Blog Archive

View My Stats
Friday, May 29, 2015

GUEST POST: The Good in the Bad, and the Bad in the Good By Peter Orullian

You hear it a lot. Life isn’t black and white. It’s shades of grey. And where fantasy fiction is concerned, this axiom is repeated ad nauseum as relates characters in a story. Sometimes it sounds like this: “Every character is the hero of his own story.” Sometimes like this: “The only interesting character is one that has flaws.” Or even, “I don’t believe in villains.” They’re all saying the same thing. And they’re all pretty much right.

Why did I add the qualifier “pretty much?” Because in writing, you can get away with anything if you do it well. There are always counterexamples. But for the most part, the idea that there is “good in the bad, and bad in the good,” is accurate. It’s also good advice for writers.

Let me illustrate with a few examples:

In my most recent book, Trial of Intentions, one of the “heroes” makes a choice in the very first scene of the book. The fact that it takes place so early is deliberate. It does grow out of the natural movement of the story, but I also wanted to establish some things from the get go. And the choice he makes has several repercussions.

First, it becomes clear he has agency. Meaning, he’s not a pawn of the gods, or of prophecy, or of circumstances. He actively chooses to go his own way, which is different from what others want and expect, but is also consistent with his own interior logic.

Second, he’s not the “chosen one.” In effect, the reader learns there is no chosen one. Rather, we just have people doing the best they can to meet dire circumstances.

Third, he’s willing to do something awful, something reprehensible, in order to achieve the higher goal. It’s not a constant behavior. Most of the time his choices aren’t immoral or illegal. But from the get-go the reader understands that all is not sunny in his soul. There’s a dark place. A place that grows out of the wounds of his past. And it gives him the strength to make choices that might run the risk of making him unsympathetic to the reader.

But here’s the interesting part. A character who, on balance, is “good” but who slips up or acts in haste or deliberately does something you find distasteful, actually becomes more sympathetic. Why? That’s a loaded question, and there are many answers. But at least one reason is because it’s authentic. It’s how we, ourselves, are. None of us is pure. We each falter or harbor ill will or do things in fits of passion that aren’t the whole of us. But they are part of us. And so we can relate with a character who isn’t always virtuous.

I mean, isn’t this why we can relate with Lancelot and Guinevere? We may feel horrible for King Arthur. The man is trying to establish a new kind of government, really help his people. He loves his wife and friend. Trusts them. And they betray him. So, we ache a bit with Arthur. And we sure as hell wish that Lancelot and Guinevere hadn’t violated his trust with their affair. But they do love Arthur. They were victims of their own weaknesses. And that doesn’t make what they did right. But their infidelity isn’t the whole of who they are, either. The larger part of their characters are good and faithful. That’s why the situation is so painful for everyone.

By the way, one of my favorite scenes in cinema is Richard Harris’ “proposition” soliloquy. Watch this. You’ll thank me. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth seeing again:


Now let’s look at the “good in the bad.” And for the time being, we’ll set aside the differences between an antagonist and a villain. Both can perform what I call a “gesture of humanity”—more on that in a moment.

Again, from Trial of Intentions, I have an antagonist who is driven to see his goals accomplished. And on the face of it, they’re worthy goals—social reform in the interest of the common man. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.

First, his passion makes him somewhat blind to certain realities. Realities that threaten the nations of the Eastlands—war and death.

Second, in service of his goals, he’s does a great many reprehensible things. So, on balance, this character is mostly “bad.” Meaning, we don’t agree with this tactics and behaviors. It’s an “ends justifies the means” mentality, but taken to an unhealthy extreme.

The fact that his goals have a certain nobility, regardless of how he attempts to achieve them, suggest he’s not just evil with a capital E. But that wasn’t sufficient for me in trying to draw him as an interesting character.

In the book, there’s a scene where he’s talking to a young boy. Initially, the conversation is one he’s orchestrated to attempt to coerce something from the child, who holds a position of some importance. And no doubt, he’d have been successful. But in the process of talking to the lad, something happens. He connects with the boy due to a kind of shared history. He lets go his machinations for a few hours, and sees before him . . . a child. A child like he once was. A child filled with worry and doubt and fear and in need of help.

In that moment, my “bad” guy offers what I call: a gesture of humanity. So, while taken across the entire novel, you’d consider him an antagonist, it’s not as neat and tidy as that. You’re not able to put him a corner with every other unthinking monster. Does it make him sympathetic? That’s for readers to decide—and it may, indeed, vary by reader. But it does make him more than one-dimensional. It does give him a bit of complexity, vs. stark blackness. It even lends a more human feeling to his motivations.

And as for other examples, they are legion. Consider Darth Vader, Severus Snape, the Grinch, the Phantom of the Opera, Apollo Creed, Javert in Les Miserables, and Satan in Paradise Lost, just to name a few. There’s probably a discussion about Family Guy in here, too, but I’ll leave that for another time.

For my purpose today (probably just the mood I’m in), I’ll focus briefly on two examples: The first is Javert. He’s an antagonist. We don’t care much for him, given the sympathy we have for Jean Valjean. But from Javert’s point of view, Valjean is a criminal. In the end, Javert lets Valjean go. But that human gesture comes as Javert has his own ethics and principles thrown into question. It’s not something he can live with. The consequence: He kills himself. A fantastic song delivers his broken mind:


I’m also drawn to Radion Raskolnikov from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov is our main POV character. He’s an antihero who plots and kills a pawnbroker woman. And yet . . . we find some sympathy for him. We do so even though part of his purpose is to test his own hypothesis that some people have the natural capability to commit murder. Maybe even the right to do so. Check out this scene from the BBC’s version with John Simm, who also played in Dr. Who. Of particular interest is Raskolnikov’s article. Listen to it closely. Very salient to our conversation, I think.


