Blog Archive

View My Stats
Friday, August 30, 2019

Gateways to Abomination: Collected Short Fiction by Matthew M. Bartlett (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)



Official Author Website
Order Gateways to Abomination over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Matthew M. Bartlett was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1970. He writes dark and strange fiction at his home in Western Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife Katie and an unknown number of cats.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Bizarre radio broadcasts luring dissolute souls into the dark woods of Western Massachusetts. Sinister old men in topcoats gathered at corners and in playgrounds. A long-dead sorcerer returning to obscene life in the form of an old buck goat. Welcome to Leeds, Massachusetts, where the drowned walk, where winged leeches blast angry static, where black magic casts a shadow over a cringing populace. You've tuned in to WXXT. The fracture in the stanchion. The drop of blood in your morning milk. The viper in the veins of the Pioneer Valley.

FORMAT/INFO: Gateways to Abomination is 158 pages long. It was self-published by the author in 2014.

OVERVIEW: 
I was on a stool at the counter of the Look Diner, moving my scrambled eggs around the plate in the coagulating pool of ketchup and staring at my gray coffee, when the man walked in carrying his brain in his cupped hands.
If you think it was strange, you’re wrong. It’s just a warm-up for Bartlett's boundless and twisted imagination.

Gateways to Abomination is his self-published collection of short stories. Or rather a novel-in-stories as all these vignettes are interconnected. They show the life in a small town in Massachusets called Leeds that happens to be under the spell of a Satanic cult. 

At the ceiling, winged babies wheeled. Their wings were black gossamer and they gibbered with wet beaks of pink and purple. They had the eyes of goats. Their diapers bulged.
As you see life in Leeds isn’t exactly normal. We learn about the world from the unknown narrator and from broadcasts transmitted by local radio station named WXXT. Some characters like Ben Stockton and Jebediah Blackstye appear few times, some just once.

The story is told in a way that keeps the reader asking himself if what he just read had actually happened or maybe was just a hallucination? I’m not sure what was the author’s goal, but if it was to freak me out, he has succeeded. These events/visions are disturbing. Hell, disturbing is a euphemism – it’s a total mindfuck. 

I could tell you of a rain of bruised babies slamming sickeningly into the pavement of the roads and sidewalks of Leeds, bouncing in dizzying numbers from the roof tops and canopies and awnings.
I could tell you that I was now a part of an army of the dead, whose instructions were dispersed by coded messages on a radio station. I could tell you of our foul mission and of our multitudes of intended victims. 
I could tell you these things, my invisible audience, only on the airwaves of WXXT.
WXXT.
If it bleeds, it's Leeds.

Bartlett is a fine writer. He plays with the language and even when he describes surreal atrocities, he does it with style and phrasing that are impressive.

I’m not sure what genre it is. It’s weird and formidable. Categorization isn’t important, though. What’s important is the fact it works in a strange and twisted way. While some images are obscene and simply sick, they’re also addictive and, well, for the lack of another word, beautiful in a creepy way. 

I have to admit that while it wasn’t an easy book, it thoroughly impressed me. It reads like ultra-violent and nightmare-inducing poetry. I’ll reread it just for the sheer thrill of conjuring these images in my head once again. 

If you’re looking for something weird and terrifying, look no more. Just grab a copy of Gateways to Abomination and experience weirdness organically and viscerally. 

Just remember it’s not the book for the faint of heart – it’s violent and profane. You may find yourself unable to get rid of some of vivid and brutal images, like this one:

When Jeb was in his cups, which thankfully was not often, he’d grab his overalls in a fist and yank them asunder. Then from his unders, he’d pull out his I-can‘t-say-it, a confused grey mass of you-know-what, held together with a wet and reeking shoelace. THIS, he’d bellow, IS THE SOURCE OF ALL THE PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD. I USEDTA THINK IT WAS WOMAN BUT ITS THIS. He’d yank from his deep pocket a meat tenderizing mallet, heavy and dirty, and demand that we hammer his mess. I’d give a meaty whack or two, looking away in horror, to placate the lunatic. Earl, though, took to it. He’d wheeze his asthmatic wheeze and swing that hammer like a he-man at a carnival. Trying to ring the bell. BAMM, he’d yell. BAMM BAMM. .

If you’re ready, try it. Oh, and don’t expect to have some clear beginning and end. You won’t get those.
Thursday, August 29, 2019

Shields In Shadow by Andy Peloquin (Reviewed by Justine Bergman)


Official Author Website
Order Shields in Shadow over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: I am, first and foremost, a storyteller and an artist–words are my palette. Fantasy is my genre of choice, and I love to explore the darker side of human nature through the filter of fantasy heroes, villains, and everything in between. I’m also a freelance writer, a book lover, and a guy who just loves to meet new people and spend hours talking about my fascination for the worlds I encounter in the pages of fantasy novels.

Fantasy provides us with an escape, a way to forget about our mundane problems and step into worlds where anything is possible. It transcends age, gender, religion,race, or lifestyle–it is our way of believing what cannot be, delving into the unknowable, and discovering hidden truths about ourselves and our world in a brand new way. Fiction at its very best!

OFFICIAL BLURB: Burdened with legend. Hardened by battle scars. Hellbent on bloody revenge.

As the son of a famous general, Aravon is proud to captain his own company against his people's enemy. But the experienced veteran’s march toward glory dissolves into pain as ruthless barbarians massacre every last one of his soldiers. Burning for vengeance, he leaps at the chance to spearhead a specially-trained company and pay back his tragic defeat with blood.

