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Thursday, April 27, 2017

SPFBO: Paternus by Dyrk Ashton (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Paternus HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dyrk Ashton is a writer, educator, filmmaker and former actor active in storytelling and media making. Born and raised in the Ohio, he spent his formative years in the American Midwest wherein he got a BFA, Masters & PhD in the field of filmmaking & Movie studies. Dyrk loves the outdoors and even more the genre of speculative fiction. He currently resides in Ohio, but the fantasy landscape is the place he calls his true home. Paternus is his debut.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Gods, monsters, angels, devils. Call them what you like. They exist. The epic battles between titans, giants, and gods, heaven and hell, the forces of light and darkness. They happened. And the war isn't over.

17 year old Fi Patterson lives with her stuffy English uncle and has an internship at a local hospital for the aged. She doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, misses her dead mother, wonders about the father she never knew. One bright spot is caring for Peter, a dementia-ridden old man whose faraway smile can make her whole day. And there's her conflicted attraction to Zeke -- awkward, brilliant, talented -- who plays guitar for the old folks. Then a group of very strange and frightening men show up for a "visit"...

Fi and Zeke's worlds are shattered as their typical everyday concerns are suddenly replaced by the immediate need to stay alive -- and they try to come to grips with the unimaginable reality of the Firstborn.

"Keep an open mind. And forget everything you know..."

FORMAT/INFO: Paternus is 479 pages long divided into three parts which are further divvied up into thirty-three titled chapters with a prologue & epilogues. There’s also an acknowledgement section along with a few other extras. Paternus is the first book in a  an unnamed trilogy and can be read as a standalone.

May 1 2016 marked the e-book and paperback publication of Paternus and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Lin Hsiang & cover design is by Brie Rapp.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Imagine a novel or story that’s hard to describe, there have been quite a few of them over the past few years. Now with those stories, you can break them down and still make sense to whomever you are describing them to. But then there are those books that even when broken down, they are hard to encapsulate within genre, style or even plot. These are those rare gems that can go either way but usually have a core following and considered classics by many. I’m glad to say Paternus can be added to that small list as well. Paternus was a SPFBO finalist chosen by the fine folks over at Fantasy Faction & I can’t thank them enough for selecting this amazing debut.

Paternus is a doozy of a story and I mean it in the nicest way possible. To summarize the start of the main plot like I do with all my reviews is going to nigh impossible with this one but I’ll try my best. The first 10 chapters reveal a constantly rotating cast of characters some of them human, most of them immortals or near immortal as you can get. The storyline while beginning from a current time standpoint has its roots in a conflict that spans eons or yugas (this will be clear to fellow aficionados of Hindu mythology). The few humans who are introduced into this conflict are Fiona Patterson and her friend (maybe boyfriend) Zeke. Fiona is a teenager who has been orphaned and interns in a geriatric hospital wherein she takes care of a guy suffering from dementia named Peter. Fiona or Fi as she’s fondly called by everyone close to her, lives with her uncle Edgar who is as docile as they come and encourages her while successfully straddling her exasperating teenage antics from time to time. Fi and Zeke have a weird turn in their blossoming friendship but before things can settle down. They both learn a few secrets about Peter, Uncle Edgar and Fi herself. It’s from here on we are taken on a ride of global proportions and epic intensity as they run into several other beings who also take POV turns and find out more about the true nature of the world.

The biggest plus point that I can reveal about this story is the author’s imagination and his love for the various world mythologies, lore & religiosities. Plus I cannot state this enough as to how masterfully Dyrk Ashton has seemingly combined them to put forth a grand unified theorem for world mythologies. So far amidst all the various urban fantasy and literary fantasy books that I’ve read not one book has even come close to the mythological finesse that is showcased within Paternus. Kudos to you Dyrk Ashton for managing to write an epic story that combines all of the world mythos and makes it coherent. Especially with this I would like to point out one very cool thing that the author has done, I’m a big mythology nerd and being Indian, reading all of Hindu mythology's myriad texts and stories has been a lifelong hobby of mine. So you all can imagine how thrilled I was to see the author include Shiva, Parvati, Nandi, Indra and several other cool aspects (Deva/Asura/etc.) of Hindu mythology. Also with the usage of several Sanskrit terminology, the author not only managed to get the words correct but also made it very contextual within the plot. As a desi reader to see a non-subcontinental person utilize these things so solidly made my inner mythology nerd do an orgasmic Tandav.

