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Thursday, December 22, 2016

GUEST POST: Mixing History & Thrillers by Michael Bolan

I was drinking cheap Beaujolais at a cocktail reception for corporate lawyers, when an unexpected question caught me off guard. Why would you use the Thirty Years War as the backdrop for a thriller and not write a ‘normal’ historical fiction book? I looked so shocked that my interlocutor frowned, concerned that she had caused offense. I hadn’t even realized that anyone there knew that I was an author (I have an alter ego who’s a businessman), let alone knew anything about my books. Scrambling to refocus my mind on the question, I blurted the flippant response, “Why not?” and realized I would have to come up with a better answer than that.

The Devil’s Bible Series is set at the end of the Thirty Years War, perhaps the most violent conflict in history, and yet desperately under-represented in the English language. The war started with a bang: three men were thrown out of a seventy-foot window because of their religion. They survived, thanks to a soft landing in a dungheap, but aggrieved Catholics began arming for war with their Protestant neighbours, like the Empire going after that pesky Rebel Alliance. So there are immediately two sides to the story and a basis for conflict, which as Donald Maass (just google him) points out, is the number one ingredient for any thriller.

The 17th century itself was a century of discovery. The Reformation allowed even devout Catholics to challenge the Church’s repression of science. From astronomy to anatomy, to zoology and zymology, the next few generations saw the life expectancy of the common man more than double. This spirit of innovation was driven (slightly ironically) by the desire for more sophisticated ways of killing one another. The advent and development of the gun led to the decline of the sword as the weapon of choice, but the middle of the century was a heady mix of pistols and muskets, swords and halberds. And cavalry. Lots of cavalry. And cannon. Lots of cannon.

With this change underway, there would have been an advantage in mastering all forms of weapon and tactics. We know there was a competitive industry in mercenary companies: most were formed on a military basis, and often led by noblemen. In the services sector, training of staff is key to success – the companies which performed most consistently were those that invested in their people and other assets. Just like The Sons of Brabant, who are ready to kick ass at the drop of a hat.

And as for the scene-setting, I can’t imagine a more exciting backdrop. In the time of the Devil’s Bible Series, there was no Germany, no Italy, no Belgium, just a big Spain and a big Austria. The Netherlands was divided: brother fought brother as half the country struggled for independence. Tensions in England led to the Pilgrim Fathers epic voyage to colonise America, and ultimately to a bloody Civil War. They chopped the king’s head off! You don’t get much more thrilling than that.

But all was not rosy. The average life expectancy was approximately 30 years. Continuous war led to chronic famine across the continent and displaced millions from their homes. Cities became the only home for hordes of refugees, who eked out a living in abominable squalor. With hundreds of thousands crammed into tiny spaces, it’s small wonder that rats were able to spread the Great Plague, which caused millions to die in agony.

So upon reflection, my blithe “why not?” is actually a measured response. With a wealth of characters, world-changing discoveries and events, two sides at war, and yet enough freedom to bend the rules slightly, the 17th century seemed like the perfect place to set a thriller.

What do you think?


Official Author Website 
Order The Stone Bridge HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, "The Sons of Brabant". An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was. Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom. Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boë, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

His website is a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings – along with reviews of books he finds lying around the internet.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

GUEST POST: Mixing Fantasy and Science Fiction by F. T. McKinstry

"Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible." - Rod Serling

Way back when I had a respectable job, I took some college courses in software engineering. One of them was on compilers, a software program that transforms programming language into machine language used by a computer processor. I sat in there amid a serious bunch of guys wielding thick glasses, pocket protectors and computer science degrees, and I felt like an impostor. For my final exam, I wrote the front end of a compiler in AWK (anyone who knows what that is gets an Award of Excellence in Geekery). I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had imagination and a lot of nerve. I also feared the worst. When the instructor handed me my graded final, I expected him to say, “Who are you and what are you doing in this class?” Instead, he said, “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.” He gave me an A.

Turns out, this is an obscure metaphor for my take on fantasy and science fiction.

I spent the better part of my childhood reading not only speculative fiction but also the esoteric things that inspire it. I was the kind of kid who would do a book report on Hermetic occultism or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I was more somewhere else than here, but oddly, this taught me about reality. I never bothered to define the difference between fantasy and science fiction; now, I couldn’t say how many novels there are mixing strong elements of both. It's challenge to mix them without throwing out the definitions. Genres tend to blur over time, and then split into sub-genres, because gods forbid we can’t conveniently define something.

For the sake of argument, let’s call these genres distinct and go with classical definitions. To my mind, Science Fiction starts on a foundation of what’s known and provable, usually involving technological advances, the state of civilization, etc., and goes from there. Think Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke or Becoming Human by Valerie J. Freireich.