Did you recognize the Emperor?

Now, this example is different, since it’s told from the POV of the killer. But I like it as an example of how everyone feels justified of their own actions—even if there’s a touch of madness in them. Which returns us to where we began: “Every character is the hero of his own story.”

So . . . the bad in the good, and the good in the bad. It’s about making your characters sympathetic, which is to say relatable, not sappy or maudlin. I don’t care for the term “grey,” though. Somehow it feels like a convenience. Lazy, maybe.

In any case, that’s my time. Thanks, Mihir, for the chance to share some thoughts.

Official Author Website
Order The Unremembered:The Author's Definitive Edition HERE
Order Trial Of Intentions HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Orullian was born and brought up in Utah. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Utah with an Honors B.A. in English, and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Societies. He has two passions: Writing and Music. Beyond these consuming interests, he currently works at Microsoft in the Interactive Entertainment Business (Xbox), loves the outdoors (with a fondness for the Rocky Mountains that he'll never lose) and taking his Jeep deep into the back-country, but more than anything enjoys spending time with his family.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Interview with Rob J. Hayes (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
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's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

Since I first read Rob J. Hayes' debut book The Heresy Within, he has quickly become one of my favorite authors and also one of the most featured authors on Fantasy Book Critic. Recently with the release of The Price Of Faith, I thought to pick his mind and try to glean some secrets about the world of First Earth, the characters within and what the future holds for those who survived.  Be warned that the below interview has some major and minor spoilers for the Ties That Bind trilogy so avoid it if you haven't read the trilogy. For those who have read and loved the trilogy, read and enjoy Rob's thoughts......

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, how does it feel to have your series completed (again) and with such fantastic cover art? 

RJB: It still feels a little bit like a dream to be honest. When I started writing this series back in 2010 the dream was to have them published and I occasionally look at the book shelf and realize I'm living the dream.

Q] Once you started plotting this trilogy, how much of the entire journey was planned and how much of it evolved organically? Was the ending planned from the very beginning? 

RJB: The Heresy Within was actually written as a stand alone story. I was one book into a different series (set in the same world), and I had the idea for these three characters who just didn't fit into that story. I set that first series aside and started on Heresy. I think I was pretty close to the end of Heresy when I realized it was going to turn into a trilogy and I was about a chapter in The Colour of Vengeance when I knew how The Price of Faith would end.

I tend to be a very organic writer, knowing the beginning and the end and a bunch of stuff in between, but a lot of what happens just kind of spews out of my fingers as I write it. It can make editing a bit of a hassle when you realize how much you contradict yourself sometimes.

For an example of just how much of the plot evolves organically I'll use Constance from The Heresy Within. Constance (Dead Eye) plays a major role in Jezzet's arc throughout Heresy, she is in fact the driving force in that arc. Constance however did not exist until I started writing the chapter in which she appeared. The relationship between her and Jezzet just kind of expanded (both forwards and back) from that point.

Q] Now talking about your POV characters, all of them are severely flawed. In most fantasy books they would be the villains/antagonists. Why did you focus the story around & on them? 

RJB: Heroes are boring. Well 'good guy' heroes are boring. I find stories so much more interesting when they focus on characters who maybe won't always do the right thing (or the good thing). Infact it gets even more interesting when they do the wrong thing but for the right reasons.

Q] I want to ask you about your characters and not just the main POV ones but even the ones that only make fleeting appearances. What goes through your mind when you create them? How do you make them so complex and tragic? 

RJB: I start with a single concept (it may even be cliched). Black Thorn was paranoia, Thanquil was an outcast, Henry was anger. From there I start layering the characters, giving them reasons to be the way they are, reasons that fit in with the world (and the region) in which they live. I try to make them seem as real as possible with each character having a different voice, and a different way of processing things.

Anders is always looking for his next drink, Jezzet is always looking for potential threats. I don't really set out with the intention of making my characters tragic, they're pretty much a product of the world they live in, which is pretty tragic and brutal!

Q] You did quite a different thing with your second book, only one POV character returned from the first book and the entire story was rather focused on Black Thorn and his quest for vengeance. As a reader I was surprised by this but this book was my favorite of the entire trilogy. How did this come to be? 

RJB: I like to challenge convention. I mean what sort of fool removes (arguably) his two main characters for the middle book in a trilogy and focuses instead on the least likeable of the three.

Then there was also the new characters I wanted to add. Henry was a big one there. Everybody hated Henry after The Heresy Within, so I decided to make people like her instead. It also just fit with the timeline. Thanquil and Jezzet were off doing their own thing in the Dragon Empire, while the Black Thorn was busy being locked up and brought back from the brink. Thanquil and Jezzet just didn't really fit in Vengeance, but Black Thorn definitely did.

The trilogy sort of came together as a love letter to spaghetti westerns in many ways. The Heresy Within is very much The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The Colour of Vengeance is True Grit, and The Price of Faith is The Magnificent Seven. 

Q] In The Colour Of Vengeance, you also introduced Templar Jacob and Pern Suzku. They are both terrific warriors but Suzku is bound by his clan's rules and Jacob is broken by his Templar upbringing. What lead to the genesis for both characters? 

RJB: Pern came about from needing a character on Swift's side of the conflict. I wanted the character to have mixed feelings about the moral code (or lack of) that Swift lives by, and also be quite naive in the ways of the world. Pern was that character. One of the best bodyguards the world has to offer but with next to no idea how the world works, or any of the temptations he would be presented with. He's a very interesting character really because he has to ask himself if he can justify his life's purpose, when that purpose is protecting a man he considers to be evil.

