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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

GUEST POST: The Sigil Indie Challenge by M.D. Presley

The line between traditional and self-published books blurs by the day, with hybrid authors like Michael J. Sullivan hopping back and forth so often that metaphoric line seems only a smudge compared to the hurdle it once was. And we at Sigil Independent  would be lying if we said we didn’t follow Sullivan’s career with particular interest. How else can we possibly emulate his success? Other than consuming his brain in an unholy ritual that is.

An offer he’s been rather noncommittal on accepting, I might add.

In his exceedingly interesting discussion on the Once and Future PodcastSullivan delves into his career, citing “exposure and credibility” as to why he went the traditional route after finding success with self-publishing (21:30). These two points cannot be emphasized enough as to creating success for authors, traditional and self-published alike. How will anyone discover your book if no one has yet discovered your book?

As Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off has demonstrated, a large part of “exposure and credibility” is bestowed by book bloggers and other influential reviewers. They play a critical role in distinguishing which books audiences learn about and ultimately enjoy, and so it’s our great privilege that Fantasy Book Critic, which has participated in SPFBO all three years now and also gave Sullivan his first taste of exposure and credibility back in 2008 , has allowed us to announce the Sigil Indie Challenge here*.

In our rather obvious effort to engage with book blogger and influential reviewers (over 50 Goodreads or Amazon reviews), we’re happily giving away review copies of any one of our ten books involved with our free Sigil Sampler. Peruse our Choose Your Own Adventure chapter for a suggestion, or take the shorter quiz on our website, then let us know on social media which book you ended up with (twitter @sigilindie, Facebook @sigilindependent), and we’ll send you an electronic review copy lickety split.

What becomes of that review copy is up to you. Do you think the book lived up to our claim of a professional product on par with traditionally published novels? Then let everyone know. Did our CYOA or online quiz truly match you up with a book tailored to your tastes? Tell us. Did we just add one more stone to your Mt. TBR and nothing more? Well, inquiring minds need to know.

So please tell us. And your friends while you’re at it. And maybe an enemy or two.

*Footnote: It also doesn’t hurt that three of our members ended up on FBC’s best of 2017 list.

Official Author Website
Order The Woven Ring HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Woven Ring

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born and raised in Texas, Matthew D. Presley spent several years on the East Coast and now lives in California with his wife. His favorite words include defenestrate, callipygian, and Algonquin. The fact that monosyllabic is such a long word keeps him up at night. He’s also worked as a professional Hollywood screenwriter who has written for Chinese TV serials as well. When not writing, he also makes jewelry for fun. The Woven Ring was his debut book.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Kings Of The Wyld by Nicholas Eames (Reviewed by D.C. Stewart)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Michael W. Everest's interview with Nicholas Eames

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A retired group of legendary warriors must get the band back together for one last seemingly impossible mission in this rousing debut epic fantasy.

Glory never gets old.

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay's door with a plea for help--the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It's time to get the band back together.

FORMAT INFO: Kings Of The Wyld is 502 pages long divided over fifty-three named and numbered chapters with an epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Clay Cooper, the tank of a five-man mercenary band. This is the first novel in The Band series.

Kings Of The Wyld is available in trade paperback format, as well as e-book and audio versions. Cover design is by Lisa Marie Pompilo, with cover illustration by Richard Anderson.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As if the fantasy genre and heavy metal weren’t connected enough, along comes Nicholas Eames to tighten the leather straps and forever marry two oddly similar forms of entertainment in Kings Of The Wyld, the first in a series that thrums like a Jimmy Page riff in a genre full of entry-level chord practice. What’s intriguing about Kings of the Wyld is that despite its hook, that mercenary bands are the rock stars of Eames’ imaginary world, the story is simple. You have probably read the plot of Kings a dozen times over if you have any fantasy novels under your belt. Eames proves with this debut that a song can be played over and over but never lose its appeal if sung right.

Eames' world in Kings Of The Wyld is the stuff of great Dungeons and Dragons adventures. The focal point of the land is a place called the Heartwyld, a dense, primordial forest full of snarks and grumpkins and every other nightmare trope of the fantasy genre. Bands make their fortunes by entering the Heartwyld, slaying or capturing said monsters and then gleaning all the fame and fortune that comes to them upon re-entry into civilization. Grand parades are thrown and money showered upon these mercs, who all bear the heavy metal names so common to the hair bands of our own 1980s.

The world-building has more depth than is probably needed but is better off for its scope. Eames’ world was once ruled by an alien race called the druins, who cleaved their way from another dimension with a special sword and founded what would be the grandest empire that the world had ever seen. Then, like humans do, humans eventually killed most of the druins. The Heartwyld is what is left of druin power, and thus becomes a focal point for the Kings’ adventure to both rescue a maiden and stop a rising druin power.

