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Friday, November 29, 2019

Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Order Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mercedes M. Yardley is a whimsical dark fantasist who wears stilettos, red lipstick, and poisonous flowers in her hair. She recently won the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for her story Little Dead Red. Mercedes lives and creates in Las Vegas with her family and menagerie of battle-scarred, rescued animal familiars.

FORMAT/INFO: Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu is 175 pages long. The book was originally published in 2016 by Crystal Lake Publishing. Cover design by George Cotronis.

OVERVIEW: I won’t lie. I’ve read the book because of the title. It showed on the Goodreads Readers also enjoyed feed of Seth Skorkowsky's Hounacier and once I saw it, I just had to try it just to see what kind of story is hidden behind such an amazing title.

It turns out it’s a love story.

But instead of chocolate and roses, our lovers share eviscerating others. It’s a short story of a blossoming romance between an Asian-American serial killer and a stripper he kidnapped. Nuclear Lulu and Apocalyptic Montessa do horrible things together but they also love in a very real and fierce way. Their romance is self-consuming and baptized in tears and blood. As melodramatic as it may sound, it’s a very well written book that’s not afraid to go to very dark places.

Both characters are deeply damaged and went through childhood trauma. Montessa’s relationships were empty and hurtful. She admits that

it was easier to be with a man who wanted to murder her, and would appreciate it than be with a man who would only beat her to death.

Lu is a serial killer who loves to make people suffer. It’s his true calling. It’s something he does well. Their relationship evolves quickly and they end up meaning the world to one another. Despite their flaws and craziness Lu and Montessa are endearing.

Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu doesn't idealize love. Neither does it try to sell it to you. Love is presented as a violent thing rooted in imperfection. There’s a little world outside a pair. Other people appear but they’re barely sketched. The focus of the story lies elsewhere: in picturing impossible and yet relatable romance with words and sentences.

While Mercedes M. Yardley prose is economic, it’s poetic in places, melodramatic in others:
He held out his hand. She walked over and took it. Sparks flew. Magic happened. Nuclear reactors melted in joy. The world combusted.

Not everyone will like this style. I loved it. It’s strong. It delivers feelings pretty well and, in places, sets a bit surreal ambiance.

Overall, it was something else. The book is very short and strong. It’s dark and twisted take on the topic of soulmates. Obviously, some moral questions may arise as we start to cheer for a pair of psychotic killers and it’s good to think them through.
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Ashes Of Onyx by Seth Skorkowsky

Official Author Website
Pre-order Ashes Of Onyx 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's review of Redemptor Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Read Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky (guest post)

Seth Skorkowsky is an author who has wowed us since his debut. Since the release of Dämoren, his Valducan series has gone from strength to strength.

Today we are proud to exclusively reveal the cover for his newest book Ashes Of Onyx. With design provided by Mibl Art, Ashes Of Onyx is a deep, dark dive into many genres. So checkout the striking cover below and be sure to pre-order it when it releases on 28th January 2020.

Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Seth. Thank you for your time. Can you tell us what you have been up to in the past year?
SS: The past year has been really busy for me. Apart from writing, I have a regular YouTube channel that mostly covers Tabletop Roleplaying Games. It won the Gold ENnie Award from Best Online Content this past GenCon, and takes a lot of my time. But it’s been a whole lot of fun to do.

Since you signed with City Owl Press for Ashes Of Onyx, can you tell us about this title and how this story came to be?
SS: Like any novel, it didn’t really come from a single idea, but a combination of lots of different ones. I’ve always been a fan of Clive Barker and enjoyed the way he regularly blended Horror and Portal Fantasy in many of his novels, and I’ve always wanted to try that. I also wanted to pull in certain elements of the occult as well as my own spin on the Carcosa mythology.

From the blurb, it’s pretty obvious that this book is an amalgam of many genres. You have also called it “new weird”. What would you say is unique about this story and its genre?
SS: New Weird is a term used to describe works that break genre molds. Back in the early 20th Century, Fantasy was called Weird Fiction. They didn’t have the sub-genre limits that we have today, and authors mixed contemporary fantasy, horror, and science fiction freely. It was like the Wild West of speculative fiction. Only later did the massive number of sub-genre categories emerge, which are nice for identifying which stories are similar to each other, however, they also created constraints and rules. New Weird is a return to that style.

