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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

SPFBO: Storm Without End by RJ Blain & Mini-Interview with the author (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Storm Without End is the first book in the Return Of The Rift King series, the story begins with Kalen who seems to be wrestling with some big internal demons while trying to be as incognito as possible. He’s a bit diminutive in size and so folks often mistake him for being a child. Those who try to inflict harm upon him for believing him to be small, don’t live long enough to change their erroneous ways. He finds himself waking up without boots and at pains to recall how he got into his current state. In the place known as the Rift, there are several guardians who are alarmed at the disappearance of the Rift King and are actively working to figure what happened exactly. If this blurb sounds confusing, then it is exactly what the author intended.

The book drops the reader into the happenings without much of an explanation very similar to the Malazan books. The reader shares the confusion experienced by the main character Kalen as both are trying to figure out what exactly is happening. The Rift is a hot, dry place that separates the sox kingdoms and keep the fragile peace. However with the disappearance of the rift king, all bets are off and nobody knows what exactly is happening. This book actively uses the reader’s vertigo as the author slowly unveils the world and the geo-political rumblings within. While I admired the author’s approach in setting up the story this way, the reading experience was certainly hampered to a minor degree.

Going on to the characterizations, this being a multi-POV book, we do get to see the action unfold from other characters besides Kalen and that is helpful as the world is fleshed out better. Kalen however is the main draw as the readers will be drawn to him the most, he certainly is a big highlight of the book as he struggles to accept his power and the troubles that follow because of it. I loved watching his internal and external struggles and an extra bonus to the author for providing us with a hero who is physically handicapped but does his best even with it. Fantasy books have at large ignored physically handicapped characters and so this was an interesting change. The pace of the story is such that while the readers might feel confused at the beginning, there is enough impetus provided to keep on reading. Plus after the first third, the story picks up properly and then we are racing along all the way to the brutal climax. Another plus point is the addition of sentient horses to the plot and this was another cool feature about the book. I can't wait to read more about them and see their increasing influence across the plot.

Now the things that didn’t make the story work, firstly was the fact that majorly this book felt like a big set-up for the entire series. Some authors like Tad Williams and Kate Elliott can pull such a thing off however Storm Without End suffers because of this feature. Also there’s a lot of world details that seem confusing as those very details only are hinted towards the end.

Overall I feel that this book is a good book that perhaps needed a couple more drafts. It has some telling action sequences, a very likeable hero trapped in desperate circumstances and overall an intriguing plot. I enjoyed it in spite of its minor foibles and will be interested to see where the author takes the story in the sequel. Storm Without End is an interesting fantasy that features a physically handicapped protagonist and hints at darker and more fantastical things to come. 


Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

RJB: Hi! Thanks so much for having me. I’m RJ, and before I became an author, I was an office paper shuffler in a marketing department. Before that, I helped people write and customize content on their websites so they’d be found in search engines. Pretty glamourous, huh?

I went to college for approximately half a semester a long, long time ago, broke free of the joint, and moved to a different country to get married to a wonderful man. I’m still married to him over fourteen years later. I own cats. Oh, who am I kidding? The four furballs own me, and they make me like it.

I enjoy painting and playing computer games when I’m not writing or reading a book. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be?) I’m rarely not writing or reading a book, which suits me just fine! I began publishing in 2013. In 2014, I wrote and published my SFWA (Science Fiction / Fantasy Writers of America) qualifying novel, and I joined the organization when they opened their doors to self-published authors.

Q] Can you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, & why you choose to go the self-publishing route?

RJB: This is a tough question for me. Until fourth grade, I was essentially functionally illiterate. I could, with work and effort, sound out words. I could form letters with a pencil, but beyond that, I couldn’t do a whole lot more than spell my name and do the absolute bare minimum to not fail a grade.

I wasn’t a very good student. Then, in fourth grade, I got a teacher who understood me and the things that interested me. She gave me a copy of A Wrinkle in Time, and I discovered stories could be fun and intriguing, and that not all books would bore me to tears. By the end of fifth grade, I was reading Stephen King and had progressed to a college reading level. My advancement, such as it was, actually caused me a lot of problems over the years. Without the benefit of the formative education years, everything I learned about English, I learned from books. This meant I had a very… unique… view of basic grammar.

I had to relearn the English language from the ground up sometime during high school. (To be exact, my senior year in my English Honors course, our teacher got fed up that absolutely no one in the class had any understanding of the basics. We could pick apart Chaucer in its original form, but we couldn’t define the structure of a sentence to save our lives.) It was a very interesting experience.

I didn’t start ‘seriously’ writing books until high school, and even then, it was as a passing interesting. I really began pursuing novels after I graduated and moved from the US to Canada. Turns out there’s very little someone can do when they can’t work or go to school while waiting for immigration documentation, so I took up writing, something I could pursue until I got a work permit.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

RJB: I don’t prescribe the muse theory, although I do believe my current artist, Holly Heisey, has a direct connection with my general creativity. She makes these gorgeous premade covers, and without fail, many of these have so many stories I could tell using them as inspiration, so I buy the cover… then I end up having to write the novel.

