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Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off by Mark Lawrence & various bloggers

Self-published authors have it quite tough, usually they are disregarded by many readers and review sites. Among the few that do review them, the self-pubbed/indie crowd has tough completion with traditionally published authors and their works. All in all for them, it’s more than just an uphill climb. Which is why I want to thank Mark Lawrence for coming up with this massive idea and blog-off for giving all self-published authors a chance at recognition, reviews and hopefully great press.

Nearly a month ago Mark announced this competition, wherein he asked for author to submit their works to be judged by 10 fantasy review blogs. Previously he had sent out a call for bloggers to participate. In this endeavor, reader & blogger extraordinaire Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues admirably helped out with logistics and was the first volunteer blogger to sign up for this.

At Fantasy Book Critic, we have prided ourselves on trying to give Indie and self-published books a fair shake amidst the traditional author books. This has lead us to discover talented folks such as Michael J, Sullivan, Anthony Ryan, David Dalglish to just name a few.

Amid such a fantastic role-call, it was all I could do to not volunteer. Mark was very gracious enough to grant me a place among esteemed bloggers such Ria (Bibliotropic), Bob M. (Beauty In Ruins), Tyson Mauermann (Speculative Book Review) and many others. These bloggers are people whose choices I pay attention to as well as consider them my friends. So after getting close to 300 title entries, Mark disseminated these titles among the 10 of us and I have gotten the following titles allotted to me:

1. Corey Bryers – Scrapper
2. Alex ZiebartBlood and Masks
3. Beth LyonsThe Soul Thief
4. Scott WarrenSorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone
5. Domino FinnShade City
6. David TatumThe Kitsune Stratagem
7. Charlotte CyprusKiss of the Fae
8. Scott McGowanBjorn and Bread
9. Greg James – Under A Colder Sun
10. Andy CrawfordThe Pen is Mightier
11. Brian LynchKing Callie
12. Christopher RuzCentury of Sand
13. Anthony LoweCity of Blades
14. Eric KnightWreckers Gate
15. Melissa PorterPurple
16. Rachel BowdenArtisan
17. Annika HowellsHow to disappear completely
18. Wilf Jones The Best of Men
19. Robert MullinBid the gods arise
20. Sean MoranA Time of Kings
21. Rob DonovanRitual of the Stones
22. Randall FitzgeraldNo One’s Chosen
23. Nat Russo Necromancer Awakening
24. A. Murtagh Soldiers
25. Jenny WatsonSpirit’s Mage
26. Ken LimThe Starfall Knight
27. Victor SalinasThe Sword and its Servant

The idea is for all of us to choose one worthy title among the all titles in our list and then pitch it to the rest of us as to why we feel it as the best. Eventually one winner will be announced among all such worthy titles. I plan to do a major review of the best book I choose and also do as many mini-reviews of the books from the above list. I’ll be stating my reasons for books which I’m not able to finish or didn’t enjoy.

Since I’m a bit strapped for time, I’ll be a bit stricter than I usually am while reviewing titles for FBC. So I hope you all join us bloggers amidst our search for the next fantasy self-pubbed breakout star. Here’s what my compatriots have been up to so far:

Bob Milne of Beauty in Ruins on blurbs, covers, and titles.
Lynn Williams of Lynn's Books reviews His Own Good Sword by Amanda McCrina.
Ria of Bibliotropic on titles, covers, and blurbs.
Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues divides to conquer!
Elitist Book Reviews outline their slush-strategy.
An update from Lynn's Books.
Here an 11th man has a sift through the slush.
On The Fictional Hangout Milo reviews Fire and Ice by Patty Jansen.
Ria of Bibliotropic reviews Son of a Dark Wizard.
Ria of Bibliotropic starts an update list.
Elitist Book Reviews like The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids.

As for me, I’ve already selected my first title among the bunch selected for me. I’m currently reading Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone by Scott Warren. What drew me to it was the mix of procedural noir and fantasy in its blurb which reminded me greatly of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos and Daniel Polansky’s Low Town trilogy. So far I’m very much enjoying it and I’ll be posting my thoughts on it soon.
Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Divided: Dualed #2" by Elsie Chapman (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Elsie Chapman's Official Site HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Dualed Here

OVERVIEW: The hunter becomes the hunted. . . .