Jacob Lee is a combination of a few things. In season 5 of Angel (the TV show by Joss Whedon) there is a character who has tattoos all over his body as a way of hiding himself from surveillance. Ever since seeing that I had the idea of a character with powerful blessings tattooed on their body to give them powers beyond that of a normal person. Until Colour of Vengeance I never had a chance to put that idea on paper.

Remember a film called Priest released in 2011? Probably not. It was awful. However, the trailer had a scene where Karl Urban's character, Black Hat, was walking through a street with chaos and destruction happening all around, and he was waving his hands in the air like he was conducting an orchestra that no one else could hear. I loved that scene (nothing else in the movie, but that scene!). So when I came to create Jacob, I knew I wanted a broken man who swung from child-like reverence in the wonders around him, to cold-blooded killer with no conscience, and I knew I wanted the trigger to be music, but music only he could hear.

Lastly there's Darth Vader. Across the original Star Wars trilogy, Vader is this menacing, mysterious force chasing the heroes throughout the galaxy, even when they don't realised they're being chased. He's relentless. I wanted to emulate that in Jacob. Betrim may not know he's being chased, but the audience know, and as Jacob closes in the tension mounts.

Oh the other funny thing about Jacob, by the way, is that in early edits of Vengeance, his tattoos glowed when he got into combat to show he was accessing their power. Shortly after finishing writing Vengeance, I started reading Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle books where the main character ends up with runes tattooed all over his body that glow when he gets into combat with demons. I wasn't about to remove Jacob entirely, but I did edit the book to take out the glowing tattoos.

Q] Most fantasy trilogies often focus on the fantastic, you however chose to ignore that aspect. You have an emperor who’s the human aspect of the god Volmar yet he’s barely focused upon in the trilogy. What gives? 

RJB: The God Emperor was very much subverting a popular trope. Here's that quintessential farm boy with a bright destiny. He is actually a God given human form (an Avatar so to speak). Only that quest to find himself a magical sword, that was actually done by this thieving, outcast witch hunter (Thanquil). So let's focus on the outcast instead.

The Gods in First Earth are a lot like the Greek gods you see in films like 'Clash of the Titans' (the original!). They don't really get directly involved, but instead move pieces about the chess board. Only Thanquil isn't really a chess piece so much as a board flip.

Q] Thanquil, Jezzet & Betrim all have some good qualities however it’s their dark sides, which are more alluring. Thanquil has his kleptomania; Jezzet has her fear, Betrim his paranoia. What do you think made them that way? 

RJB: With Thanquil it was his upbringing. He was always the outcast, even before being taken by the Inquisition. His fellow witch hunters despised him for the sins of his parents and most treated him very unfairly (some of his past in revealed in The Price Of Faith). Stealing things became a subversive way of giving him a measure of control over those who despised him. It also gives him a rush, a thrill, which is something Thanquil needs to help him fight his magical addiction.

Jezzet's fear is all about being laid bare, her weaknesses for all to see. She went through hell in her training to be a Blademaster. Her scars are a physical representation of that. She hates people seeing them because she hates the idea that people might know what she went through and what was done to her, all of which she considers a weakness.

Betrim's paranoia all comes from his worry that his past will catch up with him. He murdered his own parents, possibly because of an altercation involving a chicken, you'll never know (but I do). He murdered the Arbiter sent to investigate his parent's murder because he believed the Arbiter was after him. He's murdered more Arbiters since because he believes they're after him for that first Arbiter. It's really all about him running away and becoming a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the process.

Q] Let’s talk about Drake Morass, he’s a secondary character who slowly starts gaining importance as the series progresses. He often acts like the Joker from TDK, chaotic and entirely unpredictable? What should the readers make of him and is he an important player for the future? 

RJB: Drake has a very important part to play in the future of First Earth. Whether or not he is the mastermind he claims to be, or if he's just very good at claiming the responsibility, is something each reader will have to decide on their own.

Q] You have signed on for a sequel duology with Ragnarok Publications. Can you tell us about it and who will be returning in it? 

RJB: I have indeed. It's called Best Laid Plans and Ragnarok are planning to publish it in 2016. Drake Morrass is back and he's bringing with him a host of new characters. Many of the others from The Ties that Bind will make appearances also though none of them will have starring roles. It's set in the pirate isles and the story starts with Drake trying to unite his fellow pirates and forge an Empire for himself.

And here's the blurb for book one, Where Loyalties Lie:

Everybody knows Drake Morrass is only out for himself. 

As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and claim a crown for himself. If he is to succeed he will need allies and the Oracle named Keelin Stillwater, the best swordsman in the isles, as Drake's right hand. 

With enemy ships sailing his waters and setting fire to his cities, and the sinister Tanner Black threatening to steal the throne before Drake has even sat in it, Drake must somehow convince the other Captains that his best interests are also theirs.

Q] You have this knack of introducing characters with a line or two only to bring them back for prominent roles (Anders, Drake Morass, Rose, rtc). Are there any particular ones that we should pay more attention to with regards to future stories? 

Well Keelin Stillwater appeared in a couple of chapters in The Price of Faith and he has a fairly major role in Best Laid Plans. There's also a couple of major players introduced in my short story, Beck, which can be downloaded for free from my website. And the thief Thom has been mentioned in a number of my stories (both the longer form like The Price Of Faith and the shorts like The Merchant Of Truridge & To the End), expect to see more of him in the future.

Q] I believe you have an overall plan for this world (First Earth) and that you plan to write many more tales. How many series have you planned in total? Will there be a rotating set of characters interspersed throughout them? 