The next thing which I enjoyed about this book was the characterization and I’m not talking about the humans here. This book focusses a lot on various individuals who can simply be described as gods, demons and a whole bunch of other mythological personae. To give them all distinct personalities and not anthropomorphize them is a Herculean task. However it is one which the author manages to perform adroitly. It was interesting to read about these beings and see their thoughts about the modern world (a particularly funny example of this is one such being who is trying to make a specific species of beasts classified as "endangered" as they are his earthly brethren and hold a special place in his mother’s heart).

These beings were so crucial to the storyline and to make them distinct and showcase them not simply as monsters but truly as higher order creatures with their own agendas was what made me enjoy this story even more. Also the author doesn’t just use European and Christian mythos, he goes beyond anyone else I’ve ever read to include Indian, Sumerian, Japanese, African, Mesopotamian and several other Asian mythologies. This felt truly global and the interactions that occur as well as the backstory for the eons-old struggle that is going on has been laid bare in a very methodical & quizzical way. There are hints laced throughout the story and it’s particularly fun to try to connect the dots along with the characters. I must admit that I didn’t quite get them all but those which I did, it was exhilarating to see them pan out in the story later on.

The action sequences are truly mind boggling as the story progresses become more and more frequent as well. There’s an undeniable horror element to these action sequences which involve the immortals and it is entirely fitting. Some reviewers have described these scenes as very blockbuster-esque and I’ve to agree. If this book were ever to be made into a movie/tv series (HBO), I would be first in line to watch it. The book’s latter half more than makes up for the lull in action in its preceding half and also ends on a humdinger of a climax (thankfully no cliffhangers here). Lastly the humor level in this book is often an understated one, there’s no laugh out loud moments but there truly are some comedic moments that are carefully woven in and brought a chuckle whenever I came across them. For most readers though, this effect might be completely dependent on your comedic tastes.

The one thing that I could say that is a big drawback about this book is for the starting few chapters the reader is introduced to a myriad number of characters and a lot is thrown at the reader which doesn’t make a lot of sense (at that moment). The readers will have to persevere through and it’s not a slog but it gets a tad exasperating to be introduced to a different character after another and not get a longer view at their lives. This was the main reason as to why this book scored an 8.5 in my view. This also is the sole negative point about this book IMHO. There’s also a couple of minor characters who seem a tad caricature-ish but then they are absolutely minor and I think one of them is also presented that way for comedic effect.

CONCLUSION: Paternus is a hard book to classify but not a hard book to like or enjoy. It can be a considered a classic in the making as it’s one of those books that doesn’t have any predecessor. But in the future will be considered the pratham of its own sub-genre. Paternus is an absolute gem of a story and Dyrk Ashton is a bloody, terrific genius. Miss out on this one at your own risk
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

SPFBO: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Grey Bastards HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jonathan French was born in Tennessee, and spent his childhood reading comics. He spent his childhood and teenage in the UK and US which fueled his curiosity and spurred his writing roots. His greatest literary influences are Robert E. Howard and Lloyd Alexander. He loves D&D and publicly speaking on topics that are dear to him. He currently resides in Atlanta with his wife, son and cat.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.” Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs.

Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. Supporting Jackal’s dangerous bid for leadership are Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs. 

When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil. He finds himself saddled with a captive elf girl whose very presence begins to unravel his alliances. With the anarchic blood rite of the Betrayer Moon close at hand, Jackal must decide where his loyalties truly lie, and carve out his place in a world that rewards only the vicious. 

FORMAT/INFO: The Grey Bastards is 442 pages long divided over thirty-six numbered chapters. Narration is via third person solely by Jackal throughout. This is the first volume of the Grey Bastards saga.

16 November, 2015 marked the e-book and paperback publication of the book and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design by Raymond Swanland.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Grey Bastards is a book with a brilliant cover and an unconventional blurb that focuses on a half-orcs and their lives. It’s a fantasy book that’s different in every sense of the word and was a finalist selected by the Bibliotropic blog.