Ashes Of Onyx begins as Urban Fantasy but then shifts to more and more High, Portal, and Epic Fantasy, with Horror and even a dash of Sci-Fi for flavor. I hadn’t planned on it being New Weird story, as much as I wrote the story I wanted, and once it was done, I realized it didn’t really fit in the normal sub-genres. That made selling it a bit difficult. One rejecting editor even explained that he just didn’t know what genre to put it in.

Was the writing process any different for this new book and did you face any challenges with this subgenre shift?
SS: The biggest shift for me was Kate. She’s very different than my normal protagonists in that she’s tough, but comes with a lot of baggage. I wanted to show her addiction problem in a realistic way, in how she constantly justifies her behavior in a way that makes sense, but is also clearly a mask for her real desire to use the drugs she’s addicted to.

The biggest challenge in the genre shift was showcasing new and interesting worlds that follow some of the rules as our own, but clearly don’t in others. It was a bit of a dance to make them as strange as I could without making them too alien and not losing attention to the story itself.

Let’s talk about that striking cover. How did it all come together? What were your instructions/suggestions for it? How did you and the designer collaborate to create the cover?
SS: For the cover, I said I wanted Kate as well as the Viatoric glyph in her hand. I mentioned elements I’d also like to see, such as the ruins of Carcosa and swirls of misty, black aether. When they showed me the original draft, I loved it. My only suggestion was to add one or more moons behind her to show that the world the story takes place in isn’t Earth. They did, and I’m very happy with the final result.

Can you share something about the book that’s not mentioned in the blrb and why fans of your previous works should be excited for this new story?
SS: The blurb nails a lot of the big points, but one that it doesn’t is the monsters. Like with my Valducan stories, I have some gruesome monsters, many of which are based off of creatures from folklore, but from older interpretations than are normally seen in popular fiction. My fans should be happy to not just see the monsters, but the fight scenes. As they might expect, characters will die.

Is this story a standalone or part of a new saga?
SS: It’s a stand-alone, but I’ve got ideas for a sequel. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.

What are you currently writing? What will be next for you after this release?
SS: Currently, I’m working on some Tabletop RPG scenarios. Due to contracts, I’m not at liberty to say much about the project, but I’m very excited to be working in the industry that’s brought so much entertainment to my life. As far as my normal writing, I’ve been tooling around with a story about Fantasy-era spies. Sort of a James Bond Flintlock Fantasy.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us, Seth. When can we get our hands on Ashes Of Onyx? Anything else you have going on right now that you'd like the world to know about?
SS: Thank you very much for having me. The book is set to release January 28, 2020. Physical, e-book, and audiobook. Pre-orders have already opened for the Kindle edition.

Anyone who enjoys TTRPGs should swing by my YouTube channel. I try to make it both informative and entertaining (meaning I wear a lot of silly costumes). It’s fun.

Pre-order Ashes Of Onyx over HERE

Official Book Blurb: They stole her magic.

They killed her friends.

Nothing in the multiverse will stop her quest for revenge.

Kate Rossdale once held all the promise of becoming Baltimore’s greatest sorceress. But promise is a hard thing to hold when your coven is murdered, your magic is stripped away, and the only solace left to you comes one powdered line at a time.

When she’s offered the restoration of her power by a man she doesn’t know or trust, Kate sets in motion the retribution of her enemies.

Soon she finds herself racing across the globe, and across worlds, venturing into exotic realms of forbidden dreams, to the spires of Lost Carcosa, hunting for the magic-thief who robbed her of everything she held dear, including the most dangerous magic any sorceress can possess—hope.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Official Author Website
Order Permafrost over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alastair Reynolds was born in Wales in 1966. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy. From 1991 until 2007, he lived in The Netherlands, where he was employed by The European Space Agency as an astrophysicist. He is now a full-time writer

FORMAT/INFO: Permafrost is 192 pages long. It was published by Tor on March 19th, 2019. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Borne by Jeff Vandermeer (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Order Borne over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: VanderMeer was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, but spent much of his childhood in the Fiji Islands, where his parents worked for the Peace Corps. This experience, and the resulting trip back to the United States through Asia, Africa, and Europe, deeply influenced him.