Fantasy deals more in the realms of myth, fairy tales and the unreal, usually involving magic or otherworldly forces—and that’s not to say it has to be soft or without rugged themes or realities. In this context, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings is definitive; the Legend of Drizzt series by R.A. Salvatore, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle are exemplary.

In fantasy, within reason, you can do anything if you can imagine it. This is probably why I’ve always leaned towards this genre, particularly the epic or high sub-genres where nearly everything is made up aside from basic references that serve to ground us in the story; for example, a medieval setting. I’ve written some science fiction, but it’s not my first love and despite a long and varied high tech career, I avoid writing it for the same reason I hid beneath an invisibility cloak in compiler class: Impostor! It’s a world full of geeks and somebody will call me out.

And yet, by way of my aforementioned nerve, I went there.

After writing Outpost, which is decidedly fantasy—if not epic or high fantasy if we want to get persnickety—I wrote this little tag line: “Epic fantasy entwined with Norse mythology and a touch of science fiction.” I must have taken out and put back in “a touch of science fiction” a dozen times. Finally, I removed it, but it left a stain. No science fiction here! I grumped, and then I thought about it—an inter-dimensional portal with specific dimensions and geometry built by extraterrestrial warlords to travel to and from other planets without having to wait for rare planetary alignments, humans trained in the principles of light, crystals, and energy so they can maintain the power source—Yeah yeah, ok. A touch of science fiction.

But it’s subtle. Said warlords are immortal, like elves, they are essentially Vikings—albeit highly evolved ones—and walk alongside warlocks, goblins, draugr and gods. Reprieved! The idea here touches on Arthur C. Clarke’s venerable quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In other words, what’s real? There is a seeming chasm in our society between science and magic; what’s acceptable as real and what’s not; and this is evident in these genre definitions. There’s a feel to it. However, as the advance of quantum theory is showing us, this chasm is itself an illusion.

Ergo, I can write the front end of a compiler in any language I want. Hold my beer.


Official Author Website
Order Outpost HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: F.T. McKinstry grew up studying classical music, reading books, drawing things, and searching the skies for aliens. With a background in computer electronics and software development, she wrote and illustrated technical documentation for many years, during which time she created fantasy worlds. Among other things, her work is inspired by Northern European mythology and folklore, fairy tales, swords and sorcery, medieval warfare, shamanism, psychology, mysticism and plant and animal lore.

F.T. is the author of the fantasy series The Chronicles of Ealiron and a short story collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. She lives in New England with a patient husband, a pile of cats, a couple of live-planted aquariums and a lot of gardens.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

COVER REVEAL: The Age of Swords Book Two of The Legends of the First Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

Fantasy Book Critic is extremely excited to be able to debut the cover for Michael J. Sullivan's upcoming novel – Age of Swords. Michael J. Sullivan is a favorite author of ours here at Fantasy Book Critic and we are excited to be a part of this and to bring you the new cover!

Age of Swords is scheduled to be released in June 2017 by Del Rey. It is the second novel in the Legend of the First Empire series.

The Legend of the First Empire Series began in June of 2016 with Age of Myth. Age of Myth has had a great 2016. It (so far) has made it onto several Best Of lists for 2016. It has been on the 2016 Audible Best of 2016, The Quill to Live Best of 2016, AudioFile Magazine Best of 2016, 2016 Amazon's 20 Best Fantasy and Sci-Fi Novels, and it was a 2016 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy. 

To learn more about Michael J. Sullivan, feel free to visit his website here

Without further ado, I present to you the cover of Age of Swords! Cover is created by Marc Simonetti.



From Goodreads: 

Stone tipped spears are no match for the bronze swords and shining armor of the Fhrey. As the clan chieftains struggle to appoint a warlord to lead them in the coming war, Persephone sets out with an unlikely group of misfits on a quest to obtain iron weapons. In the land of the Dherg, they find the source of the treasure they seek, but winning it will demand more than strength and courage, it will take heroes the likes of which the world has never seen. 

Learn more about The Age of Myth (the first book of The Legends of the First Empire) - 

Age of Myth inaugurates an original six-book series, and one of fantasy's finest next-generation storytellers continues to break new ground.

Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.

For more updates on The Age of Swords, visit Michael J. Sullivan's official website here
Friday, December 2, 2016

GIVEAWAY: Win A Thousand Nights Companion Series Prize Pack (Spindle and A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston)

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to partner with Disney-Hyperion to offer a giveaway of A Thousand Nights Companion Series by EK Johnston. One very lucky winner will receive a copy of A Thousand Nights and a copy of Spindle!

Spindle is the newest book in A Thousand Nights Companion Series. It is scheduled for release on December 6, 2016. For one lucky person, they will win both of these books! Giveaway rules are below.