West Grayer is done killing. She defeated her Alternate, a twin raised by another family, and proved she’s worthy of a future. She’s ready to move on with her life.

The Board has other plans. They want her to kill one last time, and offer her a deal worth killing for. But when West recognizes her target as a ghost from her past, she realizes she’s in over her head. The Board is lying, and West will have to uncover the truth of the past to secure her future.

How far will the Board go to keep their secrets safe? And how far will West go to save those she loves? With nonstop action and surprising twists, Elsie Chapman’s intoxicating sequel to Dualed reveals everything.

FORMAT: Divided is the second book in the Dualed duology. It is mostly a dystopian novel with lots of action and a little romance. It stands at 320 pages and was published May 27, 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: When I walked away from Dualed, the first novel in the series, I was conflicted. The proposed plot seemed interesting and rather unique, but the stiff writing and lack of world building left me with so many questions that it ruined my experience.

I'll admit I struggled with whether or not to give up on the series. Ultimately, I decided to give book two a try to see if any of my lingering questions were answered and I was surprised with what I read.

Things do start out a big sluggish for Divided. In fact, at one point I gave myself another 20 pages and I was going to put it down if things didn't pick up – which it did. The reason it is important to note this is because people may get a sense that book 2 is just like book 1 and give up. Book 2 really is a lot better, in many ways, than book 1.

One of my biggest complaints about Dualed was there were just so many questions and the world in which the characters lived was so underdeveloped. Chapman really cleared up a lot of questions/confusions from the first book. Was everything cleared up? No, there were still things I had questions on, but things were explained in a way that I felt comfortable with and was satisfied with.

Another area in which I feel Chapman excelled was drawing her character development. In Dualed, I was so frustrated and annoyed with West (our main character). Part of my frustration was due to the fact that I felt nothing for the character. I didn't hate her, I didn't like her. I felt nothing. Divided provided me with an opportunity to get to know West a little better and see different sides to her.

I will admit I don't feel overly close to the characters in the book even after reading the second book, but I feel closer. Character development is a fine art and I really feel Chapman is growing in that area and moving in the right direction.

There were some interesting parts of Divided. I enjoyed the action aspect of it and found the way the world/society unfolded interesting. It is certainly better and more well-written than Dualed. It shows that Chapman is sure to become a wonderful writer, especially in the YA genre.

I should point out that I was a little underwhelmed by the ending. This is being marketed as a duology, but the series sort of ends with no real closure. I'm not sure if there will be a third book, but there is certainly the possibility of a third book. If it was the last book in the series, I really feel it could have ended on a stronger note. I'm not upset about it, but I feel it could have been stronger/better.

Again, if you were to read Divided, I recommend just going along for the ride. Try not to take anything too seriously and just truly read and enjoy. The book turns out better that way, as it isn't a series that is meant to be analyzed (think nice, action-packed read that isn't too intense).

Overall, it was an enjoyable read. It wasn't top of my list of favorites, but it was a good 'in the moment' type read. Just remember to enjoy it and not think too deep into the storyline, and you will be fine.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015

GUEST POST: A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes

A few weeks ago I read an interview with the producers of A Game of Thrones (you all know the one, that flash in the pan TV show that we're all SO over) where they stated that events (for the show) may not play out exactly like they do in the books and that some characters who do survive (at least until now) in the books may soon bite the bullet / kick the bucket in the show. Essentially what they're saying there is that we should be warned that no one is safe. Now lets not kid ourselves, they are not about to kill off Tyrion (thankfully) or Daenerys (unfortunately) but some of the lesser characters who do not play so important a role might go before their allotted time.

This statement got me thinking. There is a massive deal about ol' Mr Martin killing off his characters. There's memes all over the internet about his willingness to slaughter the children of his mind (to prove my point here's one of my favourites).

But has it gotten to the point where George is buying into his own legend? Is the sensationalism of killing off characters more important than the story? The same questions need to be asked of those writing the TV show.