Jeff is married to Ann VanderMeer, who is currently an acquiring editor at and has won the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award for her editing of magazines and anthologies. They live in Tallahassee, Florida, with two cats and thousands of books.

FORMAT/INFO: Borne is 336 pages long. It was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on April 25, 2017. 

OVERVIEW: Imagine a wasteland seething with the weirdest kind of flora, fauna, and biotech. Imagine the unimaginable and you’ll get close. Borne, set in a ruined, nameless city at some point in the not-too-distant future, paints a world in which civilization has collapsed as a result of environmental degradation.

Survivors are terrorized by Mord, a massive flying bear more than five stories high. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Apart from being an insane monster, he provides also sustenance as sometimes some food or biotech can be found on him. When he’s asleep, scavengers try to “feed” on him. One of them, a woman named Rachel, finds a mysterious creature entangled in the fur of Mord. At first Borne looks like a green lump, but later on, he’s described as:

a hybrid of sea anemone and squid: a sleek vase with rippling colors that strayed from purple toward deep blues and greens. Four vertical ridges slid up the sides of its warm and pulsating skin. The texture was as smooth as waterworn stone, if a bit rubbery. It smelled of beach reeds on lazy summer afternoons and, beneath the sea salt, of passionflowers.

Rachel brings Borne home – to a decaying apartment complex she shares with her lover Wick, who used to work for the Company. Wick produces biotech drugs – mainly beetles that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and then release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide an escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.

Soon, Rachel discovers that small green lump transforms into sentient, rapidly growing and utterly inhuman life-form. Borne grows fast, it starts not only to think and read about the world but also "sample" living things, absorbing people and their experiences whole.

At its core, Borne is a novel about human relationships and limits of cognition – Rachel who has five senses try to communicate with the creature that perceives the world through nine senses. Playing with the concepts of dark and light, good and evil in its backdrop, the book focuses on Rachel and Wick as they try to survive in the savage world and figure out what’s between them. Rachel seeks some kind of sense in all of this. Not an easy task in a decaying world. For some time raising Borne gives a sense of direction. But it won’t last. Children grow and turn into teenagers, teenagers tend to rebel and leave their houses.

Borne is alien and he doesn’t have a knack for assimilating the rules of what is right and what is wrong. By nature, he’s a supernatural predator, by his upbringing wannabe pacifist. It won’t work.

The prose is smart and poetic in places. Especially when describing decaying wasteland or shapes Borne takes at a given moment. It’s not particularly flowery, it’s just very visual. On the other hand, it’s not very dynamic and, given that the pacing is a bit slow in places, the narrative lacks a certain punch that would make it stronger. Additionally, a lot of things are simply told and not shown (when Rachel speaks about Wick’s anger, sadness, etc). I guess the focus of the book lies elsewhere, it’s more about intellectual adventure than tight plotting.

While I usually don’t particularly like descriptions, it’s not the case this time. The world described by the author is easy to visualize and disturbing at the same time. My imagination was challenged in good way.

Having said that, the plot itself lacks tension and drama. The book lacks some cohesive mystery that would make a reader turn pages. I turned them because I was hooked by the world. The plot, though, wasn’t as interesting as the descriptions of the city and relationship dynamics between characters.

Overall, I’m rather impressed. The detailed and strange post-apocalyptic landscape presented in Borne is fascinating and unsettling. The city is a weird, artificial ecosystem in which bioengineered organisms live alongside buildings, people, and pollution, finding their place in this strange new hierarchy. Borne contains bleak moments, but it also shows light-hearted moments reminiscent of E.T. It’s creepy but entertaining.

I think it won’t appeal to people who enjoy fast pacing and tight plotting. On the other hand, I’m such a person and yet I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

I think it’s a book worth trying, especially if you want to taste New Weird subgenre (although VanderMeer work is also called Bio-Punk or Ecological Uncanny).

If, however, you happen to be a bear – don’t read this book. It may misrepresent your formidable species.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Quest of the Five Clans by Raymond St. Elmo (reviewed by Lukasz Przywóski)

Official Author Website
Buy the books HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Author information: Raymond St. Elmo is a computer programmer living in Texas. A degree in Spanish Literature gave him a love of magic realism. A fascination with artificial intelligence gave him a job. His books tend to be first-person fantastical accounts with frequent references to William Blake, Borges and PKD.

