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Saturday, May 27, 2017

NEWS: The Revanche Cycle Omnibus Sale & A Dragon Of A Different Color cover reveal

Official Author Website
Order The Complete Revanche Cycle (omnibus) HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
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 review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Harmony Black Series Interview with Craig Schaefer

The Revanche Cycle is one of my all-time favorite series, it is a series primarily focused on revenge. Some characters are trying to enact it, while others are trying to escape it. Featuring a solid cast of female characters, a strong political undercurrent & a slow build-up to the world's history & magic system. This series is one that I recommend to as many folks as I can.

Previously I had reviewed the first two books in the series and also managed to interview the author to get his viewpoint. This is what Craig said about his creation:

 “The Revanche Cycle is a sweeping epic fantasy with multiple viewpoint characters, set in a fantasy world vaguely reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. It's about a lot of things. It's about conspiracies, political intrigue, and poison. It's about the relationship between church and state, and how religion is used (and abused) to shape policy. It's about faith, and culture, and overcoming the obstacles society throws in your path. It's a story about women.”

Intrigued? Here’s the omnibus blurb to get your appetites whetted completely:

Control the papacy, rule the world.

As Pope Benignus withers on his deathbed, conspiracies swirl across the empire. Bounty hunters and assassins flock to the frozen north, searching a city of thieves for an exiled politician while a storm of war and witchcraft brews on the horizon. As gambits play out, contenders die and the dominoes fall, a rare few will determine the course of history.

Livia Serafini. Pious. Zealous. Driven. With her sights set upon her father's throne, Livia refuses to be a pawn of the conspirators that surround her. She'll risk it all to rise above the tempest and lead her people to peace. Her pure-hearted ambitions may cost more than she knows: her reputation, her life, even her very soul.

Mari Renault. Honorable. Brutal. Lost. A war orphan from a land under a conqueror's yoke, Mari is haunted by the horrors of her past and an impossible dream of knighthood. When she finds her dark savior, she'll learn how dreams can come true...and how a ragged refugee girl can become a champion of the night.

The Owl. Brilliant. Ruthless. Sadistic. The witch and her disciples, on a mission of vengeance, are lured into the battle for control of the papacy. Despite all of her well-laid plans, the Owl soon finds herself walking a strange and twisted road. One that pits her against the most deadly foe of all -- her own coven -- and rekindles passion in her ice-sheathed heart.

Renata Nicci. Honest. Devoted. Daring. She's just a dockside tavern barmaid. That's what everyone tells her. That's all anyone ever expected her to be. But when her lover Felix is swept into a battle between banking families and the machinations of a criminal kingpin, she'll take up a blade and cross a war-ravaged land to save him.

Four women, four lives on a collision course. When the dust settles, their world will never be the same...if anyone is still alive to see it.

With the launch of the omnibus edition yesterday, the omnibus will normally be priced at $9.99, however for this holiday weekend, it’s priced at $0.99 only.

Now that’s simply a steal, you get four terrific books and a complete series read at an impossibly low price. So go ahead and buy this omnibus edition folks, trust me you won’t regret it.


Official Author Website  
Pre-order “A Dragon Of  A Different ColorHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "One Good Dragon Deserves Another"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read "Why A Nice Dragon" by Rachel Aaron (Guest post)

Rachel Aaron's Heartstrikers series is another self-published series that has become a staple favorite of mine. Since reading Rachel's debut book I've been a fan of her writing style and her imaginative plots. Since the series debuted in 2014 with Nice Dragons Finish Last. After last year's No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, many readers (similar to me) were left stunned with all the plot twists in the end of the book. So as Rachel mentioned in her interview with us:

"The next book will most definitely be all about the fallout from this one while also creating fallout of its own. We’re in the meta level climax now, and things are rolling. Algonquin’s on the war path, the world’s being shaken in all directions, the Chinese dragons are coming to deal with Bethesda’s mess, and it’s going to be great! You thought things were bad before? I have not yet begun to bring down the hammer!"

So yesterday it was really amazing to see the fantastic cover art (see above). It's done by series regular Anna  Steinbauer and features both Julius & Marci. On a side note, this is the first time, that characters are making a repeat cover appearance (Julius with NDFL & Marci with OGDDA). We also have a blurb to go along with it as well:

To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.

Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who's always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.

The book is all set for pre-orders on Amazon so get your orders in folks. As for me, I'll be begging pleading with the lovely author for an ARC. So lookout for the review closer to the release date (July 28, 2017).

Friday, May 26, 2017

Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Where Loyalties Lie over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Everybody knows Drake Morrass is only out for himself.