The story begins with Jackal, a half-orc who is a member of the Grey Bastards (one of the eight hoofs *read gang/tribe*) which are present in the lot lands. The Grey Bastards are a group of nine half-orcs who take care of their region in the lots and are on tenuous relationship with most of the other lots. Our protagonist is Jackal who along with Oats and Fetching are doing ranging rounds and we discover their friendly yet competitive relationship with each other. Jackal is a person with ambition in his heart but he needs votes and a plan to dislodge the Claymaster (the head of the Grey Bastards) from the hoof’s chair. His best friends are Oats a thrice-blood (three fourths of an orc and human) and Fetching who’s is the only female half-orc ever to be a Grey Bastard.

Jackal’s plans are gestating however they have to take a backseat as he encounters a sorcerer who’s also akin to their kind. While reeling from this shocker, he discovers that they are soon betrayed by someone who has no reason to do so. Plus there’s the whole mystery of the elf girl who might hold the answers but is unwilling or unable to provide them. There’s also the undercurrents about the hoof leadership which leave Jackal a bit tenuous with his bid. Ultimately all of this will boil down to a few events upon which the history of the Lot lands will be laid bare as well as the injustice meted out by Hispartha that gets uncovered in this opening volume.

Here’s why I enjoyed this story so much, beginning from its unorthodox roots, having half-orcs as the main characters and having biker gang culture shown in a dark fantasy setting is very, very impressive. Kudos to Jonathan French for writing such a different story and having the guts to follow through and not take any easy routes with his characterizations, world history and even politics. This is a murky world and someone has compared it to the biker gang crime drama Sons Of Anarchy which I feel is very, very apt. The characters are mired in shades of grey, there are betrayals, scheming and lot of background/historical details which are slowly laid bare. This is very similar to the Sons Of Anarchy saga and also hearkens to David Dalglish’s Half-Orcs series (but with a lot less magic). Jonathan French’s creations are tortured souls who are just trying to find a semblance of peace, power and parity in their lives.

Let’s talk about the first strength of the book beginning with our protagonist Jackal and all the characters introduced within. Jonathan French makes each one stand out with their unique personas. Jackal is cunning yet not Machiavellian, Oats is steadfastly loyal but not farsighted. Fetching is vicious but not cruel in her ways. The Claymaster and the rest of the hoof mates are equally intriguing as are the various other characters introduced. All of these characters are heroes and villains in their own ways and even though we aren’t given everyone else’s POV besides Jackal, I felt that each and everyone could have been a strong lead protagonist. Secondly the bawdry nature of the story and characters is very true and is constant throughout the storyline. I liked this aspect and while it might not be for everyone, but for those who don’t mind a solid dose of darkness and cursing, this tale will fit right in.

Thirdly the world-building is done very well and what I mean is that the author slowly unveils the world (first the Lot lands and later on Hispartha). Also this world has other races such as Orcs, Centaurs, Elfs and humans who all are far away from the classical epic fantasy tropes and share the darkness imagined by the author. The Centaurs are bloodthirsty and have an interesting way to express themselves via one night (titled the Ravager's Moon). The Elves are contrarians and are also reticent enough to kill folks who disturb them. The Orcs are deadly and war-mongering, not to mention the progenitors of the half-orcs and I believe the readers will learn more as to how they view each other via the story. There’s also the cool aspect of the hogs who function as trusty steeds, deadly battle machines and just are fun to read whenever they are featured in the story. The pace of the story never slackens and the plot twists are not that frequent however they come and shake up the story vigorously. The cover by Raymond Swanland is the icing on the cake and surely a solid reason to buy the book on its own.

The only thing which I thought was the drawback for this story was that the world history wasn’t revealed quite to my satisfaction. This was a very personal observation as the author does reveal a lot but I felt that more could have been unveiled. Of course the author might be waiting to unleash more in the sequel and I can’t wait to read it.

CONCLUSION: The Grey Bastards is a rough gem of story that’s certainly not for every reader however I believe most SFF fans should read it. Jonathan French has to be lauded for his plot ingenuity, bawdry charm and vicious characters. The Grey Bastards has instantaneously catapulted him into my must-read list and the sequel to the Grey Bastards (currently titled The True Bastards) is one of my most anticipated books for 2018. 
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

GUEST BLOG: Magic, Life and the God Complex by Jeffrey Bardwell (Author of Broken Wizards: The Artifice Mage Saga Book 1)

Visit Jeffrey Bardwell's Website Here 
 Find Broken Wizards on Amazon Here
Find Broken Wizards on Kobo Here

Fantasy Book Critic is pleased to welcome Jeffrey Bardwell to our blog today as a special guest blogger. Jeffrey is the author of the soon-to-be released book Broken Wizards. Broken Wizards is the first novel in The Artifice Mage Saga. It is scheduled to be released April 15, 2017.

