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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Guest Review: Dead West Omnibus Vol. 1 by Tim Marquitz, Joe Martin, & Kenny Soward (Reviewed by C. T. Phipps)

Official Tim Marquitz website
Official Joe Martin website
Official Kenny Soward website
Order the omnibus HERE

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

J. M. (Joe) Martin used to load cargo onto aeroplanes, which is where he got his enormous muscles. That was a lot of work so he started writing comic books and role-playing games and short stories for various publishers. Joe is also the owner of Ragnarok Publications, and serves as the company's Creative Director. He lives in Kentucky with his black belt wife and three spirited wee folk. He is not related to George R.R. Martin, however they do share the same fashion sense.

Kenny Soward grew up in Crescent Park, Kentucky, a small suburb just south of Cincinnati, Ohio, listening to hard rock and playing outdoors. In those quiet 1970's streets, he jumped bikes, played Nerf football, and acquired many a childhood scar. He is the author of the GnomeSaga series and Galefire.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: "The writing is very visceral, raw in a style similar to Chuck Wendig. There is action aplenty here—there is furious gunplay and characters knee-deep in the blood and guts of their eviscerated friends. This is a high octane story, but what makes it stand out among the rest is the drama between the human characters..." — Ryan Lawler,

Collecting Those Poor, Poor Bastards and The Ten Thousand Things in a spectacular omnibus edition, this is 420+ pages of Weird Western, Supernatural, Lovecraftian horror, with "strong female characters!"

The DEAD WEST OMNIBUS (vol. 1) takes Nina Weaver, her father Lincoln, and a motley crew of survivors through a gauntlet of magically-animated undead and demonic forces from 'deaduns' to giant, flying creatures, to hellish steam engines, to actual murders of crows. Guns, explosives, bloodletting, expletives, faith-based magic, gore, more expletives, and high emotion! DEAD WEST takes elements of HBO's Deadwood and AMC's The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels, puts it all in a big cask of TNT, then watches it go BOOM!

FORMAT/INFO: The Dead West Omnibus vol. 1 is a first person omnibus with 434 pages. It collects the first two novels in the Dead West series (Those Poor, Poor Bastards and The Ten Thousand Things) and is a good place to jump on. The book was released on July 6th, 2014.

ANALYSIS: The cover of Dead West Omnibus vol. 1 triumphantly proclaims itself to be a combination of The Walking Dead and Deadwood. I haven't watched Deadwood yet so I can't make any sort of claim to that effect but I am a big fan of The Walking Dead. I'm also a big fan of Weird Westerns in general.

The traditional depiction of the genre is one I can take or leave with Spaghetti Westerns and Red Dead Redemption being my biggest execptions. For me, I prefer Westerns with a decidedly unromantic view of America's expansion into the territory of Native Americans as well as the final triumph of Manifest Destiny.

Thankfully, those looking for a cynical and angry view of the Wild West will find exactly what they're seeking here. Making the protagonist of the two novels into a half-Native American woman and never letting her be "comfortable" around the racist settlers around her is a brilliant writing decision. From the very beginning of the collection until the end, Nina Weaver is well aware her associates could turn upon her at any time. The Dead West Omnibus vol. 1 doesn't try to sanitize the effects of prejudice on her as she has a hostile relationship to Christianity, even when keeping away zombies, and a simmeriing resentment to just about everyone around her. Individuals looking for diversity and representation in their novels may note Nina is bisexual, though she doesn't know the word for that yet.

The premise for the novel is Nina and her father Lincoln are having a fairly typical day when it is interrupted by two distinct batches of trouble. The first is a group of ex-Confederate soldiers who are very much set upon assaulting Nina for no other reason than hatred of Native Americans and the second is the arrival of a stampede of zombie cattle. The latter precedes a complete breakdown of what the locals think of as their reality since it is the beginning of a zombie apocalypse.

Fleeing to a nearby fort, Nina and her father join with the people who'd formerly intended to kill or rape her as well as a band of survivors from the town. This is my favorite part of the two novels as it's a perfect "base under siege" story. There are rich, poor, Yankee, Native, black, and white people all to be found within the fort. The fort is also under the protection of a Jesuit missionary who doesn't share the religion of the majority of the inhabitants but possesses miraculous powers to hold the monsters at bay. The story beyond is the survivors attempting to survive and the slow discovery of what caused the outbreak of the undead.

The best parts of the novel deal with Nina's complicated feelings towards everyone around her. I especially liked Jasmine, the black prostitute who shares a unique relationship with Nina. There's a few holes like the fact everyone remains skeptical of the Jesuit priest despite the fact he, literally, can destroy the undead with a prayer but I felt they were small.

CONCLUSION: I recommend the Dead West Omnibus vol. 1 to fans of both the Weird West as well as zombie apocalypse genres. It very much captures the complicated personal relationships of The Walking Dead as well as successfully transplants them to the Wild West. It isn't a flawless read but is deeper than the vast majority of stories set in its genre.


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Esoterrorism
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with C. T. Phipps

AUTHOR INFORMATION: C.T. Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger, reviewer for The Bookie Monster, and recently signed a deal with Ragnarok Publications to produce the urban fantasy series, The Red Room. C.T. Phipps is also the author of The Supervillainy Saga, the first book of which, The Rules of Supervillainy, was released last year.
Sunday, August 28, 2016

GIVEAWAY: The Weird West bundle curated by Blair MacGregor

I must thank Blair MacGregor for the curation of this weird western bundle as well as giving Fantasy Book Critic the chance to host this wonderful giveaway. So we along with Blair are glad to be giving away two copies of "The Weird West” Bundle to Two Lucky Winners!!!

