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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Scarlet Tides by David Hair (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu & Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Scarlet Tides HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Mage's Blood
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Hair
Read Inner Selves, and Writing What You Know by David Hair (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Hair is an award-winning writer with two YA fiction series, The Aotearoa (set in New Zealand), and The Return of Ravana (based upon the Indian epic The Ramayana). He likes mythology and history, both of which he studied at the university level. Mage’s Blood, his first work of adult fantasy, is the first in his brand new quartet which draws upon both these subjects. He was raised in New Zealand, and after living in Britain and India and travelling the world, he now lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The Moontide has come and the Leviathan Bridge stands open: now thrones will shake and hearts will be torn apart in a world at war. A scarlet tide of Rondian legions is flooding into the East, led by the Inquisition’s windships flying the Sacred Heart, bright banner of the Church’s darkest sons.

They are slaughtering and pillaging their way across Antiopia in the name of Emperor Constant. But the emperor’s greatest treasure, the Scytale of Corineus, has slipped through his fingers and his ruthless Inquisitors must scour two continents for the artefact, the source of all magical power.

Against them are the unlikeliest of heroes. Alaron, a failed mage, the gypsy Cymbellea and Ramita, once just a lowly market-girl, have pledged to end the cycle of war and restore peace to Urte.

East and West have clashed before, but this time, as secret factions and cabals emerge from the shadows, the world is about to discover that love, loyalty and truth can be forged into weapons as strong as swords and magic.

ANALYSIS (Liviu): I expected to enjoy The Scarlet Tides as Mage's Blood grew on me quite a lot as time passed, but I did not expect the awesome novel it was, so much so that at least temporarily it jumped to my #1 SFF spot of the year - of course time will tell if it will stay there, but The Scarlet Tides has really everything one wants in fantasy: excellent world building, superb adventures, hair rising escapes, great characters, very intriguing storylines, narrative momentum, an almost perfect place to end all the 4 main arcs, while there were some pages that were so funny that I couldn't stop laughing out loud for a few minutes - overall the book stands more on the adventure side of the genre than on the "new gritty" one, though it blends the two aspects quite well.

For a proper review of the universe and of the main characters of the series I refer to the review of Mage's Blood linked above.

All the main characters shine in The Scarlet Tides, though I would say that Ramon's war mage persona - so the view of the crusade from the ground up, as of course he is assigned as supporting mage to the worst legion of the army and there to the lowest of the low company, namely the supply one, where he corrupts the commanding tribune and they start running a perfect Ponzi scheme with all the army's gold and much more, while he gets as fellow mages, the incompetent, the stupid, the vain and the ones that annoyed powerful people so:

"Can we count on them in a fight?’ Ramon asked.
Prenton snorted amiably. "A fight? Dear Kore, this is a Crusade, lad, not a war. There’ll be no fighting, only endless days of marching around from ruin to empty ruin. There may be a bit of looting and pillaging thrown in, if we’re lucky. The Keshi don’t fight back. They run and hide." He pulled a face. "The biggest risk is their God-awful food."

(while we readers know that this time, the Keshi have quite a few battle magi of their own, not to speak of modern weaponry like gnosis powered aircraft...) - and Gurvon Gyle's Javon story where his cynicism and "you gotta be realistic" persona are staple new gritty done pitch perfect, were the most directly compelling arcs, but Alaron's saga with quite a few surprises - not least having Malevorn part of the Inquisition posse after him and meeting some strange people in his flight - had its great moments as had the story-lines of Ramita, Kazim or Elena - as of course one knew beforehand that she wouldn't remain possessed by an enemy mage for long.

Here is one quote that illustrates the action part:
 "If we can find Gyle, we will kill him before they march," Gatoz put in.
 "How will we find him?" Jamil asked.
 "I will find him," Magister Sindon put in, his usually mild voice vehement. "I know Gyle, believe me. I have used his services before, and he trusts me."


Sindon turned and made a sign, and the door from which he’d emerged opened again, allowing more hooded figures to enter the courtyard, fanning out as they came.
"Magister Gyle, we’re so grateful,’ Sindon said, offering his hand.
Sordell saw Gyle go to take the offered hand, when he abruptly froze
Sindon’s pupils went wider. The game is up, those eyes said.
It is. Gyle swore softly. "And I have too few pieces on the board"

(and a fast and furious battle with spells and swords follows pitting Gurvon Gyle's mercenaries against the renegade Sindon and his Keshi dark mage strike commando)

There are a lot of twists and turns too - including double crosses, strange allies, unexpected connections and as I really do not want to spoil the book, I will just emphasize again that while Mage's Blood takes a while to get going and understand what's what, The Scarlet Tides is how modern epic fantasy should be from the first page and raises the series to the top level of the genre.

