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Monday, July 18, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Hey, You Got Space Travel in My Historical Drama! by David D. Levine (Arabella of Mars Blog Tour)

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to be a part of the Ababella of Mars blog tour. This fun, fast paced sci-fi fantasy novel has a historical flare and is filled with fun and excitement. Today, we are pleased to welcome David D. Levine to our blog to talk about the novel and what it is like to write a historical drama that just so happens to have a bit of space travel involved.

Summary of Arabella of Mars:
Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, they proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.

Now, one century later, a plantation in the flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby. A tomboy who shares her father's deft hand with complex automatons. Being raised on the Martian frontier by her Martian nanny, Arabella is more a wild child than a proper young lady. Something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.

Arabella soon finds herself trying to navigate an alien world until a dramatic change in her family's circumstances forces her to defy all conventions in order to return to Mars in order to save both her brother and the plantation. To do this, Arabella must pass as a boy on the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company with a mysterious Indian captain who is intrigued by her knack with automatons. Arabella must weather the naval war between Britain and France, learning how to sail, and a mutinous crew if she hopes to save her brother from certain death.

View the amazing Youtube book trailer for Arabella of Mars here.

Enter to win the giveaway for a copy of Arabella of Mars here 

Without further ado, we welcome David D. Levine!

Hey, You Got Space Travel In My Historical Drama!

My novel Arabella of Mars is set, as you might guess from the title, largely on Mars. But most of it takes place in 1813. How -- and perhaps more important, why -- did I go about combining space travel and history?

I've been a space nut since I was a little kid. But even though the cool NASA hardware -- thundering rockets, high-tech materials, lots of blinking lights -- was always one of the most exciting things about space, I've also always had a hankering for a simpler time. The idea of a literal Wagon Train to the Stars has always been appealing, and I love stories in which space travel is accomplished with much lower tech. Examples include The Shadow of the Ship by Robert Wilfred Franson, The Ragged Astronauts by Bob Shaw, Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder, and "A Relic of the Empire" by Larry Niven. My own short story "Ukaliq and the Great Hunt" combines rocket plants, like Niven's stage trees, with genetically engineered beings whose artificially created culture -- based on the Inuit -- allows and indeed requires them to voyage into space with a Neolithic tech level.

Arabella of Mars combines my enthusiasm for space, my interest in low-tech space travel, and my love of the seafaring adventure novels of Patrick O'Brian into what I call a "Regency interplanetary airship adventure." The initial idea was simple: it's an alternate universe in which the solar system is full of air and travel to Mars and Venus can be accomplished by sailing ship. Sailing ships imply a historical time period (or equivalent fantasy world), and I quickly settled on the English Regency, which is rich in dramatic possibilities and fabulous outfits. But I didn't want this to be a fantasy, or set in a secondary world; I wanted it to be, as much as possible, hard science fiction... using the science of the Age of Reason. Basically, this would be an alternate history... a novel that's completely historical except for that one teeny-weeny change of filling the sky with air. And that meant plenty of historical research.

One of the things that occupied far too much of my attention during the worldbuilding phase of the project was nomenclature. There were dozens of Martian proper nouns to make up, which required making some decisions about what sounds would be common in the Martian languages. Places on Mars would require names as well; I couldn't use names like Syrtis Major and Chryse Planitia because in real-world history those weren't assigned until much later than the Regency. Instead, I figured the English would name places on Mars after royalty and military heroes and mangled versions of the natives' place names, the same as they did everywhere else. The terms "zero gravity" and "free fall" sounded too much like NASA, and after some reading of period scientific journals I came up with the term "state of free descent," which sounds like something Benjamin Franklin might have said. And the rotary sails at the back of the boat -- sorry, "stern," -- could likewise not be called "propellers," so I coined the name "propulsive sails," or "pulsers" for short (this sounds pretty modern but is actually in keeping with the linguistic conventions of period, as I understand them). Most of the other naval equipment was named, as new stuff usually is in the real world, by applying an existing word to something vaguely similar. For example, the small aerial vessel used to ferry people between ships in midair -- basically an open frame of rattan with a small four-sail pulser and a few sails for steering -- is called a "cutter," even though it is physically nothing like the correspondingly-named seagoing boat.