Format: The series was self-published by the author and is available through Kindle Unlimited and in ebook and paperback formats. Cover art by Mark Summers.

Overview: Raymond St. Elmo writes peculiar books. They're very much his own, inimitable, style. Always filled with plenty of literary and philosophical references that play out as the stories unfold. He writes with wit, wisdom, and eloquence. At times, he seems more focused on the language, ideas,  and internal monologues of well-educated and well-read characters than explosive action or linear plot. As a result, his books, Quest of the Five Clans included, won't appeal to everyone. 

Quest of the Five Clans is an engaging series that will appeal to some, and bore others. I have an impression it's kind of a story that's more language, than character or plot-driven. It plays with poetry and makes philosophical excursions that don't move the plot forward.  Moments of sheer brilliance mix with moments of utter confusion. 

That said, readers looking for something different, clever and full of quotable lines should take a look at the series. Especially that the final book will be published in a few months making it bingeable.

While slightly mind-bending, the series contains enough exciting and humorous moments to engage readers and satisfy their need for action and witty dialogue. It introduces a lot of magical beings, including a were-fox and a were-bull or a clockwork kid. They all belong to different clans linked in one way or another to Rayne Gray's (hero of the series) spouse. They have little in common. Except for their weakness for kilts. What's the deal with them anyway?

I'll do my best to introduce the series for you, but the first few chapters of The Blood Tartan will tell you if it's your cup of tea better and faster than me, so why won't you try them?

The Blood Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #1) by Raymond St. Elmo
300 pages, published on  July 13th 2017

The first book in the series introduces Rayne Gray, the hero, and turns his world upside down. Rayne is a madman. When he's not killing, he's cheerful, charitable, and philosophical about his life of violence. He soon finds himself in a lot of troubles - three steps from madness, two steps from arrest, one step from death

To make matters worse (and interesting), he engages with a vampiric creature with entire clans of strange cousins. As a result, he has to deal not only with power-hungry maniacs obsessed with expanding their industrial empire but also with vampires. You'll see him fighting for his life, fleeing hunters, edging past madmen, brooding on poetry and whiskey and vengeance. And quoting Blake.

It's a surprisingly dark book that doesn't always feel this way because the voice of the narrator is humorous. Rayne's first-person narrative remains engaging, fun and light-hearted against all odds.  His observations are hilarious:

There is no more powerful reply to doubts of self-existence than to have booted idiots tread your toes. Ouch, ergo sum.

The Blood Tartan serves as an excellent introduction to St. Elmo's books, as it has a clear and well-pronounced plotline and intrigue. It doesn't shy away from philosophical ramblings and questions or literary references but is easy to read and follow. Witty references in the book (William Blake poetry, Occam's razor) won't be accessible to everyone. Once you get them, though, they add another layer of fun/meaning to the story. 

If, after finishing The Blood Tartan, you'll want more, you're in for a treat - you can immediately jump to the sequel. 

Overall, it's a great start to the series that will show you if St. Elmo's voice resonates with you. Even if it's not your cup of tea, chances are you'll remember at least a few great lines anyway.

The Moon Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #2) by Raymond St. Elmo
279 pages, published on  January 1st, 2018

Rayne's honeymoon in a haunted castle in Scotland ends rather abruptly. He has to deal with old enemies. To do so, he needs to return to Londonish to "kill a man, affirm social justice, place flowers upon a grave, and recover a fortune stolen". To his big surprise, there's another Rayne Gray in the city. A tricky business.

If you liked The Blood Tartan, you will be delighted in this sequel. If you finished The Blood Tartan unsure of your feelings, I would encourage you to pick up The Moon Tartan - we get more of Gray, more of the family, some development of our characters and some introductions of new ones.

The Moon Tartan is an intriguing novel. It contains a lot of good things: Vampires, minotaurs, death, mayhem, poetry, beheading with a scythe, philosophical ramblings, and stuff. Plus, the ending. Things will get interesting for Rayne.

The Harlequin Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #3) by Raymond St. Elmo
209 pages, published on  June 29th, 2018

Rayne Gray has lived a violent life that earned him a deep enmity of numerous beings (living and dead). He slew countless individuals, both friends, and foes. He's no stranger to a bloodbath, but he's also appreciative of finer things in life: love, poetry, art. He's a kind of protagonist who'll behead a friend while quoting Shakespeare.