A huge thank you goes out to Disney-Hyperion for providing the giveaway package and for sending a review copy.

Download The Garden of Three Hundred Flowers for free for your Nook or Kindle

The Garden of Three Hundred Flowers is an interstitial short story by E.K. Johnston set between her novels A THOUSAND NIGHTS and SPINDLE. For readers excited to learn more, this story also includes excerpts from A THOUSAND NIGHTS, SPINDLE, and Johnston's Star Wars novel, AHSOKA.

About Spindle: 

The world is made safe by a woman...but it is a very big world.
It has been generations since the Storyteller Queen drove the demon out of her husband and saved her country from fire and blood. Her family has prospered beyond the borders of their village, and two new kingdoms have sprouted on either side of the mountains where the demons are kept prisoner by bright iron, and by the creatures the Storyteller Queen made to keep them contained.

But the prison is crumbling. Through years of careful manipulation, a demon has regained her power. She has made one kingdom strong and brought the other to its knees, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When a princess is born, the demon is ready with the final blow: a curse that will cost the princess her very soul, or force her to destroy her own people to save her life.

The threads of magic are tightly spun, binding princess and exiled spinners into a desperate plot to break the curse before the demon can become a queen of men. But the web of power is dangerously tangled--and they may not see the true pattern until it is unspooled.
About E.K. Johnston:
E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes.

You can follow Kate on Twitter (@ek_johnston) to learn more about Alderaanian political theory than you really need to know, on Tumblr (ekjohnston) if you’re just here for the pretty pictures, or online at


1. This contest is open to US addresses only. 

2. Giveaway starts December 2, 2016 at 12:01 a.m. EST and runs until December 10, 2016 at 12:01 a.m.

3. Please only one entry per person.
4. One lucky random winner will receive a copy of A Thousand Nights and Spindle by E.K. Johnston 

5. To enter please send an email with the subject "SPINDLE" to Please include your name, your address (street address) and email address. 

6. One winner will be chosen at the end of the contest.

7. All entries will be deleted after the winner is choosen. 

Good luck!
Friday, November 25, 2016

Cover Reveal & Guest Post: The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions by Michael R. Miller (by Michael R. Miller & Mihir Wanchoo)

The 2016 edition of SPFBO has been a revelation, not only have we gotten wonderful indie titles that span a wide gamut of characters, plots and general awesomeness. This year we have also seen some fantastic cover art. This was evident to all of us blogger judges and Mark Lawrence even held a cover face-off.

The winner of this unique cover art contest was THE DRAGON'S BLADE: THE REBORN KING by Michael R. Miller. What was also über-cool about Michael's win was that his book was the joint numero uno among the bloggers as well as the general public. All of us agreed that the cover with its spartan style and swirling colors was truly unique and the most eye-catching.

THE DRAGON'S BLADE: THE REBORN KING was also reviewed by the lovely ladies over at Bibliosanctum and while they said some lovely things about it, sadly it didn't make the 2016 finals. The review however peaked my interest and I plan to read and review later whenever time permits.

Continuing on from the success of his debut title, Michael was kind enough to include us among the cover reveal for his second book THE DRAGON’S BLADE: VEILED INTENTIONS.

So read on to find how Michael and his book designer Rachel Lawston continued their terrific partnership and combined Rachel's genius and skills with Michael's vision to come up with an better cover for the sequel. The stage is all yours Michael:

Mihir had asked me to provide some thoughts on the book cover and my collaboration with Rachel Lawston for it, with the following questions – “Could I kindly get a write up from you describing what & if you provided any instructions to Rachel for the cover? Also what were you going for with the cover and what did you think of the distinct colour pattern?”

Instruction provided to Rachel:
As with book 1, I had the chance to fill out a substantial design brief for her It included competing authors, other covers I admired or wished to emulate along with their pictures, and my own ideas for the cover. All in it was well over one thousand words long.

My initial thoughts included a scene of a decaying cityscape around the tower, however, that would have likely cluttered the cover or required custom illustration. An advantage of having an experience designer is knowing they won’t be afraid to dissuade you from certain ideas. So, after a bit of back and forth we settled on the lone tower. I was absolutely sure that a round tower with a spire would look best and linked some sample images but it was Rachel who hunted down this version. It’s a woodcut image that we manipulated further by chopping off its base and adding more levels in to suggest a great height.

What was I going for? In the brief, I wrote, “The atmosphere should be one of intrigue, mystery and subtly dark.”

The spooky lone tower has been done before but it certainly gets the job done. I looked to Sanderson’s UK cover of The Final Empire, RothfussSlow Regard of Silent Things, King’s The Dark Tower: Wizard And Glass  and Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon (the edition with a creepy tower) for inspiration.