Now I'm about to drop a spoiler from A Game of Thrones (the first book / series) so if you're not quite up to date look away now... Eddard Stark's death blew me away. I know I'm not alone in this one. It was so unexpected (some keen watchers of the show may have suspected it by the casting of Sean Bean). It's almost hard-wired into our cognitive processes that the character in a book who gets most face time, and who is just and good and righteous, is the main character and, while that character will be thrown into peril, they will ultimately survive at least until the conclusion. Then GRRM decapitated Ned... The rules changed.

It was a twist and one almost nobody saw coming. But it wasn't just a twist, it was a hook. It was a statement. It was Georgy M saying no one is safe and that he was more than prepared to make you invest in a character on an emotional level just to then take them away from you in one brutal, glorious moment.

Now some authors might have stopped there. They may have established the risk to the characters but then let the others off the hook. The true King of the Iron Throne did not stop there. He did it again with the Red Wedding, and again with the Viper. This brings me to my point. Who will be next? We're all asking it. It's like watching a reality TV show where celebrities compete and get voted off one at a time. We're all tuning in to see who GRRiM offs next.

It isn't really about the story anymore but about which character is going to die and I have to wonder if he (because we all know RR knows it) has changed his vision to sensationally kill off another character or two because that's kind of what A Song of Ice and Fire is all about now.

Even if the GRRM Reaper hasn't changed his story, the writers of the TV show have. They've come right out and admitted it: characters are going to die. Just because they survive the books don't think they're safe. That right there is a sensationalist headline designed to grab attention and keep folk interested and it's working.

So this right here is my question: Are we sacrificing story for sensationalism? Is George Raymond Richard Martin killing off characters now to keep his crown rather than to further his story and are the TV show writers doing the same? Either way, Game of Thrones is a global phenomenon and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.

I really hope a dragon eats Dany.

Sansa for Queen!

Bran... ah, no one gives a crap about Bran.

Official Author Website
Order It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise here (US) and here (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes

Guest Author Information: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

NOTE: Titan Of Bravos and The Red Viper artwork courtesy of Kay Huang
Friday, March 20, 2015

Mini-interview with Rob J. Hayes (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise here (US) and here (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, while most writers are comfortable writing in their debut milieus, you have gone against the grain and written a standalone story set in a completely different world. What was your line of reasoning behind this bold step? 

RJH: Thanks for having me back. I think I wanted to try something a bit different and, after spending the past five years working on the world I created in The Ties that Bind trilogy, I wanted to take a break from it. I have a few worlds swirling about in my imagination, as I would assume most fantasy authors do, and a whole host of stories taking part in those worlds.

While I was writing The Price of Faith I had this idea for a short story involving the two protagonists from IT TAKES A THIEF TO CATCH A SUNRISE and after putting it onto paper I found it so charming that I wanted to take it further and adapt it into a full novel.

Q] "It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise" while being a heist story is also miles away from your grimdark debut with regards to characters, plot bleakness and language. Did you feel that this story needed to be different from your debut or was this just what the story required? 

RJH: A little bit of both really. The story itself doesn't call for much violence, sex or harsh language so I made a conscious decision that there would be as little as possible. I think the character's attitude is a reflection of the world; the world I created in The Ties that Bind is dark, hard, cruel and unforgiving and the characters that inhabit it are very much a product of that. The world I created in IT TAKES A THIEF TO CATCH A SUNRISE is full of intrigue, deceit and hope and I think, once again, the characters reflect those qualities.

Q] Please tell us about how "It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise"  came to be? What were your inspirations for the story and what were you aiming for with it? 

RJH: So it started off as a short story set in a world that I've been designing for a while now to be one part steampunk-esque science, one part elemental magic and one part religious zealotry. A bit of a mash I know but I'm hoping it'll pull together in the end. :D

I love heist capers. From films like Ocean's Eleven to books like The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, I love the idea of a group of thieves overcoming impossible odds and stealing something that cannot be stolen. At the same time I wanted to include the romance of Bonnie and Clyde (only without the rampant murder), with a couple whose lives revolved around the obvious and deep love they have for each other and the thrill of the steal.

