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Friday, November 30, 2018

The Lore Of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo & Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order The Lore Of Prometheus over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Faithless 

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Graham Austin-King was born in England. From a young age, his interests ran from fantasy novels to computers and tabletop gaming. Having previously worked in the fields of journalism, international relations, and law, he found himself returning to his love of fantasy and creating rich worlds. He has finished his debut fantasy trilogy focusing on the Fae and decided to do something different with his next work. He currently lives in the south of England with his family after living in the northern part of the country and Canada.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: John Carver has three rules: Don't drink in the daytime, don't gamble when the luck has gone, and don't talk to the dead people who come to visit.

It has been almost five years since the incident in Kabul. Since the magic stirred within him and the stories began. Fleeing the army, running from the whispers, the guilt, and the fear he was losing his mind, Carver fell into addiction, dragging himself through life one day at a time.

Desperation has pulled him back to Afghanistan, back to the heat, the dust, and the truth he worked so hard to avoid. But there are others, obsessed with power and forbidden magics, who will stop at nothing to learn the truth of his gifts. Abducted and chained, Carver must break more than his own rules if he is to harness this power and survive.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): When Graham Austin-King announced his newest a few weeks ago, I was intrigued. After reading Faithless, one thing was abundantly clear. Graham knew how to psychologically and physically torture his characters without making it exploitative. His writing and characterization were also top notch so that readers preferring a darker bent to their stories would find everything to like in his tales. The Lore Of Prometheus promised something similar and in the end turned to be much more than I thought it would be.

We being the story with John Carver, a survivor of the post 9-11 war in Iraq & Afghanistan who owes a pretty penny to a loan shark. He’s also facing issues such as the spectral presence of his battalion comrades who lost their lives back in Afghanistan. They haunt him literally and hence he has enacted three rules to keep himself mentally steady. Things however don’t quite work his way and he’s forced to take a job back in Afghanistan. Mackenzie Cartwright is the other POV character in this story and she’s facing a worse dilemma than Carver. She finds herself in a strange room and with no recollection of how she got there. Forced to survive, she will do all that she can to get out and find out who put her there. These are the two main plot threads of this book and both of them are plenty twisty and dark.

The story jumps off with a solid pace and we are taken along not knowing what will happen next. I really enjoyed this aspect of the storyline, the psychological horror that’s prevalent is very slowly and surely calibrated and amped up as well. The story is very much in line with some of the earlier psychological thrillers written by Blake Crouch and Mackenzie's POV sections are some of the darkest and most crucial ones as well. These sections though not gratuitous are very emotionally draining and might be too much for some. The tension is evenly strung out throughout the story and in the latter half, when things are turned up to an eleven is when the plot really becomes even more unpredictable.

The characterization is the best part about the book as both John Carver and Mackenzie Cartwright are normal people but circumstances in the past have changed them. Plus in the present, they are put through a psychological and physical wringer of sorts. The story focuses a lot on PTSD via war veterans and then through psychological abuse. It makes for some rough reading but the author doesn't flinch away from showcasing these hard moments. The way they react and what happens next is truly what makes this story such a standout one. Both these characters have something in their past that makes them special in the antagonist’s eyes. This also makes them that much more intriguing to read and the main twist is finding out exactly what that is. The antagonist has an idea but the readers and these characters don’t so when the reveal occurs, it is truly shocking.

The author also showcases Kabul and Afghanistan which I thought was really cool. He manages to give the reader an exact view into what life is like for soldiers over there. In this scenario, I really have to give kudos to the author’s military expert (hiya Michael) and the author for writing such a vivid landscape (dust, heat and all). The action is often kept to the personal level but it’s very explosive and still a lot of fun to read about. Overall this book ends in such a way that the readers will demand a sequel immediately.

The only negative for me about this story is that the antagonist’s background, deeper motivations and history are never made clear. This is perhaps the sole flaw in this darkly twisted thriller and because so much happens because of the antagonist’s actions and motivations. I felt that this solitary detraction perhaps undermines the story as the readers never truly get to know why things are happening the way they are shown to be. Maybe in the sequel, the author will explore more about the antagonist and his back history.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): Actual rating: 4.5/5 but I'll round it up.

It’s a strange day when the guy who talks to dead people begins to think he’s the normal one.

The Lore of Prometheus protagonist, John Carver, is a broken ex-military with severe PTSD symptoms. During his last field mission in Kabul, terrorists killed his squad members. Saved by a miracle, he blames himself for the tragedy. His dead squad members share the sentiment and express it on a daily basis.

A desperate situation forces John to return to Afghanistan. Things go downhill almost instantly. A group of researchers obsessed with magic and superpowers abducts those who miraculously survived impossible situations in their past. They hope to activate hidden powers by subjecting captives to stress, hunger and torture.

In Austin-King’s story, superpowers stem from rage and despair and only deeply traumatized individuals can experience them. Such powers bring only pain and destruction. For some, it’s too much and they turn in feral animals.

Telling more about the plot would spoil it for you, so I’ll stop right here, right now.

Apart from the excellent and well-researched moments of introspection and trauma analysis, the story shines because of the believable and relatable characters. John’s dry sense of humour and no-nonsense approach to life made me instantly like his voice. Since he narrates the story, we see the world through his eyes and experience it with him.

There’s also a second protagonist, an Australian nurse named MacKenzie. Her story, told in the third person, pulled no punches and I was furious at the author for dragging her through hell. It served something though. The payoff was sweet.

As a side note, is mixing first and third-person point of view becoming a trend or it’s just Austin-King and Ben Galley writing in a sync?

Flaws? Well, I have one small(ish) issue concerning the antagonist’s ending but it would be a spoiler.

CONCLUSION (LUKASZ): The Lore of Prometheus is enormously fun, with vivid, visceral action scenes, disturbing realizations and engaging characters who are definitely on the darker end of the “moral shades of grey” spectrum. Graham Austin-King blended high-octane thriller, in-depth analysis of trauma and pure badass moments into a compelling and memorable story. The Lore Of Prometheus gets a comfy place in my top three superhero novels, in the company of Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook And Ayize Jama-Everett’s The Liminal People.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

SPFBO: A Cartophile's Dream with Michael Baker + Contest (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Thousand Scars over HERE
Official Cartography page

Greetings to all members of the SPFBO contest. We are currently nearing the end of Phase 1, and some amazing titles have been selected for the semi-finalist positions as well as the first finalist. While we will be announcing our finalist soon (preferably by the end of next week). We have an exciting contest announcement for all self-published authors (including current and former SPFBO ones).

Fantasy worlds and their maps are a wonderful thing to have and are a popular part of the genre, as a cartophile I’m always rooting for fantasy books to have maps. Which is what this contest is all about! Michael Baker, fellow entrant into this year’s SPFBO (with his debut book The Thousand Scars) has graciously offered his cartography services to the community, wherein we will front the bill for a map to be made for one of your books of your choice.

Michael has considerable experience in making them, and his work has also received widespread praise during his time as a freelance cartographer (checkout his amazing work over at the link). Even if your books already have a map, this is a great opportunity to have an updated one or one specially made for your liking, or for your own website. The choice is completely yours and the best part, it’s entirely FREE OF COST TO YOU.

Fantasy Book Critic is proud to team up with Michael for this contest and it is a nice way to send off 2018. Here is a message from him:

Hey everybody! Michael R. Baker here. SPFBO has been an incredible experience for us all and it gives everyone a chance to show off their works to the indie community. It feels like one great family. You probably know me from my Thousand Scar interviews, but today I’m proud to partner with Fantasy Book Critic for this chance to the community.

This prize is for one single map of a landmass of your fantasy world, no questions asked and to the best of my ability, free of charge and provided by the wonderful guys at Fantasy Book Critic.

Whoever wins I look forward to working with you. For those who don’t, do not worry! I am also proud to offer a 10% discount to all SPFBO contenders for the whole of 2019, if any of you do need a map commissioned.

Have fun!

In order to win this fabulous prize, all you have to do is describe in 250 words (or less!) why your world deserves a map and why you should win this contest! Please send in your entries to with the subject line “FREE MAP”!

THAT'S IT, that’s all you need to do. The contest will run until the 19th of December and we will announce the winner on the 20th.

Below are some examples of Michael’s amazing work:

So all the best to all those who choose to enter and Michael looks forward to working with you!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Prince Of Cats by D. E. Olesen (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Prince Of Cats over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Daniel E. Olesen is a Danish writer holding a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature. When not searching for inspiration in musty tomes, he travels around Europe looking for castles to explore and calling it research. His first novel, The Eagle’s Flight, is available for free from his site. Other than writing fiction, he also writes a blog discussing literary theory, usually as it pertains to fantasy, and a blog series discussing the image of the hero in Western society, from mythology and up to modern times.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: To stay alive, Jawad must succeed where all others have failed: he must catch the Prince of Cats. More legend than man, the Prince is draped in rumors. He can steal the silver teeth from your mouth in the blink of a smile. He is a ghost to walls and vaults, he laughs at locks, and Jawad must capture him before powerful people lose their patience and send the young rogue to the scaffold.

Ever the opportunist, Jawad begins his hunt while carrying out his own schemes. He pits the factions of the city against each other, lining his own pockets in the process and using the Prince as a scapegoat. This is made easy as nobody knows when or where the Prince will strike, or even why.

If suddenly collide, Jawad finds himself pressured from all sides. Aristocrats, cutthroats, and the Prince himself are breathing down his neck. Unless Jawad wants a knife in his back or an appointment with the executioner, he must answer three questions: Who is the Prince of Cats, what is his true purpose, and how can he be stopped?

FORMAT/INFO: The Prince Of Cats is 215 pages long divided over twenty three titled and numbered chapters alongwith a glossary and map of city of Alcazar. Narration is in the first person solely via Jawad al-Qasr. This is a standalone volume of The Legends Of Adalmearc series.

November 26, 2018 marked the e-book & paperback publication of The Prince Of Cats and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Shen Fei and typography by Damien Muir.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): The Prince Of Cats by Daniel E. Olesen caught my eye mainly because of its world settings which were inspired by Arabic history and lore. The author was kind enough to let me know about the book and hence I was super excited to receive an ARC.

The plot begins with Jawad, a thief who’s currently languishing in a prison called the Tower of Justice but commonly called the Finger due to its appearance (see city map below). Coerced into a deal for his release, Jawad agrees to find the Prince Of Cats and potentially alert his new employer about the Prince’s plans. Leashed to the hip with the head of security of the Al-Badawi household, Salah al-Mansur, a grim man of violent tendencies who doesn’t think of him any better than a gutter rat. Jawad has to prove his worth to Azal Al-Badawi, the leader of Dar-al-Allawn one of the Hundred Houses of Alcazar while keeping himself safe from Salah’s ferocious ministrations. Things get even more complicated as Jawad scours the city for news about the Prince Of Cats, whilst trying to avoid the attention of the local gangs.

Things start complicating as they do in such crime novels and that’s where the true beauty of this book lies. There are many reasons why this story kept me fascinated and riveted. Chief among them is the world (or in this case city) settings of the story which is very much modeled on the Arabian kingdoms of yore. The author showcases a world that will feel very fresh to most western based fantasy readers and reward folks (like me) who prefer to read more of a non-eurocentric settings. The author diligently inserts Arabic/Urdu/Persian words (hamam, mamluk, effendi, etc.) to further deepen the settings and it resonates very much with the story & characters as well.

The second and perhaps the best part of the story is the narrative voice. We have a sole POV throughout the story and it’s through Jawad’s eyes and voice that we the readers are veritably transported into the city of Alcazar. Jawad is one of those refreshingly dishonest characters who by virtue of his unscrupulousness injects a solid amount of fun into the happenings. His actions and behavior very much reflect the following golden words by the bard:

 “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any. In this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.”

Jawad almost always looks for the sneakier solution to any problem in his path, doesn’t really care about an honest living and is never dishonest about his nature to the readers or the characters around him. It’s quite refreshing to read about him and he joins a certain pantheon of lovable rogues such as Locke Lamora, Daniel Faust, & Royce Melborn. Jawad’s antics and decisions are what solidly fuel the story while providing humor and intrigue to keep the readers upbeat even though certain portions of the story are quite dark. His earthy humor and quick witted nature are brought to the fore vividly and we almost forget that while lovable, he's a deadly rogue nonetheless.

While the story is shared through Jawad’s senses, the rest the characters aren’t any pushovers either. There are quite a few such as Salah Al- Mansur, Zaida Al-Badawi, Ishak Al-Labdah who either share a solid or antagonistic footing with our protagonist but reveal themselves to be three dimensional as the tale progresses. A particular funny character is Ishak who provides a lot of humor with his memory lapses but yet is a powerful healer and chemist that is famed for his work. While the story doesn't have many female characters, it does give us two solid ones who are refreshing to read about. They don't quite fit any particular mold and thus add to the story's stakes.

The pace and plot twists are solid from end to end and the way the author ends the story. I want to read the sequel and get to know more of these characters as well as the lands around the south cities. This world is just too enticing for a one off and I for one will be bugging the author for more. With books such as these there’s always going to be a few complaints. Primarily, the end twist is one that can be predicted from miles away. It still doesn’t detract from the read and perhaps the author wasn’t hinging the story on it solely. For me there wasn't any other negative to this story. 

(map by Kim Ji Won)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): I’m tired of a medieval western setting in fantasy books. It seems many authors feel the same, and they set their stories in more exotic places. The Prince of Cats takes place in a secondary world influenced by Middle East traditions and landscapes.

The dexterity of hands determines how well a surgeon, a musician or a thief perform their art. PoC’s protagonist Jawad is a skilful thief, maybe not as good as a legendary Prince of Cats who can steal the silver teeth from your mouth in the blink of a smile, but he knows what he’s doing.  

Jawad has plans and schemes he wishes to accomplish, but things don’t go as planned and he suddenly finds himself in the centre of the conflict between rich merchants, cutthroats and the Prince himself. Time plays against him, and he must find answers soon. Otherwise an appointment with the executioner may look like a decent option.

I liked Jawad and his voice. He makes an impression of a kind-hearted smartass and he’s difficult not to like. Even taciturn Salah warms to him with time. He easily wins readers and other characters’ sympathy with charm, easy-going attitude and cunning. 

Side-characters and antagonists felt real. While there aren’t many women in the book, the one we get presented closely (Zaida) doesn’t come across as sex-fantasy or damsel in distress. I appreciate it.

A well-crafted combination of humour and drama keeps the reader’s attention, lending moments of honest excitement to the story. The plot is not without its flaws. The Prince of Cats’ identity isn’t difficult to guess, but Olesen handled developments well enough to keep me invested in the story.

TL;DR - short, sharp, fast and witty with a good sense of place. Sigil Independent Guild members’ releases continue to impress me. If you’re looking for a way to discover quality self-published books, have an eye on them.

CONCLUSION (MIHIR): Daniel E. Olesen weaves an incredible tale within an Arabian Nights setting and armed with the gritty outlook of The Lies Of Locke Lamora. Jawad the jewel thief is a gem of a character and I hope the writer writes more of him and in this setting. The Prince Of Cats is my new favorite crime fantasy story that outdoes the reader’s expectation with a twisted and briskly paced plot.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Implanted by Lauren C. Teffeau (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Lauren C. Teffeau was born and raised on the East Coast, educated in the South, employed in the Midwest, and now lives and dreams in the Southwest. She is a graduate of the Taos Toolbox workshop, a master class in writing science fiction and fantasy. Implanted is her debut with Angry Robot.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The data stored in her blood can save a city on the brink… or destroy it, in this gripping cyberpunk thriller.

When college student Emery Driscoll is blackmailed into being a courier for a clandestine organisation, she’s cut off from the neural implant community which binds the domed city of New Worth together. Her new masters exploit her rare condition which allows her to carry encoded data in her blood, and train her to transport secrets throughout the troubled city. New Worth is on the brink of Emergence – freedom from the dome – but not everyone wants to leave. Then a data drop goes bad, and Emery is caught between factions: those who want her blood, and those who just want her dead.

FORMAT/INFO: Implanted is 400 pages long and is divided into thirty two chapters spread over two parts. Narration is in first person solely via Emery Driscoll. The book works as a standalone, although the ending makes the sequel possible.

The book was published in August 7th, 2018 by Angry Robot. It’s available in paperback and ebook format.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’m new to Cyberpunk. Sure, I saw Johnny Mnemonic and read Altered Carbon but that’s basically it. Not much. I have no idea why as I enjoy fancy advanced technology mixed with dystopian elements. Well, on the bright side, I have a lot to discover.

Implanted hooked me with the premise and unique concept of the hemocryption - coding data in the blood cells. Not only it’s imaginative but also infinitely cool. Here’s the quote explaining the process.

Aventine employs a proprietary hemocryption process where data’s encoded onto the protein strands of your immune cells in your bloodstream. When you get an assignment, encoded blood’s injected into your body. When you arrive at the drop-off location, your blood needs to be scrubbed – essentially a type of dialysis where the encoded cells are separated out from the rest of your blood. The data encoding is geared to a specific HLA type that you and the other couriers have. In other words, you are immune, unaffected by the encoded blood, where people with different HLA types would become sick, with something akin to anaphylactic shock, if injected.


In the world of Implanted, people live under a glass dome that separates them from the hostile environment outside. New Worth, built on the battered foundations of Fort Worth, Texas, makes life difficult and demanding, especially for the underprivileged. Under the dome, everything comes to status, credit balances and career potential. Stratified society lacks common goals and a sense of solidarity. Emery Driscoll hopes to pursue a career in data curation. Unfortunately, her DNA has special traits that make her interesting to a clandestine security company. Soon, she finds herself blackmailed into being a blood-courier. She has to cut off any ties with her friends and family.

Officially, she dies.

For the most part, Implanted kept me glued to the pages. A dystopian world, a stratified society obsessed with technology and thought-provoking concepts make it an excellent read. Especially that Teffeau introduces everything accessibly. Her prose flows nicely and never gets in the way of the story.

Teffeau tells the story in the first-person present tense. As a result, the reader is experiencing the events of the book at the same time as the narrator. I would say this feeling of going through the plot together creates an instantly closer relationship. On top of that, Emery remains likeable throughout so rooting for her comes naturally. She’s a fully fleshed, three-dimensional heroine with an interesting backstory that defines her choices. I found her admirable.

While we don’t get to know other characters so deeply, they all feel distinct and believable. They are fixated on technology and connectivity, and it allows for passages of interesting explanation. Emery’s point of view is saturated by technology because her perception is shaped by it. Like most people, she has an implant that allows her to constantly ping emotions and thoughts with her friends and family. She’s addicted to the neural implant, instant connectivity and resulting camaraderie. When she loses it, Emery goes through the feeling of mental amputation.

There’s a romance, but it develops slowly and convincingly.

Apart from things done right, Implanted has a few things going against it. In the second half of the book, the plot becomes a little unclear. Emery’s storyline intertwines with larger things, but the connection feels loose. For example, I still don’t know how corrupt is the government. Adding data about the world and things that actually happen there, would make the story more comprehensible. The ending scenes were bloodcurdling, but the last chapter felt too tidy and, as a result, anticlimactic.

Regardless of these issues, Teffeau paints a distressing and convincing picture of the future I wouldn’t like to experience.

In the realm of ratings, I’d say this landed pretty solidly in the lower-end of what I enjoy.  I really like it. It was a solid book that read fast, kept me engaged, but didn’t really amaze me. Worth the read though.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Dracul by Dacre Stoker, and J.D. Barker (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Dacre Stoker Website
Official J. D. Barker Website
Order the book over HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:It is believed that the strongest of them can assume any form, be it bat, wolf, swirling mist, even human. They can appear young, old, or any age between. Some can manipulate the elements, producing fog, storms, crashing thunder. Their motives remain unknown, but one thing is clear: they leave a trail of death in their wake, thinking no more of a human life than we would the life of a fly.”

Dacre Stoker knows a thing or two about vampires, Dracula in particular, given that his great-grand-uncle was none other than Bram Stoker. Dacre has had non-literary careers of his own, but for a while now has picked up the family business and been writing, not only about his illustrious ancestor, but (with some assistance from writing partners) fiction relating to you know who. He wrote a sequel to Dracula a few years back, incorporating Bram as a character. This time he has enlisted acclaimed thriller and horror writer J. D. Barker to help him write a prequel.

We spend time with Bram Stoker at age seven, a sickly child since birth. (as was the real Bram), but with a particularly interesting nanny, one Ellen Crone. (the actual name of the Stoker nanny) She does not eat with the family, preferring to dine alone. But she is very caring toward the Stoker children, most particularly Bram. The family summons a medical relation when Bram seems to be getting worse. But the application of leeches is not what Bram needs. Ellen has a better idea, and takes care of him. Soon after, he begins a true recovery, bounding from sickly child to a very active one. Shame about that scabby itch on his arm though. Young Bram and his sister, Matilda, sink their teeth into this mystery and engage in a bit of field research.

Part of the fun of this book is seeing the usually pretty clear lines between the real Bram’s novel and this prequel. Where did the notion of Dracula originate? How about Van Helsing? Damsels in distress? (or were they maybe enjoying themselves a bit too much for Victorian mores?). J. D. Barker and Dacre have a lot of original material from which to draw, Bram’s, at least what has not been lost to the sands of time (or maybe preserved in a coffin somewhere for safe keeping). Dacre has previously also written non-fiction books about his esteemed ancestor, and had a bit of a road-show, Stoker on Stoker, in which he lectured about Bram and his book.  J. D. Barker on the other hand has won a lot of acclaim for his indie debut FORSAKEN which also was nominated for the Bram Stoker award for best debut, and won a New Apple Medalist Award in the horror category.

Another fun element, for me anyway, was the opportunity looking into this book offered to dig up some dirt on the real Bram. The one piece of intel that I found most amazing was that when Bram first submitted his manuscript, it was as a work of non-fiction. Because of tender sensibilities at the time about a relatively recent bout of wide scale mortality, it was thought better to present it as fiction. In doing that, the first 101 pages of Bram’s manuscript vanished like a sated bloodsucker on a foggy night.

So, the story of Dracul, sick boy and sister try to find out what the real deal is with the beloved, if decidedly odd, nanny. (Fortune may have blown her into the Stoker family’s life, but no, she did not arrive on the East Wind) There are times when she looks quite young. Others when she seems rather aged. J. D. Dacre brings in an old Irish (Stoker was born and raised in Ireland) legend, about a failed love that turns gruesome. The tale of the Dearg-Due is used to wonderful, and meaningful effect within.

There are two timelines. We open with adult Bram in a castle-like place trying to keep a monster of certain sort locked in a room. Problem is that the various substances he is using to keep the thing from escaping are running out, and there is a real question of whether the aid he is expecting will arrive in time. This contemporary (1868) piece includes the tale of Bram, his family, and others, (including a pre-Van Helsing) trying to track down people, follow clues, and do justice against dark foes. The other line is Bram and his sister, Matilda, as young siblings, with scant understanding of what they have seen, attempting to figure it out. Both lines were fun, although I am not sure there would be many children of the ages portrayed who would be quite so resourceful, even in the mid-19th century. Feel free to suspend your disbelief and let it hang by its toes from the ceiling, as it stares at you with red, hungry eyes.

In keeping with great-grand-uncle’s form, Dacre and J. D. Barker' (with his impressive writing talents) tell the story through several sources. The Journal of Bram Stoker, Letters from Matilda to Ellen Crone, and The Diary of Thornley Stoker are the primary views. There is also The Notes of Arminius Vambéry, a patient case record, and a few sections that are pure omniscient narrator. All of it made me bare my teeth, in a good way.

They also add some nice interpretations of the rules of vampirism, what works, what doesn’t, what their limitations might be. They can change into what? And eye-color shifting, some telepathy, an interesting item on the separated parts of the undead. There are plenty of classic vampire tropes, and for the big guy himself, a reminder of his Carpathian rep for how he disposed of his enemies. The authors also toss in a few refs to the relevant literature of that era, a bit of E.A.Poe, The Woman in White, one or two more. The book closes with a lovely reference, a name that will be familiar. There were also some pretty nifty plot twists, that worked well.

Gripes? Well, I mentioned the age-vs-competence thing. No big whoop, really. I confess to occasionally getting an image in my tiny mind of Velma, Daphne, Fred, Shaggy, and a certain pooch, when the adult crew was deciding on a dime to dash to this or that place to pursue the latest clue. I am not saying that I minded this. In fact, it contributed to the fun aspect of the book. But some might not enjoy what seems a bit of lightness in what is supposed to be a horror story. A horror story is supposed to be scary, right? Measured in hours of sleep lost, perhaps, or alarming dreams that jolt one awake. But no, not for me. Take that with a grain of garlic salt, though. I tend to be a fair bit less sensitive to horror than many readers. So it is entirely possible that this is a fairly scary book and I just didn’t notice. But really, this is such an enjoyable read. And that is the bottom line here.

CONCLUSION: It was truly fun reading Dracul. I enjoyed as much the learning it sparked, about Bram in particular. Whether you are type O, A, B, or AB, whether you are positive, negative, or undecided, I strongly urge you to swoop in and see what you can dig up, as you flap along with this fast-paced, engaging and very entertaining book.

NOTE: This review was first posted by Will on his Goodreads pageBram Stoker image courtesy of Got Ireland. Bela Lugosi picture courtesy of the Smithsonian magazine.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website  
Pre-order “Minimum Wage MagicHERE
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)

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.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab.

That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.

FORMAT/INFO: Minimum Wage Magic is 286 pages long divided over fourteen numbered chapters. Narration is in the first person via Opal Yong-ae solely. This is the first volume of the DFZ series.

November 9, 2018 will mark the e-book & paperback publication of Minimum Wage Magic and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art is by Tia Rambaran.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Rachel Aaron is a special talent and it has been highly evident with all of the sixteen books she has written so far. With this book, she does something unique as she writes a sequel series for the very first time since she started writing professionally nearly a decade ago. While also making this new series more grounded within its genre and less of the eclectic genre mixes that she’s known to write.

The story opens up with Opal Yong-ae, a sub-contractor for the DFZ’s Habitation Management. The DFZ being the Detroit Free Zone which was created by Algonquin the spirit of the great lakes. She was brought back to life by the sudden reappearance of magic after a millennium in 2035. She razed the city of Detroit and in its place stand the DFZ, a city state that was ruled by Algonquin for the next sixty years. Things however have changed thanks to the events seen/read in the Heartstrikers books and now DFZ is its own beast wherein Peacekeeper aka the Dragon of Detroit also resides (readers of the Heartstrikers saga will know who this is). Set twenty years after the events of Last Dragon Standing, the readers are introduced a completely new DFZ wherein things are wilder and crazier than before.

Opal is one of its nine million residents, a cleaner who basically buys up delinquent properties in a city wide auction and then proceeds to sell of the possessions to make a profit. This being the DFZ, things are zanier than usual and one never knows what one might unearth. Opal’s most recent acquisition has a dead body of a mage rotting in the sub-subbasement that she bought in an auction. Unable to find anything of value and needing to pay ten thousand dollars as part of her debt (within a week’s time). Things look very dire for Opal but there might be a way and it might involve getting her hands dirtier than usual. However faced with resolving her debt or losing an important part of her life, Opal will try do the impossible, but soon she finds out how much of a big quagmire she has landed in.

This is a super fun entry in to the city of the DFZ and marks a return to the world of the Heartstrikers. While this is also the first time that Rachel Aaron has written a sequel.  This book is a complete standalone story that doesn't require any background knowledge of the events showcased within the Heartstrikers Saga. The author purposefully set out to craft a tale that would explore the craziness of the DFZ and she does this very strikingly.

Featuring a mystery of a murdered mage, and the main mystery of to whom Opal owes a debt? Minimum Wage Magic is a solid urban fantasy thriller that excited me and kept me turning the pages. The plot pace was smooth all the way as we along with Opal slowly get to know who the murdered mage was and what he was up to. I consider Rachel Aaron to be one of best storytellers alive and she doesn't disappoint with this low key (as compared to her previous works) thriller plot that is all about living in a hyper-capitalistic city wherein anything and everything is allowed. This book came with a very high set of personal expectations as it was set in the same world as the Heartstrikers and being one of Rachel Aaron's creations. Though the author wonderfully cuts these expectations by making this book a very different read than any of the Heartstriker titles and also more of a traditional urban fantasy read. The plot focus is very tightly kept on Opal and her misfortunes. Unlike all her previous books wherein the plot usually explodes to an end of the world scenario. This one stays on a personal level through out and the stakes while being raised aren't the world-shaking kind.

This book also explores the DFZ and I mean really explores it. We get to see its subterranean grottoes, the newer formed religions and cultures it cultivates and also how traffic is bungled when several buildings and locations get moved magically. Plus dragons who now are welcome in the DFZ can cause several log jams and many more zany things. Previously the author had mentioned how she always wanted to give the readers a more on the ground look into the city and we get it in spades in this opening volume. Opal as a protagonist is an interesting person, in the start while we don’t know much about her except that she’s of Korean descent and in a huge debt. I really didn’t understand her motivations and was annoyed by her pertinacity as it seemed that she's just making things harder for herself unnecessarily. It’s only when the main reveal goes down, that’s when you realize her line of thinking and I for one, really enjoyed her character arc. Unlike Marci Novalli, who has a similar strange background, Opal’s persona is much different than Marci’s and maybe unconsciously I was comparing them both. Opal even while being reckless and foolishly stubborn, has reasons and once they are made clear. The readers will truly root for her as she strives to overcome Herculean odds.

The best side character was Opal's AI Sibyl as she/it frequently tries to provide help, comfort & even scold Opal for her silly mistakes. There are two other characters (Peter and Nik) who are introduced within the plot and are equally intriguing. I would love if the author further explores their background in the future sequels. Peter is a priest for the Empty Wind and Nik, who is also a mercenary/cleaner and a Luddite to boot. Their interactions with Opal add to the comedic tones and also introduce some interesting romantic set up. There are a few other characters introduced but we don’t get much about them. Now onto the big question, are there any cameos or appearances from the characters we love and have read about before? I’m not saying anything but you will be surprised when they are referenced or make their appearances. This book is quite on the smaller side and comes with a solid dose of comedy as is the precedent with Rachel Aaron's writing. This book was a much different read than what I was expecting but it was one that I enjoyed reading. I hope the author explores more of the DFZ geography and showcases its unique nature.

Things that didn't work for me were just a couple of things, primarily the protagonist is slightly unlikeable and does redeem herself by the end but many readers might find her a bit jarring from all the protagonists come before. Secondly this story structure and plot focus is very narrow and sometimes I wanted it to expand beyond its tight structure. Lastly I miss the characters who we have read in the Heartstrikers saga and here I was left bereft of their presence while only hearing or catching glimpses of them.

CONCLUSION: Minimum Wage Magic is a lively start to a brand new series in a world that’s very familiar to her fans. The story, the plot and setting are refreshing so that newer readers will find things get excited about Rachel Aaron and older readers will jump along for the ride because they know how awesome her books are. A  catchy title, a plucky protagonist and a maximum effort by the author, honestly readers can't ask for more in the urban fantasy  genre.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Interview with Davis Ashura & Andreas Zafiratos + Cover Reveal of The Castes & The Outcastes trilogy (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Castes And The Outcastes trilogy over HERE

Today I’m glad to welcome Davis Ashura and acclaimed artist Andreas Zafiratos as they introduce whole new cover art for Davis’ debut trilogy The Castes & The Outcastes. We talk about why Davis decided to partner with Andreas, why this series is so different and how they both collaborated on the new magnificent artwork. Checkout their answers as Davis and Andreas talk about the process and more:

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, and congratulations on the new spectacular cover for A Warrior’s Path. What lead you to get newer cover art for your debut trilogy?

DA: Thank you! Andreas really crushed it. I love the cover!

That said, I have always really liked the cover I have from Jeff Brown. I think it’s evocative and mysterious, but after a few years, trends change and the cover needs updating. Luckily, one of the current trends is something I love, which is a focus on the character. I’ve loved Rukh (the Asian Indian looking warrior on the cover) ever since he crept into my mind, and I’ve always wanted him displayed front and center because he’s just that cool and badass. Same with Jessira, who is on the cover for book 2, and who doesn’t like a minotaur-like creature wielding a chained whip on fire?

Q] How did you end up selecting Andreas Zafeiratos as the artist for the new covers? What drew you to his style?

DA: A couple of author friends of mine, Bryce O’Connor, author of the wonderful Child Of The Daystar and Phil Tucker, author of the fabulous Chronicles of the Black Gate, introduced me to Andreas after I mentioned how much I loved/drooled over their cover art.

Q] What were your main pointers for your cover artist/designer as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

DA: I’ll focus on book 1. We went through a lot of work for this cover. We started with the pose and the magic that Rukh wields. That was the most challenging part of the process because the magic itself and the green-tinged shield around Rukh forced us to focus a lot on lighting and color distortion. We eventually found the sweet spot, including the setting, but all told, it was about a two month process. The entire time, though, Andreas was awesome. It was a lot of fun working with him on it, and every time he sent me a revision, it felt like Christmas morning.

In terms of focus beyond the pose and color, the next step was Rukh’s appearance. He started out looking like a white dude, which wouldn’t work because Rukh is supposed to look Indian. Andreas darkened Rukh’s skin. Darkened it some more. And again, and then his skin tone was right. He looked like a tanned white man, which was close but still not quite right. Andreas recognized this on his own and adjusted Rukh’s features so he now looks like someone from the subcontinent.

Like I said, it was a long but fun process.

Q] What’s the status for covers for book 2 & 3? Will the short story collection “Stories From Arisa” be getting a new cover as well?

DA: The cover for book 3 is done. I had it turned into a poster, and it’s hanging in my youngest son’s room. We’re working on the cover for book 2 and it's nearly done. A good friend did the cover for Stories From Arisa, and I’ve always loved its stained glass appearance, so I’ll probably leave that one alone.

Q] Could you tell us about the inception of The Castes and the OutCastes trilogy and what was/were your main inspiration(s) for this project?

DA: The kernel of The Castes And the OutCastes first bubbled to life in about 1999. I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic story, but I wanted a different story. I wanted people who were tough yet compassionate, a world that was dark and yet full of cities breathing with life and beauty. I’ve got this notion that when things are at their worst, people rise up to help those in need. Maybe it’s naïve, but that’s how I want the world to be, and that’s the kind of story I wanted to write. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good love story, so that had to be included.

I couldn’t get any traction, though, because I couldn’t understand the motivation for the antagonist(s) or even what the main characters were supposed to do. The answer came when I was driving through India and talking to my sister, who’s a psychiatrist. Thus was born my Dark Lord (Lady in this case) who has a type of delusional paranoid schizophrenia.

Q] So what can readers expect from your debut trilogy and what should they be looking forward to according to you?

DA: At its heart, The Castes And The OutCastes is built upon aspects of India’s cultural bones with a story that’s familiar: a world in peril, a Dark Goddess hungry to see Humanity end, and a young warrior tasked with stopping Her. But he isn’t the chosen one. Instead, he has to choose greatness, and that’s where the story has its greater focus.

I’ve also released a YA fantasy series, The Chronicles of William Wilde. All William Wilde wants is to survive his senior year of high school, defeat the bullies, and figure out why the beautiful, new girl seems so interested in him. Oh, yeah. Magic flows in his veins and a zombie-like Terminator wants to kill him. It’s basically Percy Jackson meets Stranger Things and a continuation of sorts of The Castes And The OutCastes (which is set on an entirely different world).

Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

DA: Thank you for having me here to answer these questions and happy reading to everyone!


Official Artist Website & FB page

Q] What were your initial thoughts when Davis approached you for the new cover art for his books?

AZ: I always feel excited and nervous when someone entrusts a book cover to me. One's book can be as personal as a painting and that immediately creates expectation and a sense of responsibility.

I was not familiar with Davis' work, but I quickly realized his solid fan base and how much his work was valued. That, combined with the fact that my art would be replacing solid existing covers was definitely an extra pressure factor.

Q] Can you describe your process in the cover art creation? Do you read the book and then select a scene or do you take direct notes from the author? How does this process work for you?

AZ: Creating an illustration that captures a piece of a writer's vision is a main objective for me and probably the reason I love doing covers. I would say that the largest portion of the puzzle solving satisfaction that covers offer is ending up with a piece that the writer feels greatly responsible for in terms of direction. Sadly and ironically in a sense, I do not have the time to follow the literature, but I usually ask for two or three scenes that are crucial for the plot and descriptions of the main characters. This is my starting point.

If it is not overwhelming for the writer, I try to achieve a creative back and forth during the process to try and nail a design and mood that captures something of that specific world. This unfortunately removes the potential stunning effect of the art on the writer (as slow progression has a very different impact from a sudden reveal), but it's a small price to pay on the way to end up with something that expresses the book's content and the author's intention.

Q] Once you have decided, what to focus upon. Could you give us a rundown of the process behind designing a book cover from start to finish?

AZ: In terms of artistic method, I change my tools a lot and try to explore new workflows. These days I experiment mainly with combinations of digital sculpting, photo element implementation and plain ol' brush work at varying ratios.

For the first cover of "The Castes And The Outcastes", I started with a 3D sculpture of the hero to explore the composition and lighting scheme. Once this was set and with Davis' input, I tried to capture the hero's character and come up with an interesting outfit design. Things must look believable of course, but a much more important aspect of the composition is good shape balance and a natural movement of the eyes on the canvas. The specific character was a real challenge for me, due to his Asian Indian features that were totally out of my comfort zone. Davis was very patient with my consecutive failed rendering experiments and I think we eventually got a look for Rukh we both enjoy! The warm skin tones over the cool blues of the landscape and a sense of motion is what makes this image in my eyes.

After painting, there is always a search for an elegant font and proper placement. Clarity and good contrast are crucial, so that we get readability in large and thumbnail sizes. I always end up going back to the painting and reworking it to support the lettering. For me, treating the final cover (art and lettering combined) as a painting composition, makes things instinctively work. Detail distribution and rest areas for the eye should take lettering placement into account. I find that this way, each element supports the other and there is no real compromise: The painting is not being randomly hit by typography and the lettering naturally stands out and balances.

Finally, I would like to thank you for this interview and Davis for his patience and the crucial creative input throughout the process.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

SPFBO: The Fourth Jettisoning & Semifinalist Update (by D. C. Stewart & Lukasz Przywoski)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's First Semifinalist Update
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Semifinalist Update
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Third Semifinalist Update

This is it! This is FBC’s last round of books, with eight cuts and one more book advancing into our blog’s list of semi-final hopefuls. We wish to reiterate that cutting anyone out of this contest is not an easy decision. It is one made with the knowledge that we are potentially putting someone’s career a step back, while advancing that of another. That is not a decision made lightly, and we hope those authors that did not advance understand that and can feel bolstered by the simple fact that every book in FBC’s batch has potential. There has not been an author that any of our bloggers have looked at that couldn’t, with a little more polish, shine out and find the eyes of many, many readers. With that said, here are the final choices that we have made.

Lukasz’s thoughts

A Spell in the Country by Heide Goody & Iain Grant

Genre: Humorous Urban Fantasy

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Dee is a Good Witch but she wonders if she could be a better witch. Caroline isn’t just a Good Witch, she’s a fricking awesome witch. Jenny is a Wicked Witch. She just wishes she wasn’t.

For very different reasons, they end up on the same training course and land in a lot of trouble when they discover that there’s a reason why their free country break sounds too good to be true. The story represents various cast of hilarious characters including foul-mouthed imps, wererats, naked gardeners, tree monsters, ghosts and stampeding donkeys.

ASINC is well plotted, nicely paced, and witty. It’s saturated with a gentle humour that leans toward the slap-stick and absurd. Even when it explores body-related jokes, it never does it in an offensive or gross way. The plot unfolds gradually, slowly revealing clever twists. Criticism? Well, I feel in some parts the book is bloated and gives way too much space to meaningless (but funny) banter that doesn’t move the plot in any significant way. I definitely recommend this book to those of you who look for lighter, uplifting book with a proper sense of humour. Just don’t pay attention to this atrocious cover–the book is much better than it would suggest.

Godmaker by Ingrid Seymour

Genre: YA Fantasy based on Greco-Roman myths

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the series.

Who among us hasn’t dreamed about picking up a sword and going full Berserk (or Amazon) on the world?

The Godmaker is a short (160 pages), action-packed novel. Bia is a Skillbarren Goddess - her godly powers remain dormant, and no one knows if they’ll ever activate. Unfortunately, the time of trial has come and all young God aspirants will face each other on the arena and only one will ascend. Others will die or become mortals - a fate considered worse than death by most godlings. Once you become a supreme being, losing it is not a viable option.

There’s a lot to like about Godmaker - it focuses on storytelling rather than world-building. The story’s structure is clear and easy to follow. While the plot is rather straightforward, it remains exciting - the trials Bia faces are dangerous, fights are nicely choreographed and violent, and the tension never drops. The setting and plot are strongly influenced by Hunger Games, Roman Gladiators and Wonder Woman. The trials faced by Bia, her friends and foes kept me glued to pages, but they’re not inventive. We’ve seen all of it done in books and movies (gladiator-style games where kids fight to the death facing each other on the arena, pits filled with snakes and acid, facing inner fears and illusions).

Overall, it’s a solid page-turner with a strong final twist. A good pick for readers looking for a kick-ass warrior who’s ready to change her world.

Chaos Wolf by Sheryl R. Hayes

Genre: Paranormal & Urban Fantasy

Standalone/Series: I assume it’s book 1 of the series

Bitten by a stray werewolf and rescued by a vampire, a literature major Jordan Abbey lands in a lot of trouble. She has to master shape-shifting fast or else she and her patron may end dead. To make matters worse, Chaos Wolf looks for her and wants to make her his mate.

Chaos Wolf offers both action and steamy romance. The book didn’t surprise me plot wise - it follows tropes, but does it intelligently trying to give a broader scope of vampire/werewolf conflict and local packs’ customs. Contrary to more conservative books in the genre that focus on a budding romance between the two lovers, Jordan doesn’t limit herself to one sexy vampire. She does two (in a long and explicit scene).

Despite simple premise, the plot is engaging and interactions between characters never fail to entertain. Editors have done a stellar job, the prose feels polished, and you won’t find any spelling or grammar errors.

Chaos Wolf is a bit predictable, but I would definitely recommend it to paranormal romance readers. It won’t rock your world, but it should entertain you.

Under Everest by D.H.Dunn

Genre: High Fantasy

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the Fractured Everest series

The story follows adventures of Sherpa girl Nima and American ex-sailor Drew. They fall through a mystical portal and find themselves caught in a magical war raging beneath Mount Everest.

Despite interesting premise, I struggled with this book. I tried to finish it, but finally DNF-ed it at around 53% of the ebook version. I feel that the plot relies heavily on a coincidence. The secondary characters remain underdeveloped and, truth be told, neither Nima nor Drew felt particularly interesting or convincing. The writing felt a bit rough and unclear in places. I had to force myself to read past first few chapters and it hasn’t changed along the way. I think Under Everest has interesting premise and potential for a good story. Having said that, it didn’t click between us.

David’s thoughts

Kingdom of Thieves, by Mitchell Edward Bell

Genre: High Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the Kingdoms of Ol’World series

The beautiful, evocative cover art and solid premise put Kingdom Of Thieves in good shape for potential readers to dive headlong into the fantasy equivalent of The Mod Squad. Patticus Mysticus is a thief trying to take back his nation from a tyrannical king, and his chance meeting with magician Tage and her barbarian bodyguard Iceskgard set the stage for what could have been an epic saga, reminiscent of the sword and sorcery classics of Leiber and Salvatore but with a dash of high fantasy.

Unfortunately, Bell’s writing lacks the kind of polish that would set him apart in this contest. The interactions of the book’s characters feel unnatural, forced even, as does the dialogue. The main characters feel shallow, lacking the depth so necessary to any novel in today’s literary climate, while side characters are so black and white as to seem satirical. It became apparent within the first few chapters that Kingdom Of Thieves would not beat out some of the fierce competition set against it.

Secret Realms of the Hidden Elves, by Jonathan J. Bowerman

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Standalone/Series: Presumably a series, this being “The Beginning”

Secret Realms of the Hidden Elves draws inspiration from some of the greatest fantasy novels of all time - The Chronicles of Narnia first among them. It is clear from the start that Bowerman is writing to a young audience that he holds dear. His main character is a 12-year old girl named Jasper, who, as in so many fantasy stories, moves into a new house and discovers that it houses a doorway to another world.

Perhaps if this contest were called Self-Published Children’s Fantasy Blog-Off, Secret Realms might have stood more of a chance. As it stands, the writing style, in a contest where in our batch this showed as the only children’s novel, is simplistic and overly familiar. There is tense switching that jars the adult eye, and a crossing of the fourth wall that is even more damaging. In short, Secret Realms could not advance when pit against the ruthless authors of the SPFBO.

The King’s Voice, by Karen Peradon

Genre: Fairy Tale

Standalone/Series: Standalone

The premise and style of The King’s Voice are unique in FBC’s batch of books. Fairy tales can be tricky to novelize, despite the glut of movies renditions we’ve been forced to endure in the past decade. These types of books require more suspension of disbelief than the ordinary fantasy novel. Peradon’s fairy tale takes place in Goaero. The king’s voice has been literally lost, and his evil brother seeks to find it and thus claim the land’s throne for himself. He sends Mallory, an Indiana Jones-like adventurer, out into the wild to find it.

Despite a fun and promising premise, The King’s Voice is troubled by its very format. Fairy tales, in general, are stories told, which works in a short-form format like that found in their genre. When entire chapters become told, it becomes problematic from a storytelling standpoint. Fantasy, and literature, greatly benefits from being shown action, and from a careful doling out of exposition. The King’s Voice, regrettably, could not stand up to the finely-crafted entries in our batch.

And now for our, perhaps predictable, final semi-finalist.

Death March, by Phil Tucker

Genre: LitRPG

Standalone/Series: Book 1 in the Euphoria series

Before beginning this contest, I had never read a LitRPG. I have now read two of them, and while I was curious after reading through the first, Death March has made me a convert to the sub-genre. It’s that good. It’s a damned genre-missionary.

To preface, I came to Death March, and to the LitRPG scene, having spent countless hours face-deep in half a dozen MMORPGs. I cut my teeth on Dark Age of Camelot in the early 2000s, and was there on day one of World of Warcraft’s thunderous debut. I still dive back into online darlings like Lord of the Rings Online and Final Fantasy XIV. That it never occurred to me to write books about these types of immersive experiences makes me a little angry.

Death March stars a regular Joe named Chris who receives an invitation to play in Euphoria Online, the world’s premier virtual reality getaway. This is not a cheap ticket, and most of the world’s gamers have to be satisfied with lesser experiences. Chris lucks out and finds himself amidst something far grander and more engrossing than he could have ever imagined. And because playing, and succeeding, in Euphoria can potentially grant Chris a wish from the overlord AI governing the game, Chris is lured into playing on the highest difficulty – Death March. It is what it sounds like, and much like in the Matrix, dying in the game means dying for real.

Phil Tucker’s experience in both table-top and video-gaming shine through in his potentially block-buster series. There is an intimacy with rule-sets and world-structures here that could only be learned with a mouse in one hand and a set of dice in another. Death March feels authentic, and the story told is one of high-adventure and risk, but also features human voices and a surprising amount of emotional depth for a genre that could be accused of superficiality. The only caveat to our choice of promoting Death March as our last semi-finalist is that it does not tell a complete story, but instead relies on its draw as a series to lure readers into the subsequent books. Thankfully, it’s good enough to do just that.

So there you have it, Fantasy Book Critic has selected the following seven semifinalists  over the past three and half months. Best of luck to all seven titles, we will be announcing our SPFBO finalist in a month:

- Death March by Phil Tucker
- The Blood Tartan by Raymond St. Elmo
- The Firebird by Nerine Dorman
- The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson
- Here Be Dragons by David Macpherson
- By Raven's Call by J. A. Devenport
- Hell Comes To Hogtown by C. D. Gallant-King

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