Here's the list of all the titles that are part of this bundle:
 - Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover
 - Dead West Vol 1: West of Pale by J Patrick Allen
 - Idyll by James Derry
 - Spellsinger by Joseph J. Bailey
 - Hexslinger Vol. 1: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files
 - Horses of the Moon Vol. 1: Dragons in the Earth by Judith Tarr
 - Daughter of the Wildings Book. 1: Beneath the Canyons by Kyra Halland
 - The Flash Gold Chronicles I-III by Lindsay Buroker
 - New World by Steven W. White
- New World Book 2: Hair of the Bear by Steven W. White

Here's Blair describing what this bundle is truly about: "Welcome to our Weird Western Bundle, where wide frontiers, flintlocks, whiskey and revenge meet swords, airships, terraforming, magic, myths, and dragons. You'll find stories here set in the snows of old Alaska and the heat of contemporary Arizona, post-Civil War San Francisco and post-colonization planets, and places the seem as familiar as any wooded mountain or wind-swept desert... until tigers and dragons and horses that are so much more than you might assume burst into the scene. The different aspects of the Weird Western spirit in this bundle will give fans of the genre something they haven't seen before, and folks new to Weird Westerns a wide sampling of its fantastic offerings. "

You can read all about its inception over here in a post by Gemma Files as well. Lastly to enter, please send an email to with your Name, and the subject: Weird West. Giveaway will end 4th September, 12:01 PM and is open to participants WORLDWIDE!

Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

 1) Open To Anyone WORLDWIDE
 2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
 3) Please send an email to FBCgiveaway@gmail. with the Subject Weird West. Must Enter Valid Email Address, & Name
 4) No Purchase Necessary
 5) Giveaway will end 4th September, 12:01 PM
 6) Winners Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email

Friday, August 26, 2016

BLOG TOUR AND GIVEAWAY: The Gate of Futures Past by Julie E. Czerneda

Julie E. Czerneda visited Fantasy Book Critic when the first novel of Reunification Series was published. We are excited to announce that her second novel in the series is set to be released and we are celebrating by taking part in the blog tour, which allows our readers to take part in TWO different giveaways.

Gate to Futures Past is scheduled to be released by DAW Hardcover on September 6, 2016.

We have a giveaway that is being run on Fantasy Book Critic and then you can enter the 'blog tour' giveaway (the one offered with raffelcopter). Each provides you with a great opportunity to win some of Julie E. Czerneda's books!

Here is what you can win!

If you enter the Fantasy Book Critic giveaway (rules below), you will have the chance to win 2 books. You will win a mass market copy of A Gulf of Time and Stars and a hardcover copy of Gate of Futures Past.

The blogwide giveaway you will have the chance to win the entire Clan Chronicles. That is a total of 8 books!

Without further ado, I'd like to spotlight The Gate of Future Past. 



Second novel in the hard sci-fi Reunification series, The Gate to Futures Pastcontinues the Clan Chronicles, perfect for space opera readers looking for unique aliens and interstellar civilizations. 
Betrayed and attacked, the Clan fled the Trade Pact for Cersi, believing that world their long-lost home. With them went a lone alien, the Human named Jason Morgan, Chosen of their leader, Sira di Sarc. Tragically, their arrival upset the Balance between Cersi’s three sentient species. And so the Clan, with their newfound kin, must flee again.
Their starship, powered by the M’hir, follows a course set long ago, for Clan abilities came from an experiment their ancestors—the Hoveny—conducted on themselves. But it’s a perilous journey. The Clan must endure more than cramped conditions and inner turmoil. 
Their dead are Calling.
Sira must keep her people from answering, for if they do, they die. Morgan searches the ship for answers, afraid the Hoveny’s tech is beyond his grasp. Their only hope? To reach their destination. 
Little do Sira and Morgan realize their destination holds the gravest threat of all....


Julie E. Czerneda is a biologist and writer whose science fiction has received international acclaim, awards, and best-selling status. She is the author of the popular Species Imperative trilogy, the Web Shifters series, the Trade Pact Universe trilogy and her new Stratification novels. She was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her stand-alone novel, In the Company of Others, won Canada's Prix Aurora Award and was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished SF. Julie lives with her husband and two children in the lake country of central Ontario, under skies so clear they could take seeing the Milky Way for granted, but never do. For more about her work, visit or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.


Giveaway Rules for Fantasy Book Critic Giveaway 

1. This giveaway is open to those living in the US/Canada. 

2. One winner at the end of the contest will be chosen to receive 1 copy of A Gulf of Time and Stars and 1 copy of Gate of Futures Past.

3. Contest begins on August 26, 2016 at 12:01 a.m. EST and will end September 3, 2016 at 12:01 a.m. EST. 

4. Please only one entry per person. 

5. To enter please send an email with the subject GATE OF FUTURES PAST to Please include your name, email address, and snail mail address. 

6. All entries will be deleted at the end of the contest. 

Good Luck!    
Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mini-reviews: The Devils of Cardona by Matthew Carr & Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: This book is a must read for all history fiction aficionados, set in the late sixteenth century Spain, we the readers are introduced to a land which is fraught with religious fervor, suspicion & persecution of the other as well as plain bigotry (laced by religion of course). The focus of the story is on Belamar de la Sierra, a small village/town in the Aragon province near the France-Spain border. There has been a brutal murder of an allegedly corrupt Catholic priest and all fingers point towards the “moriscos” or converted Moorish Muslims. Our main protagonist is Bernardo de Mendoza, a veteran soldier of the Reconquista and who now serves as a magistrate (Licenciado).