As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and claim a crown for himself. If he is to succeed he will need allies and the Oracle named Keelin Stillwater, the best swordsman in the isles, as Drake's right hand. With enemy ships sailing his waters and setting fire to his cities, and the sinister Tanner Black threatening to steal the throne before Drake has even sat in it, Drake must somehow convince the other Captains that his best interests are also theirs.

Author Rob J. Hayes, after his successful completion of his award-winning grimdark trilogy, The Ties That Bind, now continues the saga of First Earth.

FORMAT/INFO: Where Loyalties Lie is divided into four parts which are spread out over fifty-seven ship titled chapters with a titled prologue and an epilogue. The narration is in third person omniscient via Drake Morass, Keelin Stillwater, Elaina Black, T’ruck Khan, Damien Poole, first mate Princess & Arbiter Beck. This book is the first volume of the Best Laid Plans duology and can be read as a starting point to the First Earth saga.

May 26 2017 marks the US and UK e-book publication of Where Loyalties Lie and is being self-published by the author. Cover art is by Alex Raspad & cover design is provided by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: Focusing on a wide character cast of pirates and epic sea battles, Where Loyalties Lie is the grimdark version of Pirates Of The Carribbean if imagined by Joe Abercrombie.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Rob J. Hayes is an author who appeared on to my radar when I read his debut The Heresy Within a little over 4 years ago. Since then after reading & thoroughly savoring the rest of his debut trilogy, I was simply convinced of his ample talent and the mysteries that were abundantly present in the First Earth world. This new duology has been delayed for over a year and the author has talked about the reasons over here on his blog. He even has provided a timeline of events and thankfully the author was able to get back the rights to these books and here we are with the first book. Before I start my review, for full disclosure I was an alpha/beta reader for this book and its sequel.

The book begins with a pirate town burning and Drake Morass’s pirate crew watching it along with their captain. Pretty soon the news spread and the pirates are wary of being hunted, among one such pirate captain is Keelin Stillwater. A person with a secret past who is hunting for a specific thing, Keelin is one of the rare pirates that chooses to avoid bloodshed whenever possible. He’s the exception among the seas where brutality & betrayal seems the norm. Both these pirate captains are gunning for something and they will have to strive to overcome their mutual distrust for their survival. We also meet Elaina Black, daughter of feared pirate Tanner Black and a dangerous person on her own. Elaina is running for her own deal however has to be careful of fraternal jealousy. Following up on the POV list we have a few other characters such as Arbiter Beck, Captain T’ruck Khan, Princess (who’s a guy) and a few others. They don’t get the same amount of page time but they are very, very interesting none the less.

The main focus of the story is one of ambition, betrayals and plotting. All of this occurs via the characters and namely Drake Morass is situated in front and center of this story, Drake was a minor but important character in the previous trilogy and his background actions fueled a lot of the plot twists. This duology though stands separate from the events of the previous trilogy and while it shares a few characters from the previous work (who made minor cameos in the books). New readers can easily pick up these books and will be snared up in the events. Drake again is in the thick of things and we begin the book with him and we end with him as well.

The characters are what make this story come alive in a very visceral way, beginning with our two main POV pirate captains Drake Morass and Keelin Seawater. Who couldn’t be more different than each other, Drake is calculating at all times but can be bloodthirsty, enigmatic and certainly the most feared person on sea. Keelin on the other hand is driven by his past and will do almost anything except irrationally murder folks. These two characters are what fuel the narrative as we find out what reasons might force them to work together. Let’s be clear Drake is the biggest enigma of this series and possibly one of the biggest in this world wherein most things are unknown or hidden. Drake’s exploits while being legendary are also grim. They make him out to be a monster but a good-looking and charming one at that. In this book we get to see all of his personas. The cruelty, the tall tales (that sound implausible but hold more than a ring of truth), the vicarious nature of his plots which almost always pan out as he planned and his daredevilry at accomplishing his lofty goals (some of which are laid bare within this duology). He’s the main engine for the plot of this book and manages to be a scene-stealer all the way. On one level while the readers will be horrified by his actions, on a pure character note, he is impossible to ignore.

Keelin Stillwater has a lot to live up to and the readers will get to read all about his past as well as the internal struggle he fights. Keelin has previously appeared in a small bit in The Price Of Faith but unless one is eagle-eyed you will most likely not picked up on it. Keelin is a good mirror to Drake and it’s fun to compare them both. The biggest surprise is Elaina Black who along with Arbiter Beck and T’ruck Khan are the dark horses of this story. They start out as small characters but by their actions at the end of the book become core characters. The author has even written a short story focusing on Beck and Elaina Black which acts as a prequel (to this duology) and a nice introduction to the pirates. Every character introduced is someone that’s fully fleshed and you want to read more about them. I think that’s the hallmark of a good writer and Rob J. Hayes is certainly fulfilling that mark.