Rayne considers himself firmly grounded in reality; fairy tales, magic, or vampires may inspire poets, but it doesn't make them real. A sound approach to life. Albeit a bit tricky when your wife is a vampire.

The events presented in The Moon Tartan resulted in Harlequin clan members stealing Mr. and Ms. Gray's memories of each other. The question remains what will happen after his reunion with his wife - will he slay her as a monster, or will she devour him as an evening meal?

The Harlequin Tartan is more difficult than previous entries, parts of the book presenting Rayne's visions and dream landscapes were challenging to follow. In the end, though, things come together nicely in a happy disco dance on a cemetery. Vampires, undead, bankers join hands and dance, and... Nah, I'm just joking. There's no dance. But there is a final, surprisingly brutal (dismemberment, beheading and stuff) and passionate sequence taking place in the middle of the night on a cemetery where Rayne plans to kill those he had already killed.

Quality stuff.

The Clockwork Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #4) by Raymond St. Elmo
218 pages, published on  July 29th, 2019

I stand in the doorway, my obituary in pocket. A torn scrap of tomorrow’s newsprint declaring this dull place, this sunny day, for my death. But what hour? Doesn’t say. Perhaps the press won’t think it matters. Annoying. It matters to me. Who knows the hour of their death? Not I, only the date and address. Might not come till evening.

Rayne leads an interesting life, as any self-respecting Spadassin should. He's no stranger to violence, fencing, fighting or poisoning. But nothing prepared him for being a husband and to deal with more of the clans nonsense. This time he faces the Clockmakers, his in-laws dabbling in automata and time travel. After a relatively normal beginning, things get complicated.

Rayne enters Halls of Time where different doorways lead to different pasts and futures. Some, he visits alone. Some with his unexpected companions.

It's the fourth book in the series. If you've read previous ones I won't have to convince you to try this one. If the adventure is still ahead of you, know this. The Quest of the Five Clans series blends classic adventure fantasy with magical realism elements, philosophy and profound love for the language. You'll observe characters fencing not only with sabers but also with quotes from famous poems. Moments of pure delight and deep reflection, all caught in elegant phrases. Strange visions and things that happen between dream and reality.

The Clockwork Tartan is, probably, my favorite entry in the series. I can't help but wonder what insanities await Rayne in the final tome of the series.

In conclusion, if you love weird and unique fiction that includes literary references, elements of magical realism, a cast of intriguing and mad characters and some rather nuanced humor then give Quest a try.

Personally, I can't wait to read the ultimate book in the series called The Scaled Tartan. Rayne but will deal with the final clan, a folk who can change form to dragons, raise the dead, and are fond of tea and chess.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Order The Violent Century over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Lavie Tidhar was raised on a kibbutz in Israel. He has traveled extensively since he was a teenager, living in South Africa, the UK, Laos, and the small island nation of Vanuatu.

Tidhar began publishing with a poetry collection in Hebrew in 1998, but soon moved to fiction, becoming a prolific author of short stories early in the 21st century.

He lives with his wife in London

FORMAT/INFO: The Violent Century is 332 pages long. The book was originally published in 2014. Tachyon reprinted it in 2019. Cover art by Sarah Anne Langton.

OVERVIEW: The Violent Century defies easy categorization. It’s as much a romance as a spy novel or a murder mystery. It’s also a memoir of a meaningful friendship. It revolves around deeply flawed Übermenschen (superheroes). So… let’s call it an alt-historical superhero thriller with romance and murder mystery?

Yeah, that fits. More or less.  

What makes a hero? A hero stands up to injustice. A hero triumphs over odds. A hero fights pirates, sails a raft down a volatile waterway, a hero is a boy and a boy is a hero, good triumphing over bad.

Every Superhuman has an origin story, telling how they gained their powers and decided to fight crime or become criminals. You’ll find nothing so obvious in The Violent Century. German scientist, Vomacht, created a machine that sent a probability wave of changes across the entire world. Random people gained unusual abilities and superpowers. 

British Henry Fogg, for example, can control fog. It doesn’t sound impressive, but you should never underestimate him. British intelligence services found his powers interesting enough to recruit and train him on a Farm. As a British agent, Fogg observes and experiences crucial parts of WWII. His loyalties are tested when he meets a beautiful and superpowered woman. 