Another aspect of worldbuilding on which I spent more time than I probably should is the mechanism by which these aerial ships are launched, propelled, directed, and navigated through the airy deeps between planets. I must confess that, even though I am an Analog writer, I did not do the math, and indeed much of what I've described couldn't possibly pencil out. But I did give it enough consideration, applying what I know of real-world physics, that it feels real to most readers... and I hope I've left out enough details that even physics-savvy readers will be able to suspend disbelief.

I also gave quite a bit of thought to the politics and economics of this world. Would Brittania rule the airlanes as it did the waves in the real world, or would France -- which, in our history, invented the balloon first -- dominate? I decided that there were a number of economic and technological factors that favored the English, which was good because it kept my alternate history from being too alternate. And what could justify the great expense of an interplanetary voyage? The history of India and China suggested that it would be based on otherwise-scarce resources. Perhaps Mars produces an exceptionally strong, lightweight wood which facilitates the building of aerial ships? (This, of course, creates a Catch-22, which I resolved in my novelette "The Wreck of the Mars Adventure.")

But mostly I did a lot of research. One thing about the Regency is that, thanks largely to the popularity of Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian, there are plenty of primary sources and good secondary sources online. And the amazing thing about historical research is the truly weird facts you find. For example, when I found out how sailors of the period made sure every member of the crew got a fair share of the food, it was just too strange not to put in. I swear, sometimes the weirdest stuff in the book is not the Martians but the stuff I got from real history.

So the answer to the question of how you combine historical fiction with space travel is the same as any other worldbuilding question: you do your research, you steal as much as you can from the real world -- which is stranger than anything you can make up -- and then you fake the rest, using what you've learned from your research as a basis.

If you do a good enough job, people will buy it -- in both senses of the word.

GIVEAWAY: Win a Copy of Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Fantasy Book Critic is giving away one copy of Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine as part of the Arabella of Mars blog tour!

To learn more about Arabella of Mars and even to see what the author had to say about writing a novel that is both time travel and historical drama, visit the guest blog here!

Rules for the contest are below. Good luck! 



1. This contest is open to the US and Canada only! 

2. Only one entry per person. Multiple entries will be deleted. 

3. The contest begins at 2:00 a.m. EST on July 18, 2016 and will run until Noon on July 26, 2016. 

4. To enter please send an email with the subject ARABELLA OF MARS to Include in the email your name, email address, and physical mailing address. 

5. One winner will be randomly selected from the entries. 

6. Contest entries will be used only for the sole purpose of this giveaway. They will be deleted upon completion of the contest. 

May the odds be ever in your favor! 
Sunday, July 17, 2016

"The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice" by Andrew S. Chilton (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: Brimming with dragons, goblins, and logic puzzles, this middle-grade fantasy adventure is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Princess Bride or Rump.

THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.

All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.

FORMAT: Goblin's Puzzle is a MG humorous adventure fantasy novel. It stands at 279 pages and was published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on January 19, 2016.

ANALYSIS: Written in a style that is very similar to Lemony Snicket, The Goblin's Puzzle tells the tale of a slave with no name who has been inadvertently finds himself in a bit of a mess. The young slave has always been a good slave, but now he is faced with the difficult task of having to decide what to do after the son of his master is brutally murdered - a murder which could be pinned on the young slave.

While deciding what to do with his life, the young slave meets a tricky goblin. The goblin may hold the answers to who the young slave boy is and he even hints that the young slave may have a destiny far greater than he could ever imagine.

In addition to the tale of the young slave boy and the goblin, The Goblin's Puzzle also follows the story of a young village girl who is faced with a case of mistaken identity and Princess Alice who is the target of a potential kidnapping plot. Somehow the two girls' story intertwines with the young slave boy's story and it makes for an adventurous fantasy novel.  

The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice is a fun, witty children's adventure fantasy novel that will certainly appeal to the older, more mature audience (the adults who have a heart of a child). It isn't laugh out loud funny, but there is a slight humor to the novel that makes it exciting and something that adults will certainly enjoy.

While the story has a fairly run-of-the-mill fantasy plot, it is the way it is told that makes it fun and exciting. Each and every character is developed, which is amazing because the novel isn't really that long. Readers are given a sense that they have known the characters for a while and are extremely familiar to them.