The colours and pattern The swirling pattern was used on book one’s cover to great effect, conveying fire from the sword without having flames drawn on. We decided it could be a way to unify the design of the series while still changing the image and colours with each book. As with book one, the swirls here do relate to the world – this time a specific location we visit in the book. Blue and silver are colours connected to magic in the series, and the tower in question is the now desecrated centre for the wizards of this world: the Cascade Conclave. My wizard POV character, Brackendon, will revisit this tower and uncover some rather nasty secrets. Both the tower and the area around it are pivotal to the story of book 2 for several reasons. To say any more would be to spoil too much.

Rachel and I put a lot of thought into these covers. It took us about a month to get book 2 just right and I’m delighted with the result. I may even like it more than book 1 but it’s a close call!

Official Book Blurb: Rectar has always had his sights set on conquering the human lands. His demonic invasion of the west is gaining momentum – an unrelenting horde unhindered by food or sleep. Now, only the undermanned Splintering Isles lie between the demons and the human kingdom of Brevia. If the islands fall, the rest of Tenalp will soon follow.

The Three Races must work together if they are to survive, but they have another problem – Castallan. The traitorous wizard has raised a deadly rebellion and declared himself King of Humans. He believes himself safe in the bowels of his impenetrable Bastion fortress, but Darnuir, now King of Dragons, intends to break those walls at all cost.

To face these threats, all dragons, humans and fairies must truly unite; yet old prejudices may undermine Darnuir’s efforts once again. And as the true intentions of all are revealed, so too is a secret that may change the entire world.

Official Author Website
Order The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King HERE

Official Author Information: Michael is a young Scot living in London and getting stuck into writing his first epic fantasy series, The Dragon’s Blade. Book 1, The Reborn King, made the top 20 books in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016. The second in the trilogy, Veiled Intentions, releases February 10th 2017. Michael is ‘that guy’ who enjoys the mad fan theories of Game of Thrones even more than the books or show, and knows more about World of Warcraft than is probably healthy.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016

To Beat The Devil by M. K. Gibson (reviewed by Charles Phipps)

Official Author Website
Order The Book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: In his own words: "Hi, I'm Mike Gibson (Gib or Gibby to my friends). I'm a father, husband, writer and a retired US Air Force MSgt with 20 years of service. Back in 1980, when I was 5, I saw the animated version of The Hobbit and was a geek from then on. All I have ever wanted to do was to write and tell stories. I live with my wife, son, 2 dogs and cat in Mt Airy, Maryland.

I love to read, play video games, exercise and watch movies. I'm a lover of all things geek and I'm a highly opinionated, socially/politically neutral person. I feel those who live and die by a brand, or party, are doomed to fail as human beings. I also mock those who refuse to let go of the Oxford comma."

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 175 years have passed since God quit on mankind. Without his blessing, Hell itself, along with the ancient power of The Deep, were unleashed upon the world. Two world wars and oceans of blood later, a balance was reached. Demonkind took its place as the ruling aristocracy. Mankind, thanks to its ability to create, fell to the position of working proletariat. Alive, but not living. Lucky Us.

Welcome to New Golgotha, the East Coast supercity. In it you will find sins and cyborgs, magic and mystery, vices without virtue and hell without the hope of heaven. In the middle of it all is Salem, smuggler extraordinaire and recluse immortal, who has lived and fought through the last two centuries, but his biggest battle is just beginning.

To Beat The Devil is an incredible adventure full of cyborgs and demons, gods, magic, guns, puns and whiskey, humor and heart. Follow Salem as he embarks to discover the meaning of the very nature of what mankind is: our souls. And, who is trying to steal them.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: A warning before I begin this review, I read this book when it was in manuscript form and the author was so impressed that he asked me to do the Foreword to it. So, this might be considered a conflict of interests but, in the end, I'm just sharing my opinions here as I shared them there.

What do I think of To Beat the Devil? It's a very funny book which attempts to replicate the kind of Buddy-Cop action movies of the 80s with a Dresden Files pop-culture savviness that mostly works quite well. It's also set in a post-apocalypse cyberpunk dystopia ruled by demons, which certainly lends it an originality from other urban fantasy currently available.

As I mentioned in the book's Foreword, as strange as the premise appears, it's somewhat like the Shadowrun setting. Except, in place of fairies, the world has been taken over by demons. Functionally, the two are pretty much the same as the demons of the Technomancer universe aren't as bad as they could be. They're more corrupt than monstrous, interested in living lives of decadent luxury more than torturing humans.

