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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Foundryside by Robert J. Bennett (Reviewed by D. C. Stewart)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Mr. Shivers 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Stairs

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert Bennett Jackson currently resides in Austin, Texas. His attempt to write books began with an early fascination with Stephen King books shared by him and his brother. Mr. Shivers was Robert's debut and since then he has gone on to write many more books that mixed several genres & have defied classification in as many years.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic--the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience--have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

FORMAT/INFO: Foundryside is 496 pages long and told in third-person limited point of view mostly by Sancia Grado. Foundryside is the first in the Founders series and is available in print, as well as e-book and audio formats as of August 21, 2018 in the USA.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Having not read any of Robert Jackson Bennett's work, I went into Foundryside with only the book’s description to guide me. It sounded cool, and the name Sancia Grado is rad. I don’t often walk so blindly into novels, even though I made a resolution recently to do just that. Foundryside is a good first step into such unknown territory for me. It not only encouraged me to seek out authors I am unfamiliar with, but it also introduced me to one whose previous work has lept up to the top ranks of my to-be-read pile.

Foundryside is an area within the city of Tevanne, named because it is adjacent to the foundries that make up the heart of a busy metropolis. Tevanne is a place made up of competing merchant houses - a group that used to include many but has been winnowed down over time to a strong four. Sancia Grado is a thief who exists in between the houses but with a particular set of skills that make her adept at functioning in that dark zone. She takes a job that sees her stealing from a lockbox in the harbor, and she quickly realizes that the item she has stolen is not only incredibly powerful, but the catalyst that will change her entire life.

Sancia’s specific power takes an entire book to explain, but the core of it involves object empathy - Sancia can read a thing’s history and relation to the world by touching it. On the surface, this seems an odd power without much application, but it makes picking a lock simple and it gives her unlimited access to any building. Her role as a thief is a natural one. Sancia’s power is singular to her because most of the great magic in Tevanne comes from a method known as sigiling. Sigiling involves writing arcane runes upon objects and confusing their reality. This means that projectiles can be tricked into thinking that they are moving downwards, thus ignoring the truth that gravity is pulling them one way instead of another, or that a door can be convinced to only open with a specific set of commands. Sigiling is what makes the merchant houses of Tevanne so strong - they have the technology and so have the power.

Sancia as a character is well-rounded, and while hard, she is likable enough to care about and root for. She is a scrapper, a woman with a hard-edge who doesn’t take anyone’s crap but who is secretly rife with vulnerabilities. She is joined by an equally mixed cast - a military veteran, Gregor, who seeks justice at any cost, a pair of genius engineers in Orso and Berenice whose loyalties are never sure, and a character who can’t really be written of without spoiling things but who, for all his verbal modernity, gives the novel its heart.

As an ensemble, the characters in Foundryside are both memorable and avoid the tropes of many fantasy novels. Like many novels about cities, Tevanne is itself a character. My only complaint is that we aren’t allowed to see more of it, and this comes from the over-exploring RPG nerd in me. I want to poke my nose in every alley of Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter, talk to every character, and I have this expectation to do the same in my fantasy novels when they center around a specific place as this one does.

What perhaps makes Foundryside so unique is the author's attempt to mix cyberpunk with fantasy, while at the same time blending those themes with a logic generally found in scientific methods. To add to this, there is a mysticism to the sigil-writing akin to that found in religious work. This is ambitious system-creation, and while it is confusing (to the very end), it makes for a compelling background to what is mostly a fantasy heist novel in the vein of The Lies of Locke Lamora. The writing is good, the plot flows nicely, and there is enough left at the end to demand a sequel.

But this genre blending does not come without its drawbacks. The temptation to do whatever you want in writing is potentially at its strongest when dealing with multiple fields. Foundryside takes liberties with its rules, and attempts to have its cake and eat it too by using real-world themes and hiding them in fantasy-punk. For example, messing with an object’s sigils is a basically computer hacking on a more magical level. This made me feel, at times, as though I were not so much in a fantasy novel as in The Matrix. This is not an inherently bad trait, and that first Matrix movie is quality storytelling, but I might have preferred less nods to Neo and more originality. Even saying that, this novel does not lack for originality and stands out as a true oddity among the fantasy shelf.

CONCLUSION: By the end, Foundryside finds itself transformed from a story about a thief to something that plunges headlong into epic fantasy, and I will watch Robert J. Bennett’s unfolding of this tale with great interest. That he has only explored one city in a world teeming with possibility is an exciting prospect.

Friday, August 17, 2018

SPFBO: Silverglen by E. A. Burnett (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order Silverglen HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: E.A. Burnett is a teen fantasy author. She has received honorable mention for her short story "Iskossaya," and was a finalist for the short story "The Sash-Maker and the Contradictory Queen," in the Writers of the Future Contest. "Silverglen," is her debut novel.

Burnett grew up devouring works by Garth Nix, Robin McKinley, and Philip Pullman, among many other authors. She began her first novel in grade-school, with her youngest sister as her primary audience, and hasn't stopped writing since.

Today, Burnett lives outside of Columbus, Ohio with her husband and their black Labrador. When she isn't working or writing, she likes to garden, sing, and enjoy her husband's delicious cooking.

CLASSIFICATION: Silverglen is a YA fantasy novel with strong female protagonist.

FORMAT/INFO: Silverglen is 411 pages long divided over forty three numbered chapters. The narration is in the first person via Ember. It’s a standalone novel.

The book is available in e-book and paperback formats. It was self-published by the author. Cover art and design are by Leesha Hannigan and Bookcoverworld.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Silverglen is E. A. Burnett’s debut novel. It's a teen epic fantasy about a young woman who must leave home when her shapeshifting abilities are discovered.

Her father - Lord Arundel is known for his hate for shape-shifters. As a powerful wizard able to devise intricate spells, he's not the one to play with. Especially that torture is one of his preferred pastimes. Lord Arundel's minion - Fletch is even worse, a cunning, gross man driven by low instincts and petty wickedness.

Ember flees her home and discovers other shapeshifters. She'll have to gain their trust and overcome many obstacles before she's fully accepted. Lord Arundel doesn't putter, though, Danger is close and it's up to Ember to save those close to her heart. Fortunately, She's a skilled heroine - a shapeshifter able to perform magic and read spells of other wizards has a pretty unique set of preternatural skills. They come in handy in many situations.

Ember is easy to like. She's brave, fierce and caring. She's not willing to use her powers to hurt others (although at times it would be reasonable). It's nice to see her learn new things and discover herself. While she's probably not the most complex heroine ever, I was pleased to explore the world through her perspective.