RJB: I have another two series planned after Best Laid Plans. Most of the characters (those who survive) will be back for the final series. There is a plan and, while each series will stand alone, there is a larger story being told throughout. There will also be more short stories which will help to expand the world, and the characters in it.

Q] The books start out pretty low key with regards to magic however with each book, the magic quotient is slowly raised. The final book gives us some huge revelations about the nature of Volmar, the nature of magic and the premise of the world. Was this a planned move or do you believe in the Joe Abercrombie approach of keeping magic to minimalistic levels in your books? 

RJB: Magic has a major part to play in the world (as it does in most fantasy worlds) but I didn't want any of the stories to be about the magic. Joe does a fantastic job of keeping magic as a major power subtly shifting the course of the world (G.R.R.M does a very similar thing). I love that, but I wanted magic to be a bit more obviously present in First Earth.

By the end of The Ties that Bind, the reader has a pretty good idea of how magic in First Earth functions and what it is capable of. In Best Laid Plans I explore a bit more about the Gods including those native to First Earth, and those alien.

Q] What are you writing currently and what can your fans expect to read next from you? 

RJB: I'm currently finishing up book 2 of Best Laid Plans, The Fifth Empire of Man. After that I'm writing a sequel to my self-published novel, It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise.

Q] Nowadays it’s pretty common to see novels adapted into different formats such as movies, comics, videogames, animation and TV. How would you like to see one of your books adapted? 

RJB: Movies make lots of money, so lets go with movies :D

Actually I'd love to see The Ties that Bind adapted into a card game. I play a lot of card games like Magic the Gathering, A Game of Thrones, Netrunner so I would love to see my work make that sort of leap.

Q] Lastly, do you have any words of wisdom for your readers or anything else you’d like to say about your upcoming works? 

RJB: I don't really do wisdom but here's a Chinese proverb: Not only can water float a boat, it can sink it also.

NOTE: Nautical fantasy art courtesy of J. P. Targete.
Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off Second Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Previously I had spoken as to how I planned to do mini-reviews of 4-5 books at a time. However changes on my family front have precipitated a change in my reviewing pattern. With time being a constraint. I'm going to take a page from Ria's (Bibliotropic) method and make a shortlist.

With that in mind, I read about 4-6 chapters from all the remaining 23 books and chose the following 6 titles. Within this list I have also added one book that I had previously discarded because it was better than the rest. So here are the six books that made the cut:

 1)  Blood and Masks by Alex Ziebart
 2)  Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devil Bone by Scott Warren
 3)  Shade City by Domino Finn
 4)  Century of Sand by Christopher Ruz
 5)  Under A Colder Sun by Greg James
 6)  The Kitsune Stratagem by David Tatum

 I'll be reviewing each book properly and the first book will be reviewed in the latter half of June. Hopefully by the end of August, I'll be able to pick one among these six and submit as my official selection. 
Friday, May 22, 2015

The Queen Of The Tearling by Erika Johansen (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman & Joshua Redlich)

Official Author Website
Order Queen Of The Tearling HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Erika Johansen grew up and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College, earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing. The Queen of the Tearling is her first novel.

OVERVIEW: Kelsea Raleigh has never known anything but for the cottage she was raised in and the kindly man and stern woman who raised her. That, and the fact that she is heir to the Tearling throne.

After her mother, Queen Elyssa Raleigh, died, Kelsea was sent into hiding to be protected and taught until her nineteenth birthday, when she would be returned to the castle and assume her role as queen. Now that day has finally come, and she is swept up into an unknown world, friendless and utterly ignorant of the current state of her kingdom, without the slightest notion of what she is supposed to do. Meanwhile, both her own uncle, the current Raleigh Regent, and the Red Queen of Mortmesne, a powerful witch queen, want to see her dead, and her only protection is a Queen’s Guard with a known traitor amongst its rank and the Tear sapphire, a mysterious amulet with unknown abilities.

With limited resources and such formidable enemies, can Kelsea hope to protect her kingdom from the Red Queen’s army, or will she be nothing but the cause of even more destruction?

FORMAT: The Queen of the Tearling is Erica Johansen’s debut novel and the first in her Queen of the Tearling series. It is a 448 page YA political fantasy written in the third person, and it comes complete with a map of the world and fourteen titled chapters split between thee parts. The book was published in North America by Harper on July 8, 2014. It is now available as a hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

ANALYSIS (Cindy):I will admit I wasn't exactly sure what I was walking into when I decided to read The Queen of the Tearling. Was I reading an epic adult fantasy? Was it YA novel? Add into the fact that this novel (by the time I read it) already had tons of 'haters' and bad reviews, and I was certain I was walking into a world of hurt. Surprisingly, that isn't what happened.

I'm just going to come out and say this. I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling. Sure, it didn't blow me away and I would hardly label it 'best fantasy novel ever', but I enjoyed it. The plot was engaging, the world building was alright, and there was enough action, adventure, political intrigue, and mystery to keep me reading. Of course, it isn't a perfect book either and it does have some problems.

Before I go any further, I do think the issue of it being compared to The Hunger Games needs to be addressed. I saw multiple references to The Hunger Games and even on the flap of the book it says it is 'like' The Hunger Games. There is nothing akin to Hunger Games about this book. If you are going in expecting to walk out with the same feeling you did with The Hunger Games or even read a book that is remotely similar, you're asking for trouble. There is a constant need to compare books to each other and try to find a similarity between them. The Hunger Games is still what is considered hot and popular, so every book tries to ride that excitement. Unfortunately, it sets a lot of people up for disappointment. This is just one of the many examples of 'Hunger Game' hype disappointment.