A word of caution here. The story isn’t complicated, but the writing style is. The narrative moves forward and backward through time using rapid scene shifts. It opens with Oblivion delivering a message to Fogg - The Old Man wants to speak with him about what happened in 1946. Immediately after this, the story jumps to the mid-1930s and from there to the 1940s and further along the way.
Trinity College, Cambridge. The Rolls comes to a stop. A sea of grass. Students in groups, sitting in the sun. Samuel comes around and opens the passenger door, The Old Man climbs out. Stretches. Sun on his face.
Tidhar’s prose is minimalist, composed of short and sharp sentences with almost no exposition. His fractured writing style makes it rather difficult to read in the beginning and requires a bit of trust from the reader. Tidhar knows what he’s doing and once you get used to his writing, you’ll appreciate how powerful it can be. 

I think Tidhar played with the powers attributed to the Übermenschen. Not only are they exaggerated, but they also express, mockingly, their national identities (Fogg, a Londoner, controls Fog; Nazis are evil incarnated, Soviets tragic, Americans flashy and arrogant). Somehow, though, they give each historical era a distinctive feel and remain believably human.

The Violent Century is both demanding and rewarding. It won't appeal to everyone and I understand why some readers will put it aside because of time jumps and fractured writing style. I've almost done it myself; luckily I've persevered. If you give it a chance, you may discover it's one of the rare books that stay with the reader long after they finish the last page.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

EXCLUSIVE COVER REVEAL: Crisis of Fate The Madness Wars Companion Novel by Jesse Teller (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Today we are mucho excited to present a cover reveal for a series that’s sure to strike many a chord in fantasy fans hearts everywhere.

The Madness Wars series is a saga that’s close to Jesse Teller’s heart and is sort of the main opening salvo of his magnum opus in-the-making. So checkout the cover by Jenny Zemanek below, she also did the cover for Onslaught Of Madness and is well known to those who follow the SPFBO contest editions.

Crisis of FateThe Madness Wars Companion Novel

Pre-order Crisis Of Fate over here

Release Date: April 15, 2020

Official Blurb: To save her sanity she must give up her soul.

With rare exception, Raendel took everything she ever wanted. Now her vicious thieves guild is festering around her. Through paranoia and insomnia, her grip on reality crumbles, and a crisis leads her to a desperate choice—face retribution or serve a creation of pure evil.

Praise for The Madness Wars:

"If you’re a reader who loves following multiple, complex, crisscrossing, narratives that jump around in time and space—Teller’s work is for you." — Fantasy-Faction

"Jesse Teller has done a magnificent job so far with this new series and I can't wait to see what's next." — Forever Lost in Literature

"Fascinating subplots, earthy characters, violence, magic and through it all, you know you have left reality behind and entered into the magical realm of an epic storyteller." —Tome Tender Book Blog

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Legends Of The Exiles

Author bio: Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy.

His writing influences include Stephen King, Steven Erikson, Robert E Howard, George RR Martin, Piers Anthony, and Paulo Coelho. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to understanding the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Forever Fantasy Online: The Once King by Rachel Aaron & Travis Bach (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Rachel Aaron Website
Order “The Once King HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Forever Fantasy Online"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "FFO: Last Bastion"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "One Good Dragon Deserves Another"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "A Dragon Of A Different Color"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Last Dragon Standing"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Minimum Wage Magic"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Part-Time Gods"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's joint interview with Rachel Aaron & Travis Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read "Why A Nice Dragon" by Rachel Aaron (Guest post)

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

ABOUT TRAVIS BACH: Travis is a nerd who loves gaming, reading, writing & hiking. He’s Rachel Aaron’s husband as well as one of her strongest pillars. He shares her fascination with gaming and reading fantasy. He lives in Colorado with his wonderful family.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Leylia’s secret could unite them all or lead them to an eternity of undeath.

After the loss of Bastion, everyone who’s not a zombie has holed up in FFO’s sole remaining safe haven: the lowbie town of Windy Lake. But the undead armies never rest, and it’s only a matter of time before the Once King’s forces come to crush what’s left of life in this world.

But Tina, James, and the rest of the players are facing a crisis of their own. After so long in this world, their human bodies are dying on the other side. If they don’t find a way home soon, they may have nothing to go back to.