He gets tasked by King Philip II of Castile to investigate this murder and find out the killer(s). Mendoza sets out with a small company consisting of his page Gabriel, his cousin Luis de Ventura, and three other soldiers. When they arrive, they find the place to be rife with sectarian tensions and potential violence for the death of the priest who himself was involved in the death of a “Morisco” family.

This story sets upon explaining the details of the Spanish Reconquista and what exactly does “Morisco” mean (Muslim Moors forcibly converted to Catholicism)? I loved the in-depth detail to the surroundings and history afforded by the author. The story is a murder mystery which reads very much like a thriller and there’s the usual cast of characters to help propagate the plot and tropes. Bernardo as a main character is a nuanced one, we get to know his background and family history which is fascinating in itself. It will be great if the author decides to make a series about him and some of the characters introduced within. The surrounding character cast however needs to be better developed as in this book, it all hinges on Bernardo's able shoulders.

The author puts into play several plot threads which neatly come together in the end to make up a satisfying tapestry. I loved how neatly everything fell into place and didn’t seem contrived at all (Your mileage may vary on this point though). The best part part about the book is the author’s love and detailed descriptions of Spain in the sixteenth century. He very adroitly lets the readers know about the life and hardships that the people faced in those times while never making it an infodump or slackening the pace. The factoids and the history minutiae are neatly mixed in so as to make it seem completely natural. Kudos to the author for this aspect of the story. The author also mixes some nice action pieces within the mystery plot and for those readers who covet action, you will get it in spades towards the latter half of the book.

CONCLUSION:Get ready to immerse yourself in a land that seems very much like any troubled piece to be found in recent times. There’s bigotry, xenophobia, violence but also bravery, honesty and simple good folk who are trying to survive these brutal times. This was one historical debut that I can’t recommend enough and Matthew Carr seems to be an author whose books I will not be missing out in the foreseeable future.

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Only Daughter is a book that caught my eye solely due to its mysterious blurb. I loved the dual timeline aspect of the story that was advertised and I dove in with some trepidation & major anticipation.

The story unlike most thrillers doesn't waste time in much of a set-up and quickly drops the readers in to the happenings where we find the then unnamed protagonist, who is caught shoplifting to and to escape the law, quickly blurts out that she is Rebecca Winter. The same Rebecca Winter who has been missing for close to eleven years and whose trail has long gone ice cold. This revelation then sets into motion several series of events. The most prominent one being that the Winter family is quickly called in about the reappearance of their daughter. The newly-found Rebecca has to pass a DNA test to prove who she is and then come up with an explanation as to what happened eleven years ago? Not to mention also follow up with where she was all of this time and why didn’t she contact the police earlier?

All of this is very craftily explained in the book and I don’t want to spoil how it all unfolds. Safe to say, the author has thought up a nice, twisted way for our main character to prove who she says she is. She then is reunited with her original family and slowly tries to reintegrate herself. Around the same time, we are given a parallel track of Rebecca Winter in 2003 and we see her mindset back in that time. These twin strands are nicely contrasted with first person (2014) and third person (2003) narratives. In both timelines we slowly are also introduced to a wide cast of characters. In the present and past timeline, we meet Rebecca’s family consisting of her father, mother & her twin siblings, all of whom seem to be weird in their own way. Then we also get to meet more characters in the past timeline such as Rebecca’s best friend and colleagues over at the fast food restaurant, as well as her best friend’s family, & her neighbor. There is a large number of suspects introduced and the author does her best to spread the intrigue and make the reader doubt everyone.

What I loved about the book was its frantic pace, the story’s dual timelines will have the readers constantly flipping the pages to see what happens next and also try to make sense of what actually happened. The story-line also has lots of twists to it and they are interspersed through both the timelines. The author also does her best to keep the tension taut as we are constantly shown hints as to who could have possibly happened. Lastly when the climax comes, it does usher in a lot of surprises and the final reveal does make sense.

What didn’t quite make this a five star read for me was that there are several things that are left unexplained. These mainly occur in the past and while they add to the creepy factor, they aren’t explained at all in the end. These events just occur and we aren’t conclusively told what lead to their occurrence (I’m being purposefully vague here). Lastly the other thing that didn’t quite gel for me was the ending revelations felt a bit rushed and even though the ending makes sense, I wish it was properly flushed out. This book is on the shorter side and few more pages setting up and explaining everything would have elevated this book into a five read for me.

CONCLUSION: This is a fine thriller that will appeal to a lot of mystery-thriller readers and marks Anna Snoekstra out as an exciting thriller writer from down under. Only Daughter is a very good read and I can’t recommend it enough in spite of the reservations I experienced because of how well-written it is and the excitement it offers. Miss this one at your choice, I know I will be looking forward to Anna’s future works.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Click Here to Start" by Denis Markell (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: What if playing video games was prepping you to solve an incredible real-world puzzle and locate a priceless treasure?

Twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game!

Using his specially honed skills, Ted sets off to win the greatest game he’s ever played, with help from his friends Caleb and Isabel. Together they discover that Uncle Ted’s “treasure” might be exactly that—real gold and jewels found by a Japanese American unit that served in World War II. With each puzzle Ted and his friends solve, they get closer to unraveling the mystery—but someone dangerous is hot on their heels, and he’s not about to let them get away with the fortune.