Summary for Broken Wizards:
Time's up for mages! 

The wizard purge is in full swing. Sorcery is illegal in the modern, steam-powered Iron Empire. The Magistrate's Black Guards hunt the uncivilized mages using mechanized armor and mysterious, clockwork weapons. The guards deliver their prisoners to the Butcher, Captain Vice. All wizards are tortured and executed as traitors to the state . . . with one exception.

That exception is Devin, an outbreak mage and ex artificer, a prince of machinery. The Magistrate exiles the youth over Vice's protests to the wild kingdom of wizards and dragons. Devin only knows gears and springs, but his savage magic offers salvation, if he can tame it. The exile must learn to harness his dangerous, new powers before the Butcher tracks him down to finish the job. 

Follow Devin's quest in Book One of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

To celebrate the release of his book, Jeff has stopped by to talk about magic, life and the God complex. Welcome him to the blog! 


Magic, Life, and the God Complex by Jeffrey Bardwell
Easter is approaching and with it the annual celebration of the most famous instance of rebirth. Whether you believe in the literal resurrection of Christ, the story resonates because society is captivated with the archetype of instilling life in the dead or the inanimate, a need for which fantasy has the answer: magic. Authors have cloaked these powers in many different guises: lightning (Mary Shelly), magic powder (Frank L. Baum), a wish upon star (Carlo Collodi), prophecy (C. S. Lewis), or intercession of the gods (J. R. R. Tolkein) all restore or create life force. Whether acknowledged directly or not, such power has a whiff of the divine.
What effect does this magic have on the magician himself? For, in some dark, literary irony, the magician who creates life is always male. Surely, women have no place in tales of birth? Or perhaps the idea was too close to reality for fantasy? No, we have a man, a young man (typically a virgin), who wields this awesome power.  

I draw a distinction now between reanimating the dead and reanimating the lifeless. In the examples above, there are only two instances where life was gifted to that which was never sentient in the first place and both stories involve wooden simulacra: The Marvelous Land of Oz with Jack Pumpkinhead and the eponymous Pinocchio. This invokes even more of a god complex than before! We are not simply reanimating dead tissue, we are building a person from scratch (albeit not from the clay or mud of the creation mythos) or metal (let's leave robotics to science fiction), but wood. Granted, unlike mud or metal, that wood was once alive until we chopped it into pieces and fashioned it into a crude reflection of mankind, but it could not think before we magicked it so.  

The Jesus carpenter metaphor is somewhat more blatant in Pinocchio than Oz as we have the humble woodworker Mastro Geppetto, who creates a spark of life in his hand-crafted, wooden son. Does the creator take responsibility for his wooden progeny? In the case of Pinocchio, the desire for a son and the nature of humanity is at the forefront of the plot, and in Oz tossed off as a magic trick, as the ramifications of tin godhood are usually reserved for the tales of reanimation, such as Frankenstein. But in a world with devout citizens, and in the typical medieval second world fantasy, the role of the typically polytheistic faith and its representatives is paramount, unless the wizards are also the priests (whoops, I just gave myself an idea), then creating life would precipitate either a crisis of the faith or a god complex.
In my new novel, Broken Wizards, I bring together the creation of a wooden son (Pinocchio) with the existential questions of the responsibilities of godhood (Frankenstein) in a world where magic is fairly commonplace (Oz). My magician is a devout, gods-fearing youth who has discovered he now wields the power of the five gods themselves. The crisis is easy enough to rationalize in the moment. 
 He is not divine, but a mere agent of the gods. But the rest of it? The youth has just unwittingly created a son. His incipient fatherhood is a much more real, much more scary concept than piddly, abstract notions of divinity!

I invite you to discover (perhaps, even enjoy) the rest for yourselves.