In that, they resemble Shadowrun's corrupt executives. I don't think Michael Gibson was taking from that setting, though, so much as they were both drawing from the corporate culture of the Eighties where Weyland-Yutani, Gordon Gecko, and OCP were kings. Certainly, I don't think we've gotten any better about the subject in the past couple of decades.

Salem is an enjoyable protagonist who resembles Chris Pratt's Guardians of the Galaxy character to no small degree. He's an irreverent immature criminal who is just trying to make his way through a complicated and dangerous world. Certainly, he's a poor choice for the world's savior but the Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque Grimm is forced to make due since Salem is about the only option left for humanity.

One element I respect about the book is that it makes it clear the goal is not to overthrow demonkind. Humanity and demonkind have become so intertwined that it's not possible for humanity to go back to the way it was before. Instead, the crapsack nature of the world is something which must simply be endured. Salem can make life enjoyable for a small number of humans or improve things slightly for all people but he can't make life good for everyone. Also, he has to work with the system rather than against it.

The book is full of action, laughs, and some surprisingly poignant moments. I especially liked the fact Salem is a lot deeper character than he initially appears. The circumstances of the world are so harsh and the people so beaten down that he's taken to being an immature rogue just to cope with the trauma.

I would have appreciated seeing more of Salem as a self-interested criminal before he undertook his road to becoming a hero but I think the twists and turns of the book are quite good anyway. I also like the surprising addition of mythologies other than Judeo-Christian and how all of these interact. The world-building is very in-depth and you can tell Michael Gibson has put a lot of thought into the subject.

In short, I highly recommend the book.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

SPFBO 2016 Final Round Update & some thoughts about SPFBO 2016 (by Mihir Wanchoo)

With my selection of The Moonlight War and as of November 1st, we have the final tally of books that have reached the 2016 SPFBO Final Round. Many congratulations to all the ten authors and to Mark Lawrence for running this contest (& making this awesome cover montage).

Here are all the ten finalists (in alphabetical order) listed with the review and the blogger who choose them:

1) Assassin’s Charge by Claire Frank – Chosen by Mogsy (The Bibliosanctum review)
2) Fionn by Brian O’Sullivan – Chosen by Sarah (Bookworm Blues review)
3) Grey Bastards by Jonathan French – Chosen by Ria (Bibliotropic review)
4) Larcout by K. A. Krantz – Chosen by Vanessa (Elitist Book Review)
5) Outpost by F. T. McKinstry – Chosen by Lynn (Lynn's book blog review)
6) Paternus by Dyrk Ashton – Chosen by FF team (Fantasy Faction review)
7) Path Of Flames by Phil Tucker – Chosen by Jared (Pornokitsch review)
8) The Moonlight War by S.K.S. Perry – Chosen by me (Fantasy Book Critic review)
9) The Music Box Girl by K. A. Stewart – Chosen by Melanie, Tracy & Qwill (The Qwillery review)
10) The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis - Chosen by Fantasy Lit team (Fantasy Literature review)

You can check out all the scores and reviews that each book gets over at Mark’s blog wherein he’s keeping track. All of us bloggers have 6 months to review as many books (if not all) and rate them to select one winner.

As for me, while I’ll be doing my best to do a proper review for each book. I’m also hoping to interview all ten authors so that the readers can get to know them better. Lastly with so many intriguing books, it will be fun to see which book ends up as the winner. All the very best to all ten authors and I can't wait to read all of your books.

With the end of the first round of SPFBO 2016, I have to say this time around, we had an influx of books with amazing cover art. Mark also had a contest wherein each blogger choose their 3 top choices within their lot and then we all got to vote on the top 3 among those 30 chosen books.  Check out the winners based on our votes as well as by votes from the general public.

Amidst the fantastic covers such A Touch Of Iron (Timandra Whitecastle), The Dragon's Blade (Michael R. Miller) & They Mostly Come Out At Night (Benedict Patrick). There were also other beauties such as:
Shadows Bear No Names by Oganalp Canatan
- It Takes A Thief To Catch A  Sunrise by Rob J. Hayes
- Masque by W. R. Gringell
- Path Of Flames by Phil Tucker
- Assassin's Charge by Claire Davis
- Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

There were some books that weren't in my lot and they caught my fancy based on their reviews and blurb matter. So I'll be hoping to contact the authors and try to review them myself.

Overall I'm very glad to see SPFBO's growth and I've high hopes for the future ahead. Maybe someday down the line, we can even have an SPFBO anthology.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Novella Review: Devil's Due by Andrew Warren & The White Gold Score by Craig Schaefer

Official Author Website
Order Devil’s Due HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’m always on the lookout for exciting thrillers and new writers in this genre. So recently when I came across Devil’s Due by Andrew Warren thanks to Amazon’s amazing algorithm for suggesting books that you might like. I read the blurb and immediately bought it as managed to hook my interest instantaneously.