I do understand the need to compare books to each other to give readers some idea of what to expect, but in this situation The Hunger Games is so off from this book that it creates problems. My recommendation is to read it and give it a try before you make a decision. Just don't expect "you know which book".

Now, what did I like about The Queen of The Tearling? There was a lot that I enjoyed. I found the main character, once I got to know and understand her, intriguing and captivating. I found her supporting cast diverse. One of the elements that I really enjoyed was although the supporting cast was theoretically many, many years older than our main heroine of the story, they all gelled together nicely. It was like one big, oddly unique family.

Another element I really enjoyed was the library element. Seriously, any book that incorporates secret libraries or encouraging society to read, I love. I did find the way the author paid tribute to some of the modern day authors/books fun. It may have only been a sentence or two here or there, but I felt it was a nice touch and a great way to honor authors/books that inspired people's love of fantasy.

There were some flaws with this debut volume. One of the biggest issues I had was it appeared that the book at times was unnecessarily mean/evil/gritty. I've read gritty books and there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The grittier scenes just seemed forced and really unnecessary. For example, there were several references to rape and detailed sex/killing scenes that just seemed, there to be there.

Another issue I ran into was the author's rather obvious attempts at world building. I wouldn't go as far as to call them info-dumps, but they were pretty close to it. There were many times where there'd be a break in the action or adventure to tell lengthy history stories, explain the layout of the land, talk about the society's government, or other issues. It really disrupted the flow of the story.

When I first found myself reading The Queen of the Tearling, I wasn't sure I would enjoy it. I found as the rather fast-paced book moved on, I was really sucked into the book and just could not stop reading. By the end, I was a fan and honestly could not wait until the next installment. I'll be anxiously awaiting book two to see what happens and what is in store for us.

ANALYSIS (Joshua): There is definitely much to love about The Queen of the Tearling, from a protagonist with refreshingly plain features and a heavier build that helps prove how unimportant size and looks really are to a mysterious, magical talisman with incredible powers that readers can only begin to fathom by the end of the book. Yet one of the parts of the book that I found most fascinating was the legendary Crossing.

This historical episode, which marks the coming of Kelsea’s ancestors to the Tearling, is mentioned various times throughout the book, but it is never elaborated on. At first I didn’t mind, as I envisioned the crossing as just a voyage from one country to another, and I was only slightly curious about the former living situation. But then, about halfway through the book, Johansen provides slight details, such as a complete collection of Rowling (aka the Harry Potter books) that survived the Crossing, that make readers realize the book takes place not in an alternate world but in the future. What happened to initiate the Crossing, what the Crossing actually was, and how magic suddenly became something that exists all remain a mystery, but these questions alone are enough of an incentive to invest in book two of the series.

As a fantasy centered around a government infrastructure and inter-kingdom relations, I was expecting the book to be a slow read, but The Queen of the Tearling actually moves along quite nicely, both because there is a fair amount of action mixed in with the political scenes and because the politics is actually not all that complex. There is a corrupt church, a neighboring, ill-intentioned witch queen, a people that have practically given up hope in their monarchy, and that’s pretty much it. In some ways, this was actually a bit of a disappointment, particularly when the beginning chapters did so much to build up the power and evil of Kelsea’s uncle, the Raleigh Regent, only to have him prove to be nothing but a spoiled, ignorant man who is quickly disposed of. I would almost consider the book to be a Game of Thrones primer. Readers new to this sort of fantasy will enjoy it immensely, but others may be left wanting for more.

Another aspect of the book that I have mixed feelings about is the chapter openers, which are all excerpts from texts that exist in the world of the Tearling. Yet while most fantasies that incorporate excerpts such as these use them to reveal something from a book written long ago, these are all from books published after Kelsea’s rise as Queen of the Tearling. As such, it practically gives away the outcome of the war between her and the Red Queen from the get-go. While I cant say that the ending isn’t obvious anyway (I mean, people don’t write stories about characters who fail), these excerpts don’t really add much to the story.

CONCLUSION: Overall, The Queen of the Tearling, while not as complex as I expected it to be as a political novel, was beautifully written and paced perfectly, keeping me interested and invested throughout with just the right amount of action and suspense mixed in with the political intrigue and world building. The primary characters, particularly Kelsea, are all highly well-realized, and the world is one that is so incredibly interesting that if there weren’t already so many reasons to continue the series, that alone would compel me to do so. Anyone who enjoys character-driven narratives with mysterious, magical artifacts and a unique fantasy world to boot should be sure to add this to their reading list.
Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cover Reveal: MECH: AGE OF STEEL Plus An Interview With Co-Editor N.X. Sharps (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Ragnarok Publications has slowly and surely gaining fans since they launched their first anthology Kaiju Rising. It was a resounding success and since then they have only launched many more amazing books and further spectacular anthologies such as Blackguards & Genius Loci.

Just this weekend, they announced their newest anthology titled MECH: AGE OF STEEL This anthology will feature a diverse array of tales from some of the genre's finest talent (including some returning favorites from Kaiju Rising) and each story will be accompanied by a piece of interior art by either Frankie B. Washington or Oksana Dmitrienko.