Q] Now with this title being re-published, there was a title and cover-art change. Could you walk us through this process? 

RJH:  I decided I wanted to re-launch The Northern Sunrise with the possibility of sequels and with a more eye-catching cover. I had the image I wanted in my head and found an artist who could do it justice (and he really did). Then I spent about a month trying to come up with a new name for the book. Eventually my sister suggested IT TAKES A THEIF TO CATCH A SUNRISE, and I liked it right away. It gives me the scope to write a sequel (or sequels) and name them IT TAKES A THIEF...

Q] Again in It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise, the characters are the highlight of the story particularly Isabel & Jacques who share a very warm and loving relationship. Also dangerously fascinating were Amaury & Franseza, what's your secret for creating such intriguing & devious people? 

RJH: I think growing up with a psychologist for a mother probably helped. :D I try to create realistic characters wherever possible, giving them strengths and flaws, hopes and dreams, and conflicts both with other characters and also with themselves.

Q] Will this be a standalone story, if yes what are you planning to write about next? Will you be returning to the world of The Ties That Bind trilogy? If not what will be your focus for the sequel ?

RJH: At this point in time I do have a sequel planned but it's a ways off yet. It will be set in a different part of the world where elemental magic is a lot more prevalent and will see Jacques and Isabel coming up against some stiff competition. Next up for me, however, is BEST LAID PLANS, a follow-up series to The Ties that Bind, set in the same world with some of the same characters and a lot more pirates. 

Q] Thank you once again for your time, what can your fans expect in 2015 and beyond?  

RJH: Thanks for having me again. This year sees the re-release of The Price of Faith (Book 3 of The Ties that Bind) by Ragnarok Publications will be out in May and there's always the possibility that the first book of Best Laid Plans will arrive before the year is out.
Thursday, March 19, 2015

It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise here (USA) and here (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise is a standalone book by the author of The Ties that Bind trilogy. Set in a new world of corruption, deceit and thievery; mixing magical fantasy and alchemypunk with a healthy smattering of air-shippery.

"There comes a point in every thief's life where one has to take stock of all that they have achieved. We have stolen almost everything there is worth stealing: Prince Henri's Jadefire ring, the Marquisse d'Bola's collection of prized toy soldiers, Elize Gion's Living Autumn, the very first airship schematic, and who could forget we definitely made off with Baron Rivette's pride."

"The trick, I find, is not to break in. No. The trick is to convince the mark to invite you in."

FORMAT/INFO: It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise is divided into twenty-five chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person via Isabel de Rosier, Jacques Revou, Shadow Concieller Renard Daron, and Amaury Roche. This book was previously self-published by the author under the name "The Northern Sunrise"

March 20, 2015 marks the US and UK e-book publication of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise and is being re-published by the author. Cover art is by iGreeny & cover design is provided by Shawn King.

ANALYSIS: After reading Rob J. Hayes’ debut trilogy, I was suitably impressed. With this tale being a standalone and specifically not related to his previous trilogy, I was wondering how this effort would turn out be.

Isabel de Rosier and Jacques Revou are two consummate thieves who have accomplished several different sorts of heists and larceny over a period of time. Their most recent efforts have them squarely in the sights of Renard Daron, the Shadow Conceiller to the king of Sassaille. Isabel and Jacques are forced into a final job for Renard Daron and fiercely watched by Daron's two deadly shadows Franseza Goy & Amaury Roche. Going into a job blind, has never been their sort of thing but with all their bank accounts frozen and with not a single penny to their name. Isabel and Jacques must learn to dance to the Shadow Conceiller's tune however they are not without their own tricks.

This was a very different offering from the author’s debut, and I’m glad for that very reason. So often authors tend to repeat what they have done before and they run the risk of being labeled as one-trick ponies. Rob J. Hayes certainly bucks that trend with this standalone tale about thieves coerced into working with a spymaster for his own nefarious ends. Also this story is a far cry from his previous work which made most grimdark stories look like YA ones.