Desperate to not repeat his tragic past, Aravon trains his new warriors relentlessly. But the captain fears that all the tactical drills in the world may not matter when they’re forced to defend a helpless village against overwhelming odds. As his quick raids sow chaos amongst the enemy, the bloodthirsty savages threaten to make Aravon's nightmarish history repeat itself…

Can the captain take command of his fighting spirit before the kingdom falls to barbarous invaders?

Shields in Shadow is the first book in the action-packed Silent Champions military fantasy series. If you like square-jawed heroes, well-oiled military action, and epic world-building, then you’ll love Andy Peloquin’s gripping novel.

FORMAT/INFO: Shields in Shadow is 373 pages divided over 44 numbered chapters, and is the first entry in The Silent Champions series. The book is currently available for pre-order in e-book and paperback format. It will also be available on Kindle Unlimited. It is scheduled to be self-published by the author on September 3, 2019. Cover art and design by Wicked Smart Designs.


CLASSIFICATION: Military fantasy


ANALYSIS:
Some demons can only be slain by the passage of time.
Aravon, the once-proud and renowned Captain of the Legion's Sixth Company, is now sole survivor of the bloodshed and carnage allotted by the imposing Eirdkilr barbarians. The savages have one goal: to rid Fehl of the half-men - those who traveled across the Frozen Sea, and took what wasn't theirs to take. Narrowly escaping the fate of his men, Aravon finds sanctuary under the care and protection of the Duke of Eastfall, a man who bravely fought alongside his own father. With hope of securing their foothold in Fehl, and driving the barbarians back across the Sawtooth Mountains, the Duke establishes an elite force to work in the shadows, subverting the Legion Aravon once loyally served. Aravon and his team must infiltrate the Eirdkilrs from inside their own territory in order to save the entire kingdom. Against the odds, is there a chance for success, or will his fear of repeated failure, and underlying need for forgiveness and redemption hinder his path?

Shields in Shadow is a perfect example of what Military Fantasy has to offer: mathematically strategic and filled with visceral, high-energy, and bloody battles. While I originally went into this story expecting a first-class crew single-handedly picking apart the enemy from the inside, the nameless company relies on planning, subterfuge, and sheer luck to aid those that lie in the Eirdkilrs' path. With very specific information - odds, yardage, travel times, sizes of weapons (and people) - I often found myself feeling like a General leaning over a marker-covered map, listening to my Commanders tirelessly discussing battle and travel tactics. While this comprehensive and scientific approach may work for most, there were instances that began to pull me from the immersion of the story. The beginning of the book builds a powerful engine for vengeance, but at times I felt as though this concept took a backseat in the events that followed. What started as a tale of retribution essentially became the saga of Captain Aravon and his redemption.

Peloquin presents us with a diverse cast of strongly developed characters, reminiscent of a well-rounded role-playing party. Aravon, Legionnaire Captain living in his father's shadow, a true leader of men, yet broken by slaughter. Colborn, the unlikely, yet capable half-Fehlan Lieutenant, master of the lands. Belthar, the massive axe-wielding warrior with a heart of gold, always throwing himself towards the frontlines. Zaharis, the mysterious and monk-like Secret Keeper, master alchemist and honed warrior. Noll, a talented Scout of the shattered Sixth Company who deeply resents Aravon for surviving the massacre. Draian, the Mender/healer who's more comfortable fixing men than breaking them. And finally Skathi, an archer specifically trained to counter Eirdkilr ranged weapons, and sole woman on the team. In order to achieve the impossible, they must work together as a cohesive unit, despite only being acquainted with each other for a short amount of time. Witnessing the building of trust, as well as the brotherly/soldierly banter, added an appreciated levity to an otherwise dark story.

While the first third of the book introduces us to and develops the character dynamics, the rest is spent on the many highways, forest paths, and wagon trails throughout Fehl. Our group of heroes is always on the move, in hopes of staying ahead of the Eirdkilr horde and preventing the destruction it will inevitably leave in its wake. Stories told around campfires and while atop horseback are vehicles for worldbuilding, intelligently narrating the past, preparing for the present, and setting up the future. We get but a glimpse of the magic and myth infused into the world, with insights into an enigmatic race that came before - one able to harness the mysteries of creation, and the present chase to unlock those secrets. Creatures of legend grace the skies and lands, and mentions of gifts bestowed by the gods piqued my interest. I only wished these aspects were built upon more as we traveled farther into Fehlan territory.

CONCLUSION: Carefully written with sharp attention to minute details, Peloquin has created a treat for fans of the Military Fantasy sub-genre. The book ties up nicely, but the final chapter paves the way for the future of the series with a jarring unanswered question. I will admit I found myself questioning several inconsistencies, mainly when it came to communication between our heroes, as well as instances of unnecessary repetition, but the underlying story kept the pages turning at a rapid pace. If you're looking for strategy and beautifully executed action, then Shields in Shadow is what you're looking for.

Note: I'd like to thank the author for providing me with a complementary advanced copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

SPFBO: The Fourth Reaping & Semi-Finalist (by David Stewart)


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

It has come to me to provide Fantasy Book Critic's next culling and fourth semi-finalist, and boy am I eager to announce the winner because it's a hell of a book. The titles I've read so far this year are:

Wanderer by Nancy Dunne

Beggar's Rebellion by Levi Jacobs

The Harvest by KB Benson

Into the Labyrinth by John Bierce

Devian by Shanna Bosarge

Petrified by Ben Weeks

I set myself a goal of reading through each of my books this year, even if I didn't like them. This was more of a personal goal than anything because it becomes obvious within the first 10-20% of a book whether or not it's going to advance. I almost did it, only abandoning one book in the batch as simply not for me.

Wanderer by Nancy Dunne - I am always excited when I read a book blurb and it claims to feature druids and nature magic. I have a degree in Permaculture, which is as close to real life druidism as there is. I love green stuff! Include dragons in the mix, and I'm a sucker for whatever you've got to show me.