FORMAT: Click Here to Start is a children's adventure/mystery novel. It is currently a standalone novel, but there is potential for a series as a lot of questions revolving the bigger plot (the game) are left unanswered.

Click Here to Start stands at 320 pages. It was published July 19, 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: I have always been a huge fan of children's adventure/mystery novels. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, The Westing Game, and Book Scavenger all come to mind as some of my favorite children's books. Now, I can add a new title to that list – Click Here to Start.

Click Here to Start tells the story of Ted, a young boy who is a whiz at solving those 'escape room' puzzles. Ted recently visited his uncle in the hospital. During the visit, his uncle gave him some odd instructions, but Ted thought it was just a part of his uncle's quirky nature. The next day, Ted's uncle passes away and the will is read.

In the will, Ted is left all the contents of his uncle's apartment. Ted believes that somewhere in the apartment there is a treasure hidden and his uncle wants him to find it. Ted is unable to find the treasure on his first day in the apartment, but when he gets home he finds a mysterious online game called 'Game of Ted', which provides him with a step-by-step guide on how to find clues throughout the apartment that lead to the treasure.

As Ted and his two friends Caleb and Isabel, uncover clues in the apartment, it seems that there is more than meets the eye and that his uncle may have had a mysterious past that no one knew about. And he may be hiding a very valuable treasure. Unfortunately, other, dangerous people want that treasure too.

There is a lot to love about Click Here to Start. It is a fun, fast paced mystery novel that doesn't feel as if it is the same old, same old. First, the novel touches on some topics that aren't usually brought up in children's novels. Topics that include Japanese American camps internment camps, stealing of valuable treasures during that time, the importance of American soldiers that had Japanese ancestry during the war, and other topics.

These topics aren't the main focus of the novel, but they are introduced in a way that could spark people's interest. It was nice to see a novel try to shed some light on topics that aren't as popular in children's lit. Click Here to Start does a wonderful job of introducing people to these topics but not going overboard to the point that it seems like it has a hidden agenda or is focusing the topic on people.

Another amazing part of the book is the characters are believable. I have a hard time with books that have 11 or 12 year old characters that are running around all over the place like they are 16, 17, and 18 years old. The characters in the book are given some freedoms – sometimes a little too much (like cleaning out an apartment on their own in a neighborhood that is supposed to be a bit sketchy) – but it seemed realistic. The parents were all involved in some aspect, but didn't take center stage.

While I loved Click Here to Start, there are a few things that other readers may find a bit concerning. The first issue is the fact that some of the clues and clue solving came across as a bit unrealistic. Readers will have to suspend reality a bit, as a lot of the clue solving has to do with going on a computer game and finding the clues and learning how to solve them in real life.

The use of the computer game is real, but it brings up the question of – who is creating a real time game that allows Ted to play? Everything is done in real time and there are photos and actual details that would be hard for people to really know. This aspect might be difficult for some readers as it was a bit unrealistic. I was able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the book, but it did cross my mind of 'how is all this going down'.

I do think younger readers, the original audience, probably won't questions it as much as older readers. Books like Lemoncello's Library are just as unrealistic and they were hits too.

Who creates the computer game, how they created it, what their goals are, are never explained in the book. It appears that Click Here to Start may be a first book of a series, in which case we will get answers (hopefully).

Overall, I enjoyed reading Click Here to Start. I found it fun, unique, and fast paced. It might have its flaws at times, but it was enjoyable. I look forward to reading other books in the series if it is continued.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BLOG TOUR: Read an Excerpt of Chapter 1 of Spellbreaker by Blake Charlton

 Visit Blake Charlton's Website Here 

In 2010 and 2011, Fantasy Book Critic reviewed Blake Charlton's books Spellwright and Spellbound. They were a favorite book of mine and I looked forward to reading a third book set in that same universe. After some delays and what feels like forever, the third book has arrived.

Spellbreaker, scheduled for release today August 23, 2016, is a stand-alone tale set in the same world we were introduced to in Spellwright and Spellbound. Win a copy of Spellbreaker by entering our giveaway here.

About Spellbreaker: 

Leandra Weal has a bad habit of getting herself in dangerous situations.

While hunting neodemons in her role as Warden of Ixos, Leandra obtains a prophetic spell that provides a glimpse one day into her future. She discovers that she is doomed to murder someone she loves, soon, but not who. That’s a pretty big problem for a woman who has a shark god for a lover, a hostile empress for an aunt, a rogue misspelling wizard for a father, and a mother who--especially when arguing with her daughter--can be a real dragon.

Leandra’s quest to unravel the mystery of the murder-she-will-commit becomes more urgent when her chronic disease flares up and the Ixonian Archipelago is plagued by natural disasters, demon worshiping cults, and fierce political infighting. Everywhere she turns, Leandra finds herself amid intrigue and conflict. It seems her bad habit for getting into dangerous situations is turning into a full blown addiction.

As chaos spreads across Ixos, Leandra and her troubled family must race to uncover the shocking truth about a prophesied demonic invasion, human language, and their own identities--if they don't kill each other first.

To celebrate the release of Spellbreaker, Fantasy Book Critic (as part of a blog tour) has been given an excerpt of Chapter 1. Take a peek at this wonderful fantasy world and then feel free to enter our giveaway for a copy of Spellbreaker!