About the Author:
Jeffrey Bardwell is an ecologist with a Ph.D. who loves fantasy, amphibians, and reptiles. The author devours fantasy and science fiction novels, is most comfortable basking near a warm wood stove, and has eaten a bug or two. The author populates his own novels with realistic, fire breathing lizards. These dragons are affected by the self-inflicted charred remains of their environment, must contend with the paradox of allometric scaling, and can actually get eaten themselves.
The author lives on a farm, is perhaps overfond of puns and alliterations, and is a gigantic ham. When not in use, he keeps his degrees skinned and mounted on the back wall of his office. Email at:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

GUEST POST: Japanese Mythos and Fantasy by Annette Marie

Before I knew anything else about the Red Winter trilogy, I knew Japanese mythology would play a central part in the world and magic of the series. I’ve been fascinated with Japan’s rich, varied, and ancient mythos for many years, and I was so excited to tell a story with magic, creatures, and folklore that aren’t often drawn upon in Western fantasy.

My research began with Shintoism and kami. A kami is a god-like being, but the term is far more encompassing than you might expect—it includes anything with a spiritual nature and supernatural powers. A defining characteristic of kami is that they embody both good and evil, equally capable of nurturing or destroying. It’s even said they possess two souls, one gentle and one assertive.

Many principal kami of folklore became characters in the Red Winter series, and I wanted to stay true to their dual natures. Figuring out where to hold fast to the original stories, and where to deviate into fantasy, was tricky at times. Some characters seemed to leap straight from their mythos and onto the pages of the book—from a playful kitsune shapeshifter with fox ears, to a crow lord called the Tengu, to the irascible god of storms Susano.

However, though the Red Winter series is fantasy through and through, when it comes down to it, even my wildest imagination couldn’t match some of the tales from Japanese mythology. From incomprehensible to hilarious to just plain weird, some of the folklore had me shaking my head in confusion. Melding that hint of “bizarre” with the mystical atmosphere of the series was a fun challenge.

Susano the storm god, as an example, has an origin story I chose not to include, where he was banished from the heavens after throwing a flayed horse through his sister’s sewing room in a fit of bad temper. His role as the slayer of a great eight-headed dragon I did include, but I skipped over the manner of the dragon’s defeat—where Susano only claimed victory by getting the dragon drunk first. As much as I wanted to honor the original mythology, I wasn’t sure that particular tale would win his character a lot of respect.

Japanese mythology includes the yokai, a term often translated to “demon”. But the yokai, like the kami, possess a dual nature—not necessarily benevolent, but rarely are they irredeemably evil. Even a yokai as seemingly despicable as the Kappa, a water ogre known to drown children and horses, isn’t all bad. Kappa are said to be obsessed with politeness, so if you bow to them, they will always bow in return, and you can befriend them with gifts and offerings—though beware, as their friendship might not be as beneficial as you would hope.

In Red Winter, the idea of kami and yokai as both good and evil, capable of benevolence and destruction in equal measures, is a prominent theme, and a lesson the human heroine Emi must come to learn as she delves into the worlds of the spirits. In both Shintoism and Red Winter, the concept of harmony is crucial—harmony with nature, balance between light and dark, and the pursuit of sincerity, honesty, and purity. But above all, Red Winter is an adventure—a journey through magic, myth, and the worlds of kami and yokai.


Official Author Website
Order Immortal Fire HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling Steel & Stone series, which includes Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night, and fantasy trilogy Red Winter. Her first love is fantasy, but fast-paced urban fantasy and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She lives in the frozen winter wasteland of Alberta, Canada (okay, it's not quite that bad) with her comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness—sorry, cat—Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.

Immortal Fire Official Synopsis: Once, Emi believed the heavenly gods were righteous and wise, while the earthly yokai spirits were bloodthirsty and evil. But with a traitorous deity poised to destroy her world, and the yokai standing as humanity's only defense, the lies of her upbringing have toppled to reveal a far more terrifying reality.

Despite the looming threat, Emi can't escape her greatest distraction: Shiro, the fox yokai who has so deftly claimed her heart for his own. Soon—too soon—she will have to break the curse that binds his magic and memories. And once the ancient power inside him awakens, the yokai she loves will be changed forever.

As the earthly gods gather to wage war against the heavens, Emi and Shiro must gamble everything to turn the tide against their immortal, all-powerful foes. Together, they will find a way to save her world— even if it means losing each other.

NOTE: Susano artwork courtesy of Japanmeonly
Monday, April 10, 2017

GUEST POST: The Pressure Of Writing A Series by Elizabeth Vaughan (Author of the Warlands Chronicles)

 Visit Elizabeth Vaughan's Website Here

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to welcome Elizabeth Vaughan to our blog today as a special guest blogger. Elizabeth Vaughan is a USA Today bestselling author for her Warlands Chronicles series. Her recent book, titled WarDance, is the fifth book in the Warlands Series and is scheduled to be released April 11, 2017. 