One more quote from one of Alaron's close encounters with the Inquistion:

"There was nowhere to hide and nowhere to run. He’d landed near a narrow channel that wound from the waterfall above towards the ocean miles to the east, but it was only a few feet deep. He’d dropped his sword as he fell and couldn’t see it anywhere. Brilliant … "

"Fatalism filled him. There was no way a lowly quarter-blood like him could get out of this. He tried to summon mental images of the people he loved: his parents, Cym, Ramon … Anise – thank Kore I didn’t tell her to wait – and that was about it, really. Not so many to farewell"


"Kore’s blood, you’ve been a nuisance," the Inquisitor said, "but I’ve got you now." Mage-fire blossomed from his left hand and blasted into Alaron’s midriff. His shields failed and his wet clothing sizzled as the energy jolted through him. He curled up, stricken, trying to breathe. The Inquisitor put the sword-point to his throat. Alaron looked along the straight steel blade and wished only to die. "I, Acolyte Seldon of the Eighteenth Fist, arrest you in the name of the Inquisition."

Seldon’s call resounded through the aether and Malevorn rolled his eyes as he followed the call back to the east. Damn. Muttered curses echoed dimly through the aether as the Fist’s mental links conveyed the mix of relief at the finding of their quarry and annoyance at losing the wager.


"As Alaron stared along Seldon’s blade, watching gnosis-energy crackle along the steel, a dark shape rose behind the Inquisitor..."

ANALYSIS (Mihir): The Scarlet Tides is the second volume in the Moontide Quartet and begins in the same way its predecessor did.The crucial difference being that we get the next part in the epic conference of the Rondian emperor's council and things are no less dire as the Guvron Gyle and the empress bring out the second part of the plan to make the crusade a resounding success.

As the story begins we begin with where we left all our main characters, betrayed by their allies, besot with danger and forced to run. Alaron, Elena, Ramita have to overcome massive challenges. There's a new POV introduced in this book and that's of Alaron's best friend Ramon who does his best to profit in the war. His chapters were dark and yet humorous enough to keep me thoroughly entertained. The author then focusses on Alaron & Cymbellea as they run with the scythe. Elena is forced to deal with Cera's betrayal and must try to gain back her footing to save the kingdom. Kazim is further entranced by Shihad and revelations about his father that lead him on a dark path. Ramita is forced to learn the Magi ways as she and Justina (her daughter now) must try to forge a path with Antonin Meiros' plans. . There's also POVs from Guvron Gyle, Malevorn and a couple of other characters who make up the antagonist bunch.

All in all the author thoroughly expands his world and showcases a war that is englfing almost every known nation. With the expanded POVs the author however manages to avoid the GRRM trap of the story losing its focus. Kudos to the author for managing this vast storyline and avoiding the bloat. Many of our esteemed epic fantasy authors can definitely learn a thing or two from Hair with regards to writing a tight epic fantasy saga with a set number of books and consistently producing them. The author also further reveals a lot of the gnosis and how the Three Hundred came to be, in this volume, a lot of secrets are revealed about the magical prowess of the Eastern practitioners.

 What I loved with about this book is that it showcases how absolutely brutal war is and even those not directly in its path are still savaged by it. The author makes a fascinating comparison of executives meeting before going on a cataclysmic path, in this regards, the prologue makes so much sense is chilling in its scope. The characterization is superb dealing with both genders and among various age groups and sexual orientations. David Hair is truly writing one hell of a series and by saluting tropes but subverting them none the less,  he manages to make the Scarlet Tides a sequel that is magnificent and a better book than its predecessor in every factor of consideration.

CONCLUSION (Liviu & Mihir): Lastly the book ends on a few cliffhangers with regards to a couple of characters which will have you wanting Unholy War desperately. But the overall conclusion presented leave this story and the readers gasping and yet wanting more. As far as stories go, that is what authors strive for and here this Kiwi author strikes bullseye again. Overall, The Scarlet Tides represents modern epic fantasy at its best.
Sunday, October 26, 2014

NEWS: City Of Stairs by Robert J. Bennett, Sword Of The North by Luke Scull, and The Nothing by Kerry Schafer

One of the best books that I’ve read this year is City Of Stairs by Rob J. Bennett, its UK publishers Jo Fletcher Books are running a tremendous competition to give away five copies of the book, plus one lucky winner will receive a £100 Red Letter Day experience.