When I said you had likely read the plot of Kings Of the Wyld before, I meant it. It’s the classic save the princess story, only the princess is the hero’s daughter, and the hero isn’t the hero but the hero’s best friend who the hero is helping because he too has a daughter and…well it’s complicated but explained well within the context of the story. The Band’s adventure takes them from battle arenas to horror forests to snowy mountain tops and even on an airship. It’s like playing a Final Fantasy game set in The Forgotten Realms, and it works. It works so well that it’s hard to find fault with the simplistic nature of the tale. And why should we? Just because something has been done doesn’t mean it shouldn’t again be attempted.

Alongside what should have been a simple jaunt to rescue the princess, the Band must deal with a druin plot to take over the world, a side quest if you will, and slay lots and lots of monsters. These threads weave in and out of one another and are largely inextricable. [vague spoilers ahead] My only real complaint with the storytelling is the lack of real consequence for the Band. Every one of the characters seem to wear heavy, un-pierceable plot armor, and while I am not asking for main characters to be crossed off one after another in George R.R. Martin-like fashion, I never once felt that the Band was in any danger, and even when something grim did happen to one or more of them, they just had to find some kind of healing spell and all was made right. One could argue that there were character deaths, but those deaths felt more like mercy killings than character loss. To make a reader feel something approaching personal tragedy at the death of a character, that character must have a long build-up, like the members of the Band themselves received. Introducing someone and then a few chapters later tossing them off the page does not leave a deep enough impression for me to care, even if the character does happen to be delightful.

The titular mercenary group, The Kings of the Wyld, are the reason to read Eames' debut. Clay Cooper, Golden Gabriel, Matrick the King/Rogue, Moog the Erectile Dysfunction-curing wizard, Ganelon (who kills real good), and the rest of the rogue’s gallery of allies and villains that the band meets on its adventure come alive on the page in the way that the best literature does. Clay is the main character, an aging tank who begins the novel working guard duty at a tower in some backwater town. The band is retired, its members scattered, and it isn’t until Gabriel comes calling with a plea for help to rescue his daughter that the band gets back together. Matrick joins next, a rogue turned king turned fat cuckold, followed by Moog, a wizard who has lost more than his marbles. Ganelon, the ax-wielding murderer, joins last, and watching the five warriors work together is as fun as any fantasy I have read. Eames does a nice job making all the characters interact and play off one another without it feeling contrived or heavy-handed. He also writes a hell of a fight scene.

Add to the list a sultry, winged assassin, a two-headed cyclops that exudes more charm and gentleness than any character has a right to, and both rival and friendly bands, and there is hardly a character in the book that doesn’t sing. I am eager to see what Eames does in his next entry, which features not the Kings but a different set of characters who show up near the end of Kings. I think with his talent for characterization and a more serious plot, Eames might have a chart-buster coming.

CONCLUSION: I cannot recommend Kings Of The Wyld enough, even at the risk of hyping up an already hyped-up fantasy hit. There is something so refreshing about this book; a story that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is but then burrows in to a reader and feels both comforting and adventurous. I won’t forget Clay Cooper, the backbone and heart of the Kings Of The Wyld, and while I respect Eames’ desire to tell a new story with new characters, that old shield-bearing veteran will retain a special place in my fantasy-laden heart. And who knows, maybe we will get an encore?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Hail Mary by Todd Travis (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Page
Order the book HERE

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Jacob Thorne wakes in a locked room, his arms and legs handcuffed to a chair, an IV in his elbow attached to a bag of saline solution. A note informs him to make the liquid last, as that it is all he gets. Emma Kane is abducted by armed mercenaries told that unless she finds the missing daughter of a ruthless billionaire, her partner and lover Jacob Thorne will die of thirst, trapped in a hidden room.

She has eleven days before his fluid runs out to crack a three-year-old cold case that no one has yet been able to solve. This is the wealthy father’s Hail Mary plan to save his daughter before she’s murdered by an unknown kidnapper.

Will Kane find the missing girl before her lover dies? Do Thorne and Kane have a Hail Mary plan of their own, before it’s too late?

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As far serial killer thrillers go, Silence Of The Lambs casts a big shadow among the books and the film genre. Since then many writers have taken their shot and given their versions of creepy serial killer stories and have left their individual marks. serial killer thrillers have their own tropes as do epic fantasies and it’s rare to find stories that are set within the mold but have their own twists. Author Todd Travis debuted with Creatures Of Appetite in 2013 and came to my notice in the end of 2016 when I first read it. It introduced us to two characters Emma Kane & Jacob Thorne who were unlike any I’ve read in this genre. The first book was also set in Nebraska unlike the urban settings which are usually to be found in such stories. The way the story ended, I was a fan and I definitely wasn’t alone. The next book was the one that cemented Todd Travis’s status in my mind. The third book was a prequel and focused on both the protagonist’s pasts.