Another thing about this story is because it focuses on pirates, it also shines a light on characters that don’t always show the best aspects of humanity. This story is filled with violence, betrayals and visceral surprises. About the first aspect, truly no one is safe in this story and the violence is quite interspersed within the story and we get various scenes that will horrify readers but make sense within the confines of the story. However I must warn readers that there’s one scene involving Tanner Black and Elaina Black which will shock you beyond anything. It’s a very disturbing scene and one that’s present to showcase the terror and disgust. Tanner Black makes Tywin Lannister seem like a doting parent & that’s saying something. The action sequences are almost always over water or feature some terrific scenes of ship boarding. In the previous trilogy, the action was more on a personal level however with this book, Rob J. Hayes certainly exalts things to a grand level. The best action scenes are ones featuring T’ruck Khan and I believe he’s a character that will be imprinted a lot on readers’ minds.

The pace of the story and the plot twists will keep the readers hooked and engaged throughout. One of the things that surprised me about this book was the love story within it. To be fair there’s two love stories going on (neither of them in the classical way) but if you really want to get down to brass tacks, they can be called as such. Let me be clear, the romance isn’t the focus of the story in the least. As a reader I just happened to notice it and found it funny to compare both those threads. The book ends on a solid note and because this is a duology, we can expect the next book (The Fifth Empire Of Man) to end things in a brutal manner as all the plots come to a head.

Lastly what I also loved about this book, was the action and the epic battles. This book is possibly one of the best nautical fantasy ones that I’ve ever read. The only other titles that I can think which come close are Paul Kearney’s Sea Beggars series and his Monarchies Of God series (which featured quite a lot of sea action as well). There’s also the Red Skies Over Red Seas by Scott Lynch but this book obliterates them all by being almost entirely set on water (or surrounded by it) for about 95% of the time. Sure there are events which take on land but these are mostly tiny islands which are out in the open seas. The next best thing about the book is the world that’s featured in the books. I loved the First Earth world introduced in The Ties That Bind trilogy but with this duology, the author showcases a very, very different aspect with the Pirates and the seas. He even manages to give us a look in to the magical side of things with the sea goddess Rin & the Drurr. The First Earth world is a complex one and it’s very much evident from this book that how much time the author has invested in crafting it. Eagle-eyed readers will even catch references to events happening around in the wilds and to the author’s short story “Pre-Emptive Revenge featured in the GrimDark Magazine.

Drawbacks to me were next to none as this is the first volume and I felt that this book can serve as an excellent starting point to Rob J. Hayes’ violent & exciting First Earth saga. I must point out that this book is quite grim (but not bleak) and very, very violent. There’s one really graphic sexual violent scene that’s sure to raise hackles for some but it’s not there to titillate and makes sense from a story & character point of view. Overall I feel that this book is one that explores pirates quite unlike any other fantasy books I’ve read so far in the genre.

CONCLUSION: Rob J. Hayes recently mentioned how long it took for him to release this book for no fault of his. As a friend, I can very well vouch for his frustration at that. However as an unbiased reader, I have to say this is the first time when anybody has so successfully merged two different sub-genres of fantasy to give us a story that’s very, very good. Where Loyalties Lie is the perfect fusion of Grimdark and epic nautical fantasy that you never thought possible. Check this book out as I've a feeling that it will be one that readers will be talking about a lot more in the months to come.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

GUEST REVIEW: Godblind by Anna Stephens (Reviewed by Michael Everest)

Official Author Website
Pre-order Godblind HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)
Read Michael's interview with Anna Stephens

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anna Stephens works in corporate communications for an international law firm by day and writes by night, normally into the small hours, much to her husbands dismay. Anna loves all things speculative, from books to film to TV, but if you disagree keep it to yourself as she's a second Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: There was a time when the Red Gods ruled the land. The Dark Lady and her horde dealt in death and blood and fire.

That time has long since passed, and the neighbouring kingdoms of Mireces and Rilpor hold an uneasy truce. The only blood spilled is confined to the border, where vigilantes known as Wolves protect their kin and territory at any cost.

But after the death of his wife, King Rastoth is plagued by grief, leaving the kingdom of Rilpor vulnerable. Vulnerable to the bloodthirsty greed of the Warrior-King Liris and the Mireces army waiting in the mountains....

Godblind is an incredible debut from a dazzling new voice of the genre.

ANALYSIS: Godblind is the exciting debut by Anna Stephens and here’s why I think it's a debut that marks itself out amidst grimdark fantasy.

THE GOOD: Gods meddling in mortal affairs, royal court-conspiracies, brimming with betrayals, battles and bloodlust, told via a distinct and diverse range of PoV characters.