The Mech: Age of Steel Kickstarter campaign will be launched in the latter half of 2015 and here's the lineup that has been announced with the addendum that there will be a couple more big names joining this list:
• Kevin J. Anderson & David Boop 
• Jody Lynn Nye 
• Graham McNeill 
• Peter Clines 
• Jeremy Robinson 
• Martha Wells 
• Jeffrey J. Mariotte & Marsheila Rockwell 
• Ramez Naam & Jason M. Hough 
• Gini Koch (writing as J.C. Koch) 
• Jeff Somers 
• Matt Forbeck 
• Anton Strout 
• Bill Fawcett 
• C.L. Werner 
• James Ray Tuck, Jr. 
• M.L. Brennan 
• Timothy W. Long 
• Jennifer Brozek 
• Kane Gilmour 
• Paul Genesse 
• Patrick M. Tracy 
• Andrew Liptak 
• Steve Diamond 

I’m particularly fascinated by the author lineup, which includes many of our FBC favorites such as Peter Clines, M.L. Brennan, Ramez Naam, Jason M. Hough, Martha Wells and many others. The superb cover art seen above is by Victor Adame and the cover design is by Ragnarok regular Shawn T. King.

I wanted to explore a few more details behind the inception the anthology and was extremely glad when Nickolas X. Sharps obliged my call. Nickolas is the co-editor of MECH: AGE OF STEEL along with Tim Marquitz. He has been involved with Ragnarok Publications from the start and has masterminded their social media strategy. He was also the co-editor of Kaiju Rising and frequently reviews SFF titles over at Elitist Book Reviews.

So read ahead to find out how MECH: AGE OF STEEL came to be and what readers can look forwards to from it. So please join me in welcoming Nick:

1] Please tell us about the inception of MECH: Age of Steel and how you came to be involved with it? 

NXS: We started planning MECH shortly after we finished editing Kaiju Rising. I envisioned a trilogy of anthologies, each with a separate theme but with a degree of overlap. Like Kaiju Rising, MECH is the product of a childhood passion. As a kid the only thing I loved more than giant monsters were giant robots and it all started with watching Gundam Wing on Toonami after school.

Pacific Rim reminded me how awesome kaiju are but I never forgot the coolness of mecha. Kaiju Rising features several really great stories involving both monsters and robots but I felt like the robots deserved a big ol’ book all of their own and of course Joe and Tim backed me up.

2] This anthology is said to be a companion anthology to Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters. Please tell us more about this connection? 

NXS: You’ll no doubt notice several authors on the Kaiju Rising lineup returning for MECH. We’ve got Peter Clines, Gini Koch, C.L. Werner, Timothy W. Long, Kane Gilmour, Paul Genesse, and Patrick M. Tracy all returning to contribute. Several of these authors have sequels to their Kaiju Rising stories while others have decided to try something new. Giant monsters and giant robots go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or peanut butter and chocolate. Or peanut butter and bananas. Have you ever noticed that peanut butter goes well with most things? These anthologies are companions in that they both take an awesome theme and explore a multitude of ways in which to express said theme.

3] With Kaiju Rising, you compiled a fascinating line-up of authors, this time around as well you have compiled an intriguing one. Tell us more about the authors involved and why you approached them? 

NXS: Some of thes folks on the lineup were recommended to me. Then there are the Kaiju Rising authors who threatened me with blackmail and violence to secure invitations. Several of authors were even invited to contribute to Kaiju Rising but were unable to make such a commitment at the time. But simply put these are authors I read, enjoy, and have come to admire. I knew that each and every one of them would be able to bring something unique to the project and that was the one driving force behind assembling the lineup.

4] Which tale is your favorite in this compilation and which one surprised you the most? 

NXS: It’s difficult to pick a favorite, especially since we’ve only received half the submissions by this point. I know it’s a major cop-out to say this but I love them all. I will admit that as the first story I received, Graham McNeill’s “Ordo Talos” does hold a special place in my heart. I’ve been reading McNeill’s Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy novels for years and I geeked out hardcore when he accepted the invitation to MECH. Plus it’s hard to beat a story about Roman legionnaires fighting a barbarian wickerman-mech.

The most surprising story so far has likely been Jody Lynn Nye’s “Easy as Pie.” I was too busy laughing while reading it to stop for a breath – Nye is a comedic genius. That said all the stories are rather surprising in their own way. Readers will want to check their expectations at the door before delving into MECH.

(Artwork by Frankie B. Washington for Jeremy Robinson’s MECH story “Rogue 57")

5] I loved the movie poster mode of the cover art. Could you expound on how it came to be? 

NXS: Joe Martin wears many hats as co-publisher of Ragnarok but I think the role he most enjoys is Creative Director. We passed names of some different artists back and forth before he found Victor Adame. We were instantly taken with the piece that would become the MECH cover and Joe morphed into negotiating mode. Not only was Joe able to secure this cover but he also purchased a second piece that we’re considering the “Crimson Variant” that will be a Kickstarter exclusive.

Shawn King, Ragnarok’s design guru, wanted MECH to stand out and have an almost anime/high budget sci-fi action film feel to it. We’ve come to trust Shawn’s design sense implicitly so he took that direction and just went crazy with it. We’re all very pleased with how it turned out and I think even J.J. Abrams would approve! 

6] When will the kickstarter for MECH go online? What awesome goodies can the fans look forward to from it? 

NXS: We are looking at launching MECH in Q3/Q4 of 2015. Sorry if that’s a little unspecific but we want to make sure to meet our fulfillments for Genius Loci before we move forward. Plus there’s a super secret project that Ragnarok is participating in this summer that should be very, very cool.

As for awesome goodies? For starters we are looking at interior art for each story. We’ve recruited Frankie B. Washington and Oksana Dmitrienko to illustrate these stories. Then we’ve got a challenge coin designed by Ian Jobe that compliments the Kaiju Rising coin. We’re also planning posters, bookmarks, magnets, and of course Tuckerizations. 

Thank you for the questions! We can’t wait to share MECH: Age of Steel with the world.

NOTE: All pictures courtesy of Ragnarok Publications and Nick. X. Sharps.
Friday, May 15, 2015

Interview with Anton Strout (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, and thank you very much for your time. Could you kindly introduce yourself to our readers? 