The most recent book (the fourth of the series) is actually a sequel in terms of chronology to Trophies (book 2) and is set nearly two months later than the climax of Trophies. We meet Emma and Jacob as they arise thoroughly changed after the ferocious events of the  climax of Trophies. Emma is back from her sojourn outside the country and is looking forward to her reunion with Jacob. Thorne on the other hand is even more gung-ho about it as he looks forward to seeing how Emma emerges amidst her recent turmoil. But before they can meet, Jacob unceremoniously is disappeared of the face of the earth. Emma is told about his abduction and given a mission by a billionaire to find his daughter who’s trial has long gone cold. Told that she has eleven days to find any trace of his daughter before Jacob Thorne dies. Emma is once again forced into machinations by the wealthy and will have to go even further than before to locate the missing daughter, potentially rescue Jacob and also deal with security that has been assigned to her.

As you can see from the chaotic description, there’s a solid timeclock running in the background to this chapter. After the fantastic events showcased in Trophies, I enjoyed how the author undercut reader expectations by not directly giving us a sequel (he did something similar with the second book as it was set seven years later than the events of the first). This book allows the readers to get immersed in to the world and timeline when we last read about Kane & Thorne. The book’s pace is solid as ever and the storyline is twisted, dark and almost entirely unpredictable as its predecessors.

As always it’s the characters who stand prominent in the story, Emma Kane and Jacob Thorne are disturbing & scary individuals (to put it mildly). Readers got to see why Jacob is the way he is, through events showcased in Talents. In this book, we get another solid peek into his childhood and the beginnings of who he is. Jacob Thorne whom we have met before is a gruff, scary, asshole whose genius level IQ predisposes him to hate humanity. Emma Kane on the other hand is a hero in the most solid, badass meaning of the word. However since Trophies, we have seen her actions blur the line between outright heroism and vigilante justice. The events in this book are a similar step in this direction but as was the case in the previous chronological story, the actions are entirely warranted and none of the readers would fault her for that. In a way, I feel that these books are character studies of two people who could go in either direction of heroism or vigilantism but the readers will be riveted nonetheless. Todd Travis’ world is a dark one and the author doesn’t pull any punches in mirroring certain current realities to make the stories gritty beyond most others in the genre. The story touched upon several levels & types of abuse (psychological, sexual, parental, etc.) and for those who prefer their fiction light might most definitely want to avoid this series.

This realism as well as the rich characters make his stories stand out easily, the twisted plot and the breakneck pace are the cherry atop this dark, imaginative cake. New readers will be shocked and certainly want to know more, returning readers will get their viewpoints clarified that much more. Lastly the way this book ends, I most certainly want to know what happens next, I love how the author achieved this without a cliffhanger. There’s also the humor which is present sneakily but it certainly delivers and I couldn’t stop guffawing over this line “I always said I was one harassment claim away from being shit-canned, and here we go.” You would have to read the story to understand the context and hopefully you'll find it as hilarious as the author intended it to be.

Unlike Trophies, which for me a five star read, there are some stumbling blocks to this story. Firstly there’s a side character who I felt was a bit wasted, what I mean is that the character’s arc is set up tantalizingly but the resolution seemed a bit haphazard and definitely not up to the standards that Todd Travis has so efficiently exhibited. Also the story’s epilogue also stretches credulity beyond what has been so thoroughly established in this story. This would be a personal grouse and I’m sure there will be readers who don’t even notice it.

CONCLUSION: The Hail Mary is a stunner of a story exactly as the author planned it to be, I had a couple of minor reservations about it but in no way did those stop me from enjoying this book. The Hail Mary is exactly what thriller readers want, a deep dark dive in to the human abyss wherein two souls who are all but warriors in name, showcase their version of justice and cruelty.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Interview with Rachel Aaron (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website  
Order “Last Dragon StandingHERE
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 "A Dragon Of A Different Color"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Last Dragon Standing"
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)

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, this year marks the over a decade since you first signed your first professional contract back with Orbit. Since that time, you have been both traditionally & self-published and even under a different last name. How do you look back over the last decade?

RA: With a great deal of disbelief.

When I first decided to make a serious go at being a professional writer, my goal was to be earning a living off my books by the time I turned thirty. This was a pie-in-the-sky dream at the time, but I actually quit my job at 27. I’ve been doing this full time for nine years now, and I’m still waiting for the day when I have to go get a real job. It doesn’t feel real that I get to do something this fun for a living, but I never forget that my readers are the ones who make it possible. It’s so cheesy, but y’all really did make my dreams come true. Thank you all so much for being my readers!

Q] Currently with the release of Last Dragon Standing, you have completed three series in vastly differing genres and across three different universes. With 13 full length books, 2 short stories, & 1 non-fiction book. You truly give hope to writers and readers alike. What do you think of your productivity vis-à-vis the current trend of long drawn out, never-ending fantasy sagas?

RA: I wish I could say this was all part of a master plan, but I’ve always written whatever felt best to me at the time. Writing is very much an instinctive art for me. You never want a book to feel dragged out, so I always make sure I plan my series with a solid end in mind. I think this is better for everyone. I would definitely get bored if I tried to write a giant saga, and a story that has a definite ending in sight naturally moves better than a meandering one. This is not to say that all sprawling sagas meander! There are definitely ones that don’t, and even the meandering ones have loyal fans that love them. It’s just not the format for me. I need to know the story is building toward a climax if I’m going to invest my energy in it. Stories need ends, preferable fantastic, satisfying ones. That’s what I love to read myself, and so I try to give my fans the same courtesy.