As with the previous books, the characters are what make this story so enjoyable, beginning with our main duo Isabel and Jacques, who are quite an adorable pair. They keep the story from getting too dreary and also keep the reader entertained with their quips. Another plus point is that the author makes their voices distinct so as to not confuse them. Also with the other POV characters, they are quite individualistic and also make the story that much more intriguing. Ultimately this story is about wills and the deception that people engage in. With Isabel and Jacques, it’s all about their skills in fooling people into believing whatever they want them to. With Daron, it’s basically about the kingdom and its needs, however what Daron thinks what’s best for the kingdom might not be entirely correct.

Amaury and Franseza aren’t given that much space but their motivations and instincts are quite clear to discern. The story is quite fast paced and has a reasonable amount of twists that will keep the readers wanting to know how it will all end. A trick the author utilizes is the use of flashbacks before the start of the chapters, which further help in fleshing out the story and the characters. Another plus point is that the world setting which includes air ships, guns and a remarkable type of creature that the readers will have to find out more on their own. The world technology level is set about a pre-industrial level and the characters and world seems to be based on French culture which is a slightly refreshing change from the usual British one.

I thought this book was a fun read that offered some remarkable twists and ended the tale on a strong note. The ending however also lends to a sequel should the author ever want to revisit the world but the ending I must say is a proper one and the story can be considered complete. In the age of numerous series, it’s very refreshing to see a proper standalone story and in this case, it was good to see a different story from an author whom I have very high expectations for.

CONCLUSION: It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise by Rob J. Hayes is a surprisingly fun thriller even though it deals with deception, spy craft and other dastardly activities. Rob J. Hayes certainly is his own writer and know how to buck reader expectations and give a story which while different is no less a page-turner.
Friday, March 13, 2015

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron (Reviewed by Achala Upendran)

Official Author Website
Order The Red Knight here

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern's jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men - or worse, a company of mercenaries - against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it. The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he's determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it's just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can't deal with.

Only it's not just a job. It's going to be a war...

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Finding a book that plonks itself comfortably into the genre of old fashioned chivalry and heroism, without sounding trite and tried, has become increasingly hard. I was beginning to think that it couldn’t be done, that G.R.R. Martin’s canny, pragmatic, decidedly not-shining protagonists were a sign of where fantasy was going, who our new ‘heroes’ were going to be. And then Miles Cameron showed up with The Red Knight and proved why some fantasy clich├ęs are going to stick around.

Written from a staggering number of viewpoints (think Robert Jordan’s last few Wheel of Time books, or even the increasing number of characters with a voice in Martin’s saga), The Red Knight is set in the tantalizingly familiar land of Alba, where the Wild wages an eternal war against the civilized world. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, the Wild, after being contained for many years, has surged up again, and this time it’s got a powerful and terrifying leader: the once-human Magus Thorn.

He brings the considerable power of the Wild to bear on the town Lissen Carrock, and its Abbey . To protect her domain, the Abbess engages the services of a band of mercenaries led by the man who calls himself the Red Knight. A young man with a past and power of his own, he and his fellows are tested to their limits in the fight against the Wild.

Cameron’s narrative spins through a world at once achingly familiar to readers of Arthurian fantasy, as well as jarringly different enough to disconcert and intrigue long-time enthusiasts of the genre. For instance, though the social power of chivalry and knighthood has a strong grip on the populace, and the social system is a feudal one, there are strong hints that ‘Alba’ is not an isolated nation. It has ties—both martial and economic—with its neighbours, the France-like Galle, and the Morean Empire. Similarly, though religion is a strong force in this world, it is complemented by the Power, a magic that some of the holy orders display as well.

The characters do, however, have a tendency to be one-dimensional, and I had a problem with the manner in which Cameron tends to sentimentalize their actions and conversations. The Red Knight, for instance, a very compelling character, becomes a bit of a do-gooder in a decidedly sudden fashion, his naivete a startling contrast to the worldliness and cynicism he had displayed at the start of the narrative. Similarly, Harmodius, a court magus, seems to have been set to play the part of the absent minded but powerful mentor, and that is a role he doesn’t stray from at all. He becomes, at points, a caricature that irritates rather than inspires.