But to get the sad news out of the way right up front, Wanderer is the only book in my bunch that I could not finish. There is so much sexual violence, implied and overt, that I simply couldn't continue - especially when I fully expected a book about tree magic. There is magic, Dunne has populated her world with elves and dark knights and all manner of typical fantasy ideas, but there's nothing engaging about that magic (unless the later portion of the book really changes up the formula). It's basically people pointing their fingers at stuff and having magic happen. Add in characters that act and are characterized like anime tropes, and this book was not at all what I wanted.This was the last book in my bunch, and had I read it earlier I might have stuck with it, but it became clear very quickly that this was not going to advance in FBC's batch.

Beggar's Rebellion by Levi Jacobs - Beggar's Rebellion immediately catches the eye with one of the best covers in this year's SPFBO and one evocative of its subject matter. It's hard not to have high expectations when going in with art like that. Imagine my surprise when not only does the inner content match the outer, but said content gets better and better as the book progresses.

Beggar's Rebellion has nearly everything that people look for in epic fantasy these days, with robust power systems and political machinations complicated enough to make George R.R. Martin blush. Levi Jacobs managed to impress me with a courtroom scene, and I hate anything to do with legal drama. By the last page, I could not have been happier with Beggar's Rebellion being in my lot. This is a book that could easily stand beside any traditionally published book on the shelf, and in fact shares many features of some of the best-sellers. Jacobs writes strong characters, Ella being one of the most likable characters I've read in fantasy, and his world-building is both familiar and unique. It might even be easy to label Beggar's Rebellion as traditional, but I think it brings enough to the table to keep it from such common labels.


The Harvest by KB Benson - The premise of The Harvest has merit - sirens live among us and they aren't your everyday Ariels. Rather, they share more in common with the monsters of folktale than they do with Disney. The Harvest takes this idea and pours it into the young adult fantasy romance mold - a mermaid Twilight if you will.

I read Twilight, and while I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, it is certainly readable and found resonance with a great many readers. I would not say the same for The Harvest. The characters were in no way believable for me, and the blend of saccharine, Christian-themed, puritanical tones with dark, sea dwelling monsters put me off completely. I wish I could say that anything worked for me in this book, but it was a struggle to read through to the end. It's possible that fans of romance, and in particular the Christian romance one finds in a Hallmark Store, could enjoy The Harvest. It's possible that I am the least qualified reader in the world to judge its merits based on that metric. But even had I loved the subject matter and believed any of the character motivations, the writing in The Harvest is too simple to win a contest like this, a competition that features truly beautiful and complex writing. I did finish this book, and it is technically competent, but I would not say I enjoyed it very much at all.

Into the Labyrinth by John Bierce - When I read the synopsis of Into the Labyrinth, I was prepared to read a simple children's book in the vein of the early Harry Potter books or The Chronicles of Narnia. Having such legendary material to match up against is tough. Thankfully, Bierce manages to distinguish himself with Into the Labyrinth, and while it does tick off many of the common checkboxes of a middle-grade novel, I think it's quite good. Bierce's magic system, in particular, is almost at odds with the simplicity of the story - it is as complicated in writing as any math textbook I ever cracked. For me, this did not take away from the book, though I can see it being complex for younger readers. Then again, kids are smarter now than I'll ever be.

There were some things that didn't work for me in the book. The characters aren't very well developed for one. This is a difficult thing to nail in younger-reading fantasy, but the main character in particular is hard to root for due to his unfailing self-deprecation (even if that self-deprecation is a major plot point). However, the systems in place, as well as the mythology surrounding it, make it a worthwhile read.

Devian by Shanna Bosarge - Devian is another book whose premise intrigues me, despite the title confusion I felt when scanning its Goodreads page. There is a Celtic feel to the setting, which I am always interested in, and right from the start the world-building sucks in its reader.

Unfortunately, Devian suffers from some of the same issues that Wanderer does. There is a violence towards women in Devian that is hard to stomach, and while violence is an accepted form of expression in fiction, when it is purely directed towards one gender I begin to feel uneasy about the intent. That the male villains are all mustache twirling psychopaths is also telling. I would have also appreciated an ending, but Devian stops mid-plot, and I don't really understand where it's going nor why. All these things might have been acceptable had the writing itself been stronger, but it is peppered with grammatical errors, and there is a constant switching of tenses that bothered me throughout. I think Devian's dark tone and intriguing familial plotlines could work, but the book needs a lot of work to make that happen.

Petrified by Ben Weeks - Some tough honesty here - Petrified has one of the worst covers I've seen on a book. It's so off-putting that it really soured this reader on the experience of even beginning it. I mean, look at that thing. It's right over there, staring at you, daring you to open it and knowing you won't. This is tragic because Petrified is a solid urban fantasy with interesting mythology and characters that feel worth knowing (for the most part).

The biggest regret I had with Petrified was the main character's ability to animorph into an otter/otter-man. To the very last page, this felt ridiculous to me, particularly when other characters in the book were transforming into less comical animals. This might have worked better had it been a comedy, but the book, while having jokes, takes itself fairly seriously. This even wraps back around to the cover, which also makes Petrified look like a comic fantasy, and I can't help but wonder what the book might have been had it featured a stronger main character. Overall, Petrified remains a solid entry into the contest, but one that doesn't match up to some of the really great books in our batch.

So, it would come as no surprise to anyone reading this far that Beggar's Rebellion is the semi-finalist here. Levi Jacobs' entry into the 2019 SPFBO is big. It has everything: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles - okay it doesn't have giants but you get the idea. Levi Jacobs will feel familiar to anyone who has been reading Brandon Sanderson, but he out-Sandersons Sanderson because I think Beggar's Rebellion is a better book than anything Sanderson has written (and I like Sanderson!). I think this is the book to beat, which is the case for a lot of the books in this year's contest because there are some real whoppers. I can't even say whether or not this wins at FBC, but I think it is something special and I hope people read it regardless of how far it advances. 