Here’s what you would have to do for the chance to win is let Jo Fletcher Book folks know on their blog, Facebook page or Twitter – with the hashtag "CityOfStairs" – “What tangible miraculous object would you create if you were a god of Bulikov? A door which takes you to the past? A knotted cord that brings rain when untied? These are just some of the miracles the gods brought to Bulikov, but what would you add?

Let them know by October 30th for your chance to win.

There’s also good news from Luke Scull, who announced at the start of this month that the sequel to his debut The Grim Company, is at the copy editing stage. It sits currently at 154K and is expected to release in March in the UK and May in the US. Also the author recently posted the first two chapters to Sword Of The North. So head over and find out all about Brodar Kayne’s past. 

Lastly there’s another kickstarter you all might consider supporting. Kerry Schafer, the author of Between and Wakeworld is running one for the publication of The Nothing. The series was unfortunately dropped by ACE books, so checkout the kickstarter page and take a look at all the rewards up for offer.

The event is already 45% funded at the halfway mark. So do check it out and kindly considering donation to this exciting series which mixes urban and high fantasy.
Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cover Reveal: The Ties That Bind trilogy by Rob J. Hayes

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Color Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Northern Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read The Northern Sunrise mini-Q&A with Rob J. Hayes

One of my favorite authors whom I discovered last year was Rob J. Hayes. He from the UK indie front released a trilogy of books focusing on characters that were dangerous, morally grey (blackish even) and highly entertaining. I read all three of them within a week and the second volume was my favorite fantasy title for 2013

Landing as much acclaim as a self-published book could find, the author certainly took things into stride and began work on his follow-up books. His terrific prose and characterization however struck a chord with the Ragnarok Publications folks who specialize in the darker side of fiction and publish quality stories.

To my joy, I found that Rob had signed on the Ties That Bind trilogy with them and so it’s with great pleasure that I present the new covers of this terrific trilogy. Also Rob was more than kind to talk a bit on each cover that was so magnificently drawn by Alex Raspad.

So primarily here’s Rob on the main reason behind him writing this trilogy, and why he decided to partner with Ragnarok:

 “I wrote these books because I wanted to craft a dark, gritty fantasy world populated by anti-heroes that reflect realistic strengths and weaknesses as they struggle to do what they believe is right in a world where moral compasses have no North. The story is very character driven with the three protagonists being both likable and hate-able in equal measure.”

 “When I first self-published The Ties that Bind trilogy it did very well, far beyond my expectations, but there's only so much an indie author can achieve. I don't have the contacts, the knowledge, or the experience to properly market a book and the trilogy never took off in the US quite as well as the UK. My hope for Ragnarok is that they can fill in the blanks in my own marketing methods and help my little stories reaches a wider audience.”

So here’s the cover for The Heresy Within:

Rob’s thoughts:When I first published the trilogy I put Thanquil on the cover of The Heresy Within (THW) but with this re-issue Jezzet graduates to pole position. It makes sense in a way, while the book is undoubtedly about all 3 characters and each one gets about the same screen time, Jezzet's character has the most progression in THW.”

Official Book Blurb - Jezzet Vel'urn is a trained swordswoman. She has rightfully earned the title Blademaster, and she knows that for a woman like her there are generally just two ways out of most hostile situations; fight or fornicate. All too often for Jezzet's liking, it comes down to some gods-be-damned combination of the two.

In The Heresy Within Jezzet is chased into the Wild by a vengeful warlord until she finally makes it to the sovereign city-state of Chade. But instead of sanctuary, she finds only more opportunistic bastards waiting to turn her over to her enemies.

Also figuring majorly in the story is Thanquil Darkheart, a sorcerer hunter called an Arbiter, tasked with hunting down and purging heretics for the Inquisition. Thanquil is given a task by the God Emperor of Sarth from which he has no escape. Lastly there’s the brutal outlaw called Black Thorn, best known perhaps for the killing of several Arbiters and possibly being one of the biggest names in the Wild for his proclivities.

All three of their fates seem to be converging on the Free City of Chade and, before long, Jezzet, Thanquil, and Black Thorn will have to confront each other as they find themselves facing The Heresy Within.

Then there’s The Color Of Vengeance, which absolutely stole my heart with its breakneck pace and plot twists:

Rob’s thoughts: "The Black Thorn isn't quite as ugly as he should be but DAMN! does he look awesome. I love the level of detail Alex Raspad has put into the illustrations from Thorn's missing fingers to the torn and blood-spattered armor. Oh, and the eerie background is brilliant."

Official Book Blurb - Beaten, battered and damned near broken with a bounty on his head so large he’s tempted to turn himself in, the Black Thorn finds himself on trial for the crime of being him. Despite the impending probability of death he has but one thought on his mind; taking revenge against the Arbiter who took his eye.