THE BAD: The 2017 debuts are making me think this year – it’s tricky to pick anything ‘bad’ about them. If I had to say one thing, it’d be that if you prefer an ‘easy, light and bright read’ this isn’t for you. The multiple PoV approach can be a bit jarring at first, the plot at times complex, is grim, dark… to coin a phrase, grimdark? (I kid).

THE UGLY TRUTH: Godblind doesn’t pull its punches – it comes out swinging with a gut-buster of an opener, keeps on swinging, and after that KO of an ending, I feel like I’ve gone 12 rounds with a grimdark heavyweight, not a debut tyro. I hurt, I’m tired, I’m scared, I want a hug – but I want more!

This is not a story for the faint of heart. It’s grim, dark…and bloody.

I want to make that clear from the very beginning – which Godblind does in its very first chapter. And it only gets better from there! From treason to torture, sacrifice to sacrilege, bloodlust to a bat-shit crazy fanatic with a hammer and nails…this has everything you would want out of a grimdark book. And more.

Nor is it a story for fans of simple, straightforward, ‘a to b’ quest fantasy.

Plot twists aplenty, scheming and machinations to make the current real-world political landscape seem like a playground – but somehow, Goblind brings itself to life. The story and the world is real, oh so very real.

There are multiple POVs, some which you will enjoy more than others – and yes, there are a lot of POVs (think GRRM and John Gwynne), and that might even put some readers off, but they are done brilliantly, not just in terms of characterisation but also as a means to a page-burning pace. Not only that, but key with a story of betrayal, each POV brings a different perspective to the proceedings. As the saying goes: "one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter."

And on that note, of ‘man’, I’d like to highlight something here. Yes, this is a fantasy world in which there are elements of sexism, and yes, there is a rape plot-point of sorts (and we all know what kind of controversy this can stir up, especially on the interwebz). But they’re incredibly well-executed in terms of writing style and delivery. Not only that, because of their presence they define elements of the story and its characters.

On the note of the POVs and the characters, I would like to commend Anna Stephens for her strong female characters, both supporting and main. Yes, it’s easy to flame almost any author for treating a character (any character, be it a minority or otherwise) with prejudice or write with one of the many ‘isms’ (pick your poison), but at least for me, Anna strikes a bold balance in having characters (both male and female) who are heroes/heroines, and damsels/dudes in distress (I wanted to say dudettes, but let’s stick with damsels).

But this is a story for those that want something different – something new, something special. Something that will excite you and keep you coming back for more.

If I had to compare it to anything else, yes, as the publisher recommends, I’d agree with Abercrombie, Lynch and Lawrence. But you know what? I’d actually pitch it as the bastard whelp of John Gwynne’s ‘Faith and the Fallen’ series, and Brian Staveley’s ‘Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne’, if said spawn was then raised by GRRM and Kameron Hurley.

CONCLUSION: Every once in a while a book comes along that takes everything you have come to know and like, and doesn’t just raise the bar, it takes a step to the side and puts up its own bar. Sure, in a way it’s still everything you know and like, but for other reasons, you actually don’t know it, and you love it for it. Why? Because it’s going in a different direction, despite starting with similar ingredients.

Anna StephensGodblind is that book, and I cannot wait to see where she takes us – not just for the destination, but for the journey, too. In her own words: ‘My feet are on the path.


GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Michael Everest is a Threat Intelligence Operator and Crisis Management Consultant; yes those are real jobs, but no they don’t come with an Aston Martin and a shaken-not-stirred martini as standard. His day-to-day is a mix of natural disasters, geo-political instability, war and terrorism, crime, corporate espionage, and most recently cyber warfare – and that’s just the home life, complete with a fiery redheaded fiancĂ© and two young children who went to the dark side for the cookies.

His job entails stopping all of the above events, not committing them, though we all have our bad days. When he isn't working you can find him on Twitter @MichaelWEverest or raving about books and writing over at
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

NEWS: The Fight For Phoenix Project by Mark Dawson

Official Author Website

Sometimes you have to take the time and applaud folks for the good that they do. Mark  J. Dawson is an indie author who’s very well-known amidst the self-published thriller writing circles for his action-packed books focusing on John Milton. His series success and acclaim have been amply covered in this famous, viral Forbes article  (Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer) as well as this one over at the Telegraph (Meet Mark Dawson, the literary sensation you've never heard of).

With bestsellers titles across all of his three series, he’s become an indie success on par with Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, Michael J Sullivan, and many others but several in the SFF field have barely heard of him. The reason why I’m writing this is to showcase the special effort Mark is undertaking to help provide much-needed cancer treatment to a mother facing a deadly condition.