Secondary characters were fun and well defined. Shape-shifters are such a colourful band with all exotic and shocking behaviours (like mating in the middle of the camp). One of them, Kitt, gets much more attention than the rest. In the beginning, Kitt doesn't trust Ember. It changes, obviously, but their growing bond didn't feel forced or rushed.

The author’s prose is, for the most part, excellent. There’s very little awkward sentences or ill-constructed descriptions in the book. Actually, I would go as far as to say Burnett's prose has a great flow to it. It never stumbles around. It's pleasant to read and follow.

The characters and the events are well-described, and the pacing of the novel is, mostly, brisk. Shortly after starting in, you get to the meat of the story. There are parts were pacing becomes slower, and I'm not sure if some parts of the book weren't too long.

My main issues concern villains who feel somewhat two-dimensional. Additionally, as it's teen fantasy, some of the personal dramas of characters weren't convincing to me. I appreciate the resolutions, but I can't say I was thrilled and immersed all the time.

CONCLUSION: In the end, it's good standalone YA book with fitting bitter-sweet ending. I appreciate E.A. Burnett's rich imagination and nicely developed world. I would recommend the book for younger readers looking for an original* epic fantasy book.

* As I don't read that much YA / teen fantasy I may be wrong here. On the other hand, I read a lot (100-150 books per year), and I think Burnett's take on shapeshifters is exciting and definitely not recycled.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

SPFBO: Empowered: Agent by Dale Ivan Smith (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order Empowered: Agent HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dale Ivan Smith lives in Oregon where he works for the public library system. He loves writing and reading fantasy and science fiction, and also enjoys watching fantasy and SF movies and TV shows. Two large tiger tabby cat brothers rule his house.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The world says those with superpowers are either heroes or villains. But what if you're both? Mathilda Brandt isn't the angry, out-of-control teenager she was before she got out of jail. She's hungry for a chance at a normal life, but when a gang threatens her sisters, she has no choice but to use her illegal superpower to protect them. A secretive government agency gives her a choice: go back to prison for life, or infiltrate a notorious super-villain group in order to stop a psychotic Empowered. To save her city, her family, and herself, Mat must become the last thing she ever wanted to be again: a criminal.

CLASSIFICATION: Empowered is action-packed YA urban fantasy series with a healthy dose of superpowers and snarkiness.

FORMAT/INFO: Agent is 360 pages long divided over twenty numbered chapters. The narration is in the first person via Matthilda Brandt. This is the first volume of the Empowered series.

The book is available in e-book and paperback formats. It was self-published by the author. Cover art and design are by Yocla Design.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As some of you already know, I was raised on a healthy, well-balanced diet of comic books and cartoon movies. I'm conditioned. I'm always eager to discover new stories about people with superpowers. The Fates (read - Mihir) wanted me to start my SPFBO judging adventure with a book about empowered human beings. I'm cool with that.

Agent focuses on Mat Brands (aka Vine), an angry young woman who wants nothing more than to take care of her family and lead a normal life. Not an easy task for the empowered. Even more complicated for empowered on parole. Despite her best efforts, she ends up with the choice to go back to prison or infiltrate a group of superpowered criminals.

Mat's superpowers aren't very impressive. She is classified as a Botanical Catalyst which is a fancy way of saying she can control plants. She can't stop hearing plants in her mind. She hears them sleep. She hears them suffer and feel when they need water. As someone who loves nature and walking barefoot, I think it's a fantastic power that can enhance the sense of unity with the world around us. On the other hand, speaking with plants and growing them, no matter how fast, isn't going to impress people wowed by real, kick-ass superpowers.

That's one of the reasons why Mat turned rogue in her youth. She was too lame to join the Hero Council and too different to socialise with regular people. Her desire to belong somewhere lead her to join The Renegades - a group of innocuous villains.

Yes, we've all seen it before in YA novels. An alienated and angsty teenager with few aces up her sleeve turns rogue but remains good at heart. It's not new, but it's done well. Mat is headstrong, snarky, and fearless. I enjoyed discovering the world through her eyes, although at times I felt irritated by her explosive behaviour. Behaviour that gets her into a lot of troubles.

The first-person narrative is tricky. The reader becomes aware of the events and characters of the story through the narrator's views and knowledge. First-person POV is an imperfect witness by definition, unable to fully see and comprehend events in their entirety as they unfurl. It can make the story engaging or boring. I liked Mat's voice, but I'm afraid many potential readers may dislike her because of her sometimes immature behaviour.

Secondary characters are somewhat one-dimensional. We have a good and a bad cop (who's actually good), loving grandmother, troubled siblings, insta-hate between female team members that soon turns into friendship, and psychotic villain. All of them feel underdeveloped and slightly flat.

Mat's siblings and their behaviour is unbelievable (especially sudden change of hearts). Mat's and Keisha insta-hate resulting in name calling grew old very fast and made for an unpleasant eye-rolling experience. Women in fiction need to stop calling each other bitches, especially if it's done million times.

The main villain, Mutter, should be terrifying. Instead, he's ridiculous. His powers are funky and dangerous; I'll give you that. Unfortunately, he's a one-dimensional bad guy who gets high on messing with people's head or pulling the wings off a fly. Call him Mr Psycho. Near the end of the book, Miss Co-Psycho joins Mr Psycho to wreak some havoc and increase the sense of danger. Very surprising. I'm still shocked.

The plot is easily accessible and easy to follow, if slightly predictable. The outcome was easy to guess from the beginning. Some clever twists and turns made up for it, though and allowed me to entertain a certain level of doubt. I saw the ending. I wasn't shocked, but I was entertained. And it's a good thing.

The writing is simple, neat and well edited. It serves the story and never gets in the way. There were two or three similes that feel a bit over the top in a juvenile way, like this one:
I felt my anger inside me, like a volcano about to explode
Overall, though, the writing is good and easy to follow. Superpowers are the heart of any superhero story. I'm satisfied with Smith's ideas and their displays. Mat's powers shouldn't be underestimated. Give her some vines and trees, and prepare for the mayhem. There's a speedster who wasn't fast enough, a gal controlling metal and a guy controlling air currents. These powers aren't new, but I enjoyed them anyway. Well done.

CONCLUSION: In the end, I liked this book. It's not perfect. It has some flaws, weak characterization being the main one. On the other hand, the story engaged and entertained me. I felt motivated to turn the pages, even when what I saw in my mind's eye was silly. The pacing is excellent, and some action scenes impressed me with vivid imagery. So, despite numerous eye-rolling moments, I plan to continue with the series. It's a great palate cleanser.