Congratulations Levi Jacobs! You have written a great book, and I for one and eager to read the sequels. Tai and Ella are both great protagonists, your world is well-built and immersive, and your prose is solid. Good luck in the contest!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

GIVEAWAY: Chasing Graves by Ben Galley


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Written
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Pale Kings
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Chasing Graves
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Grim Solace
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Breaking Chaos
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Mini-Interview with Ben Galley

The lovely people here at Fantasy Book Critic have kindly let me loose on the site to run a big giveaway of my dark fantasy epic Chasing Graves.

I’ve recently launched a little merch store, putting the cover art from my books onto t-shirts and posters and all sorts of random household objects, and to mark its launch, I thought I’d give away some Chasing Graves swag.


Enter below, and if the gods of luck are with you, you could win a Chasing Graves t-shirt of your choosing and a signed paperback. I’m also giving away 5 e-books for runners up! The winner will be chosen at random a week from today. Cheers for entering and all the best

In order to win these fabulous prizes, all you have to do is send in your entries to FBCgiveaway@gmail.com with the subject line “CHASING GRAVES”!

Contest is open to anybody from the USA or UK ONLY!!!

Here’s some more info on Chasing Graves if you’re burning with curiosity:

Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.

They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to be its ruler is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.

While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.

Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is just the beginning.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Redemptor by Seth Skorkowsky (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order Redemptor over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Dämoren
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Hounacier
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ibenus
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Read Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Raised in the swamps and pine forests of East Texas, Seth Skorkowsky gravitated to the darker sides of fantasy, preferring horror and pulp heroes over knights in shining armor. When not writing, Seth enjoys cheesy movies, tabletop role-playing games, and traveling the world with his wife.

FORMAT/INFO: Redemptor is 264 pages long divided over thirty-three numbered chapters and is the fourth volume of the Valducan seriesThe book is currently available in all formats. It was published in 2018 by Crossroad Press. Cover art and design are by Shawn King

CLASSIFICATION: Redemptor is a character-driven dark urban- fantasy book with immersive world-building and in-depth study of demons lore. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Seth Skorkowsky brings goods to the table. I’m addicted to his Valducan series, and my secret wish is for it to continue for years to come. It’s this good, guys. I need more stories in this world, the one focusing on Luc in the first place.

Redemptor is the fourth installment of the series. While you can read it as a standalone, I don’t recommend approaching it as one - you’ll lose way too many nuances that make it an excellent read for those who already know the mythos and the knights.

The series follows an order of modern-day knights that hunt demons. Only a Holy Weapon can kill a demon. Each knight is bonded to a unique weapon. It’s a bond more intimate and strong than any human relationship you can imagine. It’s an absolute pure love. Not surprising, as each weapon is inhabited by an angel who chooses his protector and bonds with him/her. 

In Redemptor new characters and new weapons appear, each with unique abilities (shifting gravity, making an invisible shield, premonition). It’s cool. Faced with an unspeakable evil threatening orphaned and bonded weapons, the Order may be forced to join forces with the Catholic church. There’s no trust between them, but there’s a chance to make a powerful ally from a former enemy. The church is represented by two Paladins - Kofi and Felisa - each bonded to a holy weapon. 

Kofi is an impressively effective, but cold professional who keeps his emotions at a check and doesn’t yearn for acknowledgment. Felisa is more relatable and sensitive. She questions her life in Vatican and experiences more than a few internal struggles that never feel forced or cheap. Also, she brings some comic relief with her internal ramblings (that will make series’ followers smile):

“What did she want? Luiza’s approval? What was that really worth? Luiza, bride of an angel, was married to the American who was also wed to Damoren. Was the union to an angel not enough? Polygamists. That’s what they were”
Other new characters who get their POV (in the third person) chapters are the youngest Valducan knight, spouse to Lecrasus - Mei and Sir Uwe. Mei is young and reckless, but likable. Sir Uwe is hilarious - a strange little man who despite his oddities (like speaking of himself in the third person) is extremely bright. Also, his weapon is cool.

Contrary to Hounacier and Ibenus (more character-centered novels), Redemptor is a fast-paced and action-oriented novel with plenty of demons-killing scenes. The breakneck pacing made me turn the pages with growing excitement. A brilliant page-turner.

Overall, though, I have to admit that I didn’t like it as much as Hounacier and Ibenus - two most intimate books in the series that focus on different knights and show how layered human beings they are. Both Malcolm and Allan appear in Redemptor, but they get little exposition. 

What else? Be prepared to see one of the most fascinating Valducan (at least to me) characters die. It was heart-wrenching, but he went as a true hero would. Rest in peace.

Redemptor is an enormously satisfying read, with engaging writing and a pace that will keep the pages turning quickly. It introduces new characters I’d love to learn more about. One more thing, there’s a new weapon mentioned - Polish war pick Nadziak. As a Polishman, I’d love to see it in action. Like, yesterday.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

SPFBO: The Third Diminution & Semifinalist Update by Justine Bergman


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

Hello, everyone. Justine here. Firstly, I can’t tell you all how excited and honored I am to have even been asked to participate in this year’s SPFBO. Sure, I’ve followed for years, but as this is my first time judging, I wasn’t really sure what to expect - so, a huge thank you to my blogmates for hunkering down as I bombarded them with questions and concerns, and an even bigger thank you to all of you who have so graciously submitted your books and given me tons of great things to read.