Summary of WarDance:
Spring returns to the Plains, and with it, the Time of the Challenges, when warrior fights warrior in a contest for rank and status. For Simus of the Hawk, now is the time to raise his challenge banner, to fight for the chance to finally become Warlord.

But his deadliest challenge does not come from other warriors, or even the sundered Council of Elders. For on the first night of the Challenges, a mysterious and deadly pillar of white light scorches the night sky—instantly changing everything for the People of the Plains.

Now a warrior-priestess, Snowfall, stands before Simus, who dares to speak of peace, of reconciliation. Her knives are sharp, her tattoos alluring, and her cool grey eyes can look through Simus and see…everything.

Now Simus and Snowfall must solve the mystery of the pillar of white light, and protect their people from all the destruction and chaos it brings. Snowfall fights for her place beside Simus, despite resistance from friend and foe.

The warrior-priests have abused their power for many years. Can Simus face the challenge of trusting Snowfall with his honor? And perhaps . . . with his heart?

To celebrate her book release, she has stopped by to talk with us about the pressures that come with writing a series! Welcome Elizabeth to our blog!  

For my first publishing contract I wrote a trilogy. My publisher called it ‘The Chronicles of the Warlands’. I thought I was done.

So I started a new series - a new trilogy. We called it ‘The Star Series’. Clever me, or so I thought. But that creative spark in the back of my brain? My muse, my inspiration, what ever you want to call it. Yeah, half way through the second book of that new trilogy it woke up and said, very clearly “The two series are linked.”

And then it laughed. Evilly.

Linked? In the same world, the same time frame? No way, said I.

But the ideas persisted and grew. And to my horror/pleasure I realized that they were. Wonderfully, horribly linked. Yikes, I thought. What am I going to do? Can I really pull this off?

Thankfully, I remembered two pieces of writing advice from Dennis McKeirnan. The first is a quote: “When things change, the story begins. But when things go wrong, the adventure begins.”

Of course, I am fairly sure that Dennis was talking about plots, not the actual writing of the book, but it helped me. Because writing, in its own way, is the adventure of a lifetime. At least, it has been for me.

The second piece of advice from Dennis is found in the foreword of his book ‘The Dragonstone’ wherein he refers to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books.

This is getting kinda convoluted, you say?

Stay with me.

See, what Dennis points out about Conan-Doyle’s stories is that at times, Watson will make reference to a relic in the room, a reminder of the Singular Affair of This, or the Adventure of that, or the Mystery of the This-and-That. Now, that is not the story that Watson is going to tell you, mind. Instead, the vague reference to the past is left to taunt you with the possibilities.

Dennis refers to this while writing as ‘dropping red slippers’ i.e. ‘loose ends’ and then going back and finding them and using them to knit the story together in a way that even the author could not have foretold.

I would love to tell you ‘why yes, I planned this all from the start, and aren’t I the clever one?’ But the truth is that vagueness is an author’s best friend. Loose ends are an author’s bestie best friend.

Especially when writing a series.

So I went back, re-read my books, and sure enough . . . I had to run some time-lines, re-plot from events in other books, but Lord Almighty I almost cried when I realized there were lots of red slippers that I could use in very convoluted, evil author ways. Ways that made the story stronger and far more powerful. Ways that linked the two trilogies together, and brought the characters together in ways that kinda left my mouth hanging open.

Of course, part of the problem, as Dennis pointed out in the foreword of his book Red Slippers, is that once you pick up one red slipper, more just seem to fall out on the page. Some of them are now deliberate on my part. Others, not so much. Regardless, whether their stories get told or not, the reader must discover for themselves. By reading all our books [insert evil author grin here].

This is one of the strongest joys of writing - the ‘AH!’ moments that catch an author by surprise. Usually there is no one around when I make these discoveries in my writing room, or in the shower, or driving to work. But the pure pleasure of these moments keeps me writing.

Which is to my benefit, and hopefully, to yours.