Additionally, take into account I'm slowly but inevitably rolling towards my forties. I'm pretty sure that younger audience will be able to identify with Mat in a more intimate way than I.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Detonation Boulevard by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Detonation Boulevard 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 The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Neon Boneyard
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Sworn To The Night
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 review of Cold Spectrum

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in North Carolina and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: When NYPD detective Marie Reinhart met Nessa Roth, a Manhattan socialite and dabbler in the occult, sparks flew. Then came the gunfire. Nessa and Marie are the Witch and her Knight, characters from a fairy tale brought to life and trapped in an endless curse: to meet, fall in love, and be torn from each other’s arms by violent death, again and again for all eternity. Now they have one slim chance to escape their doom. It lies in Wisdom’s Grave, the resting-place of the first witch who ever lived, and the wellspring of magic.

To find it, they’ll have to cross over two thousand miles of hostile territory from New York to Las Vegas, pursued by the law, the criminal underworld, and a cult of demonic bounty hunters. Their enemies have political power and an army of ruthless assassins. They have a book of black magic, a Cadillac, and a gun.

The American heartland is about to become a war zone. And as portals to other worlds tear open, showing the way to secrets buried since the dawn of time, Nessa and Marie prepare to make their final stand.

FORMAT/INFO: Detonation Boulevard is 396 pages long divided over fifty-three chapters with a prologue, & three interludes (spread out over two acts). Narration is in the third-person, via Nessa Fieri, Marie Reinhart, Carolyn Saunders, Daniel Faust, Harmony Black, Scottie Pierce, Dr. Savannah Cross, Tony Fisher, Monique, Hedy,  and a few others . This is the second volume of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy.

August 14, 2018 marked the North American e-book publication of Detonation Boulevard and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Detonation Boulevard is a sequel that I’ve been wanting to read the moment I finished Sworn To The Night in January of this year. Sworn To The Night was the start of the culmination trilogy that focused on all of Craig Schaefer’s previous works (the Daniel Faust series, the Harmony Black series and the Revanche cycle). It’s safe to say Detonation Boulevard had to exceed (my) very high expectations, avoid the middle book syndrome and up the ante even more. For me to discuss things about this book even in the slightest will be spoilerific for the first book so bear that in mind. For those who don’t mind it, read ahead to know more

As with the first book, we are presented with two timelines. The first wherein Carolyn Saunders has been captured and interrogated by persons unknown and made to recount the modern day story of the Witch and The Knight. The second one focuses on Marie Reinhart and Nessa Fieri as they try to escape the clutches of the law, the chains of hellish bounty hunters, and also the machinations of the Universal Story. As with the preceding title, we are presented with a story wherein the tension is high strung throughout the entire plot and the pace is even better than its predecessor.

Since the characters of both Nessa and Marie are already established, the author is able to really let loose with the story in this one. Both Nessa and Marie are now fully aware of who they are and what they are. They are also on the run from the events of New York City which saw Nessa’s husband and his compatriots fall to their own rituals. Nessa and Marie don’t necessarily have a plan but what they do have is a destination of sorts. Unable to pick up any essential items from their homes, they have some cash and some specialized things that Nessa needs for her witchcraft. Focusing on finding Wisdom’s Grave, they soon learn that Carolyn Saunders can be of some help and drive off to Illinois to find her. Amidst the way they will learn more about the Universal Story, the existence and location of the Bast club in Chicago and hopefully a reunion with a daughter. All in all the story becomes pretty wild and the pace is set to match the best thrillers ever written.

I finished this book in less than a day, and I can honestly say this was one of those reads that I didn’t want to put it down until I reached the last page. This book is a crazy mix of references to the previous stories set within the same world as well as other worlds. It talks about the nature of things, people and why they possibly do the things that they do. Also the plot is an ingenious mix of interdimensional adventure, amazing character interactions and action sequences that will keep readers riveted.

For me the main reasons for why this book jived with me so much are:
- The amazingly, crazy plot that makes sense while being so twisted
- A mind-bending mix of Lovecraftian and aquatic horror that I’ll will never be able to forget
- A return to the world of the Revanche Cycle which I thoroughly enjoyed

Let’s start with the plot, when it comes to any Craig Schaefer book. I’ve come to expect grand plot designs and twists that will keep me guessing all the way till the end. The Wisdom’s Grave trilogy being the culmination saga that it’s meant to be, it takes all of the author’s skills to plan and then successfully portray it all. The plot of this book is really hard to describe without spoilers but the best blurb I can come up with is "Lost meets Thelma & Louise meets Fringe".

Craig Scahefer is also known to readers for his horror touches across all of his books (so far) and here he produces something that manages to combine Lovecraft and aquatic terror in the most unnerving way possible. Seriously if you are afflicted by Thalassophobia or were simply scared by Jaws, then be ready to get your wits blown by what Craig Schaefer unleashes. The action sequences are also amped accordingly and while there’s no all-out action, it’s solidly interspersed within the story.

The author has only so much room to get the story on the read and he does it with aplomb. Along the way, there’s some kinky romance, plenty of action and a lot of cameos by characters who will be known to Craig Schaefer fans. The story keeps on upping the ante and we also get a pseudo-sequel to the events of the Revanche cycle in this book. Best part about it, we get to see what that world is like afterwards and also meet a few characters who we last saw in the epilogue of Queen Of The Night.

The characters as ever are truly what make this book shine. Previously it was Nessa and Marie and in this book too, they are at the fore but the beauty is in the side character cast. Daniel Faust makes up a wonderful extended cameo as he’s once again tasked by the Mourner of The Red Rocks to help the cross-fated lovers. Faust is entirely hilarious and makes some subtle references to events in his previous series which are endearing and quirky at the same time. Seriously if I hadn’t read all of the Daniel Faust books, I would be hunting them down pronto as such is understated quirky awesomeness of Faust’s appearance. There’s another character (who shall remain unnamed) that makes a triumphant return and as such that person was one of my favourite non-POV characters and it’s a true joy to reunited with them after so long.

The world setting are expanded beyond belief as we get some crazy reveals and which unsurprisingly just lead to more questions. But the author has assured us that all will be answered in the final volume of the trilogy, In The Fire and I can’t wait to read it. The multiverse concept has been teased throughout all of Scahefer’s books and it’s in this volume that he really unloads on that phenomenon. Fans of DC comics will definitely find some fun parallels but the credit to Schaefer for not letting it go haywire. Lastly the prologue and interludes are very meta and it was fun to see that unfold.