As you already know, for this round, we were tasked with finding the best of the best in assigned mini-batches. I’m going to be completely honest with you - this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my blogging career. I know this competition is stressful for authors, but being given the roles of judge, jury, and executioner is something that’s been pretty rough for me. I wish I could just float you all to the finals, and let someone else handle all the tough decisions, but alas, I cannot. So. Without further ado, here we go with the another culling.

I had an incredible batch of books, and thoroughly enjoyed making my way through all of these stories. I approached each and every one as objectively as I could, and tried to keep my personal tastes out of my decision-making as much as possible. Here are the six books assigned to me (organized alphabetically by author):

Pursuit of Shadows by J.A. Andrews
Grayden by L.K Evans
Starheart by Hailey Griffiths
The Dark Ability by D.K. Holmberg
A Keeper’s Destiny by C.A. King
The Ukinhan Wilds by Eldon Thompson


Let’s get to it.

Pursuit of Shadows

Pursuit of Shadows by J.A. Andrews
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: The Keeper Chronicles

I was a little hesitant to dive into this one, only due to the fact that this is the second installment in AndrewsThe Keeper Chronicles series. To be clear, I have not read A Threat of Shadows, and was worried that although book two is a standalone, I would be missing out on key worldbuilding. This was not the case whatsoever. Pursuit of Shadows is a fun, clean, uplifting, and enjoyable read, highlighting the idea that one person, no matter how flawed, is able to make a vast impact. A recurring theme of choosing the best path for the greater good, and living with the consequences ties all aspects of this story together seamlessly. With all the darker fantasy currently flooding the market, this book was truly a breath of fresh air, and has earned its place on my list of feel-good fantasy.

After a bit of a slow start, we follow Keeper Will, who has the ability to read the emotions of others, on his journey to find his kidnapped sister in a land ripe with enemies. Recruited as resident storyteller by a seemingly progressive enemy clan leader seeking peace, Will is soon heaved into a grueling adventure populated with humans, elves, dwarves (the best), goblins, dragons, and magic. This book is perfect for fans of classic and epic fantasy, as it’s a charming, yet modern take on the core elements that generally define the fantasy genre. Of the many things to praise, the character dynamics Andrews creates are just superb. Easy to read, splashes of chill-inducing prose, and stunning character and plot development, this was definitely a stand-out read for me. There are a few unanswered questions at the end, and I'm hoping for closure in future books.


Grayden: The Secret of Illryn

Grayden: The Secret of Illryn by L.K. Evans
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Series: Standalone

That first chapter, though. I mean, nothing like introducing your reader to a world where a man magically severs tongues and melts flesh from bone with a mere thought and flick of the wrist. I have to admit, that scene was glorious. *insert 'I seen some sh*t' emoji*

Grayden: The Secret of Illryn is a compelling story of persuasion and deceit governed by magic, gods, and the arduous journey of finding the truth. The general concept Evans conveys of a gifted person being used as a puppet by both the church and state for their own conflicting needs was one that really appealed to me, and one that was definitely executed well. As the story continues on, Grayden begins to access repressed memories, and I feel this gradual unlocking of secrets hidden within the dark corners of his mind is a brilliant engine for worldbuilding. The additional thread of an ongoing battle between gods infused a whole new layered depth to Grayden's mysterious past, that which unravels before us in a stunning fashion.

I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of this book, and believed we were on course for a solid grimdark tale of vengeance filled with hyper-violent stabby moments and reprisal. Oh, I got plenty stabby moments - however, I felt there was a turning point where the story began to stray from the established tone - the darkness of retribution to the dawn of redemption, if you will. And while Krowen is one of the most incredible and wonderfully developed characters I've become acquainted with lately, Grayden's transformation felt a little too abrupt, leading to an unfortunate disconnect I wasn't expecting. There's something special about this world Evans has created, I just hoped the story would stay true to the roots it sprouted from.


Starheart

Starheart by Hailey Griffiths
Genre: Young Adult
Series: Vale of Stars

This was the first book I chose to pick up, because I was in dire need of some YA escapism. Starheart is a remarkably whimsical story defined by a uniquely enchanting world; one that is far too easy to lose yourself in. The setting is beautifully illustrated, and reminiscent of one within a fairytale with surprises everywhere the eye lands. The imaginative trials faced, and the wicked villains we're introduced to were among some of my favorite aspects of this book. Additionally, the writing is solid, the underlying mystery is alluring, and it was difficult to decipher who was friend and who was foe (something I always appreciate in a story).

While I found the second half of the book a charming experience, the first half was pretty difficult for me, as I felt there was an unnecessary amount of fluff preventing a real sense of urgency from forming. I sense the world itself has a deep history below the surface just waiting to be discovered, but many of these indications are mentioned with little to no details, and those are often vague, as well - almost as if there was a book I should've read before this one. The characters we follow, although adults, seem childish and flat at times, unfortunately preventing me from truly bonding with them. All things considered, I'm glad I continued through this book, as that final half was exactly what I was looking for - I only wish the fascinating bits began just a tad earlier.


The Dark Ability

The Dark Ability by DK Holmberg
Genre: Young Adult
Series: The Dark Ability

The Dark Ability was one of interest around the FBC circle, as it already has over 2,000 varied ratings on GR, so I was pretty excited to give it a try. The notion of magical abilities determining a person's standing in society is an intriguing approach to viewing the many prevalent inequities in our own society. The whole "they only hate and fear it because they don't understand it" concept plays a huge role in this story, and tackling it sends out a positive message to readers. Additionally, I absolutely loved the blacksmithing aspect introduced, especially how lorcith, a magical and almost sentient metal, calls out to Mastersmiths to be shaped in a way it desires, usually in the form of weapons. These lorcith-forged weapons have been deemed illegal by those ruling - the reasoning unknown. I was also captivated by a supporting cast of complex characters with many unveiled secrets.