The character I absolutely loved, though, was Desiderata, the Queen of Alba. Feisty, amusing and, above all, so obviously out to get her own way, she shone as a brilliant counterpoint to all those others who got weighed down with obvious morality and occasional sermonizing. Desiderata’s sections were effortless in a way that none of the other characters were—maybe because Cameron let her speak entirely for herself and wend her way through her storyline without dumping his own chivalric and religious explication on her.

The book does tend to drag in sections as well, especially for long drawn out battle sequences. It is difficult to write a large-scale battle sequence that holds readers’ attention consistently unless it involves displays of supernatural ability (just ask Robert Jordan) and Cameron does falter at points. But long practice should make him better, and for a first book,the Red Knight doesn’t do all too bad a job.

CONCLUSION: In spite of these drawbacks, I would heartily recommend The Red Knight for all fans of fantasy. It’s obvious that Cameron has constructed his world with great love, and intends to inhabit it for a while. For all their drawbacks, the characters are engaging, and I found myself wanting to know what was in store for some of them in the next installment. Thankfully, there is going to be a next one. What can I say, we fantasy fans truly do believe there is no such thing as a one-hit wonder, and the grass only gets greener three books in.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015

GUEST POST: Fantastic Economies: A Conversation Between Gabriel Squailia and Karina Sumner-Smith

Gabriel Squailia: Karina, one of the most exciting things about discovering your book on the Talos roster is that we’ve both created worlds with fantastic economic systems completely different from what we’ve got on Earth. In Radiant and Defiant, the first two books of your Towers Trilogy, the economy runs on magic, while my debut Dead Boys presents an underworld with an economy based on time. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, I’m curious: how did you develop that part of your world? Were you interested in messing with money from the beginning, or did it evolve as you wrote?

Karina Sumner-Smith: Foolish as it sounds, when I started writing Radiant I didn’t realize that I was writing a book about money (or social class, or economic power) at all. Instead, the book began with an idea: what if there was a far-future, post-apocalyptic world in which everyone had magic, and magic was used for everything—and the main character was a girl with no magic at all?

Easy, I thought. Straightforward. But the interesting thing in building a fantasy world, I think, is taking what appear to be simple premises and watching them cascade.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this magic, this power that could open (literal and figurative) doors, that ensured health and safety and long life, was money. And if magic/money is something that you are born with, how does that shape your view of the world and your place within it? The “value of a person” suddenly has very literal, very real meaning—and very interesting consequences for concepts of social class, social mobility, and poverty within the world.

And if you have no magic—literally no money, no power, and no ability to earn either—what is your life like? How do you survive? What kind of person does that make you? These are the sorts of questions that really kick my story-brain into gear. And, for me, the best way to discover the answers is to start writing!

But how about you? The idea of the deceased residents of the Land of the Dead using time as currency is a fascinating premise. How does that economic system work, and where did the concept come from?

GS: It’s a startlingly similar origin story. I’d been kicking around the idea of a book set in the underworld for years, but it was only when I broke ground on this draft that I started thinking about money. My characters are all dead, and they all floated in on the River Lethe with whatever they had on them at the moment of death. Occasional floods bring in wrecked buildings and such, but the bottom line is that you’ve got no currency other than the odd bit of pocket change. The corpses of Dead City don’t build or make anything, much less mint currency—they’re a culture of scavengers.

The one thing everyone does have is time. Eternal time, since these corpses decay incredibly slowly. And most of them are spending it drinking, gossiping, and gambling, surefire ways to waste time in any world.

That’s where the notion of time-exchange came in. I needed a city of gamblers, but what would they gamble? Let’s say you start with the coins in your pocket, then lose the buttons on your shirt. You’ve got nothing to do, so you keep going, out of desperate boredom: “I’ll bet you a year I roll a seven next.” And then, when you roll a five instead, you’re my indentured servant for a year.