This was a novella and supposedly a prequel so I was glad that it wouldn’t take up much of my ever-decreasing reading time. Also this would be a good introduction to the Thomas Caine series which seemed a tad alike to the John Rain series by Barry Eisler. The novella is of twenty chapter only and gives us a decent idea about who Thomas Caine is and the world which he inhabits. The main story opens up in the second chapter as we meet Thomas in a small, rundown bar in Pattaya, Thailand as well as Naiyana a prostitute/stripper. Things get a tad hairy for Naiyana due to Alexi a Russian and Thomas has to get involved. From there we get to see how Thomas operates and why he strikes up a friendship with Naiyana. Due to the events occurring in the bar, things unravel as they do and Thomas will have to retrieve his previous skills if he has any hope of helping Naiyana.

This is a brutal punch of a story and doesn’t take at any time at all to ramp up the action. It sets up all of the characters quickly and gives them believable personas. I liked reading about Thomas and his mysterious past which gets highlighted nicely and there are some pointers given about the future direction of the books. The author also makes sure that his secondary characters like Satra, Naiyana, Anna, etc are three dimensional as well. Case in point is the main antagonist as well as Anna who while not being very friendly but are mysterious and deadly at the same time. The action sequences are quick and will make the readers zip along for the ride. What made the story stand out from its inherent darkness vis-à-vis the bombings, human trafficking & mafia, was the depth the author added to the story via the characters and the world showed within.

We get a dark but strong look into the underbelly of Thailand, it’s made up of folks that will make your stomach churn but also honorable characters who are striving to do the right thing. The character cast is suitably intriguing and a special tip of the hat to author for not sticking to the prostitute with the gold heart stereotype. Naiyana is a fine character who tries to make the best of her circumstances but she’s no fool and she’s no coward either. You will have to read till the end of the novella to see why I say that. Thomas Caine who is the main focus of the story is intriguing to say the least and we get enough hints about his past that readers will want to know more about this dark knight.

Devil’s Due is a very good thrill ride that does exactly what it promises, it delivers a bunch load of action in noir settings of Thailand while also peeling back the curtain on the enigma that is Thomas Caine. I very much enjoyed it and upon finishing it immediately bought Tokyo Black (book 1 of the Thomas Caine series). Oh and so far it’s wildly different from the John Rain books while sharing a similarity that the main character is a loner who chooses to be that way.

Official Author Website
Order The White Gold Score HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Craig Schaefer

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The White Gold Score by Craig Schaefer is not a prequel novella however serves as an exciting introduction to the crazy world of Daniel Faust. This novella is actually set between the events of The Wrong Way Down (book 1) & Redemption Song (book 2) however is a good starting point (because of the standalone nature of its plot) for those readers who want to dip their toes before jumping all in this exciting series.

For me this novella was just perfect, as I wasn’t all too thrilled by The Long Way Down, the first Daniel Faust book but this novella completely changed my mind about this series and boy am I glad for that. The Long Way Down was an interesting introduction to Daniel and his world however suffered from many of the foibles that cling to introductory works. The White Gold Score doesn’t share any of those and focuses on Daniel Faust, sorcerer and low-level conman who gets asked to rid a top class hotel suite of its resident ghost. Thinking that this ghost exorcism will be the easy kind, leads Daniel to underestimate the seriousness of the extra-corporal inhabitant (I’m being vague about the gist of the story as that way lie spoilers). Daniel quickly learns what exactly happened for the ghost’s raison d'être and soon gets sucked in to the Hollywood music scene and the crazy shenanigans that this job unravels. This novella neatly showcases the dark side of the music industry while also getting you hooked on to Daniel Faust.

I have to thank Craig Schaefer for writing this novella, because if I hadn’t read it. I most certainly wouldn’t have entered the darkly alluring world that he has created. The story setting is a bit different from the regular series books as majority of the plot unfolds in Hollywood and showcases the power trappings & underhand dealings of the music industry. This being an urban fantasy story we get a proper eyeful of the craziness that the Daniel Faust's life entails. Also while most of the books (except book 4) are centered around Las Vegas, this short provides a nice side-angle view out in the world beyond the deserts of Nevada. Daniel Faust is a fascinating narrator as the first person voice hooks us in with his rogue-ish charm and moral ambiguous choices. He makes us believe that not only is his action plan the correct way but also the only way to do such things. However amidst all of this grey narrative, there is a heroic streak to him as well as a loyal core which makes him that much more conflicting as a character to root for.