In order to carry out his vengeance Thorn must first escape Sarth and recruit a new crew, each one with their own designs on revenge.

Lastly there’s The Price Of Faith, which I’ll be reviewing closer to its release next year:

Rob’s thoughts: "I didn't notice this at first but if you look at the wall behind Thanquil there's a shadow that isn't his, for anyone who hasn't read the books it could be a preview of what's in store. Also I want an Arbiter coat for myself, I've always wanted one to be honest but now I REALLY want one."

Official Book Blurb - Separated and miserable, Thanquil Darkheart and Jezzet Vel’urn both have their reasons for wanting to leave the Dragon Empire. Jezzet flees from the wrathful fury of an Empress scorned while accompanied by the ever insidious Drake Morrass, and Thanquil sets out to find and judge his one heretical loose end.
Monday, October 20, 2014

GUEST POST: "Five Things I've Learned About War" by Erin Lindsey

They say you should write what you know. That’s always struck me as an awkward bit of advice for authors of speculative fiction. If we all followed it, SF/F would be a hell of a lot less interesting. Galactic cruisers would give way to minivans. Werewolves would be swapped out for Pomeranians. Shape shifting would consist of wriggling into last year’s skinny jeans. 

That being said, I’m lucky enough to have the kind of day job that I can draw on in my writing. My work has sent me to some pretty interesting places over the years, many of them affected by violent conflict. Often, it’s been my job to analyse that conflict – its history and causes, players and agendas. Doing so has taught me a lot about war, and politics in general. 

It isn’t that I’ve had any epiphanies, exactly. Most of the things I’ve come away with are instinctive on at least some level. But it’s safe to say that I’ve reflected on them, metabolised them, in ways I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. No surprise, then, that all of them feature to a greater or lesser extent in THE BLOODBOUND series

Here, in no particular order, are five things I’ve learned about war that have enriched my writing: 

 1) There is always someone who profits  Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But you’d be amazed how many well-meaning peacemaking efforts ignore this central fact. Wars generate their own economies. They shift the balance of power, presenting new opportunities to those clever and ruthless enough to capitalise on them. Some will seek to align themselves with a rising power. Others will find more advantage in keeping the war going for as long as possible. Oftentimes it’s these people, rather than the belligerents themselves, who define the course of the conflict, and pose the greatest threat to peace. 

 2) Knowing your enemy is more complicated than it seems –  There’s a tendency in fiction (as well as in modern journalism) to portray war as a clash between two sides with clear objectives. That’s rarely, if ever, the case. Wars are not fought between homogeneous actors with straightforward, static agendas. They’re fought between blocs, shifting confederations of stakeholders with differing, sometimes competing, interests, and those interests evolve over time. And I’m not just talking about alliances here – I mean within states as well, and within governments, cabinets, inner circles – to an almost infinitely reducible level, like a Russian nesting doll. That makes it difficult to interpret your enemy’s behaviour. What appears on the surface to be baffling inconsistencies may be the waxing and waning of influence between factions. The person you believe to be your arch-nemesis might actually be powerless, little more than a figurehead. By the same token, your allies – even your own closest confederates – might not be as firmly in your corner as you think. 

 3) The good guys never win  Where there is war, there will be war crimes. I can’t think of a single conflict that wasn’t full of them. And not just by the “bad guys”. Some of my greatest historical heroes are, by any modern definition, war criminals. I’ve struggled with that, but I’ve come to accept it, however uncomfortably. That’s because when it comes to the difficult questions, there are no good choices. Show me a victor, and I will show you someone who has waded hip deep into a moral quagmire. (Show me a political settlement, and I’ll ask you to get back to me in twenty years. Cynical, I know.)

 4) History matters forever –  A fleeting glance at the Middle East, the Balkans – hell, anywhere – is all it takes to recognise the pivotal, and often poisonous, role history can play in conflict. But it doesn’t always manifest itself in obvious ways. It’s not only about the major traumas – the massacres, the stolen land, the oppression. Historical narratives fundamentally orient our worldview. Should you strike first, or lie in wait for your enemy? Is compromise possible? When things are darkest, can you count on your neighbours, or are you in this alone? Are your leaders heroes, or parasites? Can peace and justice coexist? For those in the business of brokering peace, these attitudes, these beliefs that we carry in the very marrow of our bones, are often harder to deal with than any border demarcation. 