Q] Let’s talk about the ending of the Heartstrikers series, while this was possibly one of your best works in terms of genre melds along with characters. It was also a series from wherein you learnt a lot with regards to plotting. Can you perhaps give the readers a peek into the process behind your books and how much heartache it caused?

RA: Hoo boy, these dragons. Heartstrikers is hands down the most complicated thing I’ve ever attempted. I wrote the first book intending to stay in the DFZ and focus on stories there. I actually had a whole range of city drama planned, but once I started writing book 2, I quickly discovered that the dragons—namely Julius’s family and him learning to stand up to them—was where the story actually needed to go.

From there, I had to do a lot of re-planning. A full cast of characters got shelved. I rewrote all of One Good Dragon three times over more than a year. It was horrible. There were times I seriously considered quitting the series because I simply could not get the story right, but I just couldn’t bring myself to let everyone down, or to abandon Julius. He is the one part of these books that has never changed, and I owed it to him to get him to his happy ending. So I stuck with it, and in the end, I think I produced some of my best writing ever. I learned a lot about plotting, a lot about characters, and a hell of a lot about what not to do. In the end, I came out of Heartstrikers a much stronger writer than I went in, and for that alone, I think this bear of a series will always be the one closest to my heart.

Seriously, though, I didn’t think I was going to make it at times. Having a main character who makes friends with his enemies and refuses to kill anyone means a lot of characters sticking around and complicating the works.

Q] You had previously gone back and forth about the total number of books from five to four and then to five again. Now that the series is concluded, can you talk about the why and how of this back & forth?

RA: It was all an issue of wordcount. When I plotted books 4 and 5, I thought I wouldn’t have enough material to do a full fifth book. Since book 4 ends on a cliffhanger, I figured I could solve this by sticking the events I’d planned for book 5 onto the end. It made for a bit of a weird structure, but I thought that would be preferable to having four 150k+ books and then a weirdly short fifth book.

I was happy with this plan, but then I actually wrote the combined book 4/5 and ended up with a monster. The whole thing clocked in at over 220 thousand words. That is WAY too long! I had to cut it, so I cut it at the old end of book 4 and wrote a proper 5th book. The result was a bit shorter—Last Dragon Standing is about ¾ the size of the other Heartstriker novels—but it’s still a perfectly respectable length and breaking it out allowed me to really take my time with the character drama, which has proven to be a very good decision indeed.

The glamourous life of an author, folks!

Q] Previously in your guest post, you had stated that Julius would stay true to his ideals and you tested him thoroughly on it. He was the one constant throughout as everyone else has had status changes in terms of power, magic, and life, etc. Of all your protagonists, he seems to be the strongest willed one when it comes to his ideals? What would you say about him compared to Devi & Eli?

RA: I might get some hate for this, but I think Julius had it a lot harder than Devi or Eli. Because he’s so good, there was a real risk of accidentally making him a Marty Stu. To keep things balanced, I had to make his challenges absolutely ridiculous and unfair, far more than I usually would. I’m not normally a cruel author, but I had to be mean to Julius to make his character feel sincere.

The result was a much harsher ride emotionally and physically than either Devi or Eli had to put up with. He had to stand stronger against a lot more, and that made him a better, stronger character. Everyone in Heartstrikers blossomed under the pressure, which means I’m going to be much crueler from here out. Making characters cling to their ideals tooth and nail to the last breath really does wonders for them!

Q] Let’s also talk about the rich world that you’ve created with the DFZ and beyond. Will you be exploring more of that? I want to know more about the rest of the world and how it was affected by the return of magic, presence of dragons & now after LDS the return of human mages & bonded spirits? What will you be exploring in the sequel trilogy?

RA: I’m still nailing things down, but I really want to explore the new DFZ as a place. As I mentioned in an earlier question, the Heartstriker books were supposed to be much more about the world, but the dragons took over as dragons are want to do. I still have a lot of ground to explore in this world that I just didn’t have room to touch on in Julius’s story, and I’m really looking forward to showing off more of how magic changed the world in the new series. I’m especially excited to show off the new DFZ. I’m a giant ShadowRun fangirl, and there are a lot of living city/techno-magical underworld concepts I’ve been dying to try out!

There will still be dragons, of course. It’s me, after all! I’ve got plans for old favorites and new ones, but we’ll all have to wait until I actually write the things to know for sure!

Q] Now that you have declared that you will be writing a sequel series for the first time in your career. How are you approaching it? How much of the past events will have an impact on the new trilogy? Who will be the main characters in the new trilogy?