One of my favorite projects, WATER VIPER, came to life this way.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of STORM WITHOUT END occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

RJB: Of all the stories I’ve written, STORM WITHOUT END was the most intensive. It began with a desperate need to just sit down and finish a book, so I spent 3 days, two cases of Nestea, and wrote. In that story, I created the Requiem for the Rift King world, and I also created several of the kingdoms.

The Rift wasn’t one of those kingdoms. The Rift came later—much later. Several years after I wrote that first story just to prove I could, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I reentered the world of the Rift King, once again writing a story in the same world. I didn’t visit the Rift, not yet, but I did create the main political thunderstorm that would form the canyon system and the circumstances leading to the Rift and the events in Requiem for the Rift King.

The following year, I participated in NaNoWriMo again, and I created the other half of the Requiem world and the skreed who would serve as one of the main focal points in Requiem for the Rift King. Still no Rift, though.

The next year, I created Kalen, the main character. I initially called the project TRIAL BY FIRE, and it was absolutely ridiculous. But, I loved the boy who grew to a man in that story, and I wanted him to be something more than the star of an absolutely ridiculous novel with no direction and a lot of fun ideas.

But when I wrote that story, I knew Kalen was going to be something far more—and less—than my initial creation of him. I dove into his next form, and the Rift was born, as was its crippled king. It took me six complete rewrites of Kalen’s story to come up with STORM WITHOUT END over the course of seven or eight years.

Q] You have a sequel out as well called STORM SURGE. Is this the end of the Requiem For The Rift King series?

RJB: No. Requiem for the Rift King is a four book series, including STORM WITHOUT END, STORM SURGE, THE TIDES OF WAR, and REQUIEM FOR THE RIFT KING.

THE TIDES OF WAR is going to be a monster of a book. Every title in the series will have certain events happen, no matter how long it takes me to write the book. I expect THE TIDES OF WAR to be the longest title of the set, as it is the centrifugal point of so much in the series.

REQUIEM FOR THE RIFT KING, however, will be a monster in its own right, too.

Q] Your main character is handicapped (in a very specific way) so as to speak. The fantasy genre has been very deficient in showcasing heroes in such a way. What were your thoughts behind framing the story in this manner? What were you aiming to tell via this move?

RJB: Kalen is handicapped in a lot of ways, both physical and mental. STORM SURGE faces the traumas of his very existence head on, while STORM WITHOUT END very much answers the question of how someone with the handicaps he has can still manage to survive in a world where handicaps often mean death.

I didn’t really go out to address a deficiency in the fantasy genre, although you’re right—there are very few stories where such a deficiency is showcased as something the main character must constantly overcome. In Robert Jordan’s THE WHEEL OF TIME, such deficiencies are waved away and healed. In Jim Butcher’s THE DRESDEN FILES, Harry’s are overcome with time and magic. THE DRESDEN FILES come closest to a real main character being forced to face critical handicaps. But, in the end, his are waves away after a few books, too—or masked with a mantle.

Kalen overcomes his handicaps in a variety of ways, though he does what he does best: whatever it takes to survive. I look forward to writing more about how he is forced to deal with the upcoming changes in his life. Some are for the better. Others prove there is always a price to magic, and it must eventually be paid.

Q] Could you tell us about the research which you undertook before attempting to write this book and what were things which you focused upon and any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

RJB: The amount of research that went into the series is staggering, but I did it over a decade. I had to research various types of governments and monarchies to have a basic understanding of the diplomacy of nations. How could I build a world that functioned but was also rife with tension and warfare?

The Six Kingdoms is the equivalent of the United Nations, although its formation was… different. Drastically so. I borrowed a lot from history. Nations rose only to fall, and in the ruins of great civilizations, new ones were born. But to build a political landscape, I needed a geographic one, one where I could justify magic, its influences, and how a gigantic scar across a continent could forever change everyone living there.

Hundreds upon hundreds of hours went into building the world. My favorite bits of research involve horses. I combined my two favorite breeds of horses to create the Rift Horses, and the Yadesh… well, trying to figure out how to create those occupied many a happy hour. But if I’m completely honest, the most rewarding piece of research was the extensive amount of cultural studies I had to do in order to create the various societies populating the Requiem for the Rift King world.

Q] What other books have you written? Can you tell us about them and what genres they belong to?

RJB: I’ve written a lot of books. Between full-length novels and a handful of anthologies, I’ve published nineteen titles. All of them are science fiction or fantasy in some fashion or another!

My main titles include stories from the Witch & Wolf world. The main series, entitled Witch & Wolf, is a four book set, with the last installation, SILVER BULLET, scheduled to release late 2016 or early 2017. I’m hoping for late this year. I have several spinoff series in the Witch & Wolf world, as I can’t quite seem to leave that sandbox for very long…

Of the nineteen titles, two are Dystopian Science Fiction and were released under a pseudonym.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

RJB: A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeline L’Engle made me love reading, which in turn made me want to write many years down the road. Mercedes Lackey is responsible for my adoration of fantasy horses with a magical twist.

Patricia Briggs got me started on writing werewolves and other shifters. Ilona Andrews is my current love affair with another author, as I’m a huge, huge fan of the Kate Daniels series. I also like the Innkeeper Chronicles they’ve written as well!

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

RJB: Thank you for having me! I’d just like to take a moment to thank every last reader and book lover out there for taking the time to read, no matter the reason. Keep reading and loving books!



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