With time running out in two worlds, Tina and James face a horrible choice: do they spend their final days looking for a way to get back to their old bodies, or join the NPCs to fight for their new ones. But just when things look impossible, James learns a secret that might change everything. Only one catch: to pull it off, they’re going to have to fight one raid boss no one, not even Tina, has ever beaten.

The Once King.

FORMAT/INFO: Forever Fantasy Online: The Once King is 443 pages long divided over sixteen numbered & titled chapters with a glossary of terms and a content warning note. Narration is in the third person via Tina Anderson aka Roxxy, James Anderson aka Heal-A-Hoop and a singular POV chapter. This is the third volume of the Forever Fantasy Online trilogy.

November 12, 2019 marks the e-book publication of The Once King and it was self-published by the authors. Cover art is provided by Daniel Schmelling and cover design is by Rachel Aaron.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Trilogy endings are hard, you got to tie all the loose ends and threads while giving a solid ending that will resonate with almost (if not all) the readers. The Forever Fantasy Online story has been a very intriguing LitRPG trilogy, which focuses on an estranged brother-sister duo. Over the past two books we have seen how much growth Tina and James have had to do.

When The Once King begins, we find both of them having left Bastion and are now in Windy Lake readying to take on the last final task of defeating the Once King (the final Boss of FFO). As has been the norm, we find that they both have different ideas about it. But after the events of the last two books, they are more simpatico than they ever were. For Tina, things have changed for the better. She has become a beacon to not only just the Roughnecks but to all the players and native population of the world of FFO. She has become a champion around whom everyone can rally and know that she will do whatever’s necessary to save all of them. Tina or Roxxy in RL hasn’t had the same responsibilities placed on her and it’s become quite apparent how capable she is.

James’ journey on the other hand has been a less physical one but no less exciting. Many readers including me have a preference among the siblings and this book will further cement readers’ choices. James’ actions in this book as well as the previous two volumes have led to a lot of revelations within the trilogy and within this book, James & Ar’bati take another journey to meet with the main titular character. Their journey is kind of a reverse “Mines of Moria” sequence but no less thrilling. They both after their actions in the preceding volume have brought much fanfare to the clan and themselves. However now they are alone and their actions might bring a lasting doom from which there’s no escape.

Both James & Tina get one final chance to shine and they bring their A-game as we find out what truly has happened. Haruto/SilentBladye also gets his moment and we understand what has been the reasons for his reticence. Lastly the other characters such as Anders, Nekobaby, Ar’Bati get their moments as well but for me, it was a solid amount of fun to watch king Gregory coming out of shell and showcasing why he’ considered such a dangerous boss. The characterization is something that has been a solid positive and we get a final reminder why we want to keep following all of these characters.

The book’s main plotline deals with what had been revealed in the climax of Last Bastion. We the readers got to know more about Leylia’s and why certain gamers faced that risk. There’s a lot more revelations in this book:

- What caused the Nightmare to occur?
- Who is the Once King and why is he hell bent on destroying all lifeforms?
- What happened to the world and how did it come to being?
- What is the origin of ghostfire?
- Who or what is Leylia?
All these questions and more are revealed in this final volume and this is where Travis and Rachel’s planning really comes to the fore. I loved how it all came together and how the ties were apparent from the first book.

The book’s pace is also of the kind that will make you turn pages as you will be wanting to see what happens next amidst the twists and turns of the book. The twin portions of the book have their own charms as on one end we are thrown along with James and the journey he takes. On the other we have Tina and all the troubles she faces. There’s the lingering tension with SilentBladye/ Haruto, the management of all the guilds who knowingly follow her orders as well the final battle that’s upcoming with the Once King. All of this weighs heavily and as things lay, it’s nigh impossible to defeat the Once King due to a certain move called the Million HP Blast. This and more troubles await all of the players as well as the NPCs who now along with King Gregory of Bastion are now the final host that seek to prevail against the progenitor of the ghostfire.

The action levels are seriously amped up in this volume and while it’s the final battle, I must say the preceding volume The Last Bastion had more of action than this one. The Once King has a concentrated sequence towards the end which really was a hoot to read. The major part of this book is figuring out how James & Tina will combine their talents to save the world. Lastly the ending is epic to say the least and is a solid combination of James’ empathy and Tina’s never say die attitude. I loved how the authors capped off the story and gave us a proper ending as well.

