novels suffer greatly from both narrative and historical inconsistency – like characters in pre-Vedic India churning out catchphrases in contemporary Hindi/English. Moreover they have a very simplistic approach, their stories all focus around a central hero character out there to fulfill destiny’s design. Thankfully Davyaprithvi is very different in content, context, and tone. It’s not about a single hero. It's a fictional exploration of the history of human conflict – it is a story about all of us … about how we all feel we are good and what we think is right and whenever a point of view comes which is contrary to ours, we feel that person is evil.

There are no heroes or villains in my series – there are many characters, with their unique motivations and desires. Many of them get killed, many new characters come. Older generations make way for newer generations. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends. Civilizations progress and regress and sometimes at the same time… The tone is very dark. Characters are ruthless, power-hungry, unpardonable but valiant, strong and caring too. That was the fun of writing Davyaprithvi – though the setting was fantastic I was talking about real people, with real feelings with a desire to gain a lot but the risk of losing more. All of them were heroes, according to them, and all of them were villains to some others may be. Like we all are. Like I myself am. That was the most rewarding thing. I was writing about the conflicts in my own mind.

Q] What’s next for you, another film or the sequel to Davyaprithvi? Also could you tell us a bit about the sequel and what will it be about? 

RP: I am a professional independent filmmaker. So I make films for a living – corporate films, shorts, documentaries etc. So films will go on. On the bigger end, I am already approaching producers with scripts for feature length films. But in India, where films are like religion, there are too many big fish, and it takes a while before small ones like us make it through. As of now three sequels to Davyaprithvi are planned. The second book is titled “Purushayagna the Human Sacrifice”. In Davyaprithvi, the primary conflict is over land. Everything else is secondary. The Aryas are trying to capture a new territory. The Dasyus are trying to defend their stronghold, while the Gandhravas are fighting for freedom.

In Purushayagna, the main conflict is religion. Till now the Aryas have been nature worshippers – they worship formless nature gods like the Sky, the Sun, the Wind and the Fire. The Dasyu gods are more human – like the World Mother, the High King, the Formidable Warrior and the Great Wise Man – they build both icons and idols for the same. The Gandharvas worship a singular God in the form of the moon, who represents moral dualities.

In Purushayagna, we explore how these three very different religions start affecting and influencing each other and how the key to dominating the populace is sought through the establishment of a new all-encompassing new religion. We find the first traces of monotheism – the search for the One True God. And that search leads us into further conflicts explored in the later sequels.

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

RP: I just hope that the readers cherish every moment of the journey I have designed for them to take in Davyaprithvi complete with fantastic landscapes, mythical beasts, majestic warriors and interesting plot-points. But at its core the Indus Valley series is about respecting and embracing difference and I hope the readers embrace that message as well.


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