I’ll let you read it in Mark’s own words as he describes the genesis of his project “Fight For Phoenix”:

"Emma Johns is the wife of my son's godfather and has been battling with breast cancer for several years. In the middle of her gruelling treatment she found out that she was pregnant (the chemotherapy was supposed to make her infertile but, to her surprise, it didn’t)."

"And then, in December, she gave birth to her own little miracle: baby Phoenix. Emma's condition is worsening but there is hope: a trial immunotherapy drug called Pembrolizumab has shown amazing results for women with incurable triple negative breast cancer (like her). But, due to her pregnancy, Emma missed out on being eligible for the only trial available for this drug. Her best option now is to pay for it privately for the eye-watering sum of £40,000. She has been fundraising to find the £40,000 that she needs for a year's treatment (at least)."

"I want to help. I paused work on my current project (THE ALAMO) and revisited a favourite character. Not many people know this, but Beatrix Rose was inspired by Emma's courage in the face of her cancer, and it seemed right that I wrote a new short story featuring her."

"But not just her. I'm bringing someone else to the party."

"PHOENIX is a short novella that is a good starting point if you have never read any of my books. It's set just before GHOSTS (John Milton book #4 wherein Beatrix made her first appearance) and the Beatrix Rose trilogy (IN COLD BLOOD, BLOOD MOON RISING, & BLOOD AND ROSES). You don't need to have read any of those books to enjoy this novella and there are no spoilers. John Milton and a few other familiar faces will also be appearing in this 16,000 word novella."

"The finished product is available for you to buy today. Every last cent and penny that I receive for this novella will be donated to this amazing mother's campaign."

"You can buy a copy of PHOENIX, and help make Emma's life a little easier from these links":

Amazon (USA)

Amazon (UK)



Barnes and Noble

Google Play

There’s also the official website for the FIGHT FOR PHOENIX campaign where you can find details about Emma’s personal story as well see pictures of baby Phoenix. There’s also a Go Fund Me page for helping Emma Johns wherein you can contribute the amount you wish. Keep in mind that cancer treatment is an uphill battle and one can never predict what extra ailments will appear or what other treatments might be needed. So the money you donate will always be helpful to Emma and her family.

Mark Dawson is doing a remarkable thing by donating all of the money he receives from this novella for Emma's treatment. I’ve bought my copy of PHOENIX and I hope many of our readers will consider doing the same. So please help out either by buying a copy from any of the links given above or you can directly donate to Emma Johns via her GoFundMe campaign page.

NOTE: Mark Dawson picture courtesy of Eleanor Lawrie & All other pictures courtesy of Emma Johns & Mark Dawson.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

SPFBO 2017: An Introduction & What Comes Next (by Mihir Wanchoo)

SPFBO 2016 was an absolute hoot for me. After the prime edition, all of us bloggers were wondering how the sequel would turn out to be. Turns out that my fears were just silly, SPFBO 2016 was a rank & file improvement in the books, book covers and basically made our love for this contest grow stronger.

So here we are after that exciting finish in which The Grey Bastards won the Selfie Stick award in a blazing manner & juggernauted its way into most of the readers hearts as well as got a snazzy traditional publishing contract as well. Now this was an entirely unexpected twist and something that no one expected. I don’t want authors to enter with the expectation that you *will* get a traditional publishing contract if you win.

No! That might not be the case but what you will get is lots of love, a healthy amount of reviews and targeted attention from an audience of readers who are always on the lookout to discover the next best thing a la Senlin Ascends or The Grey Bastards or our favorite Paternus.

Moving on, Mark Lawrence has our eternal gratitude for his unflagging zeal for running this contest and being so approachable. All ten bloggers have their lots allotted to them and these are the 30 titles from which our finalist will arise:

- The Arbiter by M.M. Perry

- Miss Landon and Aubranael by Charlotte E. English

- Forgotten Relics by Tiffany Cherney

- The Slave From The East by Victor Poole

- The Heartstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta

- The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale by Danielle E Shipley