Having that said, while I adored Brusus, Jessa, and Haern, I just couldn't connect with Rsiran, the main character, whatsoever. His constant, repetitive introspection became overly distracting, consistently pulling me from the immersion of the story - if these repetitions had borne fruit, I'd not even mention it. The underlying story is truly fantastic, but I felt some aspects were overly simplified, while others felt too bogged down with superfluous details. Additionally, the corrupt ruling class dictating the lives of all was an interesting thread I wished has been explored in more detail - I know they're the bad guys, but not why. Despite my mixed reactions to this book, I'll most likely be continuing with the series, simply because I need to know what happens next.


The Portal Prophecies: A Keeper's Destiny

The Portal Prophecies: A Keeper's Destiny by C.A. King
Genre: Young Adult
Series: The Portal Prophecies

A Keeper's Destiny is a coming-of-age story that follows a group of teenagers as they discover their own abilities and attempt to save the world from an impending invasion and complete destruction, as foretold in a prophecy. This story also focuses on the corruption of man, and the inevitable ruin that follows. It's apparent King has imbued this world with an interesting and rich history, as we catch snippets of the past through storytelling and seers - I only wish these facets were discussed in further detail while setting up the conflict of the main story. This book has a promising concept and tons of potential, what with the idea of once-believed sealed portals opening between worlds, but it just falls short on delivery.

I unfortunately didn't finish this book, as I couldn't get past the copious amounts of info dumping, often repetitive, that drowned the first 40%. For one of this length, I expected this story to swiftly sweep me into a fantastical and mysterious tale of prophecies led by a Chosen One, but the author left nothing to the imagination. Although this is labeled YA, I felt as though the narrator was speaking to a younger audience, with portions that were overly simplified, and too much focus on inconsequential aspects. While I love the idea of a younger cast exploring their strengths, talents, and interesting powers, I was unable to connect with any of them. I was definitely interested in the core tale, and was looking forward to finally reaching the 'ah ha' moment, however my journey to get there was just too prolonged.


The Ukinhan Wilds

The Ukinhan Wilds by Eldon Thompson
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Warder

Well, the entirety of this book is one wild expedition, fraught with horrors and peril at every. Single. Turn. A thrilling tale of adventure, treachery, and courage, The Ukinhan Wilds delivers us from the throes of a hungry sea, to shattered shores, to humid swamps, to labyrinthine caves, and more, in order to deliver a kidnapped princess back to her father. However, there's a consistent feeling that nothing is as it seems, which unravels into a larger underlying plot line that awaits further discovery. Populated by a large cast of diverse characters - some you love, and some you hate - this story focuses quite a bit on character dynamics, most of which were interesting to watch unfold. Kylac, the main character, is overly-powered, yet conflicted, which I always find to be a fine balance. Solid writing, vividly painted landscapes, and truly terrifying baddies, this story was an unexpected and welcome treat.

While I enjoyed my precarious trek through the wilds, at times there was a bit of meandering that threatened to pull me from the story, finding myself growing weary and wishing for more monsters. Don't get me wrong, there are monsters aplenty, and each more horrifying than the last. I also felt somewhat of a disconnect with Kylac, and later learned that the author dedicated another entire series to his adventures. There were a few aspects of his character that I found distracting or questionable, and maybe being acquainted with his history would've better equipped me for this. A shocking ending leaves this series open to a whole new set of nail-biting wanderings, and I'm looking forward to seeing what trouble Kylac finds himself in next.


There Can Be Only One.

Welp...and now I have to choose! I'd like to thank you all for tossing your hats into the ring - it's because of you this competition continues to remain awesome! This was not an easy decision, but here we go:

My choice for the next FBC SPFBO5 semifinalist is...

Are you ready? I'm not.


*
**
***
****
*****
****
***
**
*
*
**
***
****
*****
****
***
**
*
*
**
***
****
*****
****
***
**
*
*
**
***
****
*****
****
***
**
*


*
**
***
****
*****
****
***
**
*
*
**
***
****
*****
****
***
**
*


Pursuit of Shadows
*trumpets blaring*


A huge congrats to J.A. Andrews for moving on in the competition! This book was such a pleasure to read, and my finger is poised upon the order button for the rest of the series! Stay tuned right here on the FBC blog for my full review coming soon.


Thanks for stopping by, everyone, and best of luck, J.A.!

Happy Reading!
🖤


Monday, August 19, 2019

Dual Review: A Spark Of White Fire & A House Of Rage And Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order A Spark Of White Fire over HERE
Pre-order A House Of Rage And Sorrow over HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sangu Mandanna’s Celestial series drew me with its premise of being based on Mahabharata. I read both A Spark Of White Fire (book 1) and A House Of Rage And Sorrow (book 2) back to back and I enjoyed how the author juxtaposed the Mahabharata epic within a SF setting with genderflipped roles and many a twists.

The overall story is the main conflict between the Rey family. Our protagonist is Esmae a nobody of sorts on the spaceship of Wychstar. Ruled by King Darshan Karn and his children, it’s a city of fairness and stability. However King Darshan has created Titania a sentient space ship that’s indestructible and also the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Setting up a contest to have the best archer win it, everyone is confounded when an unknown entity wins it and announces herself as scion of the house of Rey. The House of Rey is divided as the current king Elvar and his queen Gwinne rule within the dominion of Kali. However they have exiled queen Kyra and her two children Alexi & Abra Rey after the death of Cassel Rey. Cassel and Elvar were siblings however Elvar the elder brother was set aside because of his congenital blindness and Cassel ruled instead. However after his death, Queen Kyra and her children were set aside by Elvar who took the throne as was the royal decree by their grandmother Vanya.