AS: Hi. I’m Anton Strout, and I’m a writeaholic. (Hi, Anton!) It has been zero minutes since my last sentence… Actually, I am a man of many hats currently. I’m known for my two urban fantasy series, although I write and dabble in all scifi/fantasy realms. I also host The Once & Future Podcast, which is my passion project where I talk with my fellow authors, and I also have a day job at one of the Big Five New York publishers, Penguin Random House. When not writing, I spend my time gaming or keeping my two year old twins from deleting my writing.

Q] Please talk to us about your involvement with Blackguards, how did it all come to be? 

AS: Did you know that the Internet is a place where people whine/complain/hold court over things? IT’S TRUE! Several years ago I think I heard about Ragnarok as a publisher, specifically their Kaiju Rising anthology Kickstarter. A lot of great authors were in it, and it turned out to be a gorgeous looking book. More importantly, it was a Kickstarter done right, a rarity! Suddenly they were on my radar.

I believe I was jokingly whining about not being in it online and the people behind it at Ragnarok heard me. When they began planning out what was initially entitled Rogues, they asked me to submit, and the rest is history. In Kaiju Rising related news, I will be in its follow up companion anthology they’re putting out entitled Mech: VENGEANCE IS MINE!

Q] Within the Blackguards anthology, you’ve chosen to write about the formative years of Simon Canderous. What made you focus on him for this anthology? 

AS: I’m one of the few modern day tales in book. As a gamer, I always loved playing the sneaky thief, but I felt like the other heavy duty pure fantasy writers in our group would have that covered, so I turned to areas from my two series of books that I never got to articulate in the main books. Simon has always been a man who is trying to put his past behind him. The ability to touch an object and read its history has been a blessing and a curse for him, and I wanted to explore his earlier days when he had less control of it, a time when maybe he wasn’t using his powers for good. It’s always fun to explore your hero’s dark side, and Blackguards gave me a chance to do just that.

Q] Please tell us a bit about Simon’s short story "Scream". What readers expect to see in it? 

AS: Paranormal detective Simon Canderous has been through a lot of crazy in his four books (Dead To Me, Deader Still, Dead Matter, and Dead Waters). Part of that is his ne’er-do-well past before joining the Department of Extraordinary Affairs, in particular his life as an art thief. In "Deader Still" we met a psychotic redhead from those years, and Scream tells the tale of their first meeting, which sets the tone for their roller-coaster ride of a relationship.

Q] Do you think your readers will appreciate the direction you’ve chosen? 

AS: I hope so. When I write a book, there’s a lot that doesn’t make it into the book that gets released. You’re building histories about characters to help you tell the story you mean to tell about them. It’s a part of world building. And like good world building, there is much that the author knows that should never end up on the final page. It’s stuff that’s hinted at, alluded to, adding color, but is not a litany of the entire history of characters before the book. That would be painful to read, and moments like that that do end up in a first draft fall to the cutting room floor.

Short stories, however, offer up the opportunity to delve into those smaller moments that were left out of the big book so it doesn’t slow it down. Simon & Mina have a very checkered past, and it was fun to tell their first meeting went. With a title like Scream, it hints that it was at least an exciting, if not dangerous, meeting…

Q] You have two urban fantasy series out with Ace-Roc books, can you tell us about your books? 

AS: My first series—the above mentioned Simon Canderous books—is sort of a Ghostbusters as written by Joss Whedon sort of endeavor. They’re light, fun, and posit a world that asks what types of jobs would an adult Harry Potter get up to in the real world. It’s a world of the occult as well as red tape and paperwork, the motto of the Department of Extraordinary Affairs being “Fighting Evil, Under Budget.” I often describe The Spellmason Chronicles (Alchemystic, Stonecast, and Incarnate) as my Disney’s Gargoyles fan fic, and I’m only half joking when I say that. I loves me some gargoyles, and that cartoon always stuck in my head.

As a reader, though, I was always fascinated by makers in books. For instance, I’m more curious about those who forged the Rings of Power in Lord of the Rings than I am most other things in the series. Alchemystic starts off telling the tale of a maker’s kin discovering centuries later the gargoyle set to watch over her family, and book by book the camera sort of pulls back to reveal more and more about the arcane in a modern world setting. It’s a little more serious in tone than the Simonverse books, but still have a fair amount of humor and fun in them.

Q] I’ve recently been introduced to the Once & Future podcast, which you have hosted since 2011. Can you talk to us about its inception and what was your thought process behind it? 

AS: Sure. I love going to conventions and touching base with my fellow authors. Writing is a lonely profession. There are long stretches of time where it’s you alone with the page and nothing else. Conventions—and more importantly the bars there—are always a great place to touch base, share miseries, solve problems, and feel less like a bookworm-ish loner. O&F came out of a deep love of these talks I was having, and it seemed a natural progression to share those conversations. Inspired a bit by the Nerdist Podcast, I set about creating my precious little show and never looked back.

Q] On the podcast, you do a remarkable job of keeping it light and yet exploring each guest’s books and writing in depth. What’s your secret? 

AS: If there’s one thing I’ve discovered in our 80+ episodes, it’s that as authors we are all remarkably the same. Sure, there are differences in how we write, what we write, etc, but in the end the results are the same: we get to do the awesome job of writing kick-ass fantasy and science fiction! It’s a job—and a hard one at that—but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun, and that’s what I try to get out of my guests. To that end, I tend to mix up all the things we love conversationally: process, lifestyles, hobbies, crafts… you name it. Geekery abounds… it springs forth from every pore from our guests and I simply allow them to let their geek flag fly on the show.