Going on to the negatives of this book, I feel that the author managed to improve on the two pitfalls of Sworn To The Night, namely the slowburn pace and then end twist which seemed to be rehashed from another book of his. In this book he successfully negates both of those drawbacks by streamlined pace throughout as well as exploring & consolidating that climatic twist.  The only thing I can choose to fault this book for, is the absence of the Enemy. I find it hard to believe that in a tale wherein the Story is the main plot element, the Enemy wouldn’t be meddling or be featured at all. Again this is a very personal observation with regards to this title and for many, this might not be a point to consider. Lastly for those who hate cliffhangers, the story ends on some big ones so there’s that to contend with.

CONCLUSION: Detonation Boulevard is a book that is incredible and better in almost every way to its preceding title. Craig Schaefer is on the verge of unveiling his zaniest story yet and Detonation Boulevard only proves that Schaefer is a talent unlike any other in the urban fantasy sub-genre. You should be reading the Wisdom’s Grave trilogy if you haven’t so far. This trilogy has all the hallmarks of a classic genre-bending fantasy story and the author is doing his hardest to make sure all the readers feel that way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

SPFBO Semi-finalist: By Raven's Call by J. A. Devenport (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order By Raven's Call HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: J. A. Devenport was forged from the wilds of Alaska, a true cross between polar bear and man. After obtaining an education from BYU, Devenport began the long journey of making a career from writing. He now resides in Utah where he writes, works out, and chills with his two cats Buddy, and Lulu.

FORMAT/INFO: By Raven’s Call is 391 pages long divided over thirty five numbered chapters preceded by a prologue and followed by an epilogue . The narration is in the third person. There are few important POVs. This is the first volume of the Blackwing Cycle series.

The book is available in e-book and paperback formats. It was self-published by the author. Cover art and design are DIY.

CLASSIFICATION: By Raven’s Call is a plot-driven dark epic fantasy book with imaginative and immersive world-building.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Raven is an unstoppable killing machine. He's more of a weapon than a human being. Rumour has it that he killed thousands of people, including the old king. Unfortunately, the new one is even worse. To put it mildly, the tyrant king is a despicable and greedy individual who doesn't care about the kingdom or its people.

The Uprising lead by a mysterious leader works to overthrow the ruler. It seems The Raven may be involved, but it's tricky to be sure when no one knows who The Raven is and if he exists at all.

As it's a plot-driven story with multiple narrative twists and turns, I won't get into more details. Suffice to say it gets better, deeper and more surprising the further we go. By Raven's Call's pacing is brisk, and it takes place in a fascinating world riddled with mysteries. The world-building is impressive and deep.

The setting starts out routine enough, but soon magic (sort of), airships, flying machines, drugs enhancing strength make their appearance. The story takes more than a few unexpected turns. Things explode. Stoned warriors jump from the airships. Characters aren't who they seem to be.

Well, yes. We've seen it before. But here it's done very well. I enjoyed the inclusion of alchemically powered airships a lot. They're powered by three god-metals (each with different properties, thanks to them airships can levitate, navigate and generate light). It turns out there may be one more, a much more sinister ingredient necessary to fuel King's fleet.

If only killing the bastard was easy. But it's not. He's guarded by a powerful Spirit Dancer - Valora. Spirit Dancers summon the spirits called aenmai who give them preternatural skills (ungodly strength, almost Flash-like speed, control over the matter and many others; each aenmai shares a unique set of skills with a human it bonded with).

Regular people can increase their chances of survival by using augments - potions like aceta or ciraj that can reduce fear and make impossible feats (like single-handedly devastating a garrison of trained soldiers) possible.

And that's just a start. I'm thoroughly impressed by the rich world-building and parts of aenmai mythos introduced in this novel. They give plenty of exciting possibilities for future developments.

Both plot and world-building are intriguing and enjoyable. What about characters?

And therein lies the rub.

To be fair, I reread parts of the book. My opinion didn't change. Characters are... decent. And I prefer them spectacular. Sure, each of them has a backstory and some distinct defining traits, but they don't feel fully fleshed out. There's a bear of a man wanting nothing more than to find his daughter, a woman who changes from prey to predator, a mysterious assassin hearing voices in his head. They're enjoyable, but none of them really stayed with me after I finished the book.

While it was entertaining to read slow-motion action-scenes involving The Raven, his statements like “I’m a weapon, I’m hardly safe” grow old fast. Yes, he's not in control of himself. He's ruled by Raven's voices in his head, and it's a fascinating concept. On the other hand, his internalizations and ramblings that he can't love or be loved are tiring and make me think about B-grade action movies of the 80s. He's a character with great potential but somehow remains unmemorable as a person I could relate to.

The same is true for others. Their motivations are believable, but somewhere along the line, they start to be defined by the need for revenge, berserk rage, blind devotion and stuff.

My other issue with the book is its cinematic panache. On the one hand, it's fantastic as the scenes are explosive, strong and easy to visualise. On the other hand, when you think about them they're over the top:
Uncertainty and awe crossed the man’s face as he felt the sheer weight of power emanating from her. Valora raised her arms, and the man turned and fled. With one leap he was twenty feet away, dust swirling into the air from the force of his passage. He ran, twice as fast as a normal man, leaving curling spirals of smoke in his wake, diving over the burning remains of buildings and flipping in the air before landing on his feet and sprinting onward.
I think it's a great action scene. It contains plenty of embellishments, though. There's also one crucial and dramatic scene in which loyal royalists/mercenaries turn into insurgents seconds after witnessing the King cruelty. I'm not saying it wouldn't happen. I just don't think it would happen that fast and that unequivocally. To be fair, though, it reads very well.

CONCLUSION: While not fully satisfying in certain regards, rough with its characterisation, there is a sound concept, and enough plot hooks to keep readers flipping the pages with growing excitement.

Fresh and unique world-building deserves high praise. I'll definitely read the sequel.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Interview with Rob J. Hayes (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order City Of  Kings over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Kings
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Fifth Empire Of Man
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 Fantasy Book Critic's Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO Aftermath Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

Q] Welcome back Rob and thank you for your time. How has your launch for City Of Kings been? 

RJH: Thanks for having me again. The launch has been somewhat stressful (as all launches are), but it's going really well. Books have been sold and are being read, so I generally consider that a win.

Q] Since your SPFBO win, you have had an SF release and now this book which is a tie-in to your debut saga. How has the reader feedback been for both those releases?