Since then things have been tense and all the forty kingdoms expect war between King Elvar and Prince Alexi Rey as both have had their destinies taken away from them for no just cause. Titania is the latest spark in this smoldering fire which would have caused one side to win easily. However Esmae actions cause the biggest tumult in this galaxy as she upsets everyone with her supreme archery skills. By declaring herself as a scion of a famous house, she wants nothing more than to return to Kali and reconcile with both sides of the family and learn why she was abandoned. Aided by the goddess Amba, since she was a child. Esmae knows no family and longs for recognition and love and with her archery skills she proves everyone that sometimes the smallest pawn cause the biggest shakeups.

I consider myself to be a Mahabharatophile, I’ve read almost every version of the Mahabharata since I first heard the epic of Mahabharata from my mother and grandmother. I was fascinated by the heroes and villains in it as I devoured the Amar Chitra Katha comics. Since then I’ve read the C. R. Rajagopalchari version, the original K. M. Ganguli translation as well as the recent Ramesh Menon versions. Also I’ve read and enjoyed Yuganta, Mrityunjay, & Parva. So you can understand why I was so excited by Sangu Mandanna’s SF-YA retelling. The story focuses on the central themes of the epic such as the reason for the conflict, the main archery rivalry between Karna and Arjun, and the meddling of the gods within mortal lives.

All of this and more is handled adroitly by Sangu Mandanna, she genderflips some roles such as Karna & Eklavya, merges several characters such as Yudhisthir and Arjun, Bheesma and Drona. She also mines several significant events from the epic such as the wax palace burning, the eye of the fish test, the city/palace of illusions (Indraprastha), etc. With Esmae, she takes the character of Karna and genderflips it but retains his magnanimous nature as well as his friendships, his generosity, and his amazing abilities. Here’s a breakdown of the characters who are strong facsimilies of the characters from the epic:

Esmae/Alexa Rey = Karna
Alexi Rey = Arjun
Max Rey = Suyodhan (also Duryodhan)
Arba (Bear) Rey = Bheem
Kyra Rey = Kunti
Cassela Rey = Pandu
Elvar Rey = Dhritarashtra
Guinne Rey = Gandhari
Sebastian Rickard = Amalgamation of Bheeshma and Drona
Darshan Karn = Amalgamation of Shikhandi and Drupad
Kirrin = Krishna
Selwyn = Shakuni
Hundred & One = Kauravas
The Blue Knights = Yadava warrior clans

These are the main characters who play many an important role in the story in both the books and also before the events of the first.

What I really enjoyed was the SF and epic mythology merging of the story. Beginning with events and characters to the inclusion of mythological beings such as Rakshasas, and Garudas and the Devas. Plus the author really let her imagination fly with the spaceship cities, the technological armor upgrades as well as the action sequences. Another cool feature is that the storyline isn’t a direct recreation of the Mahabharata epic but it utilizes several key points and characters while also allowing for the author to insert her twists and turns. With that we get a very different and enjoyable reading experience (I speak from a POV of a person who’s intimately acquainted with the epic). For those who have no idea, I expect every twist will be cool. The addition of the gods and the Hindu mythology were done syncretically and really gave me a thrill to read about (the stories of the origin of the gods, the seven celestial weapons, the Empty Moon and its mysteries, etc.)

The pace and the twists are done really well, the first book though while beginning slowly certainly catches up by the halfway mark and then gives us a very sound climax. The second book is even better as it starts off quickly from within its first chapters and then just goes full steam towards the end wherein it ends on quite a few shocking notes.

Lastly I would have to mention the characterization as with this being a YA book, there’s only so much one can do with complexity. However the author a wonderful job in showcasing all of these characters and their needs. Primary among them is Esmae with her burning anger, Alexi with his conflicted feelings, Max with his intelligence and steadfastness. I enjoyed reading about them but I wish the author had done more to portray why Esmae feels the rage that she has in her heart (in the original epic & Mrityunjaya, Karna is brilliantly humanized and we get to really feel for him). I also didn’t like the sidelining of Alexi & Abra (Bear) both of whom are based on Arjun & Bheem. These are formidable warriors who are equally great and have complex personalities as well. The author tries to capture Bear’s soft hearted nature with his fascination with honey cakes (Bheem was also supposed to be a master cook).

Alexi gets sidelined a lot and is made out to be a villain of sorts who does what he wants when he doesn’t get his way. I thought the author lost out on portraying him as an equally fascinating persona and hence leading up to the great clash between him and his sibling (foreshadowing the equally complex relationship & rivalry between Karna and Arjun). Lastly I was glad to see Max being shown as a wonderfully intelligent character who has his own reasons for being the way he is. In almost all versions of the Mahabharata, Suyodhan/Duryodhan is shown to be just evil and I never quite understood that. His friendship with Karna as well has his kingship and brotherly relations are very much understated. However the author cleverly illustrates why Esmae holds Max in such high regard and I loved what twists the author envisioned with his character arc.

Overall though most characters all seem very one-dimensional compared to the enigma that is Kyra Rey, as her actions have what set up the majority events of the story. Plus she almost never makes an appearance on the pages except at a very climatic point and even then refuses to be just a villain. I thought this was a masterstroke by the author and was very well done. There’s also the sentient ship Titania who gets a POV turn in the second book and I very much enjoyed its recollections and observations. I feel I’m being a bit harsh as this is a YA story and it can only get so complex especially when the source matter is possibly the greatest story ever told. I reiterate Sangu Mandanna does a terrific job of giving us a story that keeps the reader entertained, and yearning for more.