The only couple of complaints about this book was that there’s a big revelation in the start of the book and then we never hear more about it till the epilogue. Also the book has a very focused narrative and skips on many other action-packed events which occur elsewhere. I understand why this was the case as both the main protagonists are in the same place. However I thought it would have been cool to get a view into those events as well.

CONCLUSION: The Once King has an action-packed and multi-twisted plot that is sure to win the fans of this trilogy as it gives an emotionally resonant climax. The book’s pace and action heavy sequences give it the precise oomph that make it such a surefire success. The FFO trilogy has been a different genre beast and is another feather in Rachel Aaron’s already resplendent plumage. Travis Bach mightily impresses in his debut vehicle as well. I can’t wait to see when the both of them collaborate again.
Friday, November 8, 2019

Construct by Luke Matthews (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Order Construct over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: An unabashed geek, Luke is a fervent reader, poker player, cinephile, board and video gamer, and comic book fan. A life filled with so many hobbies doesn’t lend itself to easy devotion to a craft, but when the beginnings of CONSTRUCT found the page, those words pulled him inexorably toward writing, now the primary passion in his life.

Luke lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, a lazy cat, and two rambunctious German wirehaired pointers. You can find more of his words on his blog at, or check out his board game upgrade obsession at!

FORMAT/INFO: Construct is 374 pages long and is the first book of the Chronicler Saga. The book was self-published by the author in 2014. Cover art by Carmen Sinek.  

OVERVIEW: Better late than never. It took me almost two years to read Construct. Don’t repeat my mistake. If you already have this book in your library, start reading it. If you don’t, consider getting a copy.

Here’s why.

Samuel is a construct - an animated anthropomorphic being magically created from inanimate matter. He looks ancient, but it’s difficult to say for sure as Samuel’s memories were wiped out. He doesn’t know who he is, where he came from and what’s his history. One thing is sure, though. Samuel isn’t a regular construct. He experiences genuine emotions - the one thing that no construct is supposed to be capable of. Additionally, he’s tormented by flashbacks and visions of a gruesome murder and premonitions of his death.

Construct is, essentially, the story of self-discovery of a unique protagonist. While the plot is rather linear and straightforward, there’s a good deal of twists and surprises. Good guys are chased for unknown reasons. To stop the bad guys, they have to learn to trust each other, discover forgotten past, and survive. There’s also a murder mystery that needs to be solved to discover why a pair of cruel and relentless hunters pursue Samuel.

The writing is clear, well-edited and utilitarian. Also, it’s very directed and purposeful. There were very few places where I could have said that something in the book might not be essential to the story at large. There’s no filler here.

Samuel is a strong, memorable protagonist. Despite being a construct, he acts intelligently and feels how things really are. Intellectually, it’s fascinating that an artificial, non-biological system gives rise to conscious experience. Emotionally, it’s incredible that it’s so easy to relate to this strange, magically animated creature that looks for answers amidst people who treat constructs as a property. Samuel will need to decide if he can trust others and his relations with people are an essential part of the story.

Secondary characters feel distinct, but compared to Samuel, they remain slightly underdeveloped. On the other hand, his three main “side-kicks” have compelling backstories, and I want to learn more about them. Especially about Jacob - a thief with translocation powers (a sort of teleportation), and Eriane - a gunslinging teenage girl with anger management issues.

Both Villains are terrifying and nicely sketched. While their motivations aren’t too deep and they lack complexity, they’re effectively terrifying. Not only are they cruel, but they also have some dope magical powers. Some scenes involving villains, like the one in which protagonists and villains observe each other with hatred through a snowstorm, may feel a bit cliche, but trust me, they immerse the reader in a way good action movies do.

I rarely appreciate irredeemable villains because of their flatness. Here, though, both bad guys remain terrifying without being ridiculous. That said, I feel characterization could be better. When I think back at them, they’re portrayed as a sort of villains who drown puppies recreationally, and there’s not much more to them.

The ending is satisfying and doesn’t involve any nasty cliffhanger but it leaves many questions unanswered.

Why does Pare hate guns that much?

What’s the deal with him, anyway?

Despite some minor complaints, Construct is absolutely worth the read and the purchase. I’m surprised it doesn’t get more hype.

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