Don't forget to visit other stops along the blog tour –
August 23 – Fantasy Book Critic
August 24 – The ArchedDoorway
August 25 – Bookwraiths
August 26 – Worlds in Ink
August 29 – Dark FaerieTales

Without further ado, here is Chapter 1 of Spellbreaker! 

Spellbreaker Chapter 1 by Blake Charlton 

Chapter One

To test a spell that predicts the future, try to murder the man selling it; if you can, it can’t. That, at least, was Leandra’s rationale for poisoning the smuggler’s blackrice liqueur.
On a secluded beach, they knelt and faced each other across a seaworn bamboo table. Above, a clear night sky crowded with stars and two half-moons. To Leandra’s left, a grove of slender palms, crosshatched moonshadows, short green grass. To her right, an expanse of dark seawater and lush limestone formations known as the Bay of Standing Islands.
Leandra’s catamaran rocked between two such limestone formations that rose narrow from the bay but widened into craggy rock, vines, and ferny cycads. “Mountains on stilts,” her illustrious father had once called the islands.
Across the table, the smuggler cleared his throat. Leandra, using several intermediaries, had agreed to meet him on this beach east of Chandralu. Both parties had asked that names not be used; however, as was the way of such meetings, neither party had asked that homicidal duplicity not be used. So Leandra picked up the smuggler’s porcelain bottle of blackrice liqueur. Calmly she poured the ambercolored spirit into his wooden cup.
He was watching her every action, but it was too late. She had already drawn a needle from her sleeve and held it against the bottle’s neck so the liqueur poured over its poisoned point. Then she filled her own cup, knowing the toxin had washed off.
The smuggler was a handsome man of middle years—flawless black skin, black goatee chased with silver, wide nose, large eyes. He wore a blue lungi and loose white blouse as if he were of the Lotus People, but his posture was laxer, his speech quicker than was polite in Lotus culture.
Also notable, the smuggler had wrapped a cloth around his head to conceal the spell he was selling. In places, a crimson glow shone through the headwrap. Because Leandra perceived some divine languages as red light, the glow suggested that the man was what he claimed to be—which is to say the kind of man that filled Leandra with hatred so molten hot that it would transform any sensible woman into an eye-gouging, throat-biting whirl of violence. Fortunately, Leandra was not a sensible woman.
She lifted her cup with one hand and flicked the needle away with the other. The smuggler did not hear it strike sand. “To your future,” she said.
“To your future,” he echoed. Blank expression.
With one draft, Leandra downed her blackrice liqueur. It was a fragrant, gratuitously alcoholic substance. The Lotus People called it mandana and drank it when conducting religious ceremonies or business transactions. Having lived in the Ixonian Archipelago for thirteen years, Leandra had drunk gallons of the stuff without becoming accustomed to it. She wondered if anyone ever did.
The mandana traveled down her throat as liquid and up her sinuses as harsh, flavored vapor. Every inch from her stomach to nosetip burned as if scrubbed with astringent. Taste came last and started sweet like chewed sugarcane but then curdled into something that approximated honeyed monkey vomit.
Throughout the miniature alcoholic ordeal, Leandra kept her expression pleasant. Fortunate that she did; the smuggler was studying her. She wasn’t much to see, short and frail, wearing a long-sleeved dress of pale yellow. A black silk headdress tied below her chin hid her dark hair and pale neck.
Leandra was unaccustomed to the gaze of strangers; in daylight, she wore a veil that concealed all but her eyes. Her disease required that she avoid sunlight.
A lover had once remarked that, in certain circumstances, her wide brown eyes seemed misleadingly innocent and vulnerable. Given the smuggler’s scrutiny, Leandra hoped that these “certain circumstances” included those in which she was plotting murder.
The smuggler raised his cup to drink, but then his face tensed. He paused and looked past Leandra. Maybe ten feet away stood four-armed Dhrun— Leandra’s divine protector, brawler, erstwhile confidant.
“Oh, don’t mind my bodyguard,” she said while turning to regard Dhrun, who presently was manifesting his youngest incarnation. “He couldn’t harm a soul unless he’s got something sharp to jam through… oh… well… he does seem to have two rather long swords, doesn’t he?”
The smuggler stared at her flatly.
What Leandra had said wasn’t strictly true; Dhrun was deadliest bare.handed, but she had liked the way the quip sounded. So she broadened her smile and asked the smuggler, “Not one for levity?”
“Not at the moment.”
“Pity. But truly, don’t mind my bodyguard. Your men hiding in the grove could reach us before he could.” She looked at the silhouettes scattered among the palms. An untrained eye would mistake them for stumps or rocks, but Leandra could see at least six figures. The closest crouched not six feet away and carried all the implements necessary to poke distressingly large holes in a body. She gave the camouflaged assassin a slight nod.
Leandra made sure that she had no bad habits, only full-blown addictions— flirting with danger being one of her favorites.
The smuggler was still studying Dhrun. “He isn’t human, is he?”
“What was your first clue, his third or fourth arm?”
The smuggler scowled. “It’s hard to know what to expect in the league, especially on Ixos. Your islands are a menagerie of demigods or divinity complexes or whatever you call them. So, this… bodyguard… is a god?”
“No, he is the complex of three souls: a god of wrestling named Dhrun; his avatar, a young human wrestler who took the name of Dhrunarman after winning last year’s championship; and an ancient Cloud Culture goddess of victory named Nika. So a man, a god, and a goddess, not unusual for a divinity complex, some parts of him are divine, some parts are human; he just has to decide which parts.”
“What are his choices?”
“Male, female, some of the ports of call lying between the two, if you catch my drift.”
“I do not catch it.”
“No, I suppose you wouldn’t.”