The only point that I didn’t enjoy was the romance that was inserted within the story, it is predictable and quite staple worthy of the YA genre and maybe that’s why it was present. I didn’t care much for it. I’m also not a typical YA reader so you have to take this specific observation with the necessary caveat (as I’m definitely not the target audience for it).

CONCLUSION: The Celestial series books are a wonderful amalgamation of YA, SF & the Mahabharata. I can safely vouch that such a unique combination has never been done before. Give Sangu Mandanna wholesome credit for giving full rein to her imagination and giving us readers such a wonderfully epic and twisted storyline. I can’t for book III of the Celestial Series.



NOTE: My thanks to Shealea for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. Checkout the rest of the blog tour for A House Of Rage And Sorrow over HERE.
Sunday, August 18, 2019

Cartophile Contest with Soraya Corcoran (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Soraya Corcoran Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Soraya Corcoran

Howdy FBC readers and other ne'er-do-wells, we are in the midst of SPFBO 2019 while these are early days. There’s a lot of excitement and jostling afoot. While we are about halfway through our lot of thirty books, the fourth semifinalist will be announced in this upcoming week. Similar to last year, we have an exciting contest announcement for all self-published authors (including current and former SPFBO ones).

I love maps in fantasy books 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 second edition of this contest is all about! We are honoured to have Soraya Corcoran aboard. She has graciously offered her cartography services for this contest. Plus similar to last year, we will be footing the bill for her services.



Soraya is an amazing cartographer and you can checkout some of her amazing work below (as well as on her website). Even if your fantasy book already has 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.



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 FBCgiveaway@gmail.com with the subject line “FREE MAP”!


THAT'S IT, that’s all you need to do. The contest will run until the 7th of September and we will announce the winner on September 8th. Best of luck to all those who enter…

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ibenus by Seth Skorkowsky (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)



Official Author Website
Order Ibenus over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Dämoren
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Hounacier
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Read Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Raised in the swamps and pine forests of East Texas, Seth Skorkowsky gravitated to the darker sides of fantasy, preferring horror and pulp heroes over knights in shining armor. When not writing, Seth enjoys cheesy movies, tabletop role-playing games, and traveling the world with his wife.

FORMAT/INFO: Ibenus is 410 pages long divided over twenty-four numbered chapters. The narration is in the third person limited. This is the third volume of the Valducan series. It can be read as a standalone. 

The book is available in e-book and paperback formats. It was republished by Crossroad Press in 2018. Cover art and design are by Shawn King

CLASSIFICATION: Ibenus is a character-driven dark urban- fantasy book with immersive world-building and in-depth study of demons lore. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I like the concept of a hidden world of monsters and of a small group of people that hunt them. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy theValducan series so much. The fact it’s awesome helps as well.

Each book in the series can be read as a stand-alone although it’s rewarding to read them in publication order. 

The series follows an order of modern-day knights that hunt demons. When someone is possessed by a demon, they take the form of a monster, such as a werewolf, oni, or wendigo. The only way to kill a demon is by using a holy weapon. Each knight is bonded to a unique weapon. It’s a bond more intimate and strong than any human relationship you can imagine. An absolute and pure love. Not surprising, as each weapon is inhabited by an angel who chooses his protector and bonds with him/her.

Dämoren followed Matt Hollis, and Hounacier Malcolm Romero. In Ibeneusthere’s a wider cast of characters but the story focusses on Ibenus protector - Allan Havlock. I liked Allan in Damoren a lot and I was happy to learn he would get more spotlight. Nothing prepared me to what Seth Skorkowsky had in mind for him, though. 

Allan takes an apprentice - a disgraced police detective Victoria Martin who survived demon attack. Victoria belongs to an internet group intent on exposing Valducans. At first, she’s driven by the anger but when she learns more about the order she starts to desperately play both sides to not only protect herself but also Allan, whom she has begun to love. Ibenus, however, has other plans for the couple. 

Ibenus is my favorite book in the Valducan series. It kept me glued to the pages for hours. Allan and Victoria’s relationship is convincing and watching remaining Valducans through their eyes gave me a fresh perspective on the remaining knights. I mean, those guys are lunatics. Imagine a band of folks entering buildings with medieval weapons, burning houses and claiming there are demons around us. Would you easily believe them? 

Apart from Victoria’s storyline, my favorite part of the book was the bonding between a German accountant and Umatri. It felt intimate, convincing and beautiful. I work as a HR Consultant and I have to admit that Valducans’ recruitment techniques are well-targeted and take into account a given weapon’s needs and preferences. Lakrasus always chooses dancers as his protectors so he’s displayed in the dance center, Umatri was a bit of an enigma and Valducans decided to display it close to places frequented by soldiers. However, it was an accountant, not a soldier that has proven worthy of this amazing, undulating blade. Umatri may be one of the coolest weapons described in Valducan series so far. 

We continue to learn more about the monsters. They’re not romanticized or tragic. They’re pure evil. Some of them share a history with angels. If you remember Anya from Damoren, Ibenus gives a satisfying closure of her arc.

In Ibenus, the Valducans are going after Mantismeres - the giant insectoid demons that spawn doll-faced carapaced minions, which lure in their unwitting victims by emitting sounds that imitate crying or giggling babies. Imagine meeting something like that in the dark. Would you run to help it? Probably. And that would be your final mistake.

CONCLUSION: The story is well-paced, fully immersive and hard to put down. If you’re into darker urban fantasy or simply enjoy reading about demon hunters try Valducan series. It’s brilliant.

Follow by Email

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “Right To The Kill ” by Craig Schaefer!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “Spit And Song” by Travis M. Riddle!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The Arkhel Conundrum” by Sarah Ash!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The Company Of Birds” by Nerine Dorman!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The True Bastards” by Jonathan French!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “Rumble In Woodhollow” by Jonathan Pembroke!!!
Order HERE