RA: I can’t actually answer this question because, again, I’m not done planning! This is a very odd beast for me because I’m normally sick to death of a setting after I finish a series and ready to move on. But the DFZ is special. It’s such a bigger world than just dragons and Merlins, and I’m not done exploring it. Whatever these new books end up being, they’ll be their own thing.

Whatever I write, though, I am definitely going to keep the sincerity and heart. The core of these books has always been hope and understanding and the quiet power that comes from listening to your enemy instead of just shooting them. That doesn’t change just because Julius is no longer the main character. They might not be about the Heartstriker dragon clan, but the sequel series will definitely have the same spirit. And some of the same spirits! *rimshot*

Q] The bonding of spirts with humans as a concept is very similar to that in the Eli Monpress world, purposeful much or just a quirky coincidence?

RA: Mostly me thinking the same idea is still cool. I made up the magical system in a fit of inspiration, and I was a little miffed when my husband Travis pointed out how similar it was to Eli. As a person, I have certain things that I think are cool, and apparently this was one of them. In hindsight, I really should have called the spirits gods, because that’s what are, but it was too late. I’ve vowed to have no more spirits for a while, though! Gotta bust out of my rut.

Q] You are also releasing a new book in June (hopefully?) and that’s another first for you as you are collaborating with a debutante author on it. Could you please tell the readers and your fans more about it?

RA: Yes! My husband, Travis Bach, and I have worked together on every novel I’ve written. He actually is the one who came up with Julius (and provided much of the inspiration. My husband is a saint, you guys!). He’s always been a fantastic storyteller, so it was pretty much inevitable when he said he was finally writing a book of his own, I was not at all surprised. What DID surprise me was how good it was!

The moment I read the first draft, I knew we had something special. It had a lot of first novel problems, so I jumped with my professional expertise as what basically amounts to a very hands on editor. Together, I think we made something really special. It’s not really a Rachel Aaron book, but it’s not a Travis Bach book either. It’s something new, the combination of both our talents, and I really hope people enjoy it. We should be making the announcement soon, so if you’re not already, sign up for my New Release mailing list so you don’t miss out!

Q] I was very much happy to learn about Garrison Girl, your new, original novel set in the world of Attack On Titan. As seen by the announcement on twitter. Folks were certainly gaga about it. Please tell us how this all came to be and what’s your story about?

RA: We haven’t done the official announcement, so I can’t say too much, but it’s a story set during the first season of the anime about a rich girl from inside Wall Sina who goes out to Rose to fight the titans and gets a lot more than she bargained for. It’s the bloodiest, most terrifying story I’ve ever written, and I love it to bits! There’s a romance, there’s titan slaying galore, there’s politics and drama, people die—it’s very Attack on Titan. I worked really hard to capture the desperate, fight-to-the-last-inch feeling of the show in my work, and I think fans of the series as well as fans are my books are going to like it a lot.

Q] Django Wexler and Sarah Ash were both ecstatic that you were the first western, non-Asian author to be writing in this legendary franchise. That’s certainly an achievement to say the least. How were you approached for this & what were your apprehensions to be writing in this world?

RA: I got the job because my agent knew I was a giant nerd. When he saw the project, he put my name forward immediately. I pitched my idea as hard as hard as I could, and it worked! I can’t tell you how excited I was to get to write in this world because I find it so inspiring. There are so many stories in this world that the official cannon zooms past with barely a glance. Everyone you see has their backs to the wall, it’s basically a drama engine. You can’t go wrong with that.

Also, the titans are my favorite modern monsters. I find them incredibly interesting and terrifying at the same time. I also love the walls, how they’re both a shield and a cage. Ah! It’s just so good.

My biggest concern was getting the book right. I wanted this novel to feel like Attack on Titan, and that meant changing my own style a bit to match the feel of the series. I kill a lot of people in this book, which my readers know isn’t something I normally do, but part of what makes Attack on Titan so thrilling and terrifying is how no one is safe. The creator is never afraid to kill a major character brutally and swiftly, and if I wanted to write in his world, I couldn’t be either. That said, it is still very much my novel. The setting is licensed, but the story and characters are all my own. It is a little different and a lot bloodier, but if you’ve liked my other stuff, you’re going to like this too!

Q] With at least three series that you will be starting this year (your collaboration with your husband, HS sequel trilogy, & AOT novel), how are you compartmentalizing your writing time? Which books are complete and which new ones are you currently writing?

RA: With the exception of my new DFZ books, which I’m working on now, all of the books above are already written, so I’m actually ahead! Books, especially traditionally published ones like GARRISON GIRL are slow creatures. The stuff you see coming out this year was often written months before. That said, I am REALLY busy making sure everything comes out on time, but I’m full of inspiration and really looking forward to getting books out faster than one per year!

Q] 2018 looks to be the year that you leave a sizeable dent across fans and genres alike. What are your parting thoughts for us fans to expect from the house of Aaron?