- The Woven Ring by M. D. Presley

- Shadows for a Princess by Dominique Kristine

- Warcaster by J.C. Staudt

- The Defenders' Apprentice by Amelia Smith

- The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson

- Thunder Hunter by Rachel Medhurst

- The Lion Mistress by R.A. Steffan

- Gods of Color by C.H. Baum

- Nefertiti's Heart by A.W. Exley

- Andy McBean and the War of the Worlds by Dale Kutzera

- The Songweaver's Vow by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

- The Burglar of Sliceharbour by Jason A Holt

- Haven of Shadows by Ken Lozito

- Absence of Color by S.K. Wee

- The Half Killed by Quenby Olson

- Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick

- The Hiss of the Blade by Richard Writhen

- The Rift by J.T. Stoll

- The General's Legacy by Adrian G Hilder

- Dybsy by A.M. Macdonald

- The Waterfall Traveler by S.J. Lem

- Wrath of the Exiled by Dhesan Neil Pillay

- Night of the Chalk by Samuel Gately 

- Into Exile by Derek Siddoway

This year though, Fantasy Book Critic is doing things a tad differently after learning from my past two experiences. My co-editor Cindy is joining me in this contest which means that authors you will have a lesser wait time. Cindy and me will be combing through our lot and reading the first five chapters or the first 50 pages (whichever is longer). We will then be selecting about 6-7 titles that we think are the strongest of the lot in terms of story/plot, characterization & writing style. These will become our semi-finalists. We will try to post our thoughts on each book but that might not always be possible. We will ideally go through batches of five books and announce one semi-finalist each time. However that might not always be possible as we might not like any book in that batch of five.

The aim is to select 6-7 best titles and so at the end of six rounds, we will announce all the semi-finalists (if we haven't selected any so far). All of these 6-7 titles will be getting mini-reviews and we will be offering each author an interview to go along with the review (similar to what I did the last time). Authors please understand the main reason why we are not able to offer reviews to all of our 30 books as FBC is a passion project outside of our professional and personal lives. We strive to make sure that our reviews truly reflect how we feel about the books that we read and enjoy. Authors please don’t feel slighted if your book isn’t selected. It doesn’t mean that it was a crappy book but simply that it didn’t match our tastes and hence it wasn’t put forward. The books that we love might not always be the ones that you like and vice versa. Keep in mind that we will do our best to select the book that we feel is the best of our lot (irrespective of the sub-genre it inhabits within fantasy)

From the last couple of times, I’ve also learnt that we aren’t the quickest in terms of finishing through our lot so authors please feel to email us at fantasybookcriticblog@gmail .com or message us on Facebook or Twitter asking for updates or any other queries. I promise we are very friendly and will do our best to reply back promptly. If you just want to say hello or have other ideas, we welcome them :)

So let the contest begin and we can’t wait to find out the gems in our lot.

NOTE: SPFBO Towers banner thanks to Sally over at the Qwillery.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Given to the Sea: Given Duet Book 1" by Mindy McGinnis (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Mindy McGinnis' Website Here

OVERVIEW: Everyone has a place.

Khosa was born to be fed to the sea, to prevent the kind of wave that once destroyed the Kingdom of Stille. She can’t be sacrificed until she produces an heir, but human touch repulses her…except for the touch of the Indiri.

Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race with magic that’s seductive—a force of nature—but dwindling since the Pietra slaughtered their people.

Witt leads the Pietra, the fierce warriors who are now marching on the Kingdom of Stille. The stone shores of Witt’s kingdom harbor a secret threat, and to ensure the survival of his people, he’s prepared to conquer every speck of Stille’s soil.

Vincent stands to inherit the throne of Stille, but has no wife to share it with. When the beautiful and mysterious Khosa arrives without an heir, Vincent knows that his father will stop at nothing to make sure she fulfills her duty. Torn between protecting his kingdom and protecting the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is soon at odds with his heart.

While royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the Indiri struggle to survive, the rising sea calls for its Given, and Khosa is destined to answer

FORMAT: Given to the Sea is the first book in the Given Duet. It is a YA fantasy told from 4 different POVs. It stands at 352 pages and  was published April 11, 2017 by Putnam's Children's.

ANALYSIS: When reading the summary for Given to the Sea, it is clear that this novel has a lot of potential. On the surface, it has all the elements people look for in a good, solid YA fantasy – an evil lurking around, a few people who are the last of an ancient civilization, and a royal who isn't super thrilled to be inheriting the throne. Unfortunately, Given to the Sea is one of those novels where looks (and summary) can be deceiving.

First and foremost, Given to the Sea is essentially a novel about a young girl who has been raised from birth to be a sacrifice to the sea. Before she can be sacrificed to the sea – the novel calls it 'dancing' but it is essentially an unwilling human sacrifice that uses a brainwashed child – she has to give birth to a baby girl so THAT baby girl can be sacrificed when she is older. It doesn't matter who fathers this baby girl, it doesn't matter if she is raped/forced/enslaved/held at knife point or if she does so willingly. Why is this important? I will explain.

The entire novel, and I mean the entire novel, focuses on this individuals need to breed. Entire conversations surround whether or not the girl has had sex, why she won't breed, who she could possibly breed with, and how time is running out and she should either breed now or be forced (yes raped) so she can do her duty to the country.