 5) Behind every epic struggle is an infinite number of individual dramas – This is perhaps the most obvious, and most consistently forgotten, aspect of conflict. It’s so easy – even necessary sometimes – to dehumanize, to jumble people together into numbers, into territory gained and lost. To classify and label: “refugees”, “separatists”, “victims”. But when you’re in the middle of it, with all these momentous events going on around you, they often don’t seem that momentous. History doesn’t always feel like history when it’s unfolding right in front of you. Instead, what inspires you, what breaks your heart, what overwhelms you, are the individual stories. So recognisable, so relatable, and yet so fundamentally beyond your ken, because they’re unfolding in the midst of a heaving shitstorm you can barely comprehend, let alone cope with. This is where you find your real heroes, and sometimes your real villains as well. Not symbols or labels, but actual human beings with fears and desires very much like your own. 

I could go on, but these are the five that have most directly affected my writing so far. I didn’t deliberately set out to reflect them in THE BLOODBOUND, but they somehow ended up there anyway. Next time around, I may well make it a more conscious effort, because I think keeping these things in mind while outlining – developing the plot, fleshing out the motivations of characters – will make for a textured, realistic portrayal of conflict. 

In the meantime, you can try to spot them in THE BLOODBOUND. Gold stars up for grabs!

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Erin Lindsey is on a quest to write the perfect summer vacation novel, with just the right blend of action, heartbreak, and triumph. THE BLOODBOUND is her first effort. She lives and works in Bujumbura, Burundi, with her husband and a pair of half-domesticated cats. She also writes fantasy mysteries as E.L. Tettensor.

NOTE: Castle siege art courtesy of Grandlore Wiki. Author pic courtesy of the author herself.
Thursday, October 16, 2014

GUEST POST: Magic That Feels Like Magic by Jamie Schultz

One evening I was talking with a friend of mine who also happens to be a writing buddy, a man whose every manuscript I read, and who has likewise read virtually every terrible thing I’ve ever written, and we started comparing notes on our respective talents as writers (such as they are). He’s got an amazing capability to bring setting to life, for example, and he makes it look effortless in a way I am frankly envious of. As for me, he said that I have a knack for writing what he called “magic that feels like magic.”

I took that as a pretty high compliment, since that’s something I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about. There are a million ways magic can be treated in fantastic fiction, and I find some of those to be much more evocative than others. So I’m gonna ramble about that for a bit.

One way I tend to approach magic in fantasy is by essentially inverting Clarke’s famous dictum that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”—and then getting as far away from the result as practicable. That is to say, magic that conforms to a tidy set of rules and explicit formulae is essentially indistinguishable from technology, and that doesn’t feel like magic to me. Don’t get me wrong—that approach is just the thing for certain types of stories, and it can work amazingly well. Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence books are an incredible example of magic that is basically structured as a rigidly-ordered legal system, resulting in it providing the technological foundation for entire societies, and it works brilliantly, both on its own and as fertile ground for satire. Less effective authors operating within rigid rules systems tend to create things that feel exactly like that—rigid rules systems—generally, I believe, to the detriment of their settings.

At the other extreme is what I’ll call the “pull it out of your ass” magic system. That is, magic that does whatever the plot needs it to do at any given moment. Exhausted characters suddenly find inside them the strength to perform one last feat of wizardry, or the talisman they were given in Scene 24 suddenly comes to life and saves their bacon or points them toward whatever it is they need next. In effect, magic spends most of the story acting as a gee-whiz form of armament for the magic-using characters, and then occasionally becomes the unsubtle hand of the author, writing his or her way out of a pickle. (Here is a classic—if brutally snarky—discussion of Plot Tokens that I can’t improve upon in any way, so for more on the same concept, click away.)

Good magic systems have a framework, a set of limitations that is fairly clear to the reader, such that magic doesn’t run the risk of blowing the internal logic of the story to Hell. That is, magic is part of the internal logic, not an excuse to kick that logic in the gutter. Within those limitations, I feel that magic should have an element of unpredictability. It’s not a straight transfer function, wherein the characters put [x] into the input and get [y] out the other side, reliably and as directed. I like my magic a little squirrely, a little slippery. Willful, perhaps, and certainly with an element of randomness.

And, of course, it has a price. “Making a character very tired for a bit” is a pretty common one, but in my mind it hardly counts. That effect is easily brushed off and forgotten. A much better example of the price of at least one kind of literary magic is in The Lord of the Rings, where the One Ring’s awesome powers of corruption were well-known, to the point where neither Gandalf nor Galadriel wanted to touch the thing. A couple of great examples of magic systems that incorporate all these elements (they have a framework but perhaps not rigid rules, and they come with a price) and really feel like magic to me leap immediately to mind.