RA: My sincere thanks to all of you for being my fans! Seriously, the outpouring of love I’ve seen for the end of Heartstrikers is like nothing else in my career. I am deeply humbled by the heartfelt reactions these books have engendered. I have a lot of new projects in the pipe, but I don’t know if I’ll ever produce something as beloved as Heartstrikers again. This series truly was a painful, beautiful sort of magic for me and for you. I’m so, so happy I had a chance to write my crazy book about a nice dragon. It’s been the high of my career so far. Thank you all so much for taking a chance on me, and I hope you’ll give me the chance to entertain you again.

NOTE: Sci-Fi Cityscape artwork  courtesy of Long-Pham.
Monday, March 5, 2018

GUEST POST: Introducing Fantastica & Retirement by M. R. Mathias

Timeline reading order of novels by M. R. Mathias

Book One – Taerak’s Void

Book Two – Sapphire of Souls

Book Three – Demon of Destruction

Book Four – Warrior of the Void

*Fantastica - The Complete Four Book Collection

The Wardstone Trilogy
Book One - The Sword and the Dragon

Book Two - Kings, Queens, Heroes, & Fools

Book Three - The Wizard & the Warlord

*The Complete Wardstone Trilogy

The Dragoneer Saga
Book One - The Royal Dragoneers

Book Two - Cold Hearted Son of a Witch

Book Three - The Confliction

Book Four - The Emerald Rider

Book Five - Rise of the Dragon King

Book Six - Blood and Royalty

The Legend of Vanx Malic
Book One – Through the Wildwood 

Book Two – Dragon Isle

Book Three – Saint Elm’s Deep

Book Four – That Frigid Fargin’ Witch

Book Five – Trigon Daze

Book Six – Paragon Dracus

Book Seven – The Far Side of Creation

Book Eight – The Long Journey Home

Book Nine – The Tome of Arbor

Book Ten – A Gossamer Lens *

The Legend of Vanx Malic Collections
*Collection One - To Kill a Witch – Books I-IV

*Collection Two –The Legend Grows Stronger – Books V-VIII

*Collection Three – The Tome and the Lens – Books IX and X w/ bonus content

Short Stories:
Crimzon & Clover I - Orphaned Dragon, Lucky Girl

Crimzon & Clover II - The Tricky Wizard

Crimzon & Clover III - The Grog

Crimzon & Clover IV - The Wrath of Crimzon

Crimzon & Clover V - Killer of Giants

Crimzon & Clover VI – One Bad Bitch

Crimzon & Clover VII – The Fortune’s Fortune

Crimzon & Clover VIII – The First Sarax

Master Zarvin’s Action and Adventure Short Series – A Dragoneer Saga Prelude

Roar – A Wardstone Short Story

The Blood of Coldfrost – A Wardstone Short Story

The First Dragoneer – A Dragoneer Saga Novella

Foxwise – A Legend of Vanx Malic Novella

***Spoiler Alert: All the above novels take place in the same world, though each series happens in its own time-period and on its own continent. The locations do overlap, in places, but each series is its own from start to finish. Reading any other series is not necessary but might provide insight into the depth of a character, or their past.

Braxton and Nixy, the stars of Fantastica, have a daughter whose great, great granddaughter is Willa the Witch Queen. Willa’s palace is built on the Wardstone bedrock in Xwarda and is one of the most powerful places on the planet these characters share. Willa and her kingdom of Highwander are important and featured in all three of The Wardstone Trilogy novels.

The Wardstone Trilogy partially spawns The Dragoneer Saga, because the first Dragoneer, Marcherion finds the weapon, Ironspike which is the “sword” from The Sword and the Dragon, but there is a little more to it than that.

Both The Dragoneer Saga, and The Wardstone Trilogy tie into The Legend of Vanx Malic. Vanx, the roguish hero of his series is half-Zythian, a shunned race that began when Phen, a human boy once turned into a white marble statue, and then spelled a few other ways in the process of being saved, and Telgra, the eventual Queen of Elves of the Evermore, have children that are the beginning of a whole new race. They are called Phenzythians, which is later shortened to just Zythian because the bulk of the race flees the world to make their own way, on an Island they name Zyth.

Vanx Malic is half-Zythian, and a very distant descendant of Phen and Telgra’s union. But Zahrellion, one of the two female Dragoneers is a more recent inheritor of the strange bloodline. More importantly from The Dragoneer Saga, Prince Richard, who becomes King Richard through the course of the series, is tempted by evil, and even though he was once the best of the Dragoneers, after a series of terrible things happen to he and his dragon, he becomes the nemesis of his onetime companions and is eventually banished. A few hundred years later, after the Dragoneers are long forgotten, Richard’s power has grown and festered so much that he is no longer human. He has learned how to torture powerful magic out of dragons, and spent centuries doing so. He becomes one of Vanx Malic’s most treacherous enemies, the Paragon Dracus.

The Crimzon and Clover Short Story Series ties into The Dragoneer Saga as well. After adventuring in a world that is but a playground to them, they come across an evil so benign that Clover and her great red dragon spend a good portion of their later lives preparing the world for the coming of the Dragoneers. This is because Clover understands that one dragon, even one with a rider as powerful as her, cannot defeat this foe. The dragon Crimzon is featured throughout most of the Dragoneer Saga, and Clover joins them in the latter books, after being released from a trap that has kept her imprisoned for decades.