People are so focused on this girl's need to breed and lack of breeding skills that even people who shouldn't be worried about her not having a child are worried and obsessively thinking about it. For example, if the girl is walking around and a stranger came up to her, the first thing they would say would be "Are you pregnant?".

I understand this is far from the first book to have a plot element where women are objects used for breeding purposes. However, most books have a plot element surrounding it that makes this understandable. Given to the Sea came across as having a huge obsession with this breeding concept and pushed any chance of a real, solid plot to the background.

When the novel wasn't focused on Khosa's need to breed, it talked a lot about sex. There were comments thrown in about sexual encounters, how big some of the male genitalia was (or in some cases magical), how fertile some men were and getting girls pregnant right and left, and how women were pregnant and/or 'going their' job.

Every time there was some remote chance the book might be on track to create a plot or start to pick up to the point it might be good, the writing would draw back to sex, breeding, pregnant women, and other topics of that matter. It was a bit frustrating.

I do think it needs to be pointed out that a good portion of this novel tried to justify rape. There is a point in the novel where the girl didn't want to 'have relations' with anyone. The king puts out a bounty on her head and offers to reward whatever man gets her pregnant 'by any means'. In fact, he even tells them to rape her. If that wasn't enough, he then encourages his son to do so or to allow someone else to do it.

Apart from the main focus on breeding and sex, there were other elements that contributed to this novel's disappointing outcome. First, was the very confusing nature of the narrative. The novel is written using 4 different POV. Two of the POVs are told in first person and two are told in third person. There isn't really an explanation for this and it made for a clunky, unsmooth read as things jumped rapidly from person to person.

Four POVs are hard to develop and really maintain. The chapters were extremely short which prevented readers from connecting with the characters and it just felt like the novel jumped around too much to really gain momentum and become a good novel.

I will say that one of the POVs, Witt, seemed completely unnecessary. Witt's chapters are put into the novel to show an oncoming battle/takeover from another country. However, the novel focused mostly on breeding/sea sacrifices so these marching army scenes seemed rather random. I would have preferred these chapters taken out and more focus given to developing other characters.

In addition to the four POV, there was this huge romantic mishmash going on. It wasn't a love triangle, it was more of a love blob of sorts. I have put up a semi-drawn (poorly drawn) chart to show some of the romances going on and how it just kept growing and growing and growing.

A brief look at the chart includes the following:

  • Khosa had some feeling for an old friend from her hometown, but she quickly started to fall in love with Vincent but she also felt strongly for Donil
  • Donil has feelings for Khosa but doesn't know if its ok to express it. So he spends his time bedding a random maid (and other girls) and flirting with any girl he can see.
  • Dara is Donil's sister. She has feelings for Vincent, but she thinks Vincent doesn't like her. She won't act on them in case there is 1 remaining male (besides her brother) from her race. She is also upset that Donil might have feelings for Khosa
  • Vincent has feelings for both Khosa and Dara, but he is afraid that won't be good enough. So he takes his sexual urges out on a random girl in the village who he likes a lot. But that girl goes off and marries someone else.

From the chart, you can see it was just a mess. If someone developed feelings for someone else, they also developed them for another characters and then another one on top of that. It was so messy and lacked a clear direction.

Other aspects of the novel that seemed off included the world building, the background of the country, and the writing. The writing came off as very clunky and just unorganized. A particular quote that stuck out to me (and I feel represents the overall tone of the novel) is as follows –

"I smack the table, tears rising to my ears" p. 206 
(A scene where the character is extremely upset and frustrated)

I have tried many times to justify this line. Maybe the character threw her head down and was crying? But then how did the tears move up instead of down? The only thing I could eventually come up with is she had weeping ears.

Upon completing Given to the Sea, it is clear that this book could have been great. It had a different concept to it in some aspects and it had so much potential. Unfortunately, due to clunky world building, a confusing narrative, a focus on anything but the plot, and the love hexagon/square/whatever shape thingy made this book a huge disappointment.
Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guest Post: Black and White or Gray in Space? By. C.T. Phipps

"Breathe. Just breathe. Now reach out. What do you see?"

"Light. Darkness. A balance."

"It's so much bigger."

-Luke and Rey, The Last Jedi trailer

I remember when I first came up with the idea of Lucifer's Star, it was not that long after watching The Force Awakens. I really enjoyed that movie but I found myself in the awkward position of not really liking where it was taking the story. My tastes had changed in the thirty years since I first watched Star Wars as a six-year-old boy on my VHS player.