K.J. Parker, in the Fencer Trilogy, posits magic as a set of counterbalancing forces. A wise practitioner can use it to get what she wants, but the rebound—the counterbalance for any spell cast—is usually dangerous and wholly unpredictable. In the first book of the trilogy, a powerful wizard casts a spell to hurt somebody and spends the whole rest of the book watching the echoes from that act, in terrible fear of the day the backlash catches up to him. The magic in Charles Stross’s Laundry books has a much different flavor, but some of the same elements. There’s a nice framework, but Stross really goes the extra mile on the price of magic. Magic is computation, but the books are explicit that:
 1.) doing these types of computations in your head eventually results in Krantzberg syndrome, where tiny Lovecraftian horrors from beyond spacetime eat tiny Lovecraftian holes in your brain, and
 2.) if enough magical computations are performed in aggregate, across the world, that will attract the attention of colours out of space (or the like), resulting in the end of the world. Even though the system is hung on technological-seeming coat rack, it has a very distinct, magical feel to it—a neat trick, if you can do it.

My own novel, Premonitions, is predicated on a particularly nasty form of magic. Any given magical act is essentially a deal with a demon, which may have a mind of its own and, perhaps, the latitude to exercise it. Worse, do enough magic for long enough, and eventually you’ll lay out the welcome mat for the demons to come in and run the place (the place in this case being your mind). I like to think that the magic in the book has a distinctive feel that reinforces the on-the-edge feel of the book’s criminal underworld.

So, what about you? What makes magic in a book feel like magic?

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jamie Schultz has worked as a rocket test engineer, an environmental consultant, a technical writer, and a construction worker, among other things. He lives in Dallas, Texas. His first novel, Premonitions, received a starred review from Library Journal, who called it “a sterling urban fantasy debut with a great cast of characters.”
Monday, October 13, 2014

The Broken Road (Frayed Empire #1) by Teresa Frohock (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Broken Road HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Miserere
Read The Character Of Environment by Teresa Frohock (guest post)
Read an excerpt of Love Crystal and Stone by Teresa Frohock

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Teresa Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. T is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale and has a short story, “Naked the Night Sings,” in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF. Another story, "Love, Crystal and Stone" appears in The Neverland's Library Fantasy Anthology. Her newest work is the novella, The Broken Road. She lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The world of Lehbet is under siege. The threads that divide Lehbet from the mirror world of Heled are fraying, opening the way for an invasion by an alien enemy that feeds on human flesh.

Travys, the youngest of the queen’s twin sons, was born mute. He is a prince of the Chanteuse, nobles who channel their magic through their voices. Their purpose is to monitor the threads and close the paths between the worlds, but the Chanteuse have given themselves over to decadence. They disregard their responsibilities to the people they protect—all but Travys, who fears he’ll fail to wake the Chanteuse to Heled’s threat in time to prevent the destruction of Lehbet.

Within the palace, intrigue creates illusions of love where there is none, and when Travys’ own brother turns against him, he is forced to flee all that he has known and enter the mirror world of Heled where the enemy has already won. In Heled, he must find his true voice and close the threads, or lose everyone that he loves.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Teresa Frohock is a master of dark stories and creating worlds wherein the horrors aren’t quite easily visible but on a closer look we can see the decay within. The Broken Road is the first book of the Frayed Empire series wherein the story opens up in the world of Lehbet. We are introduced to Prince Travys du Valois, the mute younger son of Queen Heloise, the ruler of the land of Lehbet. Travys is conflicted about the current state of affairs in their lands. The highborn called Chanteuse have the power to keep the lowborn safe but lately haven’t been doing that all too properly.

This leads to class resentment and trouble that can’t be exactly classified. Travys alongwith his friend Marc du Namur tries to find out more but to no avail as his elder twin Josue doesn’t want anything to do with ruling. Travys is stunned when he hears plans of his betrothal; even more troublesome considering that he is gay. The actual story opens when Travys learns why it is all happening. He’s betrayed on almost all fronts and then has to learn why and what is happening.

Unlike her previous works, there’s a strong mystery laced to the plot. The reader along with Travys is equally in the dark as to what is happening in the world of Lehbet. The author lays out certain clues about the nature of the world and then does her best to surprise the reader with the eventual reveals. I loved the pace of the story and all the twists that are ensconced within the story. Basically Teresa excels with the characterization as she very lucidly shows the class segregation set in the world of Lehbet.

This story is very reminiscent of the class problems before the French revolution and the author doesn’t quite go that way but there are strong rumblings about the troubles ahead. There’s also the genre underpinning to the story as the author mixes several genres that make it a bit difficult to pin down. I’m not mentioning what exactly but by the end I wasn’t sure what to call is besides being a great, dark story.