RJH: Extremely positive. I'll admit I was a little worried about both releases. DRONES is a huge departure from my normal stuff for a number of reasons. It's sci-fi, it's spec fic, it's all written in 1st person present tense (which is a nightmare to write in), so it was a daunting release. Luckily most people have really taken to it.

 For City Of Kings, it's again a little different as it's my first standalone set in the world of First Earth, and it deals with some quite dark themes. Again, most readers seem to be digging the brutality of it.

I'm still waiting for the 1 stars though, I'm sure they're coming.

Q] With Drones being your SF genre debut, it was an interesting read and a different read from your usual fantasy fare. What lead you to write a SF-thriller dealing with harvesting and packaging of human emotions?

RJH: I just had the concept idea rolling around in my head, this ability to harvest and sell emotions in a way that drains the memory of all emotional connection and then passes the pure emotion on to the buyer. At the time of coming up with it I had no setting or story surrounding it. It took me a good six months to decide it would work best in a science fiction future sort of like Total Recall or Bladerunner. I do love a good cyperpunk future setting. The real headache was that I decided it should be written in 1st person present tense... never again. It took me about a year of editing to get rid of all the past tense inconsistencies.

Q] Let’s talk about CITY OF KINGS. It’s your first standalone fantasy book and also a proper sequel to some of the events and characters of your first trilogy (especially The Colour Of Vengeance) and the your short story Pre-Emptive Vengeance. What lead to its inception?

RJH: It was pretty much always there. I went into my fantasy saga of First Earth with a plan, a 12 book plan. That plan turned out to be quite fluid. Some stories have grown from nothing, demanding to be written, others have sunk into the murky waters of just not working out. But the 12 book plan remains intact with a number of key points that have to happen along the way. City Of Kings is the midway point, as the sixth book in the saga, and it's an important one. It introduces a couple of key pieces of information that will become very relevant later on in the saga, and introduces a new character.

Q] As a sequel to The Colour Of Vengeance, all of the POV characters except Rose had been POV characters in The Colour Of Vengeance. What was the impetus for Rose to get her own POV in this book?

RJH: It's her book. Rose is the driving force behind everything that happens in City Of Kings. She has a vision for the Wilds that she is determined to bring about, no matter how much a monster it makes her. And she's fully aware that she's running out of time to make it happen. It would have been a crime for me to write it without Rose's point of view.

Q] Anders is the only other person besides Henry who has appeared in all of your First Earth books. However he knows much, more about what's happening than Henry has any idea about. Would you say that's a fair approximation? Will the latter books reveal all of Anders' mysteries?

RJH: Yes. :D

Q] Chronologically it’s set alongside the Best Laid Plans duology and I believe CITY OF KINGS runs parallel the events of THE FIFTH EMPIRE OF MAN. Was that an intentional move? Another trilogy of sorts by combining a duology and a standalone?

RJH: Not really. Believe it or not, the timing of everything that happens is because of one particular character. I pay a lot of attention to where my characters are at what time, and I try my best to keep a consistent timeline running. So it really all boils down to City Of Kings had to happen when it happened because of Anders. It's all his fault, and most of my characters agree.

Q] From our talks before you have mentioned that the next book and trilogy will be skipping a few years (after the events of City Of Kings & the Best Laid Plans duology) and will be set in Acanthia. Can you tell us more about it?

RJH: Yes. There is actually roughly a fifteen year time skip between City Of Kings and the next series. I can't give away too much right now, but I will say that the series will reveal a lot more about First Earth's secondary race, the Drurr, and how they fit into the larger plot of the saga. The series will also tell readers more about the rise of necromancy as an ongoing threat.

Q] You currently have a quite a few short stories set at different timepoints and places in the First Earth World whilst featuring many different characters. Which short stor(y)ies will be tying in to the new trilogy?

RJH: There's already a couple. There's two short stories in The Bound Folio called, The Merchant of Truridge and By My Life and Bloodline, both of which feature characters who feature strongly in the next series. There might be a few more shorts on the way as well, but I can't say for certain. Too much of my time is being taken up with writing full length novels at the moment.

Q] I never have asked you about this, but the grand title of your saga is the First Earth. What does it mean and why did you choose to call it as such?

RJH: Well if there's a First Earth, it would suggest there might be a Second Earth... and maybe a Third and Fourth Earth as well.

Q] What’s next on the horizon for you? Are you writing a sequel to one of your earlier works or will you be releasing something brand new?

RJH: My next release is a book called NEVER DIE, and it's a standalone fantasy book set in its very own world. I've taken a lot of inspiration from eastern martial art films and anime with it. It follows a young boy called Ein who is given a quest by a shinigami (god of death) to kill the emperor. To do this, Ein is given the power to bring heroes back to life to fight for him. The only problem is, to bring them back to life and bind them to his cause, first those heroes have to die. NEVER DIE will be releasing early next year.

And beyond that my next project is a trilogy set in a new world where magic is granted to Sourcerers by swallowing crystals. It's a bit more high fantasy than I've written before with a few other races, and lots of big magic, and it's another one I've written in first person from the perspective of young woman called Eska. Book 1, Along the Razor's Edge, will be releasing next year (this is the first time I've revealed that), with books 2 and 3 following the year after.

Q] Never Die sounds amazing and I'm sure your fans will love to hear more about it. The other trilogy you reference sounds even cooler, will this be your turn to dabble in the YA genre?

RJH: Apparently so. I certainly didn't intend it to be YA when I started it, and in my mind it isn't, but some of my early readers have said it has YA elements to it. I've also been told it's what would happen if you put Faithless and Red Sister in a blender. I'm not sure I agree with either statements personally.

Q] Thank you for your time and answers, I’ll look forward to Never Die when it releases next year. In parting, it there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

RJH: Just to say thank you for reading. I love sharing stories with people, and I couldn't do that without readers. You are all awesome!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Circe by Madeline Miller (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Author Website
Order Circe OVER HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:  Men, can’t live with ‘em, can’t turn ‘em all into swine.

What do you mean turn them into swine? From her earliest application of her new found transformative skills it is suggested that what Circe turns her unfortunate guests into has more to do with their innermost nature than Circe’s selection of a target form. (The strength of those flowers lay in their sap, which could transform any creature to its truest self.) Clearly her sty residents had an oinky predisposition. And I am sure that there are many who had started the transformation long before landing on her island.

Whaddya call the large sty Circe filled with erstwhile men? A good start.

Ok. You had to know this would be part of the deal for this review. So, now that I have gotten it out of my system, (it is out, right?) we can proceed.

When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. It was a word that Barbara Bush might have had in mind when she described Geraldine Ferraro, her husband’s opponent for the Vice Presidency, in 1984. “"I can't say it, but it rhymes with 'rich,'" she said, later insisting that the word in question did not begin with a “b,” but a “w.” Sure, whatever. But in this case, I suppose both might apply. Circe is indeed the first witch in western literature. And many a sailing crew might have had unkind things to say about her.

(Madeline Miller - image courtesy of Stephanie Diani & The Sunday Times)

Our primary introduction to Circe (which we pronounce as Sir-Sea, and even Miller goes along with this, so people don’t throw things at her. But for how it might be pronounced in Greek, you know, the proper way, you might check out this link. Put that down, there will be no throwing of things in this review!) was that wondrous classic of Western literature, The Odyssey. Given how many times this and its companion volume, The Iliad, have been reworked through the ages, it is no surprise that there have been many variations on the stories they told. Circe’s story has seen its share of re-imaginings as well. But Miller tries to stick fairly close to the Homeric version. Be warned, though, some license was taken, and other sources inspired the work as well. But it is from Homer that we get the primary association we have with her name, the magical transmutation of men into pigs.

We follow the life of our Ur-witch from birth to whatever. She did not start out with much by way of godly powers. Her mother, Perse, daughter of the sea-god Oceanos, was a nymph, and her father was Helios, the sun god. Despite the lofty position of Pop’s place in things, Circe was just a nymph, on the low end of the godly powers scale. This did not help in the family to which she had been born. Not one of her parents’ favorites, she was blessed with neither power nor beauty, had a very ungod-like human-level voice, and her sibs were not exactly the nicest. Kinda tough to keep up when daddy is the actual bloody sun.

Years pass, and one day she comes across a mortal fisherman. He seems pretty nice, someone she can talk to. She’d like to take it to the next stage, so she lays low, listens in on family gatherings, and picks up intel on substances that might be used to effect powerful and advantageous changes. She asks her grandmother, Tethys, (wife AND SISTER to Oceanos) to transform him into a god for her, but Granny throws her out, alarmed when her granddaughter mentions this pharmakos stuff she had been looking into. Left to her own devices she tries this out on her bf, making him into his truest self. It does not end the way she’d hoped. (Pearls before you-know-what.) Not the last bad experience she would have with a man.

Her relationships with men are actually not all bad. Daddy is singularly unfeeling, and can be pretty dim for such a bright bulb, and her brothers are far less than wonderful, but there is some good in her sibling connections as well. She has a warm interaction with a titan, Prometheus, which is a net positive. Later, she has an interesting relationship with Hermes, who is not to be trusted, but who offers some helpful guidance. And then there are the mortals, Daedalus (the master artist, the Michelangelo, the Leonardo da Vinci of his era), Jason, of Argonaut fame, Odysseus, who you may have heard of, and more. There were dark encounters as well, and thus the whole turning-men-into-pigs thing.

Miller has had a passion for the classics since she was eight, when her mother read her the Iliad and began taking her to Egyptian and Greek exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It made her a nerdy classmate but was a boon when she got to college and was able to find peers who shared her love of the ancient tales. It was this passion that led her to write her first novel, The Song of Achilles, a reimagining of Achilles relationship with his lover, Patroclus, a delight of a book, a Times bestseller, and winner of the Orange prize. It took her ten years to write her first novel, about seven for this one and the gestation period for number three remains to be seen. She is weighing whether to base it on Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Virgil’s Aeneid. If past is portent, it will be the latter, and should be ready by about 2025.

The central, driving force in the story is Circe becoming her fullest possible self. (I suppose one might say she made a silk purse from a sow’s ear. I wouldn’t, but some might.)

This is the story of a woman finding her power and, as part of that, finding her voice. She starts out really unable to say what she thinks and by the end of the book, she’s able to live life on her terms and say what she thinks and what she feels. - from the Bookriot interview

Most gods are awful sorts, vain, selfish, greedy, careless of the harm they do to others. Circe actually has better inclinations. For instance, when Prometheus is being tortured by the titans for the crime of giving fire to humans, Circe alone is kind to him, bringing him nectar, and talking with him when no one else offers him anything but anger and scorn. She is curious about mortals, and asks him about them, going so far as to cut herself to experience a bit of humanity.

Livestock comes in for some attention outside the sty. Turns out Circe’s father has a thing for a well-turned fetlock, so maybe she comes by her affinity for animals of all sorts, albeit in a very different way, quite naturally. Her island is rich with diverse fauna, including some close companions most of us would flee. An early version of Doctor Doolittle?

Scholars have debated whether Circe’s pet lions are supposed to be transformed men, or merely tamed beasts. In my novel, I chose to make them actual animals, because I wanted to honor Circe’s connection to Eastern and Anatolian goddesses like Cybele. Such goddesses also had power over fierce animals, and are known by the title Potnia Theron, Mistress of the Beasts.  - from the author's photo essay

Not be confused with The Beastmaster!

While she has her darker side (she does change her nymph love-rival Scylla into a beast of epic proportions, which gets her sent to her room, or in this case, island, and there is that pig thing again) she is also a welcoming hostess on her isle of exile, Aiaia. (Which sounds to me like the palindromic beginning of a lament, Aiaiaiaiaiaiaia, which might feel a bit more familiar with a minor transformation, to oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy). I mean, she runs a pretty nifty BnB, with free-roaming wild animals, of both the barnyard and terrifying sort, a steady flow of wayward nymphs sent there by desperate parents in hopes that Circe might transform them into less troublesome progeny, a table with a seemingly bottomless supply of food and drink. And she is more than willing to offer special services to world-class mortals, among others. I mean, after that little misunderstanding with Odysseus about his men, (Pigs? What pigs? What could you possibly mean? Oh, you mean those pigs. Oopsy. How careless of me.) she not only invites everyone to stay for a prolonged vacay, but shacks up with the peripatetic one, offers him instructions on reaching the underworld, suggests ways to get past Scylla and Charybdis, and probably packs bag lunches for him and his crew. She is not all bad.

Circe struggles with the mortals-vs-immortals tension. Her mortal voice makes her less frightening to the short-lived ones, allowing her to establish actual relationships with them that a more boombox-voice-level deity might not be able to manage. Of course, it is still quite limiting that even the youngest of her mortal love interests would wither and die while she remained the same age pretty much forever. Knowing that you will see any man you love die is a definite limiting factor. Yet, she manages. She certainly recognizes what a psycho crew the immortals are, even her immediate family, and respects that mortals who gain fame do so by the sweat of their brow or extreme cunning, (even if it is to dark purpose) not their questionable godly DNA. Reinforcing this is her front row seat to the real-housewives tension between the erstwhile global rulers, the Titans, and the relatively new champions of everything there is, the Olympians. I mean, perpetual torture, thunderbolts, ongoing seditious plots, the nurturing of monsters, wholesale slaughter of mortals? She knows a thing or two, because she’s seen a thing or two.

My thoughts about [Circe as caregiver] really start with the gods, who in Greek myth are horrendous creatures. Selfish, totally invested only in their own desires, and unable to really care for anyone but themselves. Circe has this impulse from the beginning to care for other people. She has this initial encounter with Prometheus where she comes across another god who seems to understand that and also who triggers that impulse in her. I wanted to write about what it’s like when you to want to try to be a good person, but you have absolutely no models for that. How do you construct a moral view coming from a completely immoral family? - from the Bookriot interview

Of course, there is a pretty straight line between the sort of MCP hogwash Circe had to endure in the wayback and recent events that have been getting so much attention of late

I wasn’t trying to write Circe’s story in a modern way… I was just trying to be true to her experience in the ancient world.” “It was a very eerie experience. I would put the book away and check the news. The top story was literally the same issue I had just been writing about — sexual assault, abuse, men refusing to allow women to have any power ... I was drawn to the mystery of her character — why is she turning men into pigs?” – from The Times interview

There are plenty of classical connections peppered throughout Circe’s tale. Jason and Medea (niece) pop by for a spell. She is summoned to assist in the birthing of the minotaur (nephew) to her seriously nasty sister. She is part of Scylla’s origin story, interacts with Prometheus (cousin), gives shit to Athena, even heads into the briny deep to take a meeting with a huge sea creature (no, not the Kraaken). Hangs with Penelope (her bf’s wife) and Telemachus (bf’s son), and spends a lot of time with Hermes. She definitely had a life, many even, particularly for someone who was ostracized to live on an island.

For Circe, I would say the Odyssey was my primary touch-stone in the sense that that’s where I started building the character. I take character clues directly from Homer’s text, both large and small. I mentioned her mortal-like voice. The lions. The pigs. And then when I get to the Odysseus episode in the book, I follow Homer obviously very closely… - from the BookRiot interview

In terms of sources, I used texts from all over the ancient world and a few from the more modern world as well. For Circe herself, I drew inspiration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica, Vergil’s Aeneid, the lost epic Telegony (which survives only in summary) and myths of the Anatolian goddess Cybele. For other characters, I was inspired by the Iliad, of course, the tragedies (specifically the Oresteia, Medea and Philoctetes), Vergil’s Aeneid again, Tennyson’s Ulysses and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Alert readers may note a few small pieces of Shakespeare’s Ulysses in my Odysseus! - from the Bookpage interview

CONCLUSION: Madeline Miller’s Circe is not a lovelorn, lonely heart desperate for connection in her isolation, but a multi-faceted character (not actually a human being, though), with inner seams of the dark and light sort, with family issues that might seem familiar in feel, if not in external content, with sins on her soul, but a desire to do good, and with a curiosity about the world. She may not have been the brightest light in the house of Helios, but she glowed with an inner strength, a capacity for mercy, an appreciation for genius, beauty and talent, and a fondness for pork. This is the epic story of a life lived to the fullest.

Circe is an explorer, a lover, a destroyer, and can be a very angry goddess. This transformative figure is our doorway to a very accessible look at the Greek tales which lie at the root of so much of our culture. If you have a decent grounding in western mythology this will offer a delightful refresher. If you do not, it can offer a delightful introduction, and will no doubt spark a desire to root about for more. Madeline Miller may not have a wand with special powers, or transmogrifying potions at her command, but she demonstrates here a power to transform mere readers into fans. Circe is a fabulous read! You will go hog wild for it. Can you pass the hot dogs? That’s All Folks

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

SPFBO: Interview with C. D. Gallant-King (Interviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order Hell Comes To Hogtown HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Hell Comes To Hogtown

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

CD: I’m thirty-odd-something. I’m Canadian, from the island province of Newfoundland, which is kind of like the North in Westeros, except that instead of a solid wall of ice we’re surrounded by a sea full of icebergs. At eighteen I moved to Toronto to study theatre, and I completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. I haven’t set foot inside a theatre since.

In my life I’ve been a stock boy, an actor, a marketing coordinator, a stage manager, a lighting designer, a print shop manager, a retail supervisor, a trainer, an executive assistant, a bookkeeper, and currently I push papers around for the government. I also once spent an afternoon handing out free hugs and cupcakes on a street corner. Through all of it I’ve written stories, but to be honest the writing doesn’t pay much better than the cupcakes.

In addition to reading books and telling stories I like playing games, especially if they involve funny-shaped dice and talking in silly voices, and I’m also very partial to the noble and ancient art of professional wrestling. I also buy lots of Star Wars toys and pretend they’re for my kids.

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

CD: I’ve always loved telling stories, even before I could write. I think I just like the attention, which is probably why I briefly ended up as an actor. Writing is another medium for story delivery and attention hogging that, in many ways, is superior: you can still make your audience laugh, cry or get angry, and they can’t throw anything at you.

I’ve written I believe ten books, but only two I’ve made widely available for mass consumption. I had collected a bunch of rejection letters in my twenties and ended up putting writing on the back burner, but when I discovered how prevalent self-publishing had become I convinced myself I had to give it a try. I rushed to self-publish my first book by my 35th birthday and it was, to be polite, not ready. The day after I published it and friends and family members had purchased numerous copies, my wife made me take it down and fix it. I have since re-written it extensively, but that original sting still hurt. Especially since none of the people who rushed to buy the first one have read any of my work since.

I self-published Hell Comes To Hogtown sort of as proof to myself that I could do better. I had learned a lot from my first pass and was convinced I would make a better go this time around. Plus, it was a weird blend of styles and genres that I didn’t look forward to trying to shop around. I like the idea of writing whatever the hell I want and not trying to aim toward a particular market.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of Hell Comes To Hogtown occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

CD: Hogtown was the first book I set out to write that I knew I would make available for people to read, and that I would be self-publishing it, and after the first one I wanted to do a better job with it the first time around. I wanted to write a supernatural mystery with a gang of weird heroes, sort of like a messed up version of Scooby Doo. The original first draft took about five months to write, and I wrote it all long-hand in a coil notebook. It took another year to edit and revise it to where it needed to be.

Part of the reason it took so long is because my first draft was so free-form and rambling, I had to trim and cut and move things around to make it make any sense. While the general plot and basic characters still exist from the original draft to the final book, it looks very different. Many of the scenes are in a completely different order, characters have been removed and added, and the fates of several key cast members have been significantly changed.

The other reason it took awhile is because I wrote the entire thing – the long-hand first draft, the transcribing to a digital file, and all of the editing – on the bus during my commute to and from work. I think I must be some kind of masochist, but it was the only free time I had (and I had a lot of it), so I made the most of it the best I could.

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

CD: I don’t have a single muse that inspires me. I get ideas from many different places. Often it’s a book or movie with a plot I would like to re-tell but change. Sometimes it’s an interesting person I meet or observe on the street that is so weird I have to put it in a book because no one will believe they’re real. Sometimes it’s a real conversation I have with my wife, or a funny story one of my kids tell. All of these ideas are floating around in my head so that I have no shortage of inspiration, if anything I have more ideas than I could possible use in one lifetime. As I get older I realize I also have so many I will never remember them all.

Q] Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

CD: I entered last year because I had just finished revising my original book and I was pretty proud of it. I had no expectations that I would win anything, but I figured I might get a review out of it, and reviews, especially from a respected review blog, was worth something, right? Unfortunately my book was the very first one eliminated from its group because the reviewer was really turned off by my sense of humour. I tried again this year, even though Hell Comes To Hogtown has ten times as much offensive humour, because I figured “What do I have to lose?” I couldn’t possibly do worse this time unless Mark Lawrence personally showed up at my house and punched me in the face (which, to be fair, would be an awesome story). Again, I really didn’t expect anything, but I crossed my fingers that someone would read my stuff and get my humour.

Q] Your book is pretty dark in places, but it’s balanced by elements of grotesque and wicked sense of humour some readers will, undoubtedly, find inappropriate. Was it deliberate?

CD: Absolutely. I had a theatre professor who said the only difference between comedy and tragedy is that comedy has a happy ending and tragedy has a sad ending. You need both to be truly effective. Tragedy, by itself, just becomes numbing and boring after awhile. You need comedy to break it up, to instill little bubbles of hope to make the tragedy hammer land all the harder when it swings back around. And comedy without pathos is just a mindless sitcom. Tragedy never hits more effectively than when it comes out of the blue into an otherwise happy and joyful situation.

So yes, I used both elements very purposefully, and I used them both very purposefully to their extreme. Sure it’s grotesque, and sure it will make people uncomfortable at times, but sometimes you have to laugh at sorrow. There are many people who have come to SPFBO looking for noblebright epic fantasy that will absolutely be turned off by Hell Comes To Hogtown. Hell, there are probably people who like horror and thrillers that would find it too goofy. But somewhere in the Venn diagram of those two audiences lies my sweet spot.

Q] There are two main heroes and a nice final twist - I wonder whether you had the ending nailed when starting to write the book?

CD: Not at all. Without a doubt, the ending was the hardest part of the book. I have many ideas for these characters and I wanted to leave it open for a sequel, but at the same time I wanted some closure and satisfaction in case that sequel didn’t happen. Plus I found just getting something that was narratively satisfying was tough. Part of the problem might have been that I didn’t have a clear ending in mind when I started. I completely re-wrote the last few chapters a half dozen times before finally showing it to my wife (who is much smarter than me) and she immediately said: “You’re being stupid. End it like this.” And she was right.

Q] It’s difficult to classify your book - comic urban horror-fantasy with a noir-tinge sounds like a good place to start. Is there a specific sub-genre you identify with most as a writer?

CD: First and foremost I consider myself a comic writer. I’ve written fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, I even have a western I’m dabbling with, but it’s always funny. I love all of those genres but they’re also all ridiculous and full of tropes, so they’re just begging to have a bit of fun poked in their general direction. If we can’t laugh at ourselves and the things we love then what’s the point?

If you wanted something more specific than that, then I would say I sit somewhere in the middle of “comic fantasy” and veer toward “epic,” “urban,” or “horror” as the situation calls for, liberally sprinkling “thriller/mystery” from time to time.

Q] Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Hell Comes To Hogtown has a “loud” cover. I can’t say I enjoyed it as much as the novel. Can you tell me about the idea behind it?

CD: The rest of the book is offensive, so the cover should be too, right? No, seriously, I did want something bold and funny but also dark, and it’s a very hard line to walk with little talent and even less money.

I love the photograph base by Jason Salvatori – I feel a sexy woman lying on a pile of comic books fits the tone perfectly, and I also really like lettering of the title, which I had done on Could I have put the elements together better? Probably, but since I lacked the finesse to make anything subtle and tasteful, I just went completely in the other direction. Like everything I do.

Q] Your book was edited by a professional editor. Can you talk about the experience and the scope of changes?

CD: Amy Allen-MacLeod is fabulous and I can’t recommend working with her enough. She really dug deep into the manuscript to help me make it the best it could be. Not just helping to clean up the grammar and sentence structure and so on, but also picking out plot problems and characterization issues to make sure that everything made sense. We discussed everything and went back and forth on a number of issues; most of her suggestions I agreed with immediately, a few more took some debate as I argued why it was important to keep and she told me I was being an idiot (my words, not hers, but she was still right).

She never made any recommendations of sweeping changes, but explained that if this was the way I wanted the story to go, these are the things I would have to do to get there. Sure that meant adding/removing/changing paragraphs or pages throughout, but the overall flow of the story is much better because of it. Any issues with the final manuscript is on me, not her.

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

CD: My list of favourite authors probably won’t surprise you: Terry Pratchett, Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Moore. I wish I was as prolific and British as Pratchett, as concise and insightful as Vonnegut, and that I had thought of the plot of Lamb before Moore.

Other “less-genre-y” inspirations include Cormac McCarthy, P.G. Wodehouse and Douglas Adams – I don’t consider Adams a genre writer, he’s more of an Evangelist.

As for current authors, I would be remiss not to mention the Grimdark Readers and Writers Group on Facebook, and the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, both of which are great resources. Specific shout-outs to Philip Overby, whose style I generally just copy and then take two steps too far, and Patricia Lynne, who my wife insists writes much better than I do.

Q] I love oddball questions and oddball answers, so allow me to ask you one - What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?

CD: First I would ask my kids “Where the fuck did you find a penguin and why did you put it in the freezer?” Then we would put a Santa Clause hat on it and pose for our family Holiday pictures, because you have to take an advantage of a free penguin when the opportunity presents itself.


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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