I think that is about as well as I can explain it. You’ll just have to read all twenty-three novels and thirteen short stories if you want the full story. It was an amazing journey writing it all. And now I think M. R. Mathias (as a pen name) is done. Or maybe not, but it is time to let another voice have a go, and retire M. R. for the time being.

After battling with websites, forums, and platforms, for most of a decade, just to carve out a space for all indie authors, M. R. deserves a fitting break.

Besides the introduction of Fantastica, I guess that is the gist of this guest post. Thank you all for reading. I have enjoyed the ride. I hope you decide to take the journey through the newer parts of my world. If you do, I can only promise this…

It will be spectacular,

All my best,

M. R. Mathias

P.S. I would like to take a moment to thank the staff and fans of Fantasy Book Critic. Without Liviu’s review of The Sword and the Dragon in early 2010, I don’t think near as many readers would have ever found my books.

***Of course I am M. R. Mathias, posting partly in 3rd person, because my real name is Michael Robb Mathias Jr. and I have self-published titles under the names, Michael Robb, M. K. Mathias, and Michael Ender. What I am after, for my future, is simple, and I think my track record is worthy of it. I would like to find an agent, and/or publisher, and release a new fantasy or adventure series, under a new pen name. (or M. R. Mathias if you’d prefer) One that is unassociated with the books listed above. I’m not inclined to go the traditional route, sending off snippets to slush pile readers, frankly because so far that has yielded nothing but wasted waiting time, and rejection letters. Doing it my own way has allowed me to sell over 1.3 million ebooks worldwide.

I am nearing fifty years of age, and I just want to write and fish. I’m not looking for a million dollar deal, just a real publishing contract to help fund what I’ll call my semi-retirement. If you are a “reputable” agent or publisher, looking for a proven author to write a full length novel or two for your imprint, or even a trilogy, feel free to contact me. Mihir, at FBC knows how to reach me, or you can email me directly at









OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: M. R. Mathias lives on 5 wooded acres. Like the wizards of old, he tends to the animals who share that space and inspire the creatures found in his works. He likes to deep sea fish, to attend sporting events, and genre/cosplay conventions. He has sold well over a million eBooks. His work is critically acclaimed, and he has won multiple literary awards, including a coveted Locus Poll nomination.

Mathias’s title “To Kill a Witch” ,The Legend of Vanx Malic Books I-IV Collection was a semifinalist for the 2016 Kindle Book Award, won the 2016 Reader’s Favorite Award, and won the 2017 American Book Fest Award. Book Ten of the same series, which has a cover painted by the world renown fantasy artist, Larry Elmore, also won a 2017 Reader’s Favorite Award.

Here is what others are saying about M. R. Mathias and his works:

"The Master of Epic Fantasy" - Kindle Nation Daily, Nov. 2017

"There are few writers in the genre of fantasy that can equal the creative mind of M.R. Mathias - now acknowledged as a master in this genre of dragons and dwarves, and magic, and spells, and all aspects of fantasy."-- Top 100, Hall of Fame, Vine Voice, Book Reviewer, Grady Harp

"M.R. Mathias imagines a setting that will entice readers and lead them, along with his characters, on a breathtaking adventure." -- Readers Favorite Book Awards review of M. R. Mathias's 2017 Award Winning novel "A Gossamer Lens" from: The Legend of Vanx Malic series

The author, like always, has amazing writing and makes the book seem so real. The style of writing is great and one of my favorites. Keep up the good work.” – Logic In A Box

"M.R. Mathias is a master at world building and is so good with creative descriptions that you can almost feel the wind whipping through your hair as you soar along on the back of a dragon." -- Readers Favorite Book Awards review of M. R. Mathias's 2015 "Gold Medal" Award Winning novel "Blood and Royalty" from: The Dragoneer Saga

"You've (Mathias) already achieved much, much more than so many people who like to think of themselves as writers." -- @Gollancz The Deputy Publishing Director of SF, Fantasy & Horror list of the Orion Publishing Group

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website  
Order “Last Dragon StandingHERE
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 "A Dragon Of A Different Color"
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)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Aaron lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also posts regularly on her blog about publishing, books and several other intriguing things.


There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition.

But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.

CLASSIFICATION: The Heartstriker series is an action-packed urban fantasy series with a strong dose of comedy, post-apocalyptic SF themes and dragons.

FORMAT/INFO: Last Dragon Standing is 311 pages long divided over sixteen numbered chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Julius Heartstriker, Chelsie Heartstriker, Bob “Brohomir” Heartstriker , one person who will have to go unnamed because of SPOILERS. This is the fifth & final volume of the Heartstriker series.