There’s also a cameo appearance by Paul Weimer that was fun to read about. I enjoyed the horror turn to the story which came as a big surprise and the way the story ends, you’ll want to find out what will happen next in Lehbet.

CONCLUSION: The Broken Road is a novella that showcases how dark fantasy & horror can make an intense combination. Teresa Frohock's exquisite prose & fantastical world-building also make this novella a top-notch read! Don't miss this exciting story about love, betrayal, & the need to save the world.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014

GUEST POST: The Character Of Environment by Teresa Frohock

A few years back, just prior to a World Fantasy Con, a question was posited as to whether urban fantasy had become the new gothic horror due to the cityscapes taking the place of haunted houses and castles. It was an interesting idea, but one that I ultimately rejected. Urban fantasy has a texture that isn’t quite as dark as gothic horror; although, I will concede there are many elements that overlap (sorry, no Venn diagram is forthcoming from me).

However, the idea of a physical place, such as a house, a rural landscape, or a city, attaining the same characteristics as a person seems to be common to both urban fantasy and gothic horror. I recently read an NPR review for Lauren Beukes new novel, Broken Monsters, where Michael Schaub noted that Beukes renders Detroit as “… a major, tragic character in the novel.” Sarah Waters gives us a house in The Little Stranger that becomes haunted with a man’s desires. The landscape within Stephen King’s Dark Tower series follows Roland like a member of his ka-tet. The powerful portrayal of the post-apocalyptic environment in Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz remains with me decades after I read the story in high school. Carlos Ruiz Zafón turns the city of Barcelona into a character haunted by the recent Spanish Civil War and the turn of fortunes therein.

Especially within the horror genre, the landscape is often used as metonymy for the state of the characters and their spiritual growth, or, in some cases, the lack thereof. Zafón is the master of utilizing metonymy to reflect the atmosphere of his characters and their emotional states. He shows us Barcelona through the eyes of his protagonists, and the city is, in turn, vibrant, rainy, foggy, bright, or dismal, all based on the character’s mood and what is happening in the story.

With these techniques in mind, I deliberately set out with The Broken Road to achieve a story that was gothic in tone, which meant that the landscape in The Broken Road needed to be as memorable as the characters. I wanted to project a world where everything seemed all right on the surface, but deeper scrutiny revealed decay. I did this through the description of Travys and his surroundings. For example, in describing the dining room of the palace, I wanted to overlap the former extravagance with the current corrosion of Travys’ environment:

 "At first glance, the room seemed opulent, but a closer inspection revealed that the velvet cushions of the gilded chairs sported bald spots. Overhead, frescoes darkened by candle smoke and winter fires were mere blobs of color on the ceiling. The people and places in the paintings were so lost in time that no one could recall the stories behind the art. Ornamental plaster flaked and left sharp edges along the walls."

 "All of the doors and windows were thrown open to allow cooler air to circulate through the palace. A servant stood primly in one corner, but even he looked faded and worn in the late afternoon light."

I wrote it this way to show that Travys’ environment was in the process of decaying like the land and the monarchy which he represents. There is a twilight aspect to the first part of the novella. All of the major action happens just before sundown. Yet the story ends with the dawn breaking over the sea. This was intentional and is merely another aspect of the gothic story where the protagonist must move through the metaphorical night in order to conquer the evil that surrounds her or him in order to reach the dawn.

Travys’ plunge into the sea is another place where I wanted to evoke a certain mood. The events are overwhelming to Travys during this point of the story. He has been betrayed. The water is closing over his head and he cannot stop his plunge. I used the vastness of the sea to reinforce his helplessness. So while the setting is one memorable aspect of what makes a story gothic, it is merely one part of a greater whole. Gothic horror also contains elements of mystery and romance, supernatural creatures, madness, secrets, and embodies the best aspects of both horror and romance. For example, in most gothic stories, it is the woman who is threatened. In The Broken Road, I flipped that trope on its head and placed Travys and his lover, Gabriel, in constant danger.

Underpinning it all is the environment. Whether it is a castle, a city, a country, or the secret pathways beneath a city, the environment in gothic horror is a large part of the story. Utilized effectively, the landscape can be seen as a character that motivates the protagonist toward his or her destiny. While all of these properties can also be found in urban fantasy, I think that gothic horror tends to be darker in tone. Of course, this is definitely a case where one’s mileage will vary dramatically, because what is terrifying to one individual is merely light fiction to another.