That’s the mythical textbook version that probably never happened, the equivalent to the barter town where dudes are trading hobnails for pints of mead or whatever. The reality is that once you lose, I don’t want to listen to you complaining for a year, so I trade you in to the guy who owns the gambling halls and keeps the accounts. He takes you, the debtor, into his vast pool of laborers. Then I get a year in my account and gamble it right back into his coffers.

It’s an absurd premise, but it’s how I felt about the debt hanging over me in my twenties: that I’d traded my present for my future, betting that I’d make gobs of money one day even while I suspected it would never happen. That sense of absurdity, coupled with the feeling that all the debt-ridden twentysomethings I knew were supernaturally diminished by the weight of the bills on their backs, was the real genesis of the storyline in Dead Boys.

Once you got in deep, did you discover that the economy of Radiant had similar roots in your own experience?

KSS: Absolutely. I think that when you begin to actively consider the financial and economic aspects of worldbuilding, what you are talking about are resources and scarcity. Who has something of value, what can they do with it, and what will they do to keep control of that resource? And, on the flipside, what happens to those who have few or no resources? What might they do to change their situation, and/or how do they survive?

In other words, when you’re thinking about economics in this way, you’re delving into some of the root causes of inequality within your constructed world—and I think that issues of inequality are inherently deeply personal. I know that a lot of the thematic questions that I end up posing in Radiant and its sequels are ones that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I loved delving into ideas of privilege and poverty, all the ways a person might have value that are in no way reflected by the numbers on their bank statement, and the things we feel that we are owed or have a right to as members of prosperous, developed nations.

Yet these are also the things that can grind us down on a day to day basis. Exploring such ideas in a fantastic setting provides a bit of distance, I think; lets us (as writers and readers both) explore new perspectives and points of view. So instead of talking about banking crises and discrimination, I’m writing about magic and ghosts, a utopian city of floating towers and the lives scratched out of dirt and ruin below them on the ground.

But magic, in my world, is the power of life—it keeps you healthy, heals the sick, and ensures long life, in addition to being used for a myriad of everyday tasks like buying lunch and sending messages. Yet time is such a different form of currency! What’s the value of money to the characters in Dead Boys? What can time buy?

GS: There’s the rub: animate corpses don’t really need much. They don’t eat, they don’t sleep, they don’t require health care. So from the start, I knocked the bottom rungs off of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and focused this economy on desire.

Aside from the booze and gambling, there’s a vast marketplace for the ruined objects scavenged from the River Lethe. Corpses will buy anything that reminds them of their lives, and the jetsam is marked up accordingly. But the big money is in preservation: the dead will pay vast sums of time to look more lifelike, even when the result would be hideous to a living human.

The story’s hero, Jacob Campbell, is Dead City’s most successful preservationist, thanks to his taxidermic acumen, and Dead Boys begins with him spending every moment of his fortune in a bid to find something worth doing for the rest of eternity. His quest takes him away from the economy of time into a way of occupying his afterlife with something meaningful.

But time-as-money, accrued for its own sake, is power, too, and that’s what Jacob’s companion Leopold L’Eclair is after. In the end, time means something different to each of the major characters in the story, so using it in the place of cash often felt like a way to riff on the book’s central obsession.

KSS: What about other interesting economies in SFF? I know when I’m trying to think of great examples of speculative economics, my mind goes right to science fiction. There are lots of great examples of novels and series that show interesting, complex speculation on what how a far-future economy might work, and how economic systems may be impacted by ongoing technological change. Books like Iain Banks’ Culture novels, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, and some of Cory Doctorow’s works come to mind.

GS: Neal Stephenson, too, did amazing things with money in his early novels. My great disappointment in REAMDE had nothing to do with what that book was, but with what I’d hoped it would be: the first act seemed to promise his ultimate thesis on economics and culture, and then the plot kicked in.

Samuel Delany also has a wonderful eye for economics, and ever since I read this passage in his introduction to About Writing I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it:

  "One way or the other, directly or indirectly, good fiction tends to be about money … about the effects of having it or of not having it, the tensions caused between people used to having more of it or less of it, or even, sometimes, the money it takes to write the fiction itself, if not to live it. Supremely, it’s about the delusions the having of it or the not having of it force us to assume in order to go on. … the economic is, nevertheless, not the most interesting thing to me as a reader personally … But stories that never address money or the process by which we acquire it—if not directly then indirectly—are usually stillborn."