March 1, 2018 will mark the e-book & paperback publication of Last Dragon Standing and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by Tia Rambaran.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I was extremely lucky to be able to read the conclusion to the Heartstrikers series in its manuscript form. I can't thank Rachel Aaron enough for her kindness and for being the awesome person that she is.

The blurb of this book is going to be a difficult one as how do you compose one for a series ender. As you can see with the official blurb as well, the author has kept it as spoiler-free as possible. I'll do my best to continue in the same vein but I will presume that if you are wanting to read this book then you have read all of the four preceding titles. Hence some plot information which I talk about might be spoilerific for the previous titles but I truly don’t see a way around it. So be warned if you are wary about even the least bit of spoilers then READ NO FURTHER!

The book begins (in a fashion similar to its preceding titles) within moments of the climax of the previous book (A Dragon Of A Different Color). We also get a prologue from the point of view of the one character (Bob aka Brohomir) that has been pulling all the strings in the background. It's a glorious prologue and one which will answer another fundamental question about the series and is a special treat for fans of Bob.

After the events of the last book, our characters are all within each other’s proximity in the DFZ and are faced with a situation that is literally the end of all things. Once again it's up to our Nice Dragon to do what is required but he's been overwhelmed with ecstasy by SPOILER's return. We get to see Chelsie reunited with her brood & their father. Then there’s the F clutch who are wholly finding their feet and lastly we also get to see all of the characters mentioned so far (Justin, Ian, Svena, Katyana, the DFZ spirit, etc.) come together. There’s also an epic reunion of sorts between a Heartstriker and the daughter of the three sisters (however it’s not the Hearstriker you are thinking). There's also a major confrontation that has been hinted at since book 2 and we get to see play out in all of its glory. I enjoyed reading it and of course so will the readers.

First thing which I loved and want to highlight is the glorious cover. What's even better about is that it's not by series artist Anna Steinbauer but by Tia Rambaran. Who not only managed to keep the style intact from the previous titles and gave us a fantastic Bob alongwith his pigeon. Secondly this book literally has it all from saving the universe to romantic reunions, & explanations about all the things happening so far. The story hinges on two specific events, the first one we get to see in the first third of the book and the second plot thread is the culmination of Algonquin’s action as the end of the fourth book. It will takes everyone’s efforts, dragons, humans, mages & things from the beyond to make sure that the universe doesn’t get devoured. This is truly the crux of the story and longtime fans of the series are in for one hell of a ride with it.

Previously Rachel had mentioned that this is Bob's book and he takes the center stage in the first third of the story. Almost every character has been his instrument in some form or the other. Plus all his stratagems have led to the events featured in this book and Bob is betting it all for the one thing that he prizes above all and also for preserving the universe. He's a character who many fans love to read about and have can't have enough of his antics. In this book, not only do we get to see him in full flow but also see  the "why" behind all of his actions. This not only managed to humanize him but also gave a nice twist of the cool, funny wizard trope.

We also get a renewed focus on Julius Heartstriker who does the impossible by finding solutions where none appear to exist. Rachel Aaron had previously mentioned why she choose Julius as her main character over other stronger and more magical characters. We get another excellent example of that in this book. Even though Julius is a main character, he's been overshadowed by Chelsie, & Marci in the last couple of books. This book he gets back into the thick of things and possibly gets his heart's desire as well. There’s also a potential paternal reveal about the J clutch which was fun to read about and came out of the blue.

This book is the culmination of all of Rachel's plotting efforts and we get to see it spectacularly. From the amazeballs climax featuring almost all the dragons in the world versus something that considers them to be gnats, this book does have a lot of action, magic and upheavals to satisfy most if not all of the heartstrikers fans. The action scenarios are of course in line with all that's been hinted in the previous books but the author goes all out in showcasing why everyone fears dragons. Lastly I wanted to point how truly spectacular a climax Rachel has penned in this book. It measures up to the world shattering events of Spirit’s End (Eli Monpress book 5) and perhaps betters it in terms of sheer imaginative scale.  I sincerely wish that this series gets picked up as a TV miniseries just so that we can get to see the visual imagery as mentioned in this concluding volume.

Somethings that perhaps might cause a hiccup or two for the readers is the plot pacing which is a bit off due to the occurrence of two pivotal events. The first one causes the tension to build up and then once it is resolved, we get a bit of uneven pace until the final showdown. I believe Rachel Aaron will expound on this aspect in her interview with us so watch out for that. Another grouse that I had was that one of my favorite characters had a very reduced role in this book, I can see why that would be the case but considering how much of an action-oriented a character this is, it felt off to not see them in much action.

CONCLUSION: Featuring plenty of action, major major reveals and Dragons in all their glory. Last Dragon Standing is the dragontastic ending to this superb series by Rachel Aaron. Why should you check it out? For an amazing character cast, some wonderful world-building, a fantastic magic system and perhaps the best thing of all, a truly undragonlike dragon who makes everyone around him shine brighter. Last Dragon Standing is a finale that showcases the best of what Rachel Aaron offers and leaves you wondering what genre she will conquer next.


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