I want to offer you a work fiction without labels or definitions. The Broken Road contains elements of science fiction, gothic horror, and fantasy all rolled together for fast-paced story. Oh, and there are flamethrowers, which are metaphors for nothing. Flamethrowers are simply cool. As far as I am concerned, you may call The Broken Road urban fantasy, or science fiction, or gothic horror. All that matters to me is that you enjoy the characters and the story.

Official Author Website
Order The Broken Road HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Miserere
Read an excerpt of Love Crystal and Stone by Teresa Frohock

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Teresa Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. T is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale and has a short story, “Naked the Night Sings,” in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF. Another story, "Love, Crystal and Stone" appears in The Neverland's Library Fantasy Anthology. Her newest work is the novella, The Broken Road. She lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of Jennifer Neri. Twilight world art courtesy of Apocalypse World: Dark Age.
Sunday, October 5, 2014

World of Weir Blog Tour with Cinda Williams Chima - Who Are the Enchanters?

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Fantasy Book Critic is proud to be a part of 'World of Weir' Blog Tour. Each tour stop, we explore some of the finer points of her hit series, all in preparation for the release of the final book in the series 'The Sorcerer Heir' (scheduled for release October 21, 2014). 

Week 4 is about exploring The Enchanters. Not sure who they are? Let's explore that!

Who are the Enchanters?
Enchanters use mind magic to seduce and manipulate others.

While Enchanters are less powerful than Wizards, they are the most proficient with mind magic and have the ability to charm, influence, and create emotions, particularly passion, attraction, and love. Wizards often have difficulty identifying Enchanters even when Enchanters use their power, and thus Enchanters can deceive and influence Wizards if they can snare them before the Wizard puts up defenses to avoid manipulation. Enchanters can alter their appearance in order to be more appealing to others. Physical contact makes their powers stronger.  The most powerful Enchanters can even influence or persuade a Wizard who is aware of their powers. Many Enchanters submit to a Wizard sponsor who protects them from other Wizards, at a cost. According to the Rules, Enchanters were created for the enjoyment and pleasure of Wizards. Enchanters are often associated with the color purple.

Learn more about this wonderful series by stopping by other blogs on the 'World of Weir' Blog Tour.

Those with magical powers in The Heir Chronicles series by Cinda Williams Chima are known as the Weir. The World of Weir blog tour leads up to the release of the can’t-miss series finale, The Sorcerer Heir (in-stores October 21st) by celebrating the magical fantasy world and the five types of magical guilds. Follow along for playlists, nail art, and more inspired by the series, plus exclusive excerpts from the upcoming finale.

WEEK 1:  THE WARRIORS September 14 – September 20
WEEK 2: THE WIZARDS September 21 –  September 27
WEEK 3: THE SEERS September 28 – October 4
WEEK 4:  THE ENCHANTERS October 5 – October 11
WEEK 5:  THE SORCERERS October 12 – October 18

The can’t-miss finale to the beloved and bestselling Heir Chronicles series.

The delicate peace between Wizards and the underguilds (Warriors, Seers, Enchanters, and Sorcerers) still holds by the thinnest of threads, but powerful forces inside and outside the guilds threaten to sever it completely. Old friends and foes return as new threats arise in this stunning and revelatory conclusion to the beloved and bestselling Heir Chronicles series.

The Sorcerer’s Heir is a self-contained story, accessible to readers just discovering the Heir series, but loyal fans will be rewarded by visits from characters they love (and love to hate) from the earlier installments. Readers will be glued to their seats through riveting fight scenes, deadly political machinations, burgeoning romance, and the unfolding intrigues of a contemporary magical world.

The Heir Chronicles series will keep readers glued to their seats through riveting fight scenes, deadly political machinations, burgeoning romance, and the unfolding intrigues of a contemporary magical world.

The Sorcerer’s Heir is a self-contained story accessible to readers just discovering the Heir series, but loyal fans will be rewarded by visits from beloved (and lovingly reviled) characters.

Series order:
The Warrior Heir
The Wizard Heir
The Dragon Heir
The Enchanter Heir
The Sorcerer Heir

GIVEAWAY: All 5 Books in the Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to offer a giveaway of Cinda Williams Chima's complete series of books 'The Heir Chronicles'. All 5 books in the series will be offered. Giveaway is courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Giveaway includes the following books:
The Warrior Heir
The Wizard Heir
The Dragon Heir
The Enchanter Heir
The Sorcerer Heir

Rules to Enter:

  1. 1.      Contest is open to US residents only.
  2. To enter send an email to with a subject line of 'HEIR SERIES'. Please include your full name and mailing address in the email.
  3. Contest will end October 12, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. EST.


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE