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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Loot by Craig Schaefer (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo & Lukasz Przywoski)


Pre-order The Loot over 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 Detonation Boulevard
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
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ghosts Of Gotham

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: She fought for her country. Now she’s fighting for her family.

When Sergeant Charlie McCabe returns from fighting in Afghanistan, she hopes to leave the war behind. Instead, she comes home to a father whose gambling has put him in deep trouble with a violent loan shark. She finds work as a professional bodyguard, but to save her father, she needs to get serious cash together fast.

However, her father isn’t the only one who needs saving. When Charlie’s first client—a wealthy executive with a shady past—narrowly escapes a bomb plot, Charlie’s investigation leads her into the heart of Boston’s criminal underworld. Along the way, she stumbles upon clues about a diamond heist gone wrong that’s been unsolved for decades.

With the clock ticking and chaos descending, Charlie sees a solution to both problems, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t be pretty. A “normal” life may await Charlie on the other side of this mess, but part of her knows that the battle has just begun.

FORMAT/INFO: The Loot is 321 pages long divided over forty four numbered chapters, and is the first book in The Charlie McCabe series. The book will be available in e-book and paperback format, as well as on Kindle Unlimited from August 1, 2019. Cover design is by Kaitlin Kall.

ANALYSIS (Lukasz): As a die-hard Schaefer fan, I’ll buy and read anything he writes. It’s good he writes in the genres I adore as a reader. The Loot is his first thriller novel. Having read all of Craig’s previous titles, I knew what to expect - an intoxicating flood of action, personal drama, and suspense. No supernatural elements this time, though.

Charlie (Charlene) McCabe is a leading character that you might recognize–a retired and worn soldier who hopes to leave the war behind. Unfortunately, her father’s gambling habit put him in deep trouble. Charlie wants to help him, but she needs serious cash to pay his debts before the violent loan shark teaches him a lesson. Because retired EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Technicians aren’t highly sought after in the labor market, she accepts a job as a professional bodyguard. When her client’s deadly secrets come to light, things go sideways, but there may be the long-lost loot to take away.

I loved the pacing of the story and its focus on the personal. Charlene no longer fights for the country, but she does for her family. I prefer smaller scale narratives so I loved her determination to save her father from himself and dangerous bookie while simultaneously trying to explain the attempted murder mystery.

In terms of character development, Charlie is compelling in her own right, with her own personal demons that color many of the scenes. Her troubled relationship with her father gives readers even more insight into her mental space. She may be willing to dip her fingers outside of the boundaries of the law, but she’s one of the good guys. Some motivation behind the antagonists of this story seems a bit trite, as do their tactics. On the whole, though, the characters are well developed, with backstories and moments of introspection that make them memorable. I especially enjoyed stoic Beckett who may (or may not) have a lethal past.

The Loot is a gripping thriller, and possibly a beginning of the exciting series with Charlie McCabe leading the charge. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

ANALYSIS (Mihir):  Craig Schaefer's The Loot is his first official foray into the crime thriller genre. I say “official” because technically in his debut series, Craig has definitely explored aspects of the genre in a multitude of ways. However with The Loot (the first in the Charlie McCabe series), he gets to fully explore his literary muscles in a different world that’s perhaps nothing like he has done before.

When the story opens, we meet Charlene “Charlie” McCabe as she returns back to her New England roots from her military tour. She’s an explosive devices expert who has managed to stay whole physically (psychologically it’s a whole different matter). Arriving back, she’s confronted with a father whom she’s not on good terms and later discovers has a gambling problem. Taking on the onus of his debt, Charlie has to figure out a way to help her dad in ten days. She also takes on a job as a security detail bodyguard in a slightly unorthodox company managed by a brother –sister duo. Things get even more heated when their client is made a target for bombing attacks and doesn’t care enough to allow the security details to do their job. Hemmed in from all sides, Charlie is forced to consider her morals and utilize all the tricks and talents at her disposal to make things work on both the personal and professional fronts.

Right off the bat, this book conveys a sense of urgency, as we dive into a blue-collar world with Charlie. The home which she returns to is Spenser, Massachusetts, a poor area as one would imagine. Not doing so well but still proud and surviving. Charlie is able to fit in but it’s not something that she enjoys. The story is a lean one as we are immediately introduced to the main plot threads and from hen it’s a race to the end. Craig Schaefer fully utilizes the narrative thriller structure and gives us a story that keeps us guessing while also roaring towards a climax.

Characters are also another plus point, be it Charlie or her coworkers such as her quirky bosses Sofia & Jake Esposito, Dom Da Costa and her prayers to certain goddesses, Beckett a classical strong and silent type, and a few others. We get a solid cast of characters whom I’m presuming will play bigger parts in the future books. Also focusing on Charlie, she’s one tough cookie but at the same time, she’s also flexible with her morality when the need demands it. I often dislike moralistically rigid characters and so Charlie was a welcome addition. Especially when situations demanded that she go with the flow. She not only does that but often bends the flow in unexpected & thrilling directions. I loved this aspect about her and I hope the author allows her to go full tilt.

The only thing that perhaps didn’t jive with my overall enjoyment was the final end reveal about the titular loot which I thought was a bit too convenient. Overall it was a subjective thing because the end twist was a brilliant one and it sets up the next book superbly. The book also needed a bit more meat within its middle chapters as the author really streamlined the story. I wouldn’t have minded if the secondary characters had gotten more of a light shined on them (perhaps that’s what are sequels are for).

CONCLUSION: The Loot is Craig Schaefer’s first foray into a pure crime thriller story and as far as efforts go, it’s certainly a solid one. Charlie McCabe is a fiery character but not an all-consuming one. She’s of the slow-burn kind that smolders and is equally dangerous. The Loot is the start of another exciting series from one of my favourite writers, and I can’t wait to see what he surprises he springs in the sequel The Insider.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Black God's Drum by P. Djèlí Clark (reviewed by Justine Bergman)


Official Author Website
Order The Black God's Drums over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born in New York and raised mostly in Houston, P. Djèlí Clark spent the formative years of his life in the homeland of his parents, Trinidad and Tobago. His writing has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Lightspeed, Tor.com, and print anthologies including Griots I and II, Steamfunk, Myriad Lands Volume 2, and Hidden Youth. He currently resides in a small castle in Hartford, Connecticut, with his wife and a rambunctious Boston terrier named Beres.

OFFICIAL BLURB: In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air--in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie's trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God's Drums.

But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.

Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God's Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.

FORMAT/INFO: The Black God's Drums is a 112 page standalone novella. The book is currently available in e-book, paperback, and audiobook format. It was published by Tor.com on August 21, 2018. Cover art by Chris McGrath, cover design by Christine Foltzer.

CLASSIFICATION: Steampunk Science Fiction, Historical Fantasy

ANALYSIS: I believe this is the most charming and immersive thing I've ever read and I sincerely wish it didn't have to end. I was a bit hesitant to give this a try, only due to the fact that I'm not one for "Steampunk" SFF, but my expectations have been blown out of the water.

This story takes place in an alternate post-Confederate New Orleans brimming with Old Gods and airships, yet somehow remains completely palpable as a result of Clark's magnificent worldbuilding. His usage of the various Louisianan and Caribbean dialects adds an unexpected and very welcomed layer of credibility to the tale. There were times I had to remind myself "this is a work of fiction even though it feels so real!" The plot is concise and masterfully-crafted, flowing beautifully throughout, the climax a literal whirlwind. I'm not going to lie, the last bit of the book made me very emotional as the turning point was just so powerful and beautifully done. Creeper and Captain Ann-Marie are such amazing characters and I really hope this isn't the last we see of them.

The Black God's Drums took me by surprise and I can't tell you enough how great this little novella is. If you're on the fence about reading it like I was, please heed my advice and take the plunge - you won't regret it. I'm hoping I'll get visit this universe again in the future!
Thursday, July 25, 2019

Devils' Cape by Rob Rogers (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Blog
Order Devil's Cape over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob Rogers lives in Texas. He is a writer, editor, and communications project manager by trade. Devil’s Cape is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Devil's Cape, Louisiana. Founded by pirates. Ruled by villains. Desperate for heroes.

In 1727, the masked pirate St. Diable created the city of Devil's Cape as a haven for his men and a place to begin his empire. Pirates gave way to outlaws, who gave way to gangsters, who gave way to gangs and organized crime. But the city has never escaped from its shroud of violence and corruption.

And now a stunning, murderous act has made Devil's Cape more dangerous than ever. Someone needs to protect

the city. Three people are willing to try. Jason Kale, part of a criminal family, who hides the abilities of Greek heroes. Cain Ducett, a psychiatrist and former gang member, who finds that he is turning into a monster. Kate Brauer, genius engineer, daughter of a slain superhero, who has lost more than most to the city and its criminals. But they're outnumbered and overpowered. Can they possibly make a difference?

CLASSIFICATION: Devil’s Cape is a dark urban fantasy tale featuring an alternate Earth where heroes and villains co-exist with normal people. Think the origin story of the Avengers mixed in with the gritty crime drama of the Sopranos and set in hot, muggy Louisiana.

FORMAT/INFO: Devil’s Cape is 416 pages long divided over forty-seven numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Also includes an Acknowledgements page and a Map of Devil’s Cape along with a “sites of interest” listing. There are about 48 observational tales, anecdotes and various Devil’s Cape minutiae to go along with the start of each chapter. Narration is in the third-person via many main POV characters: Kate Brauer, Cain Ducett, Jason Kale, Jessica “Jazz” Rydland, Warren Sims, Joe Gaines Julian Kalodimos, Hector Nelson Poteete, Costas and Pericles Kalodimos. Devil’s Cape is largely self-contained, but leaves a thread open for a future sequel.

December 23, 2010 marked the self-published e-book release of Devil’s Cape. It was previously published by the now defunct Wizards of the Coast Discoveries.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I had previously read Devil’ Cape nearly a decade ago when it was still under its Wizards Of The Coast publishing press. I had loved that book back and I was very excited to see it submitted for this year’s SPFBO. When I first read Devil’s Cape, I was absolutely stunned by its immense scope and how well the author executed his vision. After nearly a decade of reading it, I was wondering how it would hold to my tastes. It’s safe to say that the read held up as good as it was.

The story in Devil’s Cape is spread over a vast period of thirty-five years and twenty days with the narrative switching between the past and the present with each chapter being timestamped from nearly thirty years ago to a day after a horrific murderous event around which the main plot revolves. For the first few chapters of the book, the author introduces the three main characters—Kate Brauer, Cain Ducett and Jason Kale—and their backstories: Jason Kale is trying to distance himself from his family’s criminal past; Kate Brauer has come to Devil’s Cape to regain something which she lost and possibly carry on her family legacy; and Doctor Cain Ducett is targeted by someone from his violent past. In the first 150 pages, the author also introduces various secondary characters such as Costas Kalodimos, head of the Kalodimos family and caporegime to the Robber Baron (the current crime boss of Devil’s Cape).

The novel’s main event is a large-scale murder that propels the three protagonists in different ways. This event is the main one around which every other chapter is measured. It’s the pivotal event which leads to many a shake-up. Overall, the story has multiple threads ranging from family drama between brothers, to a person finding a semblance of themselves after a profound personal loss, even squabbling between crime bosses and rivalries. All of these minute and major events slowly start to coalesce into a fine tapestry (around a singular horrific event), which helps make this book so special and exciting to read.

Besides the story, the novel also succeeds due to excellent characterization with every single character presented in Devil’s Cape. This includes the three main protagonists, the secondary POVs, both good and evil, and even the characters who reside in the background . . . each get their chance to differentiate themselves in the reader’s mind. Simply put, characterization was the MAIN reason why the plot was brought to life so vividly. With this factor, it’s seems highly improbable that this is Rob Rogers’ debut novel, such is the mastery that’s showcased. Yet it’s true that this is indeed his debut. The story really shines a lot on everyone and we get a solid three-dimensional view into almost all of the POV characters.

Another major plus point of the novel is the city itself which is its own character thanks to the author slowly building up the image, history & geography of Devil’s Cape by providing random and specific tidbits here and there, including intriguing vignettes, quotations or recaps that open each chapter. Not only does this help make the city feel real, but it allows readers to become acclimatized with Devil’s Cape, while also adding various (metaphorical & literal) layers to the story. Like the origins of Devil’s Cape which is an important part of the novel. The author also beautifully describes several aspects of Devil’s Cape:

Dawn was breaking over Devil’s Cape’s historic Doubloon Ward. Wisps of fog snaked across streets lined with cast-iron lampposts designed to look like the gaslights that had stood there more than a century before, when horse-drawn carriages rolled along the roads instead of cars.

An eleven-story brownstone painted white and maroon, the Lo Center dated back to 1917 and featured heavy, curved eaves reminiscent of a pagoda. Trumpet vines crept up the walls and tangled around the shingles on the eaves.

Cap de Creus Street, the main artery of Devil’s Cape’s business district, was named for the farthest eastern point of the Iberian Peninsula, where the winds could carry a fisherman’s cap out of sight between two heartbeats or send the beam of a sail whipping around with murderous speed.

I loved this aspect of the book as it left an indelible impression of Devil’s Cape as a city and it became iconic in my mind such as GRRM’s King’s Landing, Scott Lynch’s Camorr, and many other incredibly described ones.

I also liked how the novel is grounded in reality. Yes, Devil’s Cape is full of super-powered people, but the world presented is dark, gritty and violent, while the physics and limitations of each superhero and supervillain is realistic, bringing to mind the kind of realism found in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. In other words, nothing is off limits. Everyone has a weakness and even heroes can be killed, which makes it fun to see who survives and who doesn’t. The book also mixes terrific superhero action sequences with the rough & tumble approach of a crime drama. This unique mix makde it even more special as I've haven't come across any such a combination ever.

Lastly, Devil’s Cape is brimming with terrific symbolism. For instance, the novel can be construed as a parable of the corruption, avarice and basic human nature we live within our lives today. On the other hand, it can be looked at as an origin story where legends are made and epic events occur. Finally, readers can view the book as an odyssey where characters must go through various trials and tribulations in order to get wherever it is they want to go in life. In short, Devil’s Cape is a multi-faceted gem that offers a unique reading experience that can vary depending on the reader.

To top it off, after the action-packed climax, the author one-ups himself by dropping a huge twist, which makes the sequel a must read. Too bad it’s been over eleven years and we haven’t heard about anything of book 2. The story though stand proudly on its own and it’s a book that I would recommend to any noir-crime fan as well.

Negatively, there were only a few drawbacks in Devil’s Cape. The first is the pacing, which can be a bit languid for the first 100-150 pages as characters are introduced and the story is being set up, but it’s not a major issue since things steadily pick up afterwards and stay that way until the terrific climax. Secondly, the large cast of characters can be a bit troublesome to remember, but the author does his best to make sure the reader doesn’t get confused.

CONCLUSION: Random chance gave me another opportunity to read Devil’s Cape, and I’m very glad it did. Rob Rogers’ debut is a fantastic gem, the kind of novel that one fervently searches for, but rarely finds. In fact, Devil’s Cape has now become one of my favorite crime books of all time and I find it a cruel shame that the book is not more popular amongst SFF readers. After all, it’s one of the best superhero fiction novels in the current market. So do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Rob Rogers’ vastly underrated debut,  to see why it's so rave worthy...

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

SPFBO: Interview with Linn Tesli (Interviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)



Official Author Website
Order The Fox and the Hunter over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Linn Tesli
 is an author of fantastical stories, for people of all ages. As a previous freelance journalist, she's also written both magazine articles, movie reviews, and feature stories.

As a child, making up stories was how she made her days brighter. She believes that it's an extraordinary thing to be able to dive into words to escape the reality one lives in. 

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Linn Tesli? And why should everyone be reading your books?

First of all, thank you for the interview!

I’m a bit of everything. I always have my head in the clouds, my thoughts drifting into weirdness at any given moment, and I’m a total klutz. I can’t just Focus on one thing, which is why my days are spent writing, taking pictures, working with cover design and formatting, as well as working with translation—or when the mood strikes I’ll paint or make jewelry. On top of this, I’m always, and first of all, a mother to a couple of rascals, named Storm and Embla. 

I’m from Norway, though I write mainly in English. A lot of my inspiration for my stories came from my beautiful country, and I like to include Scandinavian history, mythology and folklore into my work. So, if you like those kinds of elements in your fantasy, then maybe pick up one of my books. 

I’ve also been hard of hearing all my life, and need hearing aids—something I passed on to both of my kids (I blame my mum, so they can too, although I’m sure they’ll blame me no matter what I say). I used to work with kids, but my hearing got worse as I got older, and it eventually became an issue, more or less forcing me to change directions. 

When and why have you decided to become an author?

I started reading and writing at an early age, and I began picking out English books in my school library at the age of ten, plowing through as much as I could. As for writing, I believe it started as I first learned how to make letters fit together to create words. One of my favorite writing memories is that I used to write stories with my grandad. We would write one chapter each until it eventually became a book (ish). I still remember my grandad telling me that I could be a writer if I wanted to (best man I’ve ever known). Those words stuck with me, and he continues to be an inspiration even now, after he’s gone.

I wrote all the time as a child and teenager, though mostly for my own eyes. Anyways, I figured I couldn’t make a living from writing, so I went on to other things like getting a film degree and a degree in social services, only to end up returning to my passion for the written word after my son was born in 2011, which was also around the time when my hearing got worse. Lucky for me, I don’t need my ears to write, and I’m finally fully convinced that it really is possible to make a living from writing, and a good one at that, even if I haven’t reached my goal just yet.   

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

I write just about every free moment I can find as there are always words to put to the page. But as I said, I need to be able to do more than one thing so as not to get bored. Although, writing never bores me, there are other things, like cover design, that I enjoy. I don’t, however, have a set schedule or a word count goal. I’m a mum with two kids who both require a bit extra, and my days can be unpredictable in that sense. So, instead of a writing schedule, I make the choice to write instead of watching TV. It’s all about choice.

4. What made you decide to self-publish as opposed to traditional publishing? 
When I decided to write my first book back in 2011, all I knew was that I wanted to write that book. I wanted to write Fantasy and I wanted to write it in English. Needless to say, perhaps, that any Norwegian publisher was already a no-go. I looked into my options, and what I found made it easy enough to make up my mind about going indie. Besides, it’s my work, my art… I really didn’t want anyone else calling the shots, and I’m really happy I chose to self-publish. No regrets at all. If I want to change something in my book, the cover or the blurb, it can be done in a day or two. I decide everything, and that’s exactly how I like it.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience?

Sure. I didn’t know the first thing about newsletters or launch plans or anything like that, even with a ton of research before publishing my first book. My biggest challenge, however, was and still is to find readers who will also leave a review. It took me some time to figure out the marketing side of publishing, and I did a lot of mistakes the first time around. I’m still learning all the time, but I’ve been climbing this mountain for a while now, and I’m finally beginning to feel the wind tickle the soles of my feet. Of course, finding readers is a must, and finding the right readers is a lot of work. But every email from a happy reader makes me happy, and every book sold pushes me a step further up the mountain. I’m excited about the future. 

Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

I actually wanted to enter another book but it didn’t get back from my editor in time to enter. Totally my own fault and not my editor’s though, she’s awesome. I wasn’t sure if The Fox and The Hunter would be a great fit for SPFBO but I’m really proud of that book, so I decided to give it a go. I have entered once before, though looking back at it now, I kind of wish I hadn’t as it was my first book, and I feel like I’ve grown a lot as an author since then. Still, the experience was great, and the awesome SPFBO community alone is enough to want to be a part of the fun.

What was your initial inspiration for The Fox and the Hunter? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea? 

So, I just finished a book in three weeks, about 15K more words than The Fox and The Hunter. But TFaTH took me eight months to finish, granted in between other projects and a baby on my arm. 

I wanted to write something connected to Norwegian history, as well as portray the Norwegian landscape along with the northern lights. I guess the aurora borealis was my number one inspiration, and it has a role to play of its own in the book as a source of magic and wonder. Vikings seemed like an obvious choice when Fantasy is involved, but I didn’t want it to be like any other Viking story out there, so I decided to have my protagonist be a Sami girl (indigenous people in Norway). It’s not something I think has been done much before this, at least not in English, and the Sami history is a perfect fit for creating magic in a historical setting.

The idea of the story never changed much once it was decided upon. What took so long was the research.

What sort of research did you do for Where Vikings Roam series? 

The story is set around 998-1000AD, so I had to get all the historical facts straight, as much as is possible with a limited amount of resources and known facts from this time period. Even though the story is mostly set in my own country, though moving out of Norway in book two, I still had to figure out what the geography was likely to look like back then, what animals lived in certain areas and what plants or trees grew where. The hardest part was getting the Sami culture to seem believable to those who are Sami themselves. Then there were questions like how exactly do you skin a bear? I have no hunting experience at all, and I don’t really want to hunt anything ever in real life, but it was necessary to learn for this story to be told. I was lucky to find some Sami beta readers, completely invaluable to my research.

Would you say that Where Vikings Roam series follows tropes or kicks them? 

I don’t think it’s especially tropy. Elva (meaning the river in my language) is shaped by her culture and the harsh climate she’s brought up in, whereas Haakon has lived a more sheltered life. I didn’t want my female protagonist to need a guy to rescue her or to help her survive, but rather have her teach him a thing or two. In the end, they both learn from each other. I do have the brutal, cold-hearted Vikings that we all know, but I didn’t want to just show this side of history either. The northern society consisted mainly of farmers, they had strict laws (and punishments), they valued hospitality and had specific social codes. If you’re looking for a Viking story a bit out of the ordinary, this book is for you.

You have quite a few distinct characters in the book - was it difficult to manage them in a satisfying way?

I believe that characters are what makes a story tick. The very essence of any tale is the personalities within the framework. It’s hard to engage readers without having engaging characters. My characters are always based on what I know of their history, and how I believe this, along with their environment, shapes them as people. Elva always felt right to me; she acts on instinct, and in ways her instincts are often more animalistic than human. Her companion in the story, Haakon, was more difficult for me as I wanted him, the son of a Viking earl, to be kind and gentle, but not completely one-dimensional. I had to juggle them based on their different beliefs, both politically and religiously, and I’m happy with how they turned out. 

Christianity in this book doesn’t really come out on top, and I wanted Haakon to be the redeeming factor, whereas King Olav plays the other side of this coin. That said, even though Christianity plays a role in and of itself in the series, it’s not about religion at all, but about people. Everyone has both good and bad in them, and they are not defined by their convictions of faith. 

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell me about the idea behind the cover of The Fox and the Hunter?

So, I do my own covers, and I also did this one. I wanted to convey the cold north, and include elements of magic without the typical orbs and flashes of light often seen on Fantasy covers. There are quite a few elements on the cover: a wolf, a reindeer, Vikings, Elva, the fox, and in the background, I have an image of a Sami lavvo (a picture I took in Northern Norway years back). All in all, it’s meant to give off a sense of magic, to be mysterious and also reflect the historical aspect.

Can you tell us about your editing process? Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I do both. I write the full draft, then do a full edit before sharing with beta readers. After their feedback, I do another full edit before I weed out as many repetitions and grammar mistakes as I can. Once I feel confident that I’ve done as much as I can on my own, I send it off to my editor for proofing, go over it again before my editor takes a last look at the e-book for final corrections. English isn’t my first language, and I think it would be quite arrogant of me to think I didn’t need outside help.

Can you name three books you adore as reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer? 

Nope. Haha… I mean, I can name books that I think are great, and that I know I won’t be able to replicate in any shape or form. But I’m not supposed to. That someone else is able to write perfect and beautiful prose doesn’t make me feel inadequate. It just makes me feel inspired and happy. Comparing ourselves to others rarely leads to good things. I have my own voice, and I love to write. No other author or book can take that away from me.

Do you have a plan for your career as an author? At the moment, you are wrapping up WVR duology. Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about?

My plan is to become a writer full time, and to be able to say that writing is my main income. Honestly, I don’t ever plan to stop writing, so I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ll reach my goal eventually. I have truly found my calling, however cheesy that may sound. While I’m working on the next part of Elva’s journey (currently titled The Fox and The Serpent), I’ve got a stand-alone ready to release in August, as well as book four in another series. I’m also currently co-writing a 9-book Urban Arthurian Portal Fantasy series (How’s that for a mouthful?), which is planned to start rolling out in January 2020. Aside from that, I’m hoping to finish the third book in my children’s Fantasy series, Life and lore of Wondrous Creatures, though it might have to wait a while. The second book should be out in English soon though. The children’s books are the only ones I’ve written in Norwegian first. 

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers? 

I’d like to thank you for the interview again! It was fun! Also, I’m happy to know that more people might discover my books. Anyone who loves fantastical stories mixed with history, folklore and myths should be able to enjoy what I have to offer, especially if they don’t mind a bit of gore. I’m much more of a pacifist in real life than my writing might imply. Promise! 

I put a lot of time and effort into my work, and every single reader who picks up any one of my books is precious to me. Finally, I love to interact with readers, and I’m easy enough to find online, so do swing by my inbox or my Facebook page and drop me a message at any time.

– Stay magical! X Linn

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Cover Reveal & Comparison: The Wolf Of Oren-Yo by K. S. Villoso

Today we are super excited to present the new cover for K. S. Villoso’s The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro. It was presented on the Orbit books blog and we were are over the moon to have Kay join us on FBC. Today she’s talking about the cover journey of The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro from its self-published roots to its current traditional publication form via Orbit books. Kudos to Simon Goinard, Lauren Panepinto & the Orbit books cover design team for giving us such a smashing cover to match the terrific story inside. So over to Kay and look out for The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro as it releases in physical form next year.

The original cover for The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro was illustrated and designed by my dear friend, Ash Navarre. She had done all of my indie-published covers up to that point, going out of her way to help out a fledgling author who didn't have much in the way of resources and budget to publish. The original plan for my self-pub releases was to "brand" me and my books with a certain look, as we knew from the get-go that if I was to gain any traction in this industry, I needed reader loyalty and word-of-mouth. My covers couldn’t look quite like everyone else’s, because my writing was… kind of doing its own thing. It worked amazingly well.


In the self-published edition of The Wolf Of Oren-Yaro, we tried to go for a bolder look, showcasing the main character, Talyien, fighting. She's bloody, and she has a sword, and her cape is made of wolves. The cover was able to maintain the look of my previous books while edging it closer to the tone of this series. The composition remains a favourite among readers, along with the subsequent cover for the self-published edition of the sequel, The Ikessar Falcon (which I now use on my website and on some of my bookmarks).

~~~

Orbit told me earlier in the year that the plan for their edition was to go in a more character-focused direction, to complement the intensely character-driven nature of the narrative. I was more than happy to learn that the cover art was to be done by Simon Goinard, who has done some amazing work in the past and whose portfolio made my jaw drop to the floor. The Orbit team took my suggestions for Queen Talyien: a woman who can hold her own in a fight, with an aura of nobility, strength, and power. It also contains many of the same elements from the previous cover: lots of blood, and the inclusion of Talyien’s father’s kampilan. As the entire trilogy begins and ends with Queen Talyien, it was crucial to nail not just the appearance of the character, but her entire essence, fortitude, and determination.


The result is well… I’ll let you decide, but I think it’s spectacular.



Official Author Website

AUTHOR INFORMATION: K.S. Villoso grew up in the slums of Manila before moving to Canada in her teens. She now writes fantasy with themes shaped by her childhood--stories of struggle, hope, and resilience amidst grim and grit. Her debut, THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO, will be released by Orbit in early 2020. Click here to find out more.


Buy the e-book over HERE

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.

I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

SPFBO Semifinalist: The Fox and The Hunter by Linn Tesli (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order The Fox and the Hunter over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Linn Tesli
is an author of fantastical stories, for people of all ages. As a previous freelance journalist, she's also written both magazine articles, movie reviews, and feature stories.

As a child, making up stories was how she made her days brighter. She believes that it's an extraordinary thing to be able to dive into words to escape the reality one lives in. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: Elva lives a peaceful life with her tribe, practicing to one day become the noaidi—the shaman. Her peace is shattered when two viking earls arrive in the camp. Her grandmother, the current noaidi, is accused of witchcraft, and is taken away to stand trial before the tyrant king Olav. The punishment is death.

Elva is not ready to become the leader of her tribe, nor is she ready to let go of her grandmother. She is nowhere near strong enough to fight the vikings in Nidaros, but she has to try. She's an outcast in her own land, on a journey that will challenge her convictions, her faith and even her heart. Can Elva overcome the powerful enemy and rescue her grandmother? 

FORMAT/INFO: The Fox and the Hunter is 206 pages divided over 40 numbered chapters and is the first entry in the Where Vikings Roam duology. Cover design is by Linn Tesli herself.

OVERVIEW: Set in northern Norway in the Viking age, The Fox and the Hunter explores difficult themes of a religious and political conflict. The clash of indigenous nature religion and monotheism is brutal and destroys lives. 

The story's protagonist, Elva, is raised to replace her grandmother as the noaidi (shaman) of her tribe when the time comes. She hopes it won't happen anytime soon, but she may have no choice when a Viking earl accuses her grandmother of witchcraft, a practice punishable by death. Elva decides to do everything in her power to stop the execution. 

I deeply believe in the power of brevity and I like focused narratives. It seems Linn Tesli shares my preferences. The story moves forward at a quick pace and doesn't focus on background static. Each scene serves something, Elva has a clearly defined goal (saving her grandmother), and the religious themes are well intertwined with the plot progression and interactions between her and secondary characters, especially with the Hunter (a young and naive son of a Viking Earl, who desires to be baptized). 


I liked Elva's connection to nature and animals, and I found descriptions of shamanic rituals (communication with the spirit world) involving the use of a drum very suggestive. 
Her character arc is all about change. We observe as she slowly changes, hardens herself to the harsh realities of the Viking world, and becomes more, shall we say, cunning. 

The Hunter, on the other hand, remains naive and doesn't learn from what he experiences. I mean, he wants to be baptized for some bizarre reason and even witnessing the acts of cruelty committed by overzealous "evangelists". I hope we get better insights into his psyche in the second book of the duology.

Because the story develops in a harsh, cold climate with little food supply it doesn't shy away from showing a grim reality of killing animals to survive. Many readers (me included) react badly to violence towards animals, so I feel they should know upfront what they're getting into. There's one shocking scene that enraged me but I can't discuss it. Damn spoilers.


Tesli has created a gritty and gruesome world in which violence happens but it’s never included for the sake of shock value (except, maybe, for that one scene). 
While the plot development is solid, there are a few weak points, including a few awkward sentences and the dialogue in certain scenes, where it feels unnaturally formal and stiff. Sure, a dialogue isn't exactly like speech in real life, but it should give the impression of actual, believable conversation. And here, characters' speech varied between nicely flowing and unbelievably formal.

Overall, though, The Fox and the Hunter is a solid, well-written, and engaging story I liked enough to read the sequel once it's published.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Wolf's Call by Anthony Ryan (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Blood Song
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Tower Lord
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Queen Of Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Anthony Ryan
Read "The Influence Of History On Epic Fantasy" by Anthony Ryan (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anthony Ryan is a pseudonym used by the author as his previous day job prevented him from using his real identity. He has an academic background in history, previously used to work fulltime as a researcher and currently lives in London.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: PEACE NEVER LASTS

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. He won titles aplenty, only to cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Yet whispers have come from across the sea – rumours of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honour and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: "that there are some battles that even he cannot hope to win.’

FORMAT/INFO: The Wolf’s Call is 409 pages long divided three parts, each of which open with a Luralyn’s account and then numbered chapters. This pattern is very similar to that of his debut book. Narration is in the third-person, via Vaelin Al Sorna for the numbered chapters, and first person for the accounts interspersed within. The book also feature maps of the unified realm, and the Merchant kingdoms of the west. There is a single appendix for the Dramatis Personae. The Wolf’ Call  is the first volume of The Raven’s Blade duology.

July 23, 2019 marks the North American Hardcover and e-book publication (see cover below) of The Wolf’s Call via Ace Books. The UK version will be published on July 25 2019 by Orbit Books UK.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:
The wolf….. It called…..
Vaelin mentions it called to him and he had to respond. I think it called out to Anthony Ryan as well, hence e heard the fan clamour for this sequel series. As for me, I’m always excited for Anthony Ryan’s work. His debut Blood Song is one of my all-time favourite titles. The Raven’s Shadow trilogy was an exciting one, however the increase of POV focus from a singular one in the first book to the many in the remaining two books caused many a consternation among fans. Their grievances while understandable weren’t shared by me. I still love the ending as it was an all-out action ride that had Vaelin and his brothers facing unsurmountable odds as well as Lyrna who has become a queen in more ways than one.

The sequel books really expanded the world and gave us a strong background on the Alpiran and Volarian empires. They also expanded the character cast and gave us more information about the dark and its practices. The books also introduced the Merchant Kings whose kingdoms featured to the West of the unified realm. At the end of Blood Song, Vaelin took a calculated risk and sent his love away with Ahm-Lin. He’s ever been haunted by his actions, not fully knowing how she took it. Plus after the events of Queen Of Fire and faced with the loss of his blood song. He’s no longer able to match his current prowess to that of his legends. Things however are calmer and there aren’t any battles or wars that need his attention. His position as tower lord of the north means that he has to help keep the peace as well occasionally lead forays against slavers. Reva’s daughter Ellese has also joined his court and proves to be a tough ward. One of his essential functions is receiving visiting dignitaries as his fame has indeed spread to many other lands. On such a recent visit from those of the merchant kingdoms, Vaelin comes face to face to again (surprisingly) with his fre-nemy whose actions have long been intertwined with Vaelin’s life.

Revealing a new danger that is arising from the lands to the west of the Merchant Kingdoms and one of the first casualties being Sherin leads Vaelin to immediately leave for those foreign lands. However he’s not alone, brother Nortah has been waylaid of late with certain issues and Vaelin chooses to take him along as he sees no other option left for him. There are a couple more people who join our beloved warrior on his quest and he’s not happy about it. Things are much weirder as there’s a new warrior who claims the title of Darkblade while having extra help and he has named Vaelin as the Thief Of Names. As you can surmise, there’s a lot going on and Anthony Ryan has a lot of irons in the mix with this new duology featuring his most beloved character.

Firstly the positives, characterization has been Anthony Ryan’s forte and with this book, he returns to the style of his debut wherein everything is filtered through Vaelin Al Sorna. This has two solid benefits, primarily we return to familiar atmosphere of Blood Song and secondarily we get a solidly focused narrative that keeps the readers engaged. The Vaelin we meet is an older, grizzled one but no less charismatic. He’s our narrator and holds the story cohesively. We get to see the other characters such as Nortah, Sherin, Ahm-Lin, and many new folks from the western kingdoms. Everyone is a fully realized character and even with only Vaelin’s third person perspective, we get a solid character cast who intrigue, inspire and arouse disgust.

The story is very much a stranger in a strange land mold and the worldbuiding is solidly done from the three Merchant Kingdoms to the Iron Steppe and its inhabitants the Stahlhast. The readers are introduced to a whole new land and its inhabitants and Athe author lays out a very detailed landscape from the canals of Hahn-Shi to the dry, dusty steppes and their iron tors. I enjoyed this East Asian facsimile that Anthony has created. Astute readers will easily be able to figure what regions and history, the author is utilizing. The story also further deepens the aspect of the afterlife and what was revealed in Queen Of Fire with regards to the Black Stone in Volaria. I thought this was a nice tie-in to the original trilogy and we are given more hints about what lies in the beyond.

For those readers who might be shy to jump in this new series without reading the previous titles such as Tower Lord & Queen Of Fire. Be not wary, if you have read Blood Song then you can jump into this duology easily. Surely there'll be a few minor things that won't make any sense but given how divisive the opinion is over those two titles. I can safely vouch for this title being the better than both and only needing Blood Song's background and details for one to enjoy this volume.

The action sequences aren’t a lot to begin with and the readers will find sporadic scenes until the last third of the story. But it’s during this last third that the story kicks into overdrive. We get a solid taste of what has been promised. The climax even pays a bit of homage to one of Anthony Ryan’s favorite titles namely David Gemmell’s Legend. However the author neatly lays in a twist that’s hard to anticipate and the way it pans out, I really enjoyed it. Lastly the book ends on a big cliffhanger and sets up the sequel superbly. I loved what the author has in store and with that twist, the sequel becomes another must read for 2020.

Going on to the things that might not work, one of the confounding things is the structure of the book. It follows the pattern of having first person accounts interspersed between the third person POV chapters. In the first trilogy, it made sense as it was Verniers who was chronicling Vaelin’s legend. With this new duology, I was more than surprised to this style adopted by the author. Maybe it was to draw similarities between both series and in that it works beautifully. However I hope that the author has more in store and can reveal why he chose to structure the new series this way. Secondly we are led to believe that there will be a big conflict between said demigods but that doesn’t happen and I for one was a tad disappointed with it.

CONCLUSION: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again “Anthony Ryan is David Gemmell’s natural successor and heroic fantasy’s best British talent”. With this new duology, he proves me right all over again. The Wolf’ Call heralds a successful call back to Blood Song and while it might not be as great as Blood Song was. It’s still a damn good story that will make you want the sequel now.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Fortune's Fool by Angela Boord (reviewed by Justine Bergman)


Official Author Website
Order Fortune's Fool over HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Angela Boord published a handful of short stories in the early 00s, then had a bunch of kids who are now all sleeping at night, making it easier to write again. She lives in northwestern Mississippi with her husband and their nine kids, plus two dogs, one cat, and varying numbers of chickens. She is currently hard at work on more books in the Eterean Empire series and plans to release Book 1.5 in early 2020.

OFFICIAL BLURB: A secret affair. A disfiguring punishment. A burning need for revenge.

Kyrra d’Aliente has a bad reputation and an arm made of metal.

Cast out of the safe and luxurious world of silk to which she was born, played as a pawn in a game of feuding Houses, Kyrra navigates a dangerous world of mercenaries, spies, and smugglers while disguising herself as a man.

War destroyed her family and the man she loved.

Vengeance is within her grasp.

But is she willing to pay its price?

FORMAT/INFO: Fortune's Fool is 720 pages divided over six parts and a total of 37 numbered chapters, and is the first installment in the Eterean Empire series. The book is currently available in e-book and paperback format, as well as on Kindle Unlimited. It was self-published by the author on June 25, 2019. Cover art by John Anthony Di Giovianni and cover design by Shawn T. King.

CLASSIFICATION: Epic fantasy, Romantic fantasy

ANALYSIS:
A girl and an illusion of love.
A girl betrayed.
A girl punished and maimed and scorned.
A woman and a reckoning.

Kyrra d’Aliente, sole heir of the Aliente House, falls victim to the charms of Cassis di Prinze. Now a pariah within her household, she's cast into the dirt to appease the mighty Prinze. Mutilated and cursed to a life of serfdom, she lives her days under the mocking ridicule of the Household, but one day is lifted from the dirt by a mysterious gavaro. Kyrra No-Name of House Aliente uncovers a plot that will expose the man she loves, stripping her of the only thing she desires. Taking matters into her own hands, she becomes the sacrificial lamb to appease the mighty Prinze. He cannot bear the thought of life without her, and against the judging verdict, they flee into the unknown. Kyrra No-Name of Nothing is the last of a dead House destroyed by war and the machinations of the mighty Prinze. Bestowed with an arm of metal and magic, posing as a man and mercenary, submitting to the darkness, she has one goal: tear down the mighty Prinze. Everyone has a name.

Fortune's Fool is an immaculate character-driven epic fantasy, governed by vengeance and the need to protect that of which you love by any means necessary. At its core, this novel is the tale of a romance that eclipses the injustices of the past, and paves the path to the future of a righted world. Kyrra No-Name, continuously used as a means to an end, broken and shunned, and finally freed by a man with gray eyes and cloaked origins, she must find her place in the world, and her purpose. Her mind aching for retribution battles her heart yearning for acceptance, and she is soon thrusted into a life defined by inverses: loyalty and deceit, love and betrayal, sacrifice and survival. With twists and turns, scheming, and the ever-daunting unknown, Boord drops us onto the board of a grand and deadly game of chess completely shadowed by uncertainty. All we can hope for is justice where justice is due.
"I suppose you have a right to be wary of wolves, but just because you're fallen, do you think it means you have to stay down in the dirt?"
Boord has created something incredibly beautiful with her debut, and I'm finding it difficult to put into words my praise for the splendor she has penned onto page. The writing is exquisite; meticulously immersing you in a world that is extraordinarily rich and vibrant. Descriptions of textiles you can feel beneath your fingertips, exotic foods you can smell on the warm breeze, pain and torment that twist your heart - it's easy to lose yourself in Eterea. Her ability to alternate timelines and tense is impeccable, highlighting Kyrra's past and budding relationship with Arsenault, then her present path of vengeance, done so with smooth, subtle transitions and a continuous flow. The prose is striking and polished, the pacing perfectly builds tension, the foreshadowing haunting. Of all the things done exceedingly well, her ability to tell a story is peerless. Boord is a master when it comes to plotting, as this story is layer upon layer upon layer of cohesive history and unrevealed intrigue. Peeling back the layers and diving deeper into this complex story is one gratifying and worthwhile adventure.

As mentioned, the characters take center stage in this novel, with major focus on both Kyrra and Arsenault. All conflict stems from their choices and actions, and they each inevitably suffer the consequences. Following Kyrra's disgrace and subsequent ruin, Arsenault enters her life, and changes it forever in many, and oftentimes initially reluctant, ways. Despite the half-truths and veiled secrets, their growth is based solely on the other, bringing them together, rather than tearing them apart as expected. He gifts her with a piece of herself that's missing, and a confidence once shattered, while she aids him in mending his fractured memories, and allowing him a closeness he thought lost forever - they each make the other whole. Their relationship is raw, fiercely profound, and something truly special to behold.

Further, we witness the development and transformation of a well-rounded cast of characters. Geoffre di Prinze is the epitome of a deceptive villain, his true intentions unclear until it's too late. He's the puppet master behind the curtain, pulling the strings of all the powerful families to achieve his goals with no regard for collateral damage. Lobardin and Jon are seemingly duplicitous and abusive players in the grand game, but the masks they wear are only to deliver them the endgame. Mikelo is a young man with no direction, but he possesses an intense power within himself that others can only envy. Much like her plotting, her characters are intricate, each distinct with cryptic pasts that become untangled as we continue to journey alongside them. I'm excited to see more of these characters and their progression in the future of this series.
"Hunter," he said. "And Sacrifice. In you, the two are combined. You choose which road you follow, with which vision you will see. Your heart will always be your own."
A novel of this size allows for a gradual enrichment of the world being built around you, and Boord does just that by carefully placing one building block at a time without overwhelming the reader. She has infused an Italian-inspired province with spiteful gods, mysterious magics, and wonderfully realized settings. We're transported from quaint countryside villas, to airy mountainside hunting lodges, to bustling and bloated city marketplaces, to secretive underground hovels, each brimming with their own populace, and trades, and secrets. I would speak more of this, but her world is one best discovering yourself.

CONCLUSION: I can't praise this story enough, as it's honestly one of the best things I've read in a long while. Let me be clear, this is a romance imbued with the fantastical, and what a beautiful and magical romance it is. Fortune's Fool is an amazing foundation for Boord’s Eterean Empire series, and while it closes nicely, I cannot wait to see where we're taken next. I highly recommend.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ravencry by Ed McDonald (reviewed by David Stewart)


Official Author Website
Order Ravencry over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Blackwing

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ed McDonald
has spent many years dancing between different professions, cities and countries, but the only thing any of them share in common is that they have allowed him enough free time to write. He currently lives in London, a city that provides him with constant inspiration, where he works as a university lecturer. When he’s not grading essays or wrangling with misbehaving plot lines he can usually be found fencing with longswords, rapiers and pollaxes.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Four years have passed since Nall’s Engine drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but as they hurl fire from the sky, darker forces plots against the republic. A new power is rising: a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady manifests in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power even as the city burns around them.

When Crowfoot’s arcane vault is breached, an object of terrible power is stolen, and Galharrow and his Blackwings must once find out which of Valengrad’s enemies is responsible before they have a chance to use it.

To save Valengrad, Galharrow, Nenn and Tnota must venture to a darker, more twisted and more dangerous place than any they’ve walked before: the very heart of the Misery.

FORMAT/INFO: Ravencry is 384 pages divided over 40 numbered chapters and is the second entry in the Raven's Mark series. The book is currently available in all formats, with its sequel, Crowfall, available in all formats as well. Cover design for the US cover (see below) is by Adam Auerbach while the UK cover design is by Dan Smith.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Even though this is only the second book in the series, I have this expectation when I open up a Raven's Mark book that at some point, a crow will claw its way out of Ryhalt Galharrow's arm, and in that moment I will feel a mixture of revulsion and glee because there is something exciting about that violent act. It's as though, until it happens, we are simply reading a book about a man going on with his life - a normal, albeit grimy, life that involves darker things than most of us are used to, but fairly normal. But then the crow emerges and so too does the memory that there is nothing normal here and that what you are in fact reading is a grimdark fantasy novel where magic hurts and part of the world is already destroyed with the rest in peril. I like that. McDonald times his crowmergence (feel free to use that, Ed) quite well in each of the first two books, Blackwing and Ravencry, and I know that once it happens, the world of Galharrow and his buddies is about to get much crazier.

One might wonder how things could get much crazier than they were at the end of Blackwing. Ezabeth Tanza, the scarred love of Galharrow's life, sacrifices herself to save the besieged city of Valengrad, seeming to disintegrate into the very motes of light surrounding the metropolis. The Nameless converge to battle a Deep King, a clash larger than even the city itself, and somehow Galharrow, Nenn, and Tnota all survive. They are changed, but alive. Four years later, Valengrad is mostly rebuilt, the trauma all that remains, and things move apace. Galharrow has formed an agency of sorts, Blackwing, that serves as a spy network/private investigation company and is enjoying a modicum of success in large part due to his recognized heroics from the prior book.

Ryhalt can't sleep though because whenever he closes his eyes, he sees Her again, his dear Ezabeth, arms outstretched in a halo of light. It is not as pleasant a vision as it should be. What's odd about these visions is that he is not the only one. People are seeing a "Bright Lady" at various points across the city, often in conjunction with the phos light system of magic that powers much of it. It does not take long before an entire religion emerges from these visions, as it would, and even less time for the stability of the city to be threatened.

Blackwing was a book that introduced fantasy readers to some very bizarre concepts, which while not completely original, had enough new elements to make them stand out above the pack. The Misery is an area unlike any other in fantasy, a mystical geography that often changes, is never safe, and stands as both a terror-inducing nightmare just outside city walls and also its best shield against the horrors of the Deep Kings and their drudge citizenry. This no man's land played a large role in Blackwing, and I was worried that in Ravencry it would take a back seat. It does for much of the novel, but as one can glean from the book blurb above, it becomes more important than ever at the apex of the narrative. I am not sure if it was some skill of McDonald's or a random confluence of mental events that led me to desiring the very thing that McDonald had Galharrow do towards this section of the book, but either way it was very satisfying.

But one of the problems in writing a sequel wherein your unknowns are largely known is giving your readers something new to discover. I was worried about Ravencry's ability to do this. There were aspects of Blackwing that shocked me in their creativity and depravity. The Brides, in particular, were not something I had ever envisioned and frankly never needed to. The Darlings were also a terrifying vision of what happens when a child is warped into something beyond imagination - a Chucky doll but much, much worse. Ravencry does not blast us with these viscerally blaring monsters, at least not in the new sense. There is one familiar Darling, and a few others, but the monsters we encounter in the book are known foes. Even the big bad villain is someone we've met before, and while none of this information is inherently bad, it does remove a bit of wonder from what is a very strange world.

That's not to say that there isn't much about Ravencry worth reading, and by the end I was fully on board with the events therein. The idea of a religious cult taking over, however it happens, is something many of us can both envision and fear - even when the figurehead around which this cult forms is someone with whom we sympathize. The aforementioned villain is a bit of a disappointment, not necessarily because they aren't terrifying, but rather because they are largely absent until the very end, and we are left with proxy faces to despise instead of the real thing.

Ravencry also suffers from the middle book syndrome, being the second part of a trilogy, and there have probably not been many middle books that have ever eclipsed their former or latter entries. It is a limbo in which events for the next book must be put in motion - a book that will be the penultimate in the series and likely end it. That is not an easy position, but Ravencry does manage to be engrossing from cover to cover, and that's really all we can ask of it. It also does something vital to both the series and to the final book, and that is to allow Galharrow a transformation. I won't go into that, but it's strange and welcome in such a dark world, and not at all what anyone might expect.

I have liked and enjoyed both of these Raven's Mark books, while not loving them, but if the plot of the third book that is hinted at in this one lives up to my now-high expectations, I suspect I will love Crowfall. I am eager to read it and to see where McDonald is heading with this series.

CONCLUSION: The world McDonald has built is not one that can simply be wrapped up, in large part due to the massive figures moving around and within it. Ryhalt Galharrow and even Ezabeth Tanza are minor figures when compared to the near-deities that are the Deep Kings and Nameless. This means that we won't have a Wheel of Time style ending where everything is sealed up and all is good. Chances are the dark will stay dark and we will see the end of one man's story, and that is exactly what we should get.

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