KSS: When it comes to fantasy, I have to point to Elizabeth Bear’s excellent Eternal Sky trilogy as an example of great fantasy-world economics done well. Of course, the books didn’t strike me as novels about trade and economics, so much as stories in which the economic and cultural impacts of trade were a carefully planned and well-integrated part of the story’s whole. The attention to detail here really worked for me.

Or then there’s Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, a book about … well, banking. (Proof that Pratchett can make anything entertaining.) And on the flipside of that coin (so to speak), where do you think fantasy writers go wrong in writing about economies and their consequences in fantastic worlds? What would you like to see done better, or differently? 

GS: Fantasy in its epic mode tends to treat money as it would be treated in a D&D campaign. I’m not sure that’s a flaw so much as a habit, but it does cause the issue to protrude. Patrick Rothfuss’ scrupulous accounting of Kvothe’s funds in The Name of the Wind often made me wonder if he had a character sheet. I liked that Kvothe didn’t have much of it, that poverty was a constant threat, as opposed to Harry Potter, who’s just got a bunch of gold in a vault, doesn’t he, for pretty much all seven books? He could’ve benefited from a robbery.

But given how much contemporary fantasy plays with magic—what it is, how it works, what it can do—I’d love to see more active toying with the nature of money itself. Since getting it, keeping it, and getting more of it is one of the primary struggles of our lives, it seems like there’s a lot of room to make some radical changes and see how they affect the rest of the story.

Maybe this is antithetical to what fantasy’s trying to do, though. Epic fantasy seems largely concerned with mutating the past but retaining its essential character, or filtering it through the present, while urban fantasy aims to reflect the moment with more pointed metaphors. Completely alternate visions of reality might not be in fantasy’s wheelhouse. But maybe it ought to be urged in that direction. To me, economics seems like a powerful lever to lean on. It seems like a greater emphasis on action means less room for fiddly bits like economics, but I’d love to be proven wrong on that count.

KSS: Done well, I think an interesting speculative economy could be illuminated by or drive an action-oriented plot. Desperate characters take drastic actions—and what makes a character more desperate than having no money, no resources, and a ticking clock?

For me, I have the greatest trouble with the stories that are about massive wars between nations, armies clashing in huge battles, etc., where it’s clear that the author has never considered how those are paid or fed, who’s funding the rebellion, or how these nations trade and interact outside of the battlefield. For me, that’s not just a matter of attention to detail or rigorous worldbuilding; it’s a key part of creating a story that feels real and true. Political scandals, massive social upheavals, war and rebellion, magic and power—money always plays a part.

I’d also love to see more examples that move beyond metal coins as currency in a feudal society, or variations on modern-day capitalism. Why can’t the economic system of a world be as different, fascinating, and complex as its history, politics, or magical system?

GS: I do feel like we’re at the beginning of a new phase for fantastic writing, with far less attention being paid to homage. Maybe the SF/F answer to Liar’s Poker is in the pipeline as we speak!

KSS: And I, for one, would love to read it.

Official Author Website
Order DEAD BOYS here

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Gabriel Squailia is the author of the dark fantasy Dead Boys, out March 10 from Talos Press. An alumnus of Friends World Program, he studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Known locally as BFG, he makes his living as a dance-floor DJ. His ramblings, hinged and unhinged, can be found over here.

Official Author Website
Order RADIANT here
Pre-order DEFIANT here
Read Cost And Consequence In The Creation Of A Magic System by Karina Sumner-Smith (guest post)

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos/Skyhorse: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Oct 2015). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a very small dog, and a very large cat. Visit her online on her website.

NOTE: Netherworld Capital City art by Jesse Van Dijk. Author pictures courtesy of the authors themselves. Samuel R. Delany picture courtesy of Maria Popova & Brain Pickings. Kvothe artwork by Marc Simonetti

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