There are some twists and turns and puzzle-like themes throughout the novel, but all play a role in the plot. They aren't thrown out there to make the book more confusing or 'fun'. It fits in nicely with the flow of the novel.

That being said there are some aspects of Goblin's Puzzle that should be noted. First, the murder of the master's son. It was a bit graphic, which could be difficult for younger readers who may be sensitive to such things. The book is middle grade and while death/murder isn't anything new, the description of the murder was fairly detailed which might be unexpected to some readers.

The second aspect that should be noted is the focus on politics and religion. These aspects don't play a huge role in the story, but the book spends a lot of time on them. A younger reader or someone looking for action and adventure will find this information tedious and boring. On the other hand, the older reader will certainly appreciate the hat tip and some of the side remarks about religion and politics.

The focus on politics and religion isn't bad, but it does slow the story down a bit. It is information that the adult audience would like, but that I'm not 100% certain the younger target audience would really even care about.

Another, more personal, problem with Goblin's Puzzle was the way I felt at the end. The entire book was so solid until the end. The last part of the book just made me feel like I wanted more. There wasn't anything that I can honestly pinpoint (the story was wrapped up and completed) that made me feel this way, but I finished the book and just expected more from the ending.

Overall, Goblin's Puzzle was a fun, quick middle grade novel that has solid writing and is stand alone! There are some aspects that should be considered if you are considering it for a younger middle grade audience, but I think older MG audiences and adults will certainly like the story, especially if you are craving something that is a little more than your average 'fluff' fantasy quest novel.
Thursday, July 14, 2016

GIVEAWAY: Win a Copy of Serafina and the Twisted Staff and Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

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One of my favorite books from 2015 was Serafina and the Black Cloak. (Read FBC's review of it here) Now, thanks to Disney-Hyperion you can enjoy this book too and the newly released sequel. The giveaway is being offered to celebrate the release of the second book – Serafina and the Twisted Staff.  

Read a two-chapter sample of Serafina and the Twisted Staff here

Disney-Hyperion has partnered up with Fantasy Book Critic to offer 1 lucky winner a copy of Serafina and the Black Cloak and Serafina and the Twisted Staff. Details on Serafina and the Twisted Staff as well as how to enter the giveaway are below!

Synopsis for Serafina and the Twisted Staff

Serafina’s defeat of the Man in the Black Cloak has brought her out of the shadows and into the daylight realm of her home, Biltmore Estate. Every night she visits her mother in the forest, eager to learn the ways of the catamount. But Serafina finds herself caught between her two worlds: she’s too wild for Biltmore’s beautifully dressed ladies and formal customs, and too human to fully join her kin.

Late one night, Serafina encounters a strange and terrifying figure in the forest, and is attacked by the vicious wolfhounds that seem to be under his control. Even worse, she’s convinced that the stranger was not alone, that he has sent his accomplice into Biltmore in disguise.

Someone is wreaking havoc at the estate. A mysterious series of attacked test Serafina’s role as Biltmore’s protector, culminating in a tragedy that tears Serafina’s best friend and only ally, Braeden Vanderbilt, from her side. Heartbroken, she flees.

Deep in the forest, Serafina comes face-to-face with the evil infecting Biltmore—and discovers its reach is far greater than she’s ever imagined. All the humans and creatures of the Blue Ridge Mountains are in terrible danger. For Serafina to defeat this new evil before it engulfs her beloved home, she must search deep inside herself and embrace the destiny that has always awaited her.

About the Author
Robert Beatty lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives he was one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the CTO and chairman of Narrative magazine.


1. This giveaway is open to US addresses only. 

2. The giveaway begins 12:01 a.m. EST July 14, 2016 and runs until 12:01 a.m. July 22, 2016. 

3. Only one entry per person. Duplicate entries will be deleted. 

4. To enter send an email with the subject line SERAFINA PRIZE PACK to Please include in the email your name, email address, and physical address to send the prize pack to. 

5. One lucky winner will be drawn at the end of the contest. 

6. All entries to the giveaway will be used only for the sole purpose of this giveaway. Entries will be deleted at the end of the giveaway. 

7. Feel free to share this giveaway with friends and family. 

May the odds be ever in your favor!

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