Overall I liked how this novella introduced some major plot twists (with some nifty hat tips to classic hardboiled stories) and had a grim but fascinating take on Slavic/Russian mythology. I can’t wait to see if the mythological character introduced in this story, shows up in the main DF books (mini-spoiler: after reading further in the series, he does). The plot is smoothly paced and some terrific action packed into it, this is especially true of the climax. Also kudos to the author for giving us such well-developed characters and a fascinating magic system within this 46K-plus word novella.

The White Gold Score is an absolute blast to read and serves as an excellent stepping stone to the world of Daniel Faust. I heavily recommend that you read this novella and also the rest of the series to see how crazy good it is. I devoured the six books (that have been released so far) in rapid succession & now I strongly believe that Craig Scahefer’s books are a serious contender to the granddaddy of urban fantasy Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. DO NOT MISS this book or any other ones by Craig Schaefer, I’m hooked and will be reading anything and everything that the man writes in the future.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Interview with Ilana C. Myer (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Last Song Before Night HERE

Ilana C. Myer burst onto the speculative fiction scene last year with her fantasy debut Last Song Before Night. It was a spectacular debut IMHO and I enjoyed it so much that it was #3 in top 10 debuts for 2015. I very much enjoyed Ilana's writing style and her subversion of fantasy tropes. Since then I've gotten to know her a little more thanks to Twitter. She was very kind to accept my request for an interview and so read ahead to know more about Ilana, her writing credentials, & her thoughts on her book, the fantasy genre and much more...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, could you please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write in the first place, and describe your journey to becoming a published author.

ICM: Thank you, it’s such a pleasure be here! Last Song Before Night is my debut novel from Tor Books, with two follow-up novels on the way. I have also done quite a bit of writing about books for publications such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Globe and Mail, the Huffington Post, and Salon.

My journey to becoming an author began in my teens, when I wrote my first novel—an epic fantasy. I was new to Israel and didn’t understand a word in school, so I wrote a novel instead. My teachers knew what my notebooks were, and were exasperated, but I think they didn’t know what to do with me.

For me, becoming a published author meant working around the other demands of life—school, work, making rent—toward a dream that seemed as likely as winning the lottery.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of the Last Song Before Night occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

ICM: Writing Last Song Before Night took seven years. During that time I was a college student, administrative assistant, journalist in Jerusalem, and book critic.

The seed of the novel was planted in college, in a course on Celtic Myth and Literature. I loved the idea of the Celtic Poets, whose words could shape the fate of a kingdom. The concept of art as power. That was the starting point. I went on to incorporate the troubadours into my research, because I love them too. Later on, Greek mythology went into the mix. The first book—as opposed to the one I’m working on now—is laser-focused on touchstones of Western culture.

Q] For someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write? What would be your elevator pitch for your work?

ICM: My work is at the point where psychological complexity and mythmaking intersect.

Q] Your debut novel while being a standalone can also be considered an opening salvo into your world. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, offer any details about the sequel (hints or title), and outline your plans for the series (if it can be considered as such) as a whole?

ICM: While Last Song Before Night was meant to be a standalone, I soon realized that there was still so much to explore—in the world and the (surviving) characters. The second novel is called Fire Dance, and explores the consequences of the events in Last Song on a larger geographical and political stage—incorporating Middle Eastern myth, cosmology, and history along with the Western mythos already in place.

The third and final novel will complete the series.

Q] Within your debut, you write about many characters some heroic and some vile. However all of them were three dimensional and had their own agendas and reasons for their behavior. What’s your secret for writing such believable and vivid characters?

ICM: I think empathy is the secret to writing three-dimensional, believable characters. The ability to put ourselves in the position of people who are nothing like us, and to understand their motivations even if we’ve never felt that way ourselves. There’s another component to this, too—being aware of our own motivations, being really honest with ourselves about who we are, can be an asset in exploring the depths of a character. Being unafraid to look at the most uncomfortable truths and acknowledge them can make us better writers.

Q] In your book, besides the actual characters, music plays quite an important role. Especially since the main plot is focused on a poem and the main protagonist is a musician. What drove you to focus such a vital part of the story on it?

ICM: This evolved naturally from choosing to focus on Celtic Poets and troubadours, both of whom worked with music and verse together. I came to the idea as a writer, and then had to do some research about music. It didn’t hurt that music has always been an important part of my life and creative process.

Q] Could you talk about the research you undertook before attempting to write this book. What were the things you focused upon? Were there any fascinating things that you unearthed amidst your research?

ICM: This is hard to answer as my research process began in…2004? But I can tell you that I steeped myself in Celtic myth, from the Mabinogi to more obscure texts to Seamus Heaney’s magnificent (and actually life-changing) Sweeney Astray. I explored the history and verse of the troubadours of medieval France, and this was crucial. While a lot of Last Song was influenced by Celtic myth, the interrogation of idealized romance and love came from the troubadours.