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Elizabeth A. Vaughan is the USA Today bestselling author of the Warlands Chronicles series. She loves fantasy and romance novels, and has played Dungeons and Dragons since 1981, both table-top and the online game. Her most recent book, WarDance, comes out on April 11. You can learn more about her books at
Sunday, April 9, 2017

"The Book of Kings: Mister Max Book 3" by Cynthia Voigt (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Mister Max Book 1 Here
Visit Cynthia Voigt's Website Here

OVERVIEW: Ever since Max’s parents were spirited away on a mysterious ship, he has longed to find them.

He’s solved case after case for other people in his business as “solutioneer.” And he’s puzzled out the coded messages sent by his father. He doesn’t know exactly what’s happened, but he knows his parents are in danger—and it’s up to Max to save them.

Max and his friends (and a few old foes) don disguises and set sail on a rescue mission. It will take all of Max’s cleverness and daring to outmaneuver the villains that lie in wait: power-hungry aristocrats, snake-handling assassins, and bombardier pastry chefs.

And behind the scenes, a master solutioneer is pulling all the strings.... Has Max finally met his match?

FORMAT: The Book of Kings is the third and final book in the Mister Max series. It is a children's mystery, historical fiction, adventure novel. It stands at 352 pages was published September 8, 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

ANALYSIS: After two entire books of Max trying to uncover the mystery of why his parents disappeared, readers finally get the answers they were hoping for in The Book of Kings – the third and final chapter of the Mister Max series. The question is does it come to a satisfying conclusion?

Answering that question is rather difficult for me. There are certain elements I enjoyed about the Mister Max series and there were certain things that fell flat. Unfortunately, the elements that I didn't care for seemed to outweigh the good parts.

In this third installment, Max and his 'crew' head out Andesia which is a completely new setting with new characters. The problem I had was everything felt so rushed. The entire series revolved around the disappearance of Max's parents and they didn't even go to the place where the parents were to solve the mystery until a good quarter of the way through the final book.

With the change of setting, there are a lot of things that are different. There is a new political system, new geographical setting, new customs, and new characters. This might have been great had the entire book been dedicated to Andesia or if some of this information had been present in previous books, but it wasn't. That left me with a feeling that too much time was being spent on this new setting and not enough time really exploring what readers had been waiting for – solving the mystery of where and why Max's parents disappeared.

Another issue I had with The Book of Kings was the character development. Max seemed to grow and mature throughout the series, but the other characters did stuff that was completely out of character for them. For example, there was a romance angle that happened between Max's grandma and his painting instructor. It literally came out of nowhere. This might have been okay but space was at a premium in this book so starting a random and unnecessary romance just seemed a waste of valuable space.

Pia, a favorite character, seemed to be MIA most of the book. Even her 'ending' seemed to be shoved into the novel as an afterthought.

Another example is Max's parents. They felt extremely underdeveloped, not really thought out, and their entire attitude just seemed off. Their son risked a lot and did a lot to get them back and it seemed like the entire attitude was "oh well. Thanks I guess". I would have liked to see a bit more of a relationship between Max and his parents.

The last issue I had was with suspending disbelief. Everything from the belief that this 12 year old boy could wander around and make a living on his own solving rather juvenile problems to the entire reason why Max's parents were kidnapped just was too much for me to take. I couldn't suspend my disbelief. I tried, but it didn't work. I couldn't get passed the idea that all these adults just shrugged their shoulders and were ok with everything Max did (quitting school, living on his own with a random roommate, starting a business).

A disappointing aspect of the book was the lack of development revolving around Max's mysterious eyes. I also really hoped something would come of the whole "having weird color eyes". Every time Max was mentioned, people mentioned his eyes. I thought there would be some hidden meaning behind it but it didn't pan out. It was a bit disappointing.

I was also disappointed in the reason why Max's parents disappeared. It didn't make a lot of sense and was rather confusing. It turned into this whole moral, human rights issue almost and helping the area switch political control. It just seemed as if it was put in there to send a message and less because it made sense with the plot or story line.

Even with the issues, I do have to say that Cynthia Voigt's writing is absolutely beautiful. It really had a very nice flow to it and she is extremely talented. I feel if either the entire trip to Andesia had been left out or if she had devoted the whole book to it things would have turned out better.

Is The Book of Kings a bad book? I don't think it is. I think there is a very specific reader who would love this series. I also think that younger readers may not be as critical of the book and would be able to enjoy it. I don't regret reading the series, but I do wish I had been able to walk away from the series feeling more closure and satisfaction than I did.

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