Q] What have been some of your memorable experiences while hosting and what can listeners look forward to? 

AS: Honestly, every conversation is like Christmas. I don’t know our guests all that well, so learning more about them is a gift every time we sit down to talk writing and rampant nerdery. The most exciting thing I’ve learned is that all misery is relative. My struggles as a mid-list writer would only be traded up to new ones, as they have for those of our guests who are consistent New York Times bestsellers. I find a great comfort in that. The things they worry about are the same as what I worry about, only on a grander scale.

As far as upcoming events… We’re planning on bringing you coverage from Book Expo of America at the end of May, so you can hear about what geekery industry people are excited for this year. And we’ll be doing a live podcast from Gen Con in late July where there will be many authors, surprise guests and giveaways. I’m terribly excited for this one. It’s the best four days of gaming, has an amazing writer’s track, and is my home away from home.

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

AS: Two things: First, I’d love you to try my series—either one, really. I’ve had a lot of fun creating them, and I think you’ll have a lot of fun reading them.

Second, head on over to The Once & Future Podcast page. Look through the episode guide for some of your favorite names, give a listen and get hooked! If you like the show, tell your friends and consider supporting its production over at Thanks for having me, FBC!

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Urban fantasy author Anton Strout has given readers equal shares of chills and laughter since the first book of his Simon Canderous paranormal detective series, Dead To Me, came out from Penguin/Ace Books in 2008, giving Jim Butcher fans some entertainment between Dresden Files books. He continued his tales of mayhem in Manhattan with his second series, the Spellmason Chronicles, as he treated readers to the story of a girl and her gargoyle, and explored themes of friendship, loyalty, and love with his trademark snarky twist.

INFORMATION ABOUT SCREAM: Now, in the groundbreaking new anthology Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues from Ragnarok Publications, he returns to his fan-favorite character, Simon Canderous with "Scream," a prequel story of Simon before his days at the Department of Extraordinary Affairs.

One of the best performing anthologies on Kickstarter to date with over 1200 backers giving almost $40k to the project, Blackguards also features stories by Michael J. Sullivan, Mark Lawrence, Carol Berg, and other notable people from the genre.</div>

You can learn more about Anton at his website, and by listening to the Once and Future Podcast, where he chats with some of speculative fiction's finest authors, artists, and other creative types. Plus checkout this fantastic giveaway and enter to win some cool prizes a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTE: Author picture with Elfin courtesy of Eaglerider57. All other pictures courtesy of the author.
Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Furious Jones and the Assassin's Secret" by Tim Kehoe (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: When his dad's book turns out to contain deadly secrets, twelve-year-old Furious Jones is thrust into a web of mystery and danger in this gripping page-turner.

Furious Jones, the twelve-year-old son of a famous thriller writer, lives with his grandfather after his mother was mysteriously gunned down right in front of him a year ago. Curious to know more about his estranged dad, he goes to see him speak about his upcoming novel to a packed audience - and to his shock and horror, he witnesses his father get shot as well.

When Furious discovers that his dad's upcoming novel contains dangerous and fiercely protected secrets, he sets out to discover who killed his father, and what exactly they were trying to cover up.

Ideal for fans of Alex Rider and Theodore Boone, the action-packed exploits of Furious Jones are as thrilling as they are intriguing. Can Furious unravel this literary mystery before the death toll rises?

FORMAT: Furious Jones and the Assassin's Secret is a children's/YA murder mystery, spy espionage, adventure novel. It stands at 336 pages and was published on April 8, 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: When it comes to mysteries and thrillers, there doesn't seem to be a huge transitional series of books available for that older middle school student. There are the cutesy mysteries that involve the haunted houses and lost pets, which are geared to the younger audiences, and then there are the adult thrillers with blood, guts and gore. There isn't really something out there for that older middle school reader who is tired of looking for lost cats but isn't totally ready to read details about murders, sexual assaults, and other non-age appropriate matters. Now enters Furious Jones.

Furious Jones is a combination of spy espionage, murder mystery, and adventure all rolled into one extremely quick read. It has all the elements the older middle school student population is looking for in a book without watering it down or going overboard with things. It is fast paced, the conversations are realistic, and the characters believable.
There was a bit of a predictable, easy to solve element to the plot, but I think only people who read multiple murder mysteries would have been able to pick this element out. The fast paced nature of the book makes up for it because before you know you know what might be happening, the book is almost over.

Another element that really sticks out is the main character Furious does a lot of things that a normal teen probably wouldn't be able to do. He runs around a bit reckless and just randomly joins a high school, which is a tad bit unbelievable. It is brushed off as him being tall or him being older looking, but I just found some of these elements so unbelievable. However, I think the book's target age wouldn't really think twice about it.

There are a few moments throughout the book that the gore level is amped up a little. For example, there is a death that involves a body being chopped up and put in hale bales where all you see is the eyes. It is this factor that makes me reluctant to recommend it to the younger audience (which it is marketed to), as it does have some semi-graphic content. However, I do think boys in particular will enjoy it.

It should be noted that Furious Jones was supposed to be a series, but due to the unfortunate passing of the author the series will not be completed. But that shouldn't keep you from reading the book. The entire plot is wrapped up nicely. There were no major cliffhangers involved, which makes it a fairly good standalone novel.

I would love to see more novels of this sort enter the market. There is such a huge focus on either supernatural elements or dystopian that a whole potential market is left untouched. Furious Jones paves the way for that market and I look forward to seeing other authors take the plunge and challenge themselves. Obviously, Kehoe was not afraid of taking that challenge and it paid off.  

FBC's Must Reads

FBC's Critically Underrated Reads


 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