The smuggler looked at her catamaran. Its twin hulls and the decks that stretched between them shone in the moonlight.
Leandra’s patience thinned. “As agreed, my crew remained aboard. You needn’t worry about an attack.”
“Something is wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
He looked out at the Bay of Standing Islands. “No ship followed you here?”
“You’re certain?”
“My captain and crew are Sea People; they know how to navigate the standing islands unseen.”
“But you’ve heard the rumors?”
“Rumors of what? That the Disjunction has come at last? That after thirty damn years of waiting around, Los and the demons of the Ancient Continent finally found their backsides with both hands and crossed the ocean?”
Thirty-four years ago, Nicodemus Weal and his wife, Francesca DeVega, had defeated the demon Typhon; however, a dragon known as the Savanna Walker had escaped to the Ancient Continent, which should have allowed the demons to cross the ocean to destroy all human language in the War of Disjunction. But the demons had not come. No one knew why. Now after three decades of anticipation, some doubted that the demons would ever come.
The smuggler snorted. “No, no, nothing about the Disjunction. These are rumors of another human war. Reports of crop failures have come from Verdant. Seems the Silent Blight is worsening in the empire, and perhaps Empress Vivian is eying Ixos’s rice and taro fields. The shipyards of Abuja are frantic with construction. A new fleet of hierophantic airships flies above Trillinion.”
Leandra kept her face impassive.
He continued. “The league is reinforcing Lorn’s northern border and sending ships to Ixos. Seems the peace between the empire and the league might spring another of its little leaks. The next year could see the Blockade of Ogun all over again. Or perhaps a second round of the Goldensward War. But you might know more about that?”
Leandra only stared.
The smuggler’s full lips peeled back into a smile. White teeth, moonlight. “You’re not one to hand out information. Good, good. Then consider how another human war might make our trade… particularly lucrative.”
“You have a proposal?”
“In Abuja there’s talk of a new power in Chandralu. The Cult of the Undivided Society, it’s called. They don’t worship neodemons like the usual cults; they worship the ancient demons. The empire and the league claim to have hunted down all of the demon worshipers after Typhon’s defeat, but maybe they missed a few. The Undivided Society is tired of waiting for the Disjunction and aims to hurry it along a step or two. Have you heard of it?”
“Tall tales from sailors drunk on kava, nothing more. The tellers often follow it with an account of the Floating Island.”
“Floating island?”
“Stories of an island of ghosts or neodemons that isn’t fixed to the sea floor but floats around the archipelago. Those who make landfall are doomed to damnation or reincarnation as pubic lice or whatever. My point is that sailors are better known for creativity than reliability.”
“And you think this Cult of the Undivided Society is just another sea yarn, just another floating island?”
“There’s no proof the cult exists.”
“But the Empress Vivian is offering a heavy purse for such proof. And she is sure to offer more now that her half-brother is in Ixos.”
Leandra stiffened. Twenty days ago Nicodemus Weal, the empress’s half- brother, had arrived in Chandralu ostensibly to cast his metaspells, which allowed deities to thrive in the league kingdoms. But in truth, he had come to reinforce the archipelago against possible imperial attack. More distressing, upon arrival, Nicodemus had heard rumors of the Undivided Society and of two neodemons attacking caravans near Chandralu. Therefore, Nicodemus had launched efforts not only to support his daughter, the Lady Warden of Ixos, but also to investigate her competency.
Leandra found this distressing for two reasons. First, she feared the smuggler would flee if he learned that Nicodemus had doubled the ships patrolling the bay. Second, she was, after all, Nicodemus’s daughter.
Family isn’t a word; it’s a sentence.
For three decades Leandra’s family had served as the wardens of the league, tasked with converting or destroying neodemons. As the Warden of Ixos, she was responsible for suppressing neodemons in the archipelago. If Nicodemus thought that the two marauding neodemons and the rumors of the Undivided Society signified her incompetence, he might revoke her independence.
Fifteen days ago, Nicodemus and his followers had set out to hunt one of two neodemons. He might return any day. Although Leandra did not dislike her father, there was much she hoped to accomplish before he returned, including closing a deal with this disturbingly well-informed smuggler. She looked at the man. “Should I learn anything about the Undivided Society, you will be the first to know. But I am not inclined to enter into a new agreement until the present one is concluded to my satisfaction.”
“Ah, yes, your prophetic spell,” the smuggler said and raised his cup to his lips. But then he paused and looked out to the bay. “Your pardon, but… I think I might… I sense… some danger…”
Leandra turned and saw nothing but moonlit waves and towering lime.stone islands. “Look, there is no ship among the islands. No army hiding under the table. No Nicodemus bloody Weal about to fall out of a God-of- god’s damned coconut tree. I am here to purchase that prophetic spell, but that text seems to be giving you distressingly little information about the future. What is this danger? Shouldn’t your spell foresee what it will be?”
“This spell doesn’t work that way. It allows me to feel forward into time.”
She frowned. “That sounds… rather ungentlemanly.”
“I can sense the emotions of all the different men I might become in an hour.”
“And how many of these men are there?”
“A near infinite number. I’m not aware of them all, but when many of them experience anxiety, I grow wary.”
Leandra studied the smuggler’s face. “What could be frightening them?”
“You saw no ships amid the standing islands?”
“No dammed ships. And no other threats.”
“Very well…” He looked down at his mandana. “Perhaps it’s just apprehension.” He raised the cup to his lips.
Leandra put her head to one side. Even with a prophetic spell around his head, he was going to drink poison? Feeling forward in time, as wondrous as it sounded, seemed as useful as a boiling pot made of Lornish butter.