I also read a lot about Irish and Welsh harps, and was able to visit Dublin and see one. In the course of my research I was surprised to learn that the strings of these early harps were made of metal, and that poets actually plucked the strings with their fingernails, which they grew long. A sign of prestige was if you could afford a harp with strings of gold.

Q] You also talk about the difficulties of self-promotion & how new writers are unprepared for book signings. What would be one thing that you can tell newbie writers with regards to book tours that they might not know?

ICM: You will need to develop social skills. That’s a process I began as a journalist, but was definitely compelled to up my game when it came time to promote my book. I still don’t know how to pitch my book in a sentence and I am not sure how much I really value that as a skill.

Q] You have previously worked as a freelancer and worked with several prestigious publications such as Huffington Post, Globe and Mail, Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books, Jerusalem Post, Strange Horizons, etc. How have your experiences been? And are there any particular experiences that have helped you in your writing?

ICM: Writing about books is something I’ve always done. Fiction is my great love, and I always have an opinion. The opportunity to share my thoughts about fiction has been irresistible and has led to more attention than I anticipated. I certainly never envisioned writing a piece about Tyrion Lannister that would go viral and make a lot of people angry. (But on the other hand, I wrote a piece in defense of HBO’s Game of Thrones when it was maligned by the New York Times!)

Being a journalist in Jerusalem was a different sort of thing altogether. Long ago, I read some advice from Tad Williams—maybe it was in an interview—that urged aspiring writers to learn as much as possible about everything, even things that seemed irrelevant to their writing. That’s something journalism did for me. I researched topics ranging from cleantech to earthquakes to social issues in Jerusalem and the plight of African refugees in Tel Aviv—and I always, always, learned something new. Even better—something that came as a surprise to me. I learned that it’s human nature to make assumptions, and that our assumptions are often wrong. I learned to value open-minded inquiry and respect for people who spend their lives carving out expertise in a field of study.

Q] You have lived in Israel and often talk about it on twitter. What do you think of the complexities of life in the Middle East? Plus what do you think of the general narrative that is propagated by both the left & right?

ICM: I hesitated to answer this question because I’m not sure there is a topic that is more toxic than that of Israel, especially on the left where I most often identify politically. What I think is the greatest problem with the current narrative is that it does not allow for complexity. When a left-wing intellectual like Moshe Halbertal is boycotted from speaking on an American college campus, conversation becomes impossible. And that’s a loss for everyone.

Q] Your essay about strong female characters generated a lot of debate and still provokes heated discussions on social media. If you had to provide an update or revise it in any way, what would you add? Conversely is there something in it that you would like to change?

ICM: I had no idea the piece had led to heated debate! That’s great.

There’s only one way to make an opinion piece acceptable to everyone. It’s to write something anodyne.

Q] In Last Song Before Night, you expound about history and how surreptitious events in the past often cause giant problems in the future. I found this to be a very fascinating thing and it reminded me of a book I had read quite a while ago (Song Spinners by Sarah Ash) and coincidentally both you and her share similar traits such as being Jewish and having a familial legacy of writers. I was wondering how much emphasis of history helped fuel the story for you?

ICM: Nothing happens in a vacuum…not in our world and not in an invented world. Everything that happens is in context of what has come before. I think this is very important.

In Last Song there is a question of whether events were history or legend, if enchantments are real, and in that sense it’s about how the stories that drive us are often the ones we choose or create for ourselves.

Q] World-building is one of the key ingredients of epic fantasy; your series is very strong on this factor. What is it about world-building that you love, and what are the keys to successfully crafting such a believable, yet fantastical world like that seen in debut?

ICM: When I think about world-building I always come back to Ursula LeGuin’s marvelous essay, “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” where she makes a case for language as the basis for worldbuilding in fantasy. I do exhaustive research, certainly, and if you ask me which details I think are most integral to an invented world, I’d say—probably—history and religion. But as LeGuin writes of fantasy world-building, “There is only a construct built in a void, with every joint and seam and nail exposed.” That construct is made of words. LeGuin’s Earthsea novels are very slim—they don’t go on for pages about worldbuilding. Yet despite that, Earthsea is the one of the most real fantasy worlds we possess, because the words take us away.

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?

ICM: When I was growing up, “books with magic in them” were my favorites. There was no other way to describe them—we didn’t have the publishing term fantasy, not yet. I devoured the works of E. Nesbit, Lloyd Alexander, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Frances Hodgson Burnett, T.H. White. I also loved beyond reason Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, which is not fantasy at all.

In my teens I discovered contemporary fantasy and the works of Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula LeGuin, and Robin McKinley were formative.

NOTE: Both author photos courtesy of the author.

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