Back when I was a youngling, I had no difficulty accepting the basic premise of the story of Light, Dark, Rebels, and Imperials. It wasn't until I was an adult I had the slight issue of wondering just what the Imperial pilots had done to deserve Han blowing them out of the sky or whether the Ewoks ate the captured Stormtroopers after the Battle of Endor. Ironically, it was the redemption of Darth Vader which caused me to think about the fact every one of those Space Fascists had a family.

Lucifer's Star was written due to an idea I had percolating in my mind that things might not be so black and white even in a space opera setting. While in The Force Awakens, the First Order appears to be every bit as bad as the Galactic Empire if not worse, I really wanted to investigate the dynamics of what made someone want to sign up with organizations like both. How did they view themselves? Why were they convinced they were the good guys?

"All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed - casualties of a war they had nothing to do with."
 - Randall Graves, on the Second Death Star

One thing I've noticed with a lot of science fiction and fantasy is they tend to want to divide up the galaxy between the good and the evil. Whether it's the Federation versus the Klingons, Babylon Five versus its war-mongering neighbors, or Humans vs. Bugs--it's a genre which thrives for clear antagonists and a lack of moral ambiguity. There's certainly exceptions (even in the above examples) but there's a real sense of celebrating conflict with amazing machines and plucky heroism.

The first scene in my book was one I had crystal clear in my mind. I wanted to have a big huge epic space battle between a stereotypical "evil" space power with elitist nobles and scary named ships versus a bunch of freedom-named good guy seeming types. Then I wanted the protagonist to be one of the "bad" guys, have his reasons explained, and then I wanted the good guys to slaughter them like animals. Then I wanted to cut five years later and see how the war's aftermath was affecting the survivors on both sides.

Really, I've seen many plucky heroes who absolutely refuse to give up and refuse to surrender across my years of reading genre literature. This is almost always treated as a good thing but it occurred to me it's the same sort of attitude which results in generations of violence. For my protagonist, Cassius Mass, I wanted a guy who was trying to move on from the war and his cause because continuing to fight would only get more people killed for no gain. No one ever wants to think ending on a loss is the right thing but someone has to. That, at some point, the cost is worth more than the reward.

"Only the Sith believe in absolutes!"

-An absolute spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi

I also had a good bit of fun playing around with the concepts of how conflicts like the kind in my favorite space operas would be seen by both sides. Would the plucky resistance be a bunch of people like Leia, Han, and Luke or would there be more people out for pure vengeance? Would there be people who really are blinded by the empire's propaganda and trying to just do the best job they could? Star Wars was created in the turmoil of the Vietnam War, its prequels during the War on Terror, and its present series in the aftermath of such. My writing is certainly affected by how muddled allegiances can be.

Lucifer's Star was written with the concept of a character who begins as an idealistic soldier who just so happens to be working for the Archduchy of Crius, a government which could not be more stereotypically evil seeming to outsiders. A bunch of space feudalists and militarists living in a constant state of expansionism until they meet another state which conquers ones like theirs so they can give "freedom" and "democracy" to them (for a price).

In the end, the war costs Cassius Mass everything and he's left trying to pick up the pieces. Something he can only do if he abandons his need for revenge as well as pride--two things most heroes in space opera have an abundance of. It's not a quest he will completely succeed in. His is the journey of the Anti-Han Solo, the man who believes in something before deciding it's better to believe in himself. 

"How will it end?"

"In fire."
 - The Centauri Emperor and Kosh

Of course, even as I wrote my story with its dark meditations on war and conflict, I also found myself throwing in all the stuff I loved from space opera. There were epic fleet battles, thrilling starfighter fights, duels with electrified swords, and even a romance or two. Just because the situation was dark and depressing didn't mean that amazing things couldn't happen. Apocalypse Now was one of the most anti-war movies ever made yet had The Ride of the Valkyries playing during a helicopter assault along with an intense confrontation with Kurtz and our anti-hero Willard.

In conclusion, I had a lot of fun writing Lucifer's Star to subvert a lot of the tropes I found in popular military science fiction. I wanted to embrace the themes of War is Hell and victory can come at too high of a cost. Nevertheless, I was still writing a story about fun things which I think will appeal to those who love more traditional handling of the genre. I liken it to the fact George R.R. Martin's Westeros still has dragons and ice zombies.

Only mine is laser swords and starfighters.


Official Author Website
Order Lucifer's Star HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Chthulhu Armageddon
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Straight Outta Fangton
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Esoterrorism
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with C. T. Phipps
Read "Giving Back Vampires Their Bite" by C. T. Phipps (guest post)
Read "To Mythos Or Not To Mythos" by C. T. Phipps (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: C.T. Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger, reviewer for The Bookie Monster, and previously published the urban fantasy series, The Red Room. C.T. Phipps is also the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Chthulu Armageddon, & Straight Outta Fangton.

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