But then the smuggler froze. He peered into his liqueur and frowned. He lowered the cup, paused, raised it back toward his lips, lowered it again. He looked at her, eyes narrowed, put the cup down.
Leandra allowed herself a small laugh. “Is there a problem?”
“The closer I bring the mandana to my lips, the more of my future selves are writhing in terror. What in the Creator’s name did you put in here?”
She shrugged. “The extract of a puffer fish liver, just a few drops. The hydromancers call it tetrodotoxin; it’s an old recipe of the Sea People. Just a bit of local flavor.”
“And what flavor would that be?”
“The flavor of nothing,” she said airily. “But half an hour from now your mouth would tingle. Then your face and hands would go numb. All your muscles would slacken and you’d stop breathing. As a windfall, you would be perfectly aware as paralysis caused you to suffocate to death.”
“You have a very trusting soul.”
“I do,” she admitted. “One day it’ll be the death of someone else. Likely several someone elses. But don’t be too upset; I now have evidence that your prophetic spell is genuine.”
“You could have tried the text.” He picked up a slim leather folio from the ground beside him.
She shook her head. “What’s to stop you from selling me a death sentence? I will purchase the text around your head or nothing at all.”
“Killing you would not be good business. There is more I would like to sell you and information I hope you will sell to me. On the next trip I could have more substantial texts.”
“Then let me increase your profit. I’ll double your price if you tell me where you get these spells.”
The man studied her but said nothing.
She pointed to his head. “A text that powerful couldn’t be written; it had to be part of a deity. I’m guessing you chopped one of the empire’s gods into sellable pieces.”
“You forget that imperial spellwrights have revolutionized composition. With Vivian’s metaspells, they are changing the rules.” He nodded toward the folio. “Inscribing brief godspells onto paper for example.” Previously, godspells could be imbued only into a deity’s ark stone.
Leandra shook her head. “Perhaps you had an imperial spellwright to set that godspell on paper, but no human mind could have composed it. Tell me where and how you are deconstructing deities. In return, I will investigate your Undivided Society. That or I could pay a large sum of jade.”
He studied her. “I wonder why you should want such information… and how much it is worth to you. Some information isn’t for sale to just anyone.”
“Then perhaps when our partnership is stronger?”
“Shall we meet again? Perhaps tomorrow… in the city?”
Leandra considered. “If this exchange proves satisfactory… tomorrow at dusk, my bodyguard will meet you by the Lesser Sacred Pool. You know where that is?”
He nodded.
“Come alone. If there is anyone else with you, you’ll never find us again. Understood?”
“Indeed. In the meantime, maybe you could tell me more about yourself?” he asked before seeing her blank expression and quickly adding, “Perhaps not your name or station, but—”
“If you discover my identity, then I will have to dispose of you in several large and bloody pieces deposited almost directly into a shark’s belly. I say ‘almost directly’ because the shark’s teeth would have to act as brief but effective intermediaries. And neither of us would want that.”
“Neither of us would.”
“Good, now for that godspell.” She gestured to her guard.
A moment later Dhrun placed two small chests next to the smuggler and opened them. One was filled with rough-cut jade and balls of opium. In the other chest lay plates of Lornish steel and lacquered Dralish wood, each imbued with black market magical language.
The smuggler sorted through the jade and then held his hands over the steel and wood, seemingly able to sense magical text. Only a spellwright using a synesthetic reaction could do so. That made him a rogue wizard perhaps? Or maybe a pyromancer? “It is good,” the smuggler said before holding out his folio.
“The godspell around your head,” Leandra said coldly.
“They’re identical, down to the last rune.”
She shook her head.
“How could I sell you this spell? I can’t remove this spell from my head.”
“My bodyguard will assist.”
The smuggler eyed Dhrun’s face, which presently was that of youthful Dhrunarman— light brown skin, aquiline nose, densely curled black hair, sparse beard. Dressed in a black lungi and a vest of scale armor, which showed to good advantage all four of his powerfully built arms, Dhrun looked every bit a young Ixonian divinity complex.
The smuggler looked back at Leandra. “Very well, but before I remove my headwrap, I will admit to being in disguise. I am not of the Lotus People.”
“You fill me with shock,” she said in deadpan before leaning forward. “What do most of your future selves feel an hour from now?”
“Some are satisfied… but some are agitated, a few very much so.”
“You still must smuggle your payments back into the city or out of the bay.”
He seemed to consider this and then removed his headwrap. His forehead was encircled by rubicund prose. Though Leandra was not fluent in the red language, her inheritance from her mother allowed her to visualize the divine text.
Then she realized that the smuggler’s hair consisted of silvering dreadlocks. “You’re Trillinonish,” she said and was struck by a sensation of familiarity. Had she seen this man before? No, it wasn’t possible. And yet… she couldn’t shake the feeling.
Dhrun put his upper hands to the back of the smuggler’s head. The radiant godspell slackened from his brow and then fell away. Holding the sentences as if they were a necklace, Dhrun carried the crimson language to Leandra and stood behind her.
As Leandra removed her headdress, she was aware of Dhrun’s lower hands resting on her shoulder and his upper hands moving near her ears. She caught glimpses of the godspell’s red glow, but she felt nothing press against her forehead or scalp. “Is the godspell around—” she started to ask, but then she perceived… what was it?
It was like nothing earthly.
Currents of emotion moved all around her but not through her. She felt them only partially, as if she were watching a poignant shadow play or listening to a touching song. But these sympathetic feelings were sparked not from actors or lyrics, but from the multiplicity of her future selves. There were thousands of her possible selves. Hundreds of thousands? No one could say how many.
Most of herselves felt variations on her present anxieties, but a few were filled with strange emotions changing too fast to identify. Concentrating on one of these improbable futures was like trying to barehand catch an oiled gecko. And yet… Leandra couldn’t resist mentally chasing these bright futures.
Dhrun had walked back to the smuggler and was using his upper hands to pull rubicund sentences from the smuggler’s folio and tie them around the man’s head.
Leandra closed her eyes and concentrated on the alluring futures. Again they flitted away, but not before one gave her a glimpse into an hour hence in which she felt unabashed triumph. Leandra’s excitement grew. Perhaps she could learn the smuggler’s identity? Discover how he was eviscerating deities?
With even more vigor, Leandra mentally chased after this triumphant future. Within moments she lost it within a sea of banal hours.
Something more was needed.
Leandra peered through slit eyelids. Dhrun was adjusting the godspell tied around the smuggler’s head. Neither man was attending to her.
Because of her parentage, Leandra could give herself over to her disease and gain temporary fluency in the magical language she was touching. In this state, she could perfectly understand and misspell any magical text. For a price, she became the universal spellbreaker.
If she used this ability now, she could alter her new godspell; however, this would undoubtedly cause the divine aspects of her body, which she had inherited from her mother, to attack the human aspects she had inherited from her father. The result would be a disease flare, possibly with dire consequences. And yet if she could catch that triumphant future, the rewards might justify the risks.
A change ran through her futures; more and more of them were filled with shock. Some also felt triumph, others raw horror. A different future had become probable, and the more she thought about that future, the more probable it became.
Leandra brought a hand up to her forehead and let her disease consume her. Soon her joints would ache and a rash would unfurl across the bridge of her nose, her forehead, her cheeks. Perhaps this flare would be so bad that Leandra would need to urinate frequently and her hands and face would swell. The God-of-god’s willing, the flare would not be so bad as to cause her perception to expand. But now, in this painless moment, she forgot the risks as her mind joined with the godspell.
For an instant, she became the text’s progenitor—a minor but ancient Trillinonish goddess of artistry, beauty, dance. The impoverished priests of her temple had sold her ark stone to the smugglers for thirty lengths of gold. The smugglers had bound her in a textual cage and cracked open her skull to pull the living language out of her mind. Her shrieks deafened two men.
In the next instant, Leandra returned to her own skull. Her hands were shaking as she thought of what the smuggler’s people had done.
Neither the smuggler nor Dhrun had noticed any change in Leandra. No doubt this was because of a side effect of Leandra’s current condition. When her disease flared, Leandra caused those nearby to better understand any language with which she was working. Fortunately an increased awareness of the red language had made the two men more preoccupied with the text around the smuggler’s brow.
Leandra wanted to know more about how the godspell around her head had been created. The imperial spellwright who had edited it had shaped the text so that it would project a human mind forward by one hour, but in the flare of her disease Leandra was less human, more textual.
Carefully she misspelled one word in the godspell’s first sentence and so increased her perception twenty-four times farther into the future. No other mortal creature but she could have made this misspelling, not even her illustrious father.
Normally Leandra would have been proud of such an achievement, but now she felt nothing but overwhelmed by the newly perceptible future selves. If she had thought the next hour contained a multiplicity of futures, the next day produced a million times as many, a hundred million times as many.
She swayed, struggling to retain her sanity amid the prismatic spray of herselves. In the past her hybrid-mind had been prone to dangerous expansions of perception, but nothing so dangerous as this had ever happened before. Now only one thing saved her from madness. Only one thing allowed her to grab the table with both hands as if she were drunk.
A little less than a third of her future selves were wracked by a specific guilt. Though Leandra had never felt it before, she recognized the dreadful emotion as that belonging to someone who had recently killed a dear friend, a family member, or a lover.
Another third of her future selves were filled with the anxieties of someone fleeing danger and wracked with a devastating guilt about the sudden death of everyone she loved.
But the last third of her future selves felt nothing. Nothing at all. And they felt nothing, because they were all dead.
With her godspell-laced mind working so hotly in the future, Leandra deduced the implications of these emotions into her own, personal prophecy: In one day’s time, she had to choose between dying or murdering someone she loved. If she tried to run or avoid the prophecy, everyone she loved would perish.
Leandra misspelled her godspell again so that she could feel only an hour forward. The prism of herselves collapsed enough so that it no longer drove her toward insanity. Her breathing slowed. Her heart calmed. But now she needed to hurry back to Chandralu and solve the mystery of her future murder.
She shuddered as she remembered the emotions of the women she would become. She could not run or everyone she knew would suffer. No way around it. In one day’s time, she would have to murder someone she loved or die.
She looked up at Dhrun. He looked back at her with curious, beautifully dark eyes.
Leandra was left with one question.
Excerpted from Spellbreaker